Chris Wright and Wertkritik: Giving away the farm?

by Jehu

Here is a very good take by Chris Wright on Elmar Flaschart’s talk to the Platypus conference. In his essay, “Value Critique and Politics… or Not”, Chris Wright notes that, in Flatschart’s opinion,

“There is thus a gap between the conditions of emancipation and actually producing new relations, emancipated human relations”

Wright agrees with Flatschart that,

“It is not the task of abstract critique of society to give you immediate steps to social revolution.”

precipice_737235However Wright’s agreement with Flatschart is nuanced. It is premised on the assumption that critique of value is not tied to an equally elaborated notion of revolution, understood as a preconceived blueprint for the revolution, to a utopian vision of how society must be organized. If this utopian vision is what is meant by “an equally elaborated notion of revolution”, Wright agrees with this as well.

Frankly, I think Wright is actually giving away the farm on these points.

Okay — It is not the job of critique to propose a blueprint for the new society, but Wright is also conceding something more than this: he is conceding that the abolition of value implies “no new program or a master plan for emancipation”.

Think about what this means: We are speaking of the emancipation of the laboring classes of all countries, but Wright is conceding to Flatschart and wertkritik that emancipating these laborers from socially necessary labor is not social emancipation.

From what then is the laborer to be emancipated? If social emancipation does not consists of freeing the social producers from labor, what is it? Is this because Wright too thinks there is something other than labor the working class is freed from?

Flatschart needs to defend the argument that non-labor time for the vast majority of society is not itself social emancipation of the laborers.

But Flatschart’s argument against creating a blue print for the new society also conceals an even deeper flaw in his argument that political relations, however “complex”, are not themselves determined by labor. Stated in the latter form, clearly Flatschart is violating the premises of historical materialism, at least as I understand it.

I am not really sure how people arrived at the view the collapse of capitalism is not the self-emancipation of the laborer. It may be a hangover from the realization that political emancipation, in the form of 20th century revolutions, were not the same as the abolition of labor. I think what happened in the 20th century is that communists belatedly realized political power did not necessarily lead to emancipation.

It turned out taking power and breaking the domination of the propertied classes over the means of production was not emancipation after all. The emancipation secured by this means was political and, therefore, only a provisional emancipation. It is entirely condescending to have to quote the Communist Manifesto about this to communists, but they are idiots and need it:

“Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.”

In other words, a political revolution — the emancipation OF labor — was never of itself a sufficient condition of social emancipation — the emancipation FROM labor.

Stated this way, Marxists will have no problem finding agreement. But then wertkritik takes this obvious truth and arrives at the completely unsupported view that emancipation from value is insufficient. It must be followed by a “political emancipation”. On what basis is this latter argument advanced? And why is it so commonly held among Marxists of every variety? We go from the Communist Manifesto where political emancipation is economically insufficient, to wertkritik where emancipation from value — from labor itself — is “politically insufficient”.

This is why every communist of any variety, who concedes capitalism might fall, presumes it will be followed by some military dictatorship. Emancipation from value, from necessary labor itself, is, in the thinking of these communists, only a “condition” of emancipation, not the aim.

Although completely obvious, it is necessary to state to the supporters of the value criticism school that this idea violates every premise of historical materialism.