The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

The state and the final collapse of capitalism

I received a very good question on my ask.fm:

“Can you sketch out a devaluation crisis/scenario that would collapse capitalism?”

I could only partially answer the question, because of the limited space allowed by ask.fm. In my answer, I was only able to set the premises of my particular scenario for capitalist collapse. I want to extend my remarks here to fill in whatever blanks may exist.

Here is the most important premise I will be using in the following scenario, which is, of course, open to question:

The capitalist mode of production is in a permanent and continuous state of overaccumulation of capital. This condition Marx described as capital having reached the point where no new capitalist investment can increase profits. Under these conditions, each increase in capitalist investment of new capital has the paradoxical effect of reducing profits. This gives rise to a mass of capital that cannot be productively employed and a population of workers who cannot find productive employment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Can SYRIZA be fixed? Can Greece?

If this Jacobin article, Becoming Syriza Again, is any indication, even the remaining radicals within SYRIZA have no idea why it is failing.

The writer acknowledges that the debate over Greece leaving the euro, which raged within SYRIZA for a period of time before the split, was an oversimplification. However, even now he proposes no alternative economic program that would allow SYRIZA to achieve its stated aim of bringing austerity to an end while avoiding Grexit.

He proposes a 5 step solution in which SYRIZA must:

  • Hold onto power;
  • Stop fighting with KKE and other Leftists;
  • Eliminate opportunism in its ranks;
  • Reconsider staying in the eurozone; and,
  • Put forward a new vision that inspire the country.

Here is my problem with this essay.

Read the rest of this entry »

A reply to Chris Wright on use value

I tried to comment on Chris Wright’s critique of my concept of use-value, but fucking Blogger comment box is terribly difficult to figure out. Twice I posted the damn thing, but it failed. In any case, I meant to tell Wright that he makes a very good point regarding to implication of my formulation of a sentence.

I wrote:

“While the value-form school denies labor is the source of value, their approach to value paradoxically ends up saying all labor expended in our society which is realized in prices, no matter how unnecessary and even toxic to life, produces value.”

Wright argues this formulation leads to the conclusion I am changing Marx definition of use value

“The first problem to note is that this is a moral evaluation of useful and use-value. I don’t mean this in a strictly negative way, but to point out that the idea of “useful” is already treated in a specific way.”

This is a good call out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Left Accelerationism, or Inventing the future of dystopia

Badiou’s argument that capital has outgrown the nation state is having absolutely no impression on the Left. This is my conclusion after having read Matthijs Krul’s review of Srnicek and Williams new book, Inventing the Future.

I haven’t personally read the book yet, because, like all the nonsense spewed from the pens of academics, I don’t buy this stuff. If I can’t find it for free on the net, I just don’t bother reading it.

Read the rest of this entry »

How the Marxist debate over the causes of crises serves as a screen for the fascist state

pallet-of-cashFor the life of me, I cannot understand what argument Hillel Ticktin is trying to make in this article, “Stay as money, face death as capital”. The abstract at the beginning suggests he is going to explain why capital cannot escape the present crisis, which he characterizes as one in which vast sums of uninvested capital is laying around idle in huge hoards of cash. Oddly enough, however, Ticktin also argues the crisis we are experiencing has been ongoing since 1870 or so, which suggests the crisis in 2008 is just business as usual.

So which is it? Is capitalism on its deathbed or is nothing of the present crisis interesting or unusual? Moreover, why does the state play no role in Ticktin’s discussion of crisis?

**** Read the rest of this entry »

Post-capitalism, Accelerationism, communism and the march of the job-eating killer robots

Two speculative views of what comes after capitalism for those without enough imagination to picture themselves on a beach having group sex.

The first offer some discussion of the so-called Left accelerationist writers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams. Left accelerationism is a sort of awkward nerdy, pimple-faced techno-fetishism that seeks to make Nick Land palatable to Sanders supporters.

The second discusses the even less credible argument, put forward by Channel 4 News in-house radical Paul Mason. Mason is … well, the Channel 4 News’ idea of a radical, if a radical worked for Channel 4 News. Of course no radical actually works for Channel 4 News, but if a radical did work for Channel 4 News, they would likely be a radical just like Paul Mason.

The starting point of these conceptions of life after the class-war, is the now ubiquitous prediction that soon capitalism will no longer generate enough new jobs to go around owing to the replacement of human living labor by machines.

Read the rest of this entry »

MMT is right … which (paradoxically) is why it is wrong

I’ve been thinking about responding to this article, Internet Marxists Who Are More Austrian than Neoclassical), but I don’t want to repeat myself, so let me try a different tack. I don’t guarantee MMTers will understand my argument. In fact, I don’t think they care about my argument. But, in any case, here goes:

The essential paradox of Modern Money Theory is not that it is wrong, but that it is wrong because, essentially, it is right.

The writer appears to believe that any opposition to MMT policies must result from the belief, “that a state currency not ‘backed’ by gold must surely have zero value or, at the very least, command a level of acceptance likely to crumble at any moment.”

Let me assure the writer that, at least in my argument, this concern is misplaced. I do not oppose MMT policies because fiat currency is subject to depreciation. Nor am I a gold-bug or what he calls an “Austrian Marxist”. In fact, communists were advocating a non-commodity means of exchange while bourgeois neoclassical theory was still in its infancy. Further, the Soviet Union and all socialist experiments of which I am aware, had no commodity money at all.

Thus, to understand why I oppose MMT we have to begin with its core assumptions — assumptions that I think are entirely valid. Read the rest of this entry »

Schrödinger’s Capital: Why Chris Arthur followed Bohm-Bawerk in rejecting the law of value

NOTE 24(c):  The superposition of socially necessary labor time

As I showed in my last post, bourgeois simpletons have tried to expunge the law of value from economics without success. This is because, as Bohm-Bawerk admitted, the law of value provides a weapon for the working class in its conflict with the capitalist. Assuming Marx is correct, says Bohm-Bawerk, “the difference in value that falls as surplus to the capitalist” is revealed by the law:

“And this principle, entirely unfounded as it is, the socialist adherents of the Exploitation theory do not maintain as something unessential, as some innocent bit of system building; they put it in the forefront of practical claims of the most aggressive description. They maintain the law that the value of all commodities rests on the labour time incorporated in them, in order that the next moment they may attack, as ‘opposed to law,’ ‘unnatural,’ and ‘unjust,’ all formations of value that do not harmonise with this ‘law'”

It is obvious why Marx’s law of value might be a problem for Bohm-Bawerk and the neoclassical school, but it is not at all evident why the value-form school should spend so much time trying to 2000px-Schrodingers_cat.svgexpunge the law of value from Marxism as well. In any case, this effort by the value-form school is just as impotent once the content of their criticism of the law of value is explained.

According to the Chris Arthur and value-form school, it is not value that determines the prices of commodities,  but prices that create a ‘value dimension’ allowing use-values to then be compared with one another as values:

Read the rest of this entry »

Schrödinger’s Capital: Why price never equals value in Marx’s labor theory of value

NOTE 24(b): Why Marx’s argument on value causes such controversy

A reader of this blog made this excellent statement regarding my last post:

“Yes indeed, after having to offer so many caveats about value, bourgeois economists and most ordinary people start to wonder what good the concept is in the first place. Especially if it is not directly visible, if nobody really knows the value of any commodity, and if it doesn’t directly determine prices, fretting over it starts to sound to people like a bunch of obsessive woo-woo pseudoscience, like worrying about ghosts and such.”

If the value of a commodity cannot be detected or measured by any known means, why do I spend so much time talking about it? The answer is simple: qualitatively, value, exchange value and prices are all the same thing: they are each some definite quantity of socially necessary labor time. Unless you can explain value, you cannot explain prices nor the constant, apparently random, movement of the price of a commodity in the market.

Before we can explain why prices randomly shift according to supply and demand, we have to explain why prices even exist; i.e., we have to explain what price itself is.

To approach the problem from another direction, it might help to think of it this way: In Capital Marx never needed to prove that labor lay behind the prices of commodities. Almost every economist in his own time accepted that this was true.

Folks like Bohm-Bawerk challenged the idea that labor is the source of value not because it was unproven, but because of its implications for capitalism. As Bohm-Bawerk argues in his critique:

“And this principle, entirely unfounded as it is, the socialist adherents of the Exploitation theory do not maintain as something unessential, as some innocent bit of system building; they put it in the forefront of practical claims of the most aggressive description. They maintain the law that the value of all commodities rests on the labour time incorporated in them, in order that the next moment they may attack, as “ opposed to law,” “ unnatural,” and “ unjust,” all formations of value that do not harmonise with this “ law,”—such as the difference in value that falls as surplus to the capitalist—and demand their abolition. Thus they first ignore the exceptions in order to proclaim their law of value as universal. And, after thus assuming its universality, they again draw attention to the exceptions in order to brand them as offences against the law.”

As he honestly explains, Bohm-Bawerk’s opposition to labor as the source of social wealth was based on his view that it provided a political argument for the working class against capitalist exploitation. (By contrast, Harvey and the value school have yet to explain the grounds on which their opposition to labor theory of value is based.)

However simply saying labor time is behind the prices of commodities explains almost nothing. Even if labor value lay behind the prices of commodities, Marx still had to explain a problem for which no economist in Marx’s time could offer a satisfactory explanation: If labor was behind both value and prices, why did the prices of commodities almost always diverge from their values — something that is implied by what is often called ‘the problem of the transformation of values into prices of production’. Given the roadblock Adam Smith and Ricardo ran into trying to explain how the values of commodities were transformed into the capitalist production prices of commodities, Marx first had to explain what price was and the relation of price to value.

Unlike bourgeois simpletons, Marx did not accept price as a given. He argued price was the observable manifestation of something that could not be observed: labor value. However the relation between prices and value was nowhere near as simple and straightforward as was commonly assumed.

Let’s restate the critical points of the previous discussion

To begin his explanation, Marx had to first show why value, exchange value and price are not the same thing and must be distinguished from one another.

As I stated in the previous note, although Marx is often accused of having a mechanical view of labor value, where the price of a commodity is also its value, Marx held no such theory. In Marx’s labor theory value, exchange value and price are three separate and distinct properties, each of which almost always embody a different quantity of labor time and each of which must, therefore, be explained separately.

The relation between the value, exchange value and price of a commodity can be understood this way:

  • First, a commodity may have value without having exchange value or price.
  • Second, a commodity may have exchange value, without having any value at all.
  • Third, a commodity may have a price, without having either value or exchange value.
  • Fourth, even in a transaction involving a commodity that has value, exchange value and a price, nothing in labor theory states these three quantities of abstract homogenous socially necessary labor time will be equal.

A commodity may be a product of labor and thus have value. This, however, does not mean the commodity has exchange value or a price in the market. Nor does it mean the exchange value and price of the commodity are equal quantities of socially necessary labor time as is embodied in the value of the commodity.

On the other hand, a commodity may have a price in the market, without having either value or exchange value. Even if the commodity has a price, a definite value and a definite exchange value, there is nothing to say the price of the commodity embodies a quantity of socially necessary labor time equal to either its value or its exchange value.

Finally, a commodity may have exchange value without embodying a single instant of value. Even if the commodity possesses both value and exchange value nothing in labor theory suggest the same quantity of socially necessary labor time is embodied in each.

Defining terms

Surprisingly, in labor theory, although the value of a commodity, its exchange value and its price, all refer to some quantity of socially necessary labor time, they are three different and distinct things that can contain unequal quantities of socially necessary labor time.

In first place, the value of any commodity is the socially necessary labor time required to produce the good. This value arises from the expenditure of labor power on an object of nature in the course of producing the commodity. The value contained in the commodity is nothing more than some definite expenditure of labor power in some specific form. The relation between the value (socially necessary labor time) of the commodity and the commodity itself is peculiar to the commodity.

The exchange value of the commodity is the quantity of another commodity for which the first commodity can be exchanged. This second commodity, like the first, is also nothing more than some definite expenditure of labor power in some specific form. When the two commodities are exchanged, their owners attempt to estimate their respective values and this is a problem. According to Marx neither owner knows the value of his commodity nor the value of the other commodity. It follows from this that neither owner has any idea what the proper exchange ratio is for the two commodities. They are guesstimating or approximating the proper exchange ratio for the two commodities. Depending on the knowledge of the owners and market conditions, this guess may be more or less accurate, but it is always just an approximation. The exchange value — the quantity of a second commodity given in exchange for the first — can never be anything more than a more or less educated approximation of their actual exchange values.

Finally, we have the price of the commodity — which, of course, assumes a money of some sort. The exchange value and the price of a commodity are often assumed to be the same thing, but actually they are not the same. While the exchange value of any commodity is the definite quantity of one commodity paid out for another commodity, its price, however, can simply be a certain quantity of a token of money, rather than an actual commodity money. The token is assumed to stand in the place of the money commodity that is being exchange for the first, but this is not always the case. For example, when the dollar was debased from gold after 1971, price was also, at the same time, severed from exchange value. As a result, today the price of a commodity no longer represents any definite amount of a commodity money. The debasement of the token of money actually can lead to the oddest sort of result: a good for sale in the market may have a price without having either value or exchange value.

Bourgeois economists, value and price

Contrary to most explanations of Marx’s labor theory of value, there is nothing in the labor theory of value that says the price or exchange value of any commodity is its value. The argument that the value of a commodity is its price (or that the price of a commodity is its value) is not Marx’s theory of value, it is bourgeois simpleton theory. As the argument against Marx made by Bohm-Bawerk demonstrates, in neoclassical economic theory the terms value, exchange value and price are essentially three interchangeable terms for the same thing. By contrast, In Marx’s theory these three terms do not refer to the same thing.

Thus, it is the most bizarre thing that Marx, who alone states value, exchange value and price are not the same and can never be the same except by chance, is the one person everyone else accuses of saying the value of a commodity is its price. What is even more bizarre is that when bourgeois simpletons like Bohm-Bawerk make this charge against Marx, Marxists often rush in to defend the principle that value equals price!

What accounts for the incongruity between value, exchange value and price?

The question this raises is obvious: How can we explain the persistent inequality between the magnitudes of value, exchange value and price?

Since each of these categories is simply some definite quantity of socially necessary labor time in the form of a particular product of labor, the relation between the three cannot just be determined by the socially necessary labor time each embodies. All we have here are socially necessary labor time in three different and unequal quantities, embodied in three different objects: a commodity, a second commodity for which the first is exchanged and an object serving as money. Since the socially necessary labor times of the three are all simply a definite quantity homogenous abstract labor, i.e., the expenditure of a definite quantity of labor power, nothing differentiates them as labor values but the duration of socially necessary labor time that is embodied in them.

Socially necessary labor time, since it is the “substance” the three share in common, can explain why commodities can be compared to one another, but it cannot explain why they exchange in the market in proportions that persistently diverge from their actual relative values. Yet we know this persistent inequality of labor values in exchange not only happens, it is the general rule of exchange according to Marx. Since the three quantities of socially necessary labor time — value, exchange value and price — are simply three different durations of socially necessary labor time, their persistent inequality in actual exchanges cannot be explained by the quantity of socially necessary labor time they each embody.

We are thus forced to conclude that the persistent divergence between values, exchange values and prices cannot be explained by the socially necessary labor time they each embody and which allows them to be compared as values. Rather, this persistent inequality must be explained by something else having no relation to socially necessary labor time required to produce them.

We have to look elsewhere for an explanation.

Schrödinger’s Capital: How David Harvey borrowed from Austrian theory to criticize Marx

Note 24(a): How Harvey channels Bohm-Bawerk

In David Harvey’s introduction to Capital, Harvey makes the startling allegation that Marx never demonstrated that labor was the source of value; he simply made an a priori assertion that labor was the source of value by relying on the readers familiarity with Ricardo’s argument.

“One reason Marx could get away with this cryptic presentation of use-value, exchange-value and value was because anybody who had read Ricardo would say, yes, this is Ricardo.”

A surprisingly similar argument to Harvey can be found in, of all places, the Austrian economist Bohm-Bawerk’s 1890 book, Capital and Interest, where he levels the criticism Marx simply relies on Smith and Ricardo’s authority to make his case for the labor theory of value. But neither writer really proved labor was the source of value, argues Bohm-Bawerk. Smith and Ricardo only asserted “that labour is the principle of the value of goods simply as an axiom, and without giving any evidence for it.”

Harvey applies Bohm-Bawerk’s criticism of Smith and Ricardo into his own criticism of Marx, stating the latter did not offer proof for his a priori assertion that labor is the source of value because “we cannot isolate and conduct controlled experiments in a laboratory, so we have to use the power of abstraction instead in order to arrive at similar scientific forms of understanding.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,569 other followers