The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

Deconstructing Jacques Bidet’s argument against Postone

I went through the same simple exercise with Jacques Bidet’s text, his critique (for lack of a better term) of Postone’s argument.

Again, I begin with a direct quote from Bidet:

In the capitalist class relation, the market form comes to be instrumentalized and oriented toward destructive effects. The market as such is a rational mode of social coordination; but , when it comes under the command of capitalist logic, it becomes an irrational one. In my opinion, Marx’s discussion is not entirely satisfying because from this instrumentalization it does not follow that the market or value must be abolished, but rather that this rational instrument (and its counterpart, the organization, as well ) must collectively be reclaimed – which is a matter for democratic class struggle.

In contrast to Postone, who argues wages themselves are the problem, Bidet see nothing wrong with wages.

In the capitalist class relation, [the buying and selling of labor power] comes to be instrumentalized and oriented toward destructive effects. The [buying and selling of labor power] as such is a rational mode of social coordination; but, when it comes under the command of capitalist logic, it becomes an irrational one. In my opinion, Marx’s discussion is not entirely satisfying because from this instrumentalization it does not follow that the [buying and selling of labor power or wages] must be abolished, but rather that this rational instrument (and its counterpart, the organization, as well ) must collectively be reclaimed – which is a matter for democratic class struggle.

In Bidet’s opinion, it is the buying and selling of labor power for the purpose of capitalist self-expansion — not the buying and selling of labor power itself — that is the problem. We must ‘democratically reclaim’ wage labor.

The problem with this argument is that the buying and selling of labor power is specific to the capitalist mode of production and no other mode of production. Postone’s argument is precisely that wages and labor power are in no sense transhistorical categories.

What’s in a word…

I slightly altered Postone’s text here to strip away the abstract-ness of the categories of analysis he employs in order to uncover the real sense of his discussion. In particular, I replaced the term, value, with the term, wages, to see what impact this has on his meaning.

Is this valid? I cannot say for sure, but it does have a remarkable resonance as a guide to strategy.

Postone:

To claim, as Marx does, that value is historically specific to capitalism is to claim not only that non-capitalist societies were not structured by value, but also that a post-capitalist society would also not be based on value. This, in turn, entails showing that the secular tendency of capital’s development is to render value increasingly anachronistic.

Restated:

To claim, as Marx does, that wages are historically specific to capitalism is to claim not only that non-capitalist societies were not structured by wages, but also that a post-capitalist society would also not be based on wages. This, in turn, entails showing that the secular tendency of capital’s development is to render wages increasingly anachronistic.

If I am reading Postone correctly, then, there is no way that a post-capitalist society can tolerate wages or wage labor in any form. Abolition of capitalism immediately requires abolition of wages and wage labor. Nothing short of this will work for us.

Substitute “wages” in place of “value” …

In this passage, Postone employs the term, value, but he essentially means wages.

As long a communists are unwilling to confront the wages system itself, they are making a choice — unconsciously — for barbarism, i.e., for fascism. This is unacceptable.

“Within the framework of the approach outlined here, the growing anachronistic character of value in the absence of a widespread imaginary of a future beyond value – that is, a post -proletarian future – is having enormously destructive economic, social, political, and environmental consequences. It is capital itself, in its development, which is confronting us with the increasingly stark choice of socialism or barbarism.” -Moishe Postone, The Current Crisis and the Anachronism of Value: A Marxian Reading

Wage slavery will be necessary as long as we tolerate it

According to Postone, so long as wage slavery is allowed to exist it will reconstitute itself as necessary. This is the entire significance of all capitalist crises:

“Within the framework of Marx’s analysis, the drive for ongoing increases in productivity leads to the increasing importance of science and technology in production. That is, the dynamic of capital is historically generativ e of a rapid accumulation of socially general knowledge. The long -term tendency of this historical development is to render production based on labor time – that is, on value and, hence, on proletarian labor – increasingly anachronistic. On the one hand, this opens the possibility of large -scale socially general reductions in labor time, and fundamental changes in the nature and social organization of labor, which suggests that, for Marx, the abolition of capitalism would not entail the self- realization of the proletariat, but its self- abolition.

“And yet, on the other hand, because the dialectic of transformation and reconstitution not only drives productivity forward, but also reconstitutes value, it thereby also structurally reconstitutes the necessity of value -creating labor, that is, proletarian labor.

“The historical dynamic of capitalism, then, increasingly points beyond the necessity of proletarian labor while reconstituting that very necessity. It both generates the possibility of another organization of social life and yet hinders that possibility from being realized.” -The Current Crisis and the Anachronism of Value: A Marxian Reading, Moishe Postone