The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

Against the class struggle strategy

I have been asked to comment on Werner Bonefeld’s 2004 essay with the unusually long title, “On Postone’s Courageous but Unsuccessful Attempt to Banish the Class Antagonism from the Critique of Political Economy“.

The essay attempts to establish a beachhead, so to speak, against Postone’s master work, “Time, Labor and Social Domination”. In his ground-breaking book, Postone set forth the thesis that, properly understood, Capital should not be read as affirming wage labor against capital, but as an extensive critique of wage labor itself. The aim indicated in Capital is not for the emancipation of wage labor from capital, but the emancipation of the proletariat from wage labor itself. Postone argues that this distinction was not properly understood by Marxists for most of the 20th century and accounts for our present impasse.

Bonefeld disagrees with Postone reduction of classes and class struggle to a mere superficial phenomenon:

“Postone presupposes what needs to be explained: he presupposes the class-divided human being as a personification or a character-mask – that is, as a human attribute of things.”

Bonefeld accuses Postone of treating classes and class struggle as superficial manifestations of a much deeper process in much the same way prices of commodities can be said to be the superficial manifestation of their values. He warns this must lead to communists becoming apologists for existing social relations.

In this post, I want identify five problems with Bonefeld’s approach to historical materialism. In the next and final post, I will try to conceptualize what an alternative to the class struggle strategy might look like.

Before beginning, I have to admit a bias here: Postone’s argument is one of the more important reasons why I have adopted the slogan, “Communism is free time and nothing else.” So my discussion of Bonefeld’s critique of Postone will obviously be tilted in favor of the latter writer.

That said, this examination is not a defense of Postone. Postone doesn’t need an idiot like me to defend him. I examine Bonefeld’s critique in order to better my understanding of the implications of Postone’s argument in “Time, Labor and Social Domination”. Personally, I think there is no better way of grasping an argument than by studying the arguments made against it.

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Chris Arthur versus Frederick Engels: Did Engels fundamentally revise Marx’s labor theory?

What is Engels unique contribution to historical materialism and the labor theory of value. Critical elements of Marx’s work have been called into question because it is said that these elements are actually to product of Engels not Marx. Although the two men worked very closely all of their adult lives, today there is a growing chorus of Marxists who assert that their reading of Marx differs fundamentally from Engels’s reading. This has forced them to assert Engels’ reading is fundamentally wrong.

I want to examine one example of the idea Engels misread Marx.

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Why Keynesian policies cannot permanently forestall the collapse of capitalism

Interesting question on my ASKfm:

“Can you explain why fiat currency is not a permanent solution to the overaccumulation of capital/falling rate of profit?”

The answer will require some explaining. I hope I do not get too deep in the weeds of labor theory with this answer. Briefly stated issuing fiat currency to avoid the final collapse of capitalism runs up against problems that are not immediately obvious.

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History and theory

No examination of a historical event is possible without a theory.  The study of history requires not just the mastery of facts, but a theoretical framework that can make sense of those facts. Most of us approach history with little or no theoretical grounding in this regard, except the nonsense promoted by talking heads on the evening news or the “supply and demand” bullshit we were taught in grade school as children.

Most of us think we can understand historical events without a theoretical framework. This approach is possible, I suppose, but it can leave us prone to critical errors of interpretation even if we know the basic facts. Very significant historical events are complex. It is not always possible to understand the thread of the events merely by mastering the facts.

Let me give an example of what I mean.

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Ernest Mandel and the humiliating failure of labor theorists in the 1970s (Part 3)

In my last post, I argued that Mandel literally invented a theoretical argument to show why Friedman was wrong to implicate fascist state social spending in the rampant inflation that swept the world market in the 1970s. Friedman’s monetarism argued that government counterfeiting of its currency caused inflation.

But Mandel knew that if the fascists suddenly made an effort to constrain fascist state currency printing, the “economy” would literally implode. This is why he labeled the idea that government was deliberately trying to depreciate its own currency a “conspiracy theory”.

Mandel’s about face is to be explained, in part, by confusion among Marxists at the apparent continuation of wage slavery in the absence of commodity money, But the problem was also one of blatant political opportunism that has gripped Marxists since 1971.

To justify fascist state food stamp socialism — social programs alleged to ameliorate the conditions of the working class — Marxists have been compelled to offer another explanation for the debased post-1971 dollar — an explanation that fundamentally departs from the assumptions of Marx’s labor theory of value. Marxists today insist that, somehow, a valueless debased fiat dollar still expresses the labor values of commodities even though it has no connection to commodity money.

So, allow me to show — again — why this silly proposition is … well, silly.

What happened in 1971 was a conventional currency crisis and nothing more. The dollar was not simply devalued, it was debased altogether.

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Ernest Mandel and the humiliating failure of labor theorists in the 1970s (Part 2)

This is my second post on Ernest Mandel and the humiliating failure of labor theorists to explain what happened in 1971. In my last post on the failure of Marxist theorists to understand what happened in 1971, when Bretton Woods collapsed, I tried to establish three things:

First, Mandel’s approach to the problem of the increase in the so-called price of gold was fundamentally at odds with labor theory of value. In labor theory of value, money has no price. What Mandel sloppily calls “the price of gold” is actually described by Marx as the standard of dollar denominated prices — the amount of value represented by a single dollar.

Second, Mandel never attempted to verify his hypothesis by examining the empirical data. Had he done so it would have been immediately evident that his hypothesis failed.

Third, Mandel allowed himself to be influenced by things that had no connection whatsoever to the evidence. He believed it was a conspiracy theory to argue the collapse of the dollar was the result of government policy. Thus he never really investigated the idea.

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Ernest Mandel and the humiliating failure of labor theorists in the 1970s (Part 1)

Let’s talk about my two favorite things: Money and Marxist Morons! In particular, let’s talk about the relation between US dollars and the money commodity, gold.

I am addressing this issue because it has been suggested by Noa Rodman that I have neglected the concrete circumstances of the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971 and the US withdrawal of its commitment to redeem dollars for gold at an official exchange ratio of 35 paper dollars for one troy ounce of gold:

“Jehu, I hope you take to heart my suggestion for research into the concrete circumstances of ‘1971’.”

My response to Noa will be based on a critique of Ernest Mandel’s 1980 essay, “Behind the soaring price of gold”.

In this essay, Mandel sought to explain the sudden rise of gold prices in the 1970s following Nixon’s decision to withdraw from the Bretton Woods agreement. In that agreement the United States government was pledged to redeem its currency for gold at the official rate of $35 (currency) to one troy ounce of gold. This agreement was concluded following World War II by the United States and its allies. By 1980, gold was being sold at prices upwards of $800, not the former agreed upon price of $35 — a whopping 2285% increase!

What caused this staggering leap in gold prices?

*****

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Notes for a talk on communism and free time

This essay is to serve as talking points on communism and free time in Marx’s labor theory of value. This summary is mostly drawn from the Grundrisse, specifically the so-called fragment on the machine. It is not in final form. I am circulating it to serve as the basis for discussion. The talking points also do not offer any proof for any of Marx’s arguments. Nothing I say here argues that Marx was right, only that this is the argument he makes in the Grundrisse.

My approach to the subject assumes that communism can be defined as free time and nothing else. Following this logic, capitalism is conceived of as the creation of the material foundation for non-labor for the majority of society.

By way of introduction, it should be noted that this short passage from Marx is from a collection of notebooks that was mostly unknown until around 1973, when it was translated into English by Martin Nicolaus and made widely available. Although it had been published as early as 1939, sources state only 3-4 copies of the notebooks that together compose the work ever reached the West until Nicolaus translated it.

As can be seen from my summary, Marx predicted the end of production based on commodity money (exchange value) was inevitable. The prediction, however, never known until the gold standard had actually already collapsed in 1971. As a result, Marx’s prediction has never been adequately integrated into Marx’s theoretical model by Marxist academics and economists.

The Grundrisse thus gives a much different perspective on events of the 20th century, from the two world wars to the Great Depression to the collapse of Bretton Woods money system in 1971 as well as many events within the world market thereafter.

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The Strategic Counter-Offensive of Labor

Real communists want wages to go to zero — as quickly as possible

I received this comment to a post I did on Kathi Weeks a couple of years ago: The commenter seems to think I fumbled my critique of her ideas.

“I feel you have done a disservice to the part of Week’s argument where she suggests that the demand for the reduction in work hours be accompanied by a demand for a concomitant increase in the hourly wage.”

I criticized Weeks for suggesting that a reduction of hours of labor should be accompanied by a demand to keep money wages unchanged — as in 30 hours for 40 hours pay of something along that line. However, in the opinion of the commenter, the example I used seemed to imply I actually assumed no change in wages after the reduction in hours of labor as Weeks suggested. I criticized Weeks for suggesting that wages should not change, but then assumed wages should not change as well:

“[By] inserting the assumption that the capitalist can purchase labor power in this scenario at minimum for the equivalent of two hours of labor, you have effectively stated that under a condition of a halving of the hours of labor for the individual worker, the capitalist would be forced to pay each worker the same daily real wage as they were paid prior to the reduction, which of course implies a doubling of the real hourly wage.”

The commenter is mostly correct. The worker is not paid for her labor. She is paid for her commodity, labor power, the value of which is not affected by a change in hours of labor. If before the reduction in hours of labor the value of labor power is two hours of labor, after the reduction of hours of labor the value of labor power is still two hours. So long as hours of labor do not fall below two hours per day, a reduction of hours of labor will have no impact on wages.

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Still the commenter doesn’t understand why I criticize the demand for wages to remain unchanged:

“After all, is that not what we really want? A reduction in work hours with no loss in real wages?”

Well, actually not.

Any real communist wants wages to go to zero. When wages go to zero capitalism collapses and we get communism. I know this sounds bizarre, but we want what the capitalists want: the end of all paid (wage) labor. The capitalist wants the end of all paid labor because they think this will fatten their profits fantastically. We want the end of all paid labor because it means we get to communism.

I mean, how do we get to communism if wages remain unchanged? Wages should go to zero.

A lot of communists are terrified that wages should ever drop, but still insistent that communism is a system founded on the principle of to each according to their need. But this principle means, first, no one is paid for labor and, second, no one pays for the means to life. There are no wages, no prices, no money.

It has been said that when asked what labor wanted, Gompers replied, “More.”

“We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor.”

In fact, as bizarre as it sounds, communists want less not more, which is why we won’t ever win an election — at least as long as we are honest. Less is a very hard proposition to sell to the working class.

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The working class lives by their labor, by wages, and thus want more wages in return for their labor. However, since 1971, as wages have risen, the working class has had less and less to live on. The wages are worthless paper. The paper is worthless and inflation eats its purchasing power away faster then workers can earn it. Yet each worker thinks she can outrun inflation by working more and harder and longer.

As difficult as it seems right now, communists will be forced to suck it up and bring the working class the bad news: wages don’t give them the means to live; instead, wages are designed to limit their consumption. No one will want to hear this. They will call you crazy. They will point to prices in the supermarket as evidence they really really need the money. They will stubbornly cling to the money illusion until one day it clicks.

When that happens, capitalism is finished.

In the mean time, we should do nothing to flatter the illusion that wages do anything but deepen the poverty of the working class. To encourage the illusion that the working class needs higher wages is to betray them to their enemies.