5 Replies to “Plato on Assange

  1. Hello Philip and I apologise in advance. This is completely off topic. But I have been engaging amicably with Dungroanin on Off-G (in the spirit of Marx’s dictum, “Nothing human is alien to me”) because I was curious about this conspiracy theory that “the bankers” are behind it all. This is the one where Wall Street financed the Bolshevik revolution and Marx was only a pawn on their game. The basic notion here is that you can have some kind of pure laissez faire capitalism but then you get those big bad monopolies coming in which ally themselves with the communists to create a captive market. That capitalism itself tends towards monopoly is banished from view.

    But the main thing I noticed is that Dungroanin totally rejects the very mention of economics – which he implies is a big con. He – and so many others – doesn’t think that the very fabric of a system could be exploitative. (The “gentleman who doesn’t want his name mentioned” as Brecht put it.)

    (And now that I think about it, perhaps this topic isn’t that irrelevant under the heading, “No one is more hated than one who speaks the truth”)

    • Makes sense. Here’s a parallel. As I said in a recent post, peel away the antisemitism a small minority of Off-G commenters go in for (here the Israel apologist Antonym has a point, though he overplays his hand absurdly) we find one form or other of apologetics:

      Capitalism would be just dandy if not for …. the Jews … the bankers …

      I don’t think Dungroanin is antisemitic but you’ve hit a variant of the same apologetics with his – you can tell it’s a ‘he’ – sweeping claims of Marx as “tool of the bankers”.

      And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, he offers zero rebuttal of the law of value.

      I saw a recent exchange between the two of you. I applaud your move from mini essays to one-liner responses that put the ball back in his court. IMO that’s the way to deal with lazy, boastful and at times nasty claims. (Assuming we don’t ignore them, period.) Many BTL obsessives throw out sweeping generalisations backed only by gish-galloped URLs, but it’s rare to see coherent, fleshed out arguments. If Dungroanin – who seems intelligent and articulate, and with whose views on other matters I often agree – is sure of his ground, let him produce a coherent piece for submission above the line.

      Once again, I’m talking to self as much as you. I’m weary of taking seriously those who only carp and snipe. They’ll run us ragged without offering any sign of being serious.

      And should we choose to engage at all, sometimes a hybrid approach is useful: offering a little detail while promising more on receipt of evidence of good faith. Under the Off-G version of my review of Tim Hayward’s Global Justice & Finance, one commenter came out with the old chestnut that a labour theory of value founders on the ‘problem’ that the value chain is too impossibly difficult to audit and quantify to be the basis of price. I replied at greater length than perhaps I should have but did end with a request for precisely such evidence of good faith:

      I suggest you acquaint yourself with Marx’s labour theory of value (which solved problems neither Smith nor Ricardo were in a position, coming as they did before capitalism had achieved “full spectrum dominance”, to solve) in Capital Vol 1. Also worth reading is Ernest Mandel’s “An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory”.

      Then you might wish to raise any objections in more specific form.

      Meanwhile, a few observations. One, price and value, though related, are not the same. The law of supply and demand explains the movement of prices. It does not and (for the reason I give in footnote 3) cannot explain price itself.

      Two, the way you couch the challenge of your final sentence – defining ‘a unit of “embedded labour”‘ – is wide of the mark. The fact we can’t do the sums does not nullify the law of value.

      Three, I do not mean to suggest mainstream economics’ retreat into psychology (marginal utility theory and the “diamond-water paradox”) was consciously informed by the dangers to the ruling class of the law of value. Another driver of that retreat is that capitalism was now ascendant. Its champions avoided scientific investigation of profit’s origins not just because of the dangers of such an inquiry but because they saw no need for it. The common sense idea of profit arising by addition of “the capitalist’s reward for risk” to the other overheads of production made intuitive sense. That profit as “costs plus” could not withstand rigorous inspection in an age of generalised commodity production was of little concern to men busy making profits, else engaged in apologetics on their behalf!

      I’d be happy to engage in more detail on these points but, first, you might be a little more forthcoming, so I know I’m talking to a serious person.”

      I’ve had no reply. But, responding to your own final point, no, these matters are not altogether tangential to Plato’s statement or Assange’s plight. In returning to some of the Off-G remarks referenced here, I’ve seen further comments by ‘adversaries’ which make valid points. It’s important to acknowledge them. Though the narrative control mechanisms of our ruling class suppress truth – by covert omissions where this suffices, overt censorship and state violence where necessary – we must also watch our own egoic insistence on Being Right, its corollary a terror of Being Shown to be Wrong. They too are enemies of truth.

      • I applaud your reply in that Off-G conversation but I think that when you say, “I suggest you acquaint yourself with Marx’s labour theory of value”, you are probably onto a loser. Most of those commenters are facetious “snipers” who can’t be bothered doing the groundwork. Although to be fair, most of them are probably not Marxists either – since that position does indeed necessitate a truly critical – and indeed self-critical – mode of thought which is too difficult to maintain for some. (Including myself. Sometimes I like to “relax” with the more outlandish conspiracy books!)

        The “bankers colluded with Marx” meme recalls something that the very helpful Hal Draper once said about a “triangular class struggle”. The feudal system collapsed before the bourgeois revolution which brought us capitalism. However, this revolution could only go so far without surpassing itself with a proletarian revolution. Thus this bourgeois revolution is a curiously “stillborn” affair. It can’t go back and it dare not go forward. This has led to a tripartite situation: three classes – feudal (the old aristocracy), bourgeois and proletarian. We have a complex situation in which any two of those three could join forces against the third in the old “enemy of my enemy” logic. Thus Marx is linked with “the bankers” who are working for a monopoly – which is linked with something like a new mutated form of feudalism. I supply the following link only because it seems to me to offer this particular defensive conspiracy theory in its most naked and “pure” form:


        There is also the matter of Trotsky’s “combined and uneven development” where different countries have developed in different ways and display different conjunctions of classes. America is in an unusual situation in which it never had a feudal system. (Because of this, America has fascinated many Marxists e.g. Gramsci) This has even led some Americans to assume that the continuing existence of feudal remnants elsewhere means the rest of the world is still feudal! (And I know – I have met these Americans!)

        Now this is where it starts to get complicated. Capitalism is the most dynamic secularising “modernising” force there has ever been. Capitalists are happy to boast about this. But then they get nervous about too much modernity and start to complain about an “increasingly godless, spiritless materialism” which they blame socialists for. This is the great con of conservatism – it blames the Left for this materialism and talks of going back to “our glorious traditions”, “culture”, “religion”, “family values” etc. (a longing for feudalism?) but doesn’t see that it is precisely capitalism that has created this materialism.

        And it seems to me that this “bankers/Marx collusion” idea is a defense mechanism whereby socialists are linked with feudalists against a presumably pristine capitalism.

        • On further reflection (once you start thinking, you can’t stop!) it seems to me that Draper’s triangular class struggle is becoming increasingly a thing of the past – or at least that the feudalist input is becoming an increasingly ideological matter i.e. a matter of increasing illusion. The Merrie Olde England mode (which I associate very much with the late Roger Scruton’s fanciful notions) is becoming more and more irrelevant, more and more fantastical and not because of “godless socialism” but precisely because of the relentless assaults of capitalism.

          • Yes! Reactionaries frequently lash out at symptoms whose cause is indeed the remorseless and by many standards insane logic of capital.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *