WEAK CAPITALIST INVESTMENT
See: INVESTMENT—Falling Corporate Rate Of, INVESTMENT—Weak (Bourgeois “Explanations” For)
WEAK NUCLEAR FORCE
One of the four known forces of nature, which operates only between certain sub-atomic particles, and which is responsible for most forms of radioactivity.
The point in a chain at which it is most vulnerable to breaking. For those seeking to break the chain, this is a point to be concentrated on. For those seeking to keep the whole chain together, this is also a point to be concentrated on!
“Just as the period of crisis occurs later on the Continent than in
England, so does that of prosperity. The original process always takes place in England;
it is the demiurge of the bourgeois cosmos. [Marx argues that
in 1850 that this was due to the fact that England was by far the most advanced capitalist
country. —Ed.] On the Continent, the different phases of the [economic] cycle through which
bourgeois society is ever speeding anew occur in secondary and tertiary form. First, the
Continent exported incomparably more to England than to any other country. This export to
England, however, in turn depends on the position of England, particularly with regard to
the overseas market. Then England exports to the overseas lands incomparably more than the
entire Continent, so that the quantity of Continental exports to these lands is always
dependent on England’s overseas exports at the time. While, therefore, the crises first
produce revolutions on the Continent, the foundation for these is, nevertheless, always
laid in England. Violent outbreaks must naturally occur rather in the extremities of the
bourgeois body than in its heart, since the possibility of adjustment is greater here than
there. On the other hand, the degree to which Continental revolutions react on England
is at the same time the barometer which indicates how far these revolutions really call in
question the bourgeois conditions of life, or how far they only hit their political
—Marx, The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850, (Nov. 1850), MECW 10:134-5, bold emphasis added. A very similar argument can be made with regard to U.S. imperialism and the oppressed and exploited countries in the capitalist-imperialist era. —Ed.]
“In science, our knowledge is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain of understanding.” —Stephen Rothman, a prominent (non-Marxist) American biologist, Lessons From the Living Cell (2002), p. 17.
“The wealth of bourgeois society, at first sight, presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities, its unit being a single commodity. Every commodity, however, has a twofold aspect—use-value and exchange-value.” —Marx, CCPE, p. 27. [Marx notes that this insight goes back to Aristotle.]
See also: USE-VALUE, EXCHANGE-VALUE
WEALTH DISTRIBUTION — In the U.S.
The graphic at the right shows the actual United States wealth distribution (in quintiles), i.e., the proportion of wealth that the top 20% of the population owns, the proportion owned by the next 20%, and so forth. Also shown is what the average American thinks the wealth distribution is, and what the average American (even in this bourgeois society) thinks it really ought to be. Note that Americans are greatly underestimating the proportion of all wealth that the top 20% owns (in reality about 84%), and vastly overestimating the wealth that the bottom 20% owns. (Because of their extremely small percentage share of total wealth, both the “4th 20%” value (0.2%) and the “Bottom 20%” value (0.1%) are not even visible in the “Actual” distribution.) [From: Michael Norton & Dan Ariely, “Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time”, Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 6, #1 (2011).]
Moreover, even within the top 20% of the population the wealth is very concentrated in the top few percent. Some estimates indicate that the top 1% of the U.S. population, the biggest bourgeoisie, owns nearly 50% of all the wealth. [J. B. Davies, et al., “The global pattern of household wealth”, Journal of International Development, vol. 117 (2009).] The concentration of wealth in the U.S. today tops even that of 1929, just before the Great Depression of the 1930s!
“The top hundredth of 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers—that’s 16,000 people—have a combined net worth of $6 trillion. That’s as much as the bottom two-thirds of the population. Meanwhile, a quarter of American families say they have no money in a checking or savings account to cover an emergency, according to Bankrate.com.” —Peter Coy, “An Immodest Proposal”, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, April 4-14, 2014, p. 10.
WEALTH DISTRIBUTION — Global
“If you had only $2,222 to your name (adding together your bank deposits,
financial investments and property holdings, and subtracting your debts) you might not
think yourself terribly fortunate. But you would be wealthier than half the world’s
population, according to this year’s Global Wealth Report by the Credit Suisse Research
Institute. If you had $71,560 or more, you would be in the top tenth. If you were lucky
enough to own over $744,400 you could count yourself a member of the global 1% that
voters everywhere are rebelling against.
“Unlike many studies of prosperity and inequality, this one counts household assets rather than income. The data are patchy, particularly at the bottom and the top of the scale. But with some assumptions, the institute calculates that the world’s households owned property and net financial assets worth almost $256 trillion in mid-2016. That is about 3.4 times the world’s annual GDP. If this wealth were divided equally it would come to $52,819 per adult. But in reality the top tenth own 89% of it.
“That lucky tenth now includes over 44 million Chinese, about 4.4% of the country’s adult population. A far greater number (almost half of China’s adults) cluster in the next three deciles down. Closer to the bottom of the ladder, there is a similar bulge of Indians with wealth between $30 and $603.
“Below them, the bottom tenth is a peculiar mix. It is populated by poor countries, where many people have nothing, and rich ones, where people can own very much less than that. It includes a surprising number of Americans (over 21 million), whose debts outweigh their assets. But most Americans are much better off. Over 40% belong to the top tenth of the global wealth distribution (and over 18 million belong to the global 1%). Some of those railing against the global elite probably do not even know they belong to it.” —“Global Wealth: The One per center next door”, The Economist, Nov. 26, 2016, p. 68.
[Yes, it is true that an American family which owns even just a paid-off house is by that very fact alone possibly in the top global 1% when it comes to wealth. But far from showing “how well off” these Americans are, what it really shows is just how truly desperately poor the vast masses in the capitalist world today really are! Only a bourgeois mouthpiece like The Economist could twist the facts to make it seem like if your family even owns a modest house you are part of the global “elite”! —Ed.]
The correlation between an individual’s actual personal wealth, or more typically their perceived wealth, and their willingness to buy things and go further into debt. People in contemporary capitalist societies have been conditioned to borrow and spend more when they feel that their net wealth is increasing—even if they still have very large debts.
During the U.S. housing bubble of the years 2003-2007, for example, the fact that the market value of homes was increasing rapidly for a few years led many people to take out a second mortgage, or refinance their existing mortgage with a cash-out option (i.e., to get an additional loan from the bank in return for signing over more of the value of their house to the bank). This seemed like a good idea to them at the time, because the capitalist media led them to believe that home prices would continue to rise indefinitely (and therefore that their net wealth would continue increasing indefinitely). Since the housing bubble popped, and the “Great Recession” hit, millions of these people have already lost their homes. As is nearly always the case in the end, the “wealth effect” turned out to be a dangerous illusion for the mass of working-class people.
“Economists have only recently devoted serious study to how a decline in
housing prices affects consumer spending, not least because this is the first decline in
the average price of an American home since the Great Depression [of the 1930s]. A 2007
review of existing research by the Congressional Budget Office reported that people reduce
spending by $20 to $70 a year for every $1,000 decline in the value of their homes.
“This [negative] ‘wealth effect’ is significantly larger for changes in home equity than in the value of other investments, such as stocks, apparently because people regard changes in housing prices as more likely to endure.” —“Gloom Grips Consumers, and It May Be Home Prices”, New York Times, Oct. 18, 2011.
A tax levied on a person’s (or company’s) accumulated wealth, rather than on their income, such as for example an annual tax of 1% on all wealth over $1 million.
In bourgeois society only certain limited types of wealth are ordinarily directly taxed, notably property (real estate). Other forms of wealth are rarely taxed, such as accumulated wealth in bank accounts, stock and bond holdings, ownership of companies, etc. Why not? Because the bourgeoisie has most of its own wealth in those forms and because it controls the governments which make the laws about what is going to be taxed. The working class does have some income from wages, but little in the form of accumulated wealth, so the capitalist ruling class is also more concerned to tax workers’ income than it is their generally puny accumulation of wealth, if any. (Even when a worker and his or her family think they “own a home”, most often it is the bank they make mortgage payments to which really owns at least a substantial part of the house, and to begin with, virtually all of it. But it is still the nominal owner of the house, not the bank, who has to pay the property tax!)
Liberals sometimes argue that the “solution” to the outrageous and growing problem of inequality in capitalist society is to tax the wealth of the rich. (See for example Thomas Piketty.) This would of course be a fine idea. But even if it somehow becomes possible to some small degree, it is still only a limited reform. And all reforms under capitalism are subject to revocation at a later date. Anyone who really wants to get rid of the vast extremes of inequality in society must focus on getting rid of the capitalist system entirely.
“Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive.” —Mao, “On Protracted War”.
See: ARMS SALES
WEATHER UNDERGROUND ORGANIZATION
A very small but notorious U.S. revolutionary organization of student orgins which existed from 1969 to 1977, with little in the way of developed revolutionary theory, no mass practice and no mass base. It is known mostly for its initial violent demonstration in Chicago in October 1969 against the U.S. imperialist war of aggression against Vietnam (the “Days of Rage”), and its sporadic and very counter-productive campaign of bombings of U.S. government buildings up through the mid-1970s.
The WUO was originally a faction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the tiny faction in control of the SDS National Office in its last days. (Indeed, their antics were major factors in wrecking what remained of SDS and making those its last days.) Like most of SDS, the Weatherman faction was quite marked by its white, petty-bourgeois origin and makeup. While it did take a very strong stand against U.S. imperialism, and also strong stands in favor of Black liberation and women’s liberation, it had little or no connection with the working class, and seemed not even to want any such connection. It was more aligned with the youth counter-culture. Thus one of its characteristic capers was to aid a jailbreak and escape for Timothy Leary, the LSD drug guru!
For the most part the bombings it carried out were symbolic and did little actual damage. In one case they blew up a woman’s bathroom in the Pentagon, for example. These bombings were an expression of the helpless rage that those unconnected to mass movements often feel against oppressive governments. Looking back at those days, one former member of the group expressed their frustration this way:
“We felt that doing nothing in a period of repressive violence is itself a form of violence. That’s really the part that I think is the hardest for people to understand. If you sit in your house, live your white life and go to your white job, and allow the country that you live in to murder people and to commit genocide, and you sit there and you don’t do anything about it, that’s violence.” —Naomi Jaffe, in the documentary The Weather Underground, produced by Carrie Lozano and directed by Bill Siegel and Sam Green, 2003.
The terrible crimes of capitalist-imperialism do indeed demand a response! The trouble
was that what the WUO decided to do was actually extremely counter-productive. The occasional
bombings they engaged in did no serious harm at all to the U.S. government. And they had the
effect of turning large numbers of ordinary American people, including students, more
against the anti-war movement and any idea of revolution, than towards it. By
thus finishing off SDS as a mass student organization they made it more difficult both to
build the anti-war movement and to educate more young revolutionaries.
In December 1969, the Chicago police and FBI raided the apartment of local Black Panter leader Fred Hampton, killing Hampton in his sleep (he had been drugged by a police agent) and Mark Clark, and wounding three other people. In early 1970, in response to this unprovoked murderous raid, the WUO issued a “Declaration of War” against the U.S. government, shifting to underground, covert activities only. This declaration was however mere posturing. It was more rage by helpless individuals cut off from any mass base actually capable of changing the situation.
While always very small, by 1976 the FBI estimated that the WUO was down to less than 30 active members. They completely disbanded by the end of 1977, and many of them turned themselves in to the authorities.
See also: PRAIRIE FIRE ORGANIZING COMMITTEE
The original name of the Weather Underground anarchist-like revolutionary organization.
WEBER, Max (1864-1920)
German bourgeois sociologist, born in Erfurt and educated at universities in Heidelberg, Berlin and Göttingen. He began his professorial career by teaching law in Berlin in 1892, switched to teaching political economy at Freiburg in 1894, and then economics at Heidelberg in 1897. (All bourgeois economics, of course.) He did not actually consider himself to be a sociologist until near the end of his life. In 1897 he suffered a serious mental breakdown and did no significant work for about four years. Then, for a number of years he was mostly an unaffiliated private scholar, working on a wide variety of topics. In 1918 Weber accepted the chair of sociology at the University of Vienna, and finally in 1919 took over the chair of sociology at Munich.
Max Weber (along with Émile Durkheim) is widely regarded as one of the principal founders of “modern sociology”, which from its beginning as an intellectual area of study at universities was created and developed in contrast and opposition to Marxism. The philosophical basis that Weber provided for this new subject of academic “sociology” was neo-Kantianism, of the school associated with Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert in late 19th century Germany. This philosophy drew a total distinction between “phenomena”, or the external world we perceive, and “noumena”, or the perceiving mind or consciousness. Weber considered this distinction to be the difference between the basis for natural science and social science, and this confirms the fundamental philosophical idealism of Weberian sociology. For example, one of the conclusions Weber drew on this Kantian philosophical basis, was that sociology could not establish any scientific laws (as is done in physics, chemistry and biology), but rather only to try to give some plausible explanations for social developments in their particular historical contexts. Despite this denial of any true scientific laws in sociology, Weber did suppose that the “probabilities” of human action (such as that people are likely to act rationally much of the time) allow for some limited understanding of society.
Similarly, Weber promoted the Kantian value/fact dichotomy which is still so widespread in bourgeois “social science”, and claimed for example that there is no rational basis for determining moral goals—though he did acknowledge that there are rational ways to proceed once one set of goals or another are adopted. Of course, for revolutionary Marxists the setting of moral (and political) goals is a simple and very rational matter: we say that those things which are in the real beneficial interests of the proletariat and masses are good and rational goals, including the central goal of making social revolution upon which so many other goals depend. [See: Class Interest Theory of Ethics] Like all Kantians, Weber was opposed to what they snidely call “instrumental rationality” in ethics. For them paying any attention to what benefits people, let alone classes of people, has no bearing at all on ethics!
It is difficult for a revolutionary Marxist to find much of anything whatsoever of real value in Weber’s voluminous writings. Sometimes he just makes abstract classifications that really don’t explain anything. (Such as his division of social action into four categories: “traditional action” undertaken because of long-established cultural norms; “affective action” driven by emotions; “value-rational” action directed towards achieving social values; and “end-rational action” or “instrumental action”. Or consider his superficial discussion of “domination” in society, where he focuses on distinguishing three types of authority: “traditional”, “charismatic”, and “legal-rational”. What really is the value of such “analysis”?)
Other times Weber is focused on cutting the heart out of Marxist categories, as when he talks about social “classes” but perverts the idea to mean various things other than the relationship of groups of people to the means of production. (In some places he defines “classes” as groups of people defined by the possession of various skills and other marketable assets, or talks about “housing classes” which include owner-occupants, tenants/renters, etc.) Similarly he talks about “status groups”, ethnic groups, and numerous other ways of classifying people, but almost always avoids our Marxist concept of social classes.)
One of Weber’s best-known theses is that of the “Protestant ethic”, which supposedly explains why capitalism developed in Europe. (But compare this superficial theory to the discussions of Marx and other Marxists who go into great depth about how and why feudalism developed into capitalism.)
There are disputes within academic sociology as to exactly what Weber’s political views were. Weber’s criticisms of socialism always either entirely misunderstand what genuine socialism is, or else purposely distort what it is, as in his claim that socialism inevitably aggravates the problem of bureaucracy. Some argue that Weber was a proto-fascist; others that he was more of a liberal. The fact that his writings can be read to support either view already says something very negative indeed about him! One thing is very clear, however: he was a bourgeois ideologist to his very core. It is strange that even today, and even on the so-called “left”, there continues to be some interest in his reactionary views.
“I am a member of the bourgeois class, feel myself to be such, and have been brought up on its opinions and ideals.” —Max Weber, 1895, quoted in Franco Moretti, The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature (2014).
[Author Jan Myrdal describing his attempts to help a woman without housing
to obtain permission to move into his vacated government-regulated apartment, and urging her
to be much more assertive with the government bureaucrats in social-democratic Sweden during
the post-World War II period.] “So I coaxed her. There is a welfare state around somewhere.
They speak about it at election time. She had a full time job and paid her taxes. I told
her she had the same rights as others. She had the right to get assistance. Every politician
in the country was saying this. But she didn’t yet want to go to the authorities.
“‘I haven’t done anything wrong’, she said.
“But I spoke convincingly about the state and the society existing for the protection and care of the citizens and that the officials get paid by tax money in order to work and be helpful. (For myself I don’t believe this, but the argument can be used if you want something done. After all, it is what they all say.)” —Adapted from Jan Myrdal, Confessions of a Disloyal European (1968), p. 193.
[The woman didn’t get any help from the state bureaucrats who turned her away because her situation didn’t fit into any of their pre-defined categories meriting help. Not long afterwards she committed suicide in despair (though probably not entirely because of the failure of the “welfare state” to help her in any way.)]
A petty-bourgeois distortion of Marxism which has developed at universities in capitalist countries in the “Western” part of the world. The revolutionary heart of Marxism is virtually entirely cut out in this milieu, and the major focus is the sphere of culture, which is discussed in pretentious academic and esoteric language. So-called “Western Marxism” reflects decadent bourgeois ideology far more than it does Marxism. My advice is that you don’t waste your time with this sort of garbage; it can only corrupt your brain. —S.H.
“Western Marxists therefore placed far greater emphasis on the importance
of what Marx called superstructure—culture, institutions, language—in the political
process, so much so that consideration of the economic base sometimes disappeared
altogether. Unable to change the world, they concentrated on interpreting it through
what became known as ‘cultural studies’—which established its own hegemony on many
university campuses in the final decades of the twentieth century, transforming the study
of history, geography, sociology, anthropology and literature....
“That realm [of the superstructure] was defined far more broadly than Marx ever imagined. It encompassed any and every sort of cultural commodity—a pair of winklepicker shoes, a newspaper photograph, a pop record and a packet of breakfast cereal were all ‘texts’ that could be ‘read’. The critique of mass culture from early theorists influenced by the Frankfurt school was gradually supplanted by a study of the different ways in which people receive and interpret these everyday texts. As cultural studies took a ‘linguistic turn’—evolving through structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction and then postmodernism—it often seemed a way of evading politics altogether, even though many of its practitioners continued to call themselves Marxists. The logic of their playful insistence that there were no certainties or realities led ultimately to a free-floating, value-free relativism which could celebrate both American pop cultural and medieval superstition without a qualm. Despite their scorn for grand historical narratives and general laws of nature, many seemed to accept the enduring success of capitalism as an immutable fact of life. Their subversive impulses sought refuge in marginal spaces where the victors’ dominance seemed less secure: hence their enthusiasm for the exotic and unincorporable, from UFO conspiracy theories to sado-masochistic fetishes. A fascination with the pleasures of consumption (TV soap operas, shopping malls, mass-market kitsch) displaced the traditional Marxist focus on the conditions of material production.... No systematic critique of monopoly capitalism could be achieved since capitalism was itself a fiction, like truth, justice, law and all other ‘linguistic constructs’.” —Francis Wheen, Marx’s Das Kapital (2006), pp. 105-7.
A Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise. This is an acronym common in the business press in contemporary global capitalist-imperialism to refer to a company which operates in one country (such as China or Thailand) but which is entirely owned (or at least entirely controlled) by capitalists located outside that country.
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