Home Forum Political Economy Jujutsu: can we lever the power of capital against itself?

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  • #248300

    This post began as a Twitter exchange with Pieter de Beer:

    de Beer:

    If Capital is power (and under capitalism it is) then the only way to subvert dominant capital, is by coordinating capital at the federated communal level, preventing it’s flow toward the already powerful. But this is not enough. We also need re-commoning and decommodification,

    Bicher & Nitzan:

    Capital is a discounted claim on risk-adjusted expected future earnings, and the earnings, risk and the rate at which they are discounted reflect power. In this sense, it’s impossible to disassociate capital from power and have it flow away from the powerful.

    You can try to distribute capitalized power more evenly, but so far these attempts have not succeeded (see ‘Dominant capital is much more powerful than you think‘).

    The alternative is to de-capitalize — i.e., to replace capitalized power with direct democracy — and as we know, that ain’t simple.

    de Beer:

    I hope to disambiguate here. are you saying it is impossible to dissociate capital from power? or it is impossible to have it flow away from the powerful? or it is impossible to accomplish both, either sequentially or simultaneously?

    if future earnings form the basis of the capitalization ritual, then anything which negatively impacts the potential future earnings, will undermine capital. So if a community ceases consuming from an expected revenue stream, and self-provisions instead, that would have impact?

    and since both consumption and production trends will impact on expected future earnings, the denial of labour to a particular company would impact that company’s ability to produce, and thus impact expected future earnings


    Bichler & Nitzan:

    Here is our brief reply and invitation for others to join the exchange:

    1. Not all power is capital, but in our view all capital is power (see Part III in Capital as Power and our 2020 rejected interview). So, as we see it, capital cannot be disassociated from power.

    2. Capital itself is a quantified legal claim on power. The magnitude of this claims goes up and down depending on the objective circumstances and the capitalists’ perception of these circumstances and how they are likely to unfold.

    3. The distribution of these claims is constantly changing. We know that in most countries the personal distribution of capital holdings has become more unequal since the 1980s. And as the U.S. figure above shows, the corporate distribution grew more and more concentrated since the 1950s.

    4. These trajectories can be reversed, but since capital is power, such reversal requires that the power of capital in general and of dominant capital particularly be curtailed.

    5. Achieving this curtailment is difficult because the structure and mindset of our society are so captured and shaped by the logic of capital, that small victories are eventually washed by capitalist counter tidal waves.

    6. One possible way to bypass this built-in imbalance is societal Jujutsu: levering the logic of capital against capital. In the last section of ‘Theory and Praxis, Theory and Practice, Practical Theory‘ we argued that to achieve autonomy and direct democracy, we need a program that both caters to the immediate interests of the vast majority of the population and pulls the rag from under the feet of capital in one fell swoop.

    7. One way of doing so, we proposed, is to use workers savings to build affordable housing and use those housing projects to provide for workers pensions. This program not only addresses the global dearth of shelter and retirement income, but it can also enable and amplifies grass-root ‘demoskatia’. Finally, and crucially, by diverting workers savings from the capitalist stock and bond markets, it deals a serious blow to the rule of capital.

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    • #248304
      Pieter de Beer
        • Topics started: 8
        • Total posts: 52

        Thank you for Posting this Prof Nitzan.

        I would like to clarify a few points, and in so doing, possibly highlight overlaps and divergences in what is being said.

        In the CasP thesis, Power is described as “confidence in obedience”

        I have spent the last few months delving into the academic literature on Power, and it strikes me that this definition of is what most of the academic literature would call “Power Over”

        Broadly speaking, Power can be categorized into 3 main forms:
        Power Over (Domination)
        Power To (Ability)
        Power With (The Interconnectivity of Community)

        There is some discourse on the subject, and further categories are proposed, but there is not a lot of consensus as yet whether Power Within (Mindfulness) and Power Through (Empowerment of disempowered individuals by the surrounding community) should be added into this framework.

        Here are some (though not all) of the resources I have been working through:
        Women and power: fighting patriarchies and poverty by Dr Janet Townsend
        Power : A Philosophical Analysis by Peter Morriss
        Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis by John Gaventa
        Beyond Rule; Trust and Power as Capacities by Raffnsøe, Sverre
        A Non-normative Theory of Power and Domination by Pamela Pansardi
        The concept of power in the analysis of organisations with social and political goals by Danny Rye
        Conceptualizing power to study social-ecological interactions by Wiebren J. Boonstra

        This is relevant to this discussion, because I hypothesize that Power Over, is the appropriation of Power To, by hierarchies of domination.
        Under Capitalism, this Power To is extracted from the population, and inflated by the ritual of capitalization. This would be the process we know as Accumulation of Capital, and it is self-reinforcing, because the State of Capital has created the power structures, (legal claims on power) that structure the hierarchies through which the power can be extracted and appropriated by, and channeled upward to, and concentrated in, the upper strata of the hierarchies that dominate society.
        In the same vein, Power To can be incorporated into Power With, but unlike the Power Over scenario, this is not extractive and alienating, but is instead inclusive and empowering.

        When viewing these concepts of power, it seems clear to me that the accumulation of Capital is the result of extracting and appropriating Power To and Power With, and enfolding it into the Power Over hierarchy of Capitalism.

        But this then also means that the process of decapitalization, would require the re-appropriation of Power To and Power With. And the Mechanism for this would be, in unfortunately simplistic terms, breaking the “Confidence in Obedience”

        Communities and individuals have power, but they have largely been alienated from this power, and been subordinated to the power of dominant Capital and to the logic of capital more broadly. And this alienation is virtually impenetrable, to the point where expecting breaks in the confidence of obedience, become almost fantasy.

        So, as you point out in Theory and Praxis, Theory and Practice, Practical Theory, the process of decapitalization needs to start at the communal level. By subverting the flow of consumers, and labour, and passive investment (through pension funds etc.) we can shake that confidence. This deals the double blow of undermining Dominant Capital, while the communities in question are empowered through self-provisioning.

        The magnitude of Power Over that is manifested in existing Capital, is extremely daunting. But is, nonetheless, not insurmountable.

        So my focus more recently has been to look at what distinguishes Power Over From Power With, and I am slowly reaching the conclusion that the fundamental difference, is in how Power To is co-ordinated within the respective frameworks.

        Hierarchical Co-ordination strategies are distinct from Horizontal Co-ordination strategies. Hierarchies will tend toward opaque information signaling, both internally and externally. By this I mean that they will obscure details, and compartmentalize information, with the specific intension of preventing coordination that does not align with, and reinforce their confidence in obedience. Hierarchical co-ordination also does not require consent, only compliance. Thus many can participate in such a system of coercion, without being aware of the overall effects of their actions, or of their specific role within a broader plan. Literally being cogs in Mumford’s megamachine.

        Horizontal Co-ordination tends to have far more transparent information signaling, although there remains a need for some opacity for InfoSec needs and overall protection against infiltration and undermining by hierarchies that seek to undermine or destroy such horizontal co-ordination. Unlike Hierarchical Co-ordination, Horizontal Co-ordination implicitly, and often explicitly requires not only consent, but consensus, even if it is a weak form of consensus (85% or higher). In this way, inclusivity, and solidarity are assured, while reinforcing the distributed nature of the power with approach. This breeds resilience without the need for coercive or exploitative threats of force.

        Now, when I said originally, that the “only way to subvert dominant capital, is by coordinating capital at the federated communal level”,
        what I was saying is that the current coordination of power needs to shift from a Hierarchical strategy, to a Horizontal Strategy. This does not disassociate capital from power (that would not be possible), but it does divert the foundations of expected future earnings (Consumers, Labour, and Investment) away from Dominant Capital.

        This entire strategy was inspired by the last section of ‘Theory and Praxis, Theory and Practice, Practical Theory‘. Which is why I believe that there is strong overlap. The divergence is possibly because I have taken to looking at Power in the disambiguated view I stipulated above.

        Capital is the legal claim to power, and I believe that this claim can be rooted in the community, co-ordinated by the community, and exclude the flow of power to the State of Capital.

        If you have any advice on how I can apply this conception to a quantitative or qualitative analysis, I would be very glad to make the attempt.

      • #248307
        Jonathan Nitzan
          • Topics started: 49
          • Total posts: 285

          Thank you Pieter for the detailed articulation.

          Concepts matter a great deal, particularly when they are key to a whole system of thinking, so it is great to see you engaging with the issue seriously.

          Instead of cutting and pasting several pages here, allow me to refer you to our 2020 rejected interview with Revue de la régulation. Question 15 in this interview outlines our notion of power, and Question 16 illustrates how, in our opinion, power is conceived and operationalized in the capitalist mode of power.

          As you will see, our view of social power, particularly in capitalism, differs significantly from the received everything-goes plethora of powers ‘over’, ‘to’, ‘with’, etc.


          Given this discussion, we prefer to think of horizontal, autonomous cooperation not as a different from of power (to, with, etc.), but as the undoing of power. In this sense, to undermine capitalist power is not to convert this power or divert it to other social entities, but to reduce or eliminate it altogether.

          This clear distinction saves endless entanglement and never-ending confusion.


        • #248314
          Rowan Pryor
            • Topics started: 18
            • Total posts: 88

            Quote: “use workers savings to build affordable housing and use those housing projects to provide for workers pensions.” – B&N.

            I agree. It would be a Cooperative. These have been known by other titles over the years and still are today.

            “A friendly society (sometimes called a benefit society, mutual aid society, benevolent society, fraternal organization or ROSCA) is a mutual association for the purposes of insurance, pensions, savings or cooperative banking. It is a mutual organization or benefit society composed of a body of people who join together for a common financial or social purpose. Before modern insurance and the welfare state, friendly societies provided financial and social services to individuals, often according to their religious, political, or trade affiliations. These societies are still widespread in many parts of the developing world, where they are referred to as ROSCAs (rotating savings and credit associations), ASCAs (accumulating savings and credit associations), burial societies, chit funds, etc.” – Wikipedia.

            But let us remember, after a long intellectual detour we have circled back to basic practicalities. The workers must combine. In unions and cooperatives. If they don’t they are lost and the planet is lost. It’s as simple as that.

          • #248315
            Scot Griffin
              • Topics started: 29
              • Total posts: 225

              I am waiting for the discussion to develop more before responding substantively (if I ever do).  In the meantime, Robert Meister’s recent book Justice Is an Option: A Democratic Theory of Finance for the Twenty-First Century is a very interesting book that explores using finance against itself.  The first few chapters are excellent in reframing all financial transactions as options.

              From the publisher’s description:

              More than ten years after the worst crisis since the Great Depression, the financial sector is thriving. But something is deeply wrong. Taxpayers bore the burden of bailing out “too big to fail” banks, but got nothing in return. Inequality has soared, and a populist backlash against elites has shaken the foundations of our political order. Meanwhile, financial capitalism seems more entrenched than ever. What is the left to do?

              Justice Is an Option uses those problems—and the framework of finance that created them—to reimagine historical justice. Robert Meister returns to the spirit of Marx to diagnose our current age of finance. Instead of closing our eyes to the political and economic realities of our era, we need to grapple with them head-on. Meister does just that, asking whether the very tools of finance that have created our vastly unequal world could instead be made to serve justice and equality. Meister here formulates nothing less than a democratic financial theory for the twenty-first century—one that is equally conversant in political philosophy, Marxism, and contemporary politics. Justice Is an Option is a radical, invigorating first page of a new—and sorely needed—leftist playbook.

              Here is a link to a YouTube video of a panel discussion from this June where Meister and the panelists discuss Meister’s book and theory.

            • #248450
              Rowan Pryor
                • Topics started: 18
                • Total posts: 88

                The power of capital is already being levered against itself, by itself. Who can doubt now that climate change, mass species extinctions and the “pandemicence” are real dangers to civilization and human existence? Capitalism is in the process of completely destroying itself and us with it. The question is if a movement or change can arise which can halt this before it becomes a runaway process. Will people realise what is destroying them or will they double-down on false narratives about what is happening? The false narratives are a product of capitalism too. Misinformation and disinformation sell. They are monetised and capitalised big time in the current system. Currently, the “false narratives mill” is winning easily. What I truly fear is this deep lack of understanding, among the general population, of the causes of our crises. As Francis Bacon wrote, “… where the cause is not known, the effect cannot be produced.”  The corollary of that is, “where the causes of ills are not known, the effects cannot be avoided”.

                We might normally expect the population to plumb a level of pain, loss and destruction where they would recognize the imperative to stop permitting and doing what is killing them and to start doing what may save them. But if they have no idea of fundamental causes at the political economy level and at the physical laws levels, then they will have no idea what changes are necessary. So as our crises worsen, I am of the opinion we can expect more and more foolish actions which will only exacerbate and accelerate the crises. Only when capitalism completely self-destructs will anything else become possible. That runs up against a key question. What will be left to rebuild anything on?

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