Labor Theory and Accelerationism by the numbers

by Jehu

In my last post I showed why an accelerationist interpretation of historical materialism was understood by Marx to be embedded in his theory. However, the criticism leveled by Ben Noys might still be considered valid by some Marxists who refused to acknowledge my references.

Nick Land accelerationism as seen through the writing of Ben Noys

First, those criticisms include the charge that Marx’s own writings might lend themselves to “a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism.” This is a difficult charge to counter simply by referencing the texts alleged to be prone to apocalyptic interpretations. Almost anyone dumb enough to take Noys argument seriously on this point is not likely to dissuaded of it by any references to the actual texts written by Marx.

Second, Noys charges that Marx was engaging in speculation about the tendencies inherent in capitalism. This is a common enough argument that has been employed by many Marxists to argue against the very idea capitalism will collapse of its own inherent contradictions. Almost nothing can be said that will convince those who believe capitalism can only be overthrown by a political revolution — and this includes the vast majority of Marxists — will ever accept that capitalism will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.

Third, he accuses some writers of implying “that by a kind of radical or quasi-Marxist ‘cunning of reason’ the very worst will produce the ‘good’”. And this is a charge often made against Nick Land by any number of writers who are familiar with his writings. Judging by what I have read, almost all Marxist writers who have commented on Land’s brand of accelerationism seems to accept accelerationism necessarily implies deep suffering for the working class.

Despite the above difficulties, in this post I want to show why accelerationism is not only consistent with the labor theory of value, I will go further to show that it is actually impossible to hold to the labor theory of value and not acknowledge the possibility inherent in the mode of production to accelerate capitalism to its demise. While the advocates of accelerationism like Nick Land often have a vulgar interpretation of what accelerationism means in the context of labor theory, folks like Ben Noys who oppose accelerationism do this on the basis of complete opposition to labor theory itself.

Simply stated: You cannot oppose the idea of accelerating the demise of capitalism unless you also oppose labor theory of value. The opponents of accelerationism are just opponents of the labor theory of value within Marxism and should be exposed for who they are.

So, let us begin:

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In labor theory value is the product of living labor, its measure is the duration of expenditure of this living labor, “so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary”.

The social labor day is no more than the sum of the individual labors expended in production of value during a typical labor day of 8 hours. Assuming all labor expended is “no more than is socially necessary” for production of commodities, the social labor day of society is simply this 8 hours times the total population of social producers.

If there are 1,000 social producers, the social labor day will be 8,000 hours; if there are 1 million social producers, the social labor day will be 8,000,000 hours. In either case, the duration of the social labor day is not a mystery being a simple function of the total population of social producers and the normal labor day.

If the normal labor day should change from 8 hours to 10 hours or from 8 hours to 6 hours, the social labor day will be proportionally altered. For a population of 1,000 social producers it will, in the first example. rise from 8,000 hours to 10,000 hours; and, in the second instance, fall from 8,000 hours to 6,000 hours. Thus, in labor theory, the actual length of the social labor day is determined both by the total population of social producers and the individual hours contributed by each.

There is no distinction to be made between 1,000 social producers working 8 hours each and 1,200 social producers, each working 6.67 hours. Each of these examples produces exactly the same quantity of value — 8,000 hours. If the sum total of the material requirements of the community of social producers requires 8,000 hours of labor, each will provide this. On the other hand, 1,000 social producer working 6.67 hours a day can never produce as much value as 1,000 working 8 hours a day.

This is how the situation appears in a community of social producers; however in the capitalist mode of production things are different. To go back to our first example: 1,000 social producers working 8 hours a day will produce 8,000 hours of value.

But here we make a distinction: each of the social producers are paid wages of four hours of value and four hours are the profit of capital. Although there are 8,000 hours of value produced during the social labor day, this value is divided between 4000 hours of wages and 4,000 hours of profit.

In the previous example we assumed 1,000 workers, working 8 hours per day would produce as much as 1,200 workers working 6.67 hours per day — a total of 8,000 hours of value. There is no change in the total value produced in either circumstances; however, the wages of each worker is equal to four hours of labor and this does change.

In the first instance 1,000 workers would have wages of 4,000; in the second instance 1,200 workers would have wages of 4,800 hours. By the same token, the profits of capital would shrink from 4,000 hours in the first example to 3,200 hours in the second. Reducing hours of labor, even when it results in an increase in the total population of workers employed, must result in a fall in the rate of profit. In our very simple example, the rate of profit falls from 4000/8000 = 50%, to 3200/8000 = 40%.

What impact does a fall in the rate of profit have on the capitalist mode of production? In asking this question, I am not concerned about why the rate of profit fell, but only what impact such a fall has on capitalism? In the example I am using, the fall in the rate of profit is induced by a reduction of hours of labor not from the overproduction of capital. But in both cases the rate of profit has fallen and will have the same impact on capital. The fall in the rate of profit has the same impact on a mode of production where the goad of production is profit, no matter what the source of the fall.

This impact was detailed by Marx in chapter 15 of volume three; but it was also explained more concisely in chapter 15 of volume 1. In volume 1, Marx explained the resulting fall in the rate of profit would compel the capitalists to introduce improved machinery of production in an attempt to restore the rate of profit. At the same time, the fall would reduce the number of firms that could operate profitably, leading to the concentration and centralization of capital in fewer hands.

Through these two mechanisms, the fall in the rate of profit would mature, “the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of production, and thereby provides, along with the elements for the formation of a new society, the forces for exploding the old one.”

Now, the question posed is this: Does Marx call on “a religious, even apocalyptic, interpretation of historical materialism” to arrive at his conclusion? Is Marx engaging in ‘unclear speculation’ about the tendencies inherent in the mode of production? Is Marx implying “that by a kind of radical or quasi-Marxist ‘cunning of reason’ the very worst will produce the ‘good’”?

Obviously not. Marx is simply employing his own explanation for “how capitalism works” to briefly explain the implications of his model.

The only honest objection to Marx’s own explanation of how the reduction of hours of labor could be used to accelerate capitalism into its demise that is possible is that capitalism doesn’t work the way Marx thought it did. Marx isn’t stating “I have faith the immanent tendencies of the present will bring down capitalism.” Instead, he spends 15 chapters showing in excruciating detail how he thinks capitalism works and then briefly discusses the implications of his model. And the implications were that the movement for the eight hours day could accelerate capitalism’s own drive to its demise. Marx was, in other words, showing the inherent revolutionary implications of the movement to limit hours of labor.

Marx’s argument is painstakingly built up from the first sentence in Capital to reach the conclusions he comes to in chapter 15 that it is possible to accelerate the demise of capitalism by a movement to reduce hours of labor. All of this is summarily dismissed by any one of dozens of “Marxist” academics who have never really even read him and who base their own conclusions on what some other fucking hopeless asshole academic wrote.

There is a method to my madness on labor theory: Any time some fucking academic writes anything stating a disagreement with Marx, I assume he or she is full of shit until proven otherwise. I may not at first know why he or she is full of shit, but I go back and read Marx in order to figure it out.

I.

Have.

Never.

Been.

Wrong.

In.

This.

Assumption.

So when people like Ben Noys accuses Marx of a religious apocalyptic conception of history, I go read Marx to see his evidence. I compare what Ben Noys writes with the actual text to judge for myself why a “Marxist” is calling Marx a ‘Moonie’. Because I really want to know why a “Marxist” is appropriating the arguments of well-known anti-communists to refute accelerationism. If accelerationism can be refuted, there is no reason why labor theory cannot do this without the arguments of anti-communists like Karl Popper.

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