Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 4

Is a fully developed communist society possible right now?

047I want to illustrate my point from the last post that to bring the labor reserve into production and so reduce hours to a minimum for everyone in society requires a much larger reduction than may be generally assumed in the literature on the subject. To do this, I will be using actual data drawn on the United States. As I will show, under present conditions in the United States the reduction of hours of labor now required to absorb the labor reserve into production may be so large as to effectively bring us to the threshold of a fully developed communist society.

Continue reading “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 4”

Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 3

Labor reduction and the horrific conditions of the labor reserve

I have made several important points about hours of labor reduction in the first two parts of my series “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies”

The first point is that, according to labor theory, a reduction of hours of labor can drive the rate of profit to zero without any impact on productive employment and wages. This is an extremely important point, because much of the objection by Marxists and other workers to reducing hours of labor rests on their assumption that reducing hours will reduce wages. In fact, of all economic theories, labor theory alone suggest this cannot happen. Labor hours reduction has no impact on employment of productive workers and their wages.

thuglifeSecond, I have shown in part two of this series that when there is significant waste in employment of labor power in the economy, a reduction of hours of labor should actually increase both the number of productively employed workers and wages generally. When a significant portion of the existing employment of labor is wasted, reducing hours raises the wages of the working class.

If labor hours reduction does not negatively affect labor that produces value and surplus value, and if labor hours reduction forces capital to reduce the unproductive employment of labor power, can labor hours reduction actually eliminate unemployment altogether? To be more specific, to what extent is unemployment, underemployment and an entire body of workers who are today “unemployable” solely the product of the present 40 hours work week?

Continue reading “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 3”

Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 2

Steps the capitalists can take to counter a reduction in hours of labor and their effect when hours of labor are reduced

In the first part of this series, I showed that a reduction of hours of labor has no impact on wages and productive employment so long as this reduction does not actually encroach on the socially necessary labor required to produce the value of the wages of the working class. In this part, I will show why, under certain circumstances, a reduction of hours of labor will actually increase both wages and productive employment.

Continue reading “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 2”

Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 1

How exactly does hours of labor reduction work?

I have to say that I honestly have no idea how the minds of Marxists work — all of them, almost without exception. I have, by turns, alternately been accused of being reformist and ultra-Left for advocating hours of labor reduction. So, I thought I would show people how labor theory actually works in practice and why the struggle to reduce hours of labor is neither reformist nor ultra-Left, but a means to progressively abolish wage labor completely. It is the only real means of realizing a so-called ‘post-capitalist’ society.

What I find puzzling is that Marxists don’t seem to be able to do this very simple thought experiment on their own using Marx’s labor theory of value. The only real objection to reducing hours of labor is that Marxists don’t really want to kill capitalism in the first place.

One of the biggest problems I encounter when discussing hours of labor reduction with Marxists is not the dismissal of the idea as reformist or ultra-leftist. Rather, the problem is far more mundane and substantial. Marxists fear hours of labor reduction will plunge the working class into poverty as wages collapse with hours of labor.

This is an extremely important objection to reducing hours of labor, because it reflects what I think is a valid and extremely powerful fear among the working class. Since we live by selling our labor power, we must be suspicious of any proposal the seems to threaten that sale. However, there is no theoretical basis for this fear in labor theory as I will now show.

If you are a follower of value-form Marxism, don’t try this at home. It will only hurt your brain.

Continue reading “Labor Theory for (Marxist) Dummies: Part 1”

Is there a political path to communism?

I got this question on my ask.fm:

“In a recent post you said you didn’t think there is a political path to communism. Can you elaborate on that some? What might a non-political path look like?”

The answer to this question has to begin with the basic premise of historical materialism taken from the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. “

In my reading of this statement, I can only come to the conclusion that communism as a political movement can only arise if the real movement (trajectory) of society ends in communism. To put this another way, a political path to communism is only an expression of real historical changes in the mode of production. Communist politics are nothing more than an expression in political relations of material changes in the mode of production.

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Postone on structure and agency

“One of the things I found very eye opening about the Grundrisse … was that Marx was not simply interested in the end of exploitation  of the proletarian labor but rather in the abolition of this labor. Most interpretations of surplus value missed this point.  The idea that Marx was interested in the self-abolition of the proletariat and not in its realization, led me to begin rethinking  Marx fundamentally.” –Postone, Interview with Moishe Postone: “Critique and Dogmatism”

In this quote from a 2011 interview, Postone describe what I agree is the most important aspect of historical materialism outlined by Marx. My ‘difficulty’ (if that is the right word) with Postone on this point is that, in the interview itself, he never relates Marx’s insight back to a real process. This might mislead the casual reader into believing Marx’s argument is merely political.

Postone does relate his point directly back to the real process in his book, Time, Labor and Social Domination, where he shows that Marx ‘interest’ in the abolition of labor is only a theoretical expression of the actual process of capitalistic development. Which is to say, Marx only demonstrates theoretically that abolition of labor is the trajectory of the capitalist mode of production itself. Postone makes this point in his book, but not in his interview.

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Gold after the death of Marxism: A reply to George Caffentzis

This post is in response to a question posed to me on Ask.fm regarding George Caffentzis’s essay, Marxism after the Death of Gold:

“You’ve probably read this, and may have already addressed it on your blog, but in case you haven’t, I’d appreciate your thoughts.”

I am familiar with the essay in question and have written about it before. But I will return to it to provide an answer that takes into account my personal theoretical development since that time.

*****

9547247-making-money-with-your-computerGeorge Caffentzis does something in his essay that Marxists occasionally (all too often?) do: Completely and baldly lie about Marx’s theory. This essay is founded on a lie that Caffentzis knows or should know is a lie. And the case does not look good here: Either Caffentzis does not know the premise of his essay is a lie and is therefore unqualified. Or he know it is a lie and is not to be trusted because his knowing distortion of Marx’s argument clearly has an agenda.

Continue reading “Gold after the death of Marxism: A reply to George Caffentzis”

Three reasons why my argument for reducing hours of labor may suck big time

There seems to be three major categories of objections to my argument on hours of labor:

First, what material impact will a reduction of hours of labor have on the operation of the capitalist mode of production?

chair-on-the-beach-1082-2560x1440A fall in the rate of profit produced by shorter hours will cause bankruptcies in a lot of marginally profitable industries. The capitalists will not simply respond to a fall in profits by paying workers more.  When hours are reduced, the capitalists will unleash an assault on the living standards of workers. Thus, a reduction of hours of labor will lead to an offensive against the social conditions of the working class.

Second, is a reduction of hours of labor incompatible with, or opposed to, the conventional Marxist argument that the working class must seize political power?

My argument exudes a hostility toward the working class seizing political power. My proposal for reduction of hours of labor treats the capitalist mode of production as an abstraction from the class struggle. Marx insisted that objective economic processes were an expression of class forces. The idea that reduction of hours of labor can lead to communism on its own is economism. Essentially, ending capitalism means abolition of private ownership of the means of production, and the capitalist nation-state system. In isolation from the seizure of state power and nationalization of private property, proposals for changes to the mode of production, like reduction of hours of labor, are reformist.

Third, will the working class itself support a demand for reductions of hours of labor?

Workers believe reducing hours of labor will reduce their income. Hours of labor reduction might result in a shift in such that most workers will actually see their wages fall; although some rise. With a reduction of hours of labor, wages might increase relative to profits, but still fall overall. A reduction of hours under capitalism will only intensify the social crisis of the working class.

***

I’m pretty sure that does not exhaust the list. But they are interesting arguments anyways. Question 3 really is the killer, because if workers think they will be poorer they will never support it. Oddly enough, this was never a problem in France’s 35 hours law. Also average hours of labor in the US right now is about at 34.6 hours per week. Depending on the industry, hours of labor in October varied from 45 hours per week (mining) to 26.2 hours per week (leisure/hospitality). Retail, for instance, regularly runs a work week of less than 32 hours. Most people in the private service sector never see 40 hours per week.

I will probably address these three objections separately in the near future.

The ‘reformism’ of less work and the dull stupidity of Marxists.

Here is a comment on my blog post that was posted to Reddit’s socialism subreddit:

REDORDEAD: hmm yes in the age of austerity, in which an out of control falling rate of profit is causing massive reduction in work hours, automation of labor and mobilization of the world reserve army of labor the solution is the reformist demand for shorter work hours. what century are you living in?

WORKThe comment was fascinating to me, not just because I have heard it before, but also because I had no idea what it means. Reduction of labor is reformist? How so? On what basis does the redditor make this charge? Intrigued, I asked for clarification:  “Can you tell me what is reformist about demanding the end of wage labor?”

REDORDEAD: Thats not what you’re demanding. You’re demanding a reduction in the working day which capitalism already accomplishes through the rising organic composition of capital. Even Marx point out in Capital Vol. 1 that the movement for the 8 hour work day saves capitalism from itself by regulating the coercive laws of competition which cause the abuse and long-term exhaustion of the working class.

That’s not to say it can’t be a revolutionary demand given the right economic conditions, almost anything can be linked to the revolutionary demands of socialism given a mass party and disciplined mass line. But it seems worse than most, especially given the conditions today. Not sure why it’s significant at all, though it is time to think about tactics and less about theory.

This clarification had a lot of features in common with another comment posted to Reddit regarding the same blog post:

“It is thoroughly reformist. Your whole strategy is to simply fight for shortened work hours, increased hourly wages, etc. Nothing here about the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat… Congratulations, you’ve discovered economism.”

It appears that, in the thinking of these two critics, the reduction of hours of labor isn’t revolutionary because it doesn’t involve the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat, a direct demand for socialism, and a political party dedicated to this demand that practices a method of leadership that seeks to learn from the working class.

And this argument has some validity and much historical accuracy: both the ten hours day and the eight hours day were won without any fundamental alteration in the capitalistic nature of political relations. I am fascinated by this argument because, when all the dogmatic assertions are set aside, it suggests real material changes in the mode of production aren’t real without the right politics.

The problem with this reasoning is that capitalism is the production of surplus value; self-expanding value, etc. In their debates with the anarchists, Marx and Engels were stubbornly insisted on the primacy of economic relations over political relations.

Moreover, Marx almost never discussed capital without reiterating his definition of the mode of production, as he does, for instance, in chapter 15 of volume 3 of Capital:

“The purpose of capitalist production, however, is self-expansion of capital, i.e., appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit.”

Now, what has to be grasped is that, this old fart had already spent two fucking volumes of Capital defining and discussing capital yet he wants to emphasize — again — what he means by the term. In other words, after having already spent two volumes of Capital and 15 chapters of a third volume discussing capital, Marx feels the need to again reemphasize exactly what capitalism is!

Since capital is the production of surplus value, and since the production of surplus value varies with the length of the working day, how can the reduction of hours of labor be economism? It really can’t be economism and no amount of micro-sectarian ranting can make it economism. So, what is intended by activists who slap that label on reduction of hours of labor? What is intended by folks who call reduction of hours of labor reformist or economism?

I really think it is meant to draw attention to the fact it doesn’t necessarily involve the dictatorship of the proletariat, the association of laborers. People who make that charge really are trying to say I am neglecting the need for association of producers. I really have no answer to this charge. I just wanted to open my ears and for once understand why folks keep saying it. Implicit in this charge is the view that any measure, no matter how far reaching its implications, is a mere “reform” unless it is linked to the political rule of the working class.

This sort of view may in fact be valid for any measure you can imagine — except reduction of hours of labor. To understand why, simply think of a reduction of hours of labor carried to its extreme limit: hours of labor equal zero. Can capitalism exist on this basis?

Now, the argument might very well be that we can’t get to zero with a capitalist state — but that is a completely different argument. That is an argument that has nothing to do with the measure itself, but with the resistance of the capitalists and their state. Since the folks running the show today have always resisted less work for the producers, I don’t expect them to suddenly have a change of heart. Their resistance, however, has nothing whatsoever to do with reduction of hours of labor itself. They will just as viciously fight against higher wages, basic income or any other measure that appears to threaten the appropriation of surplus labor.

The difference, however, is that no matter how high wages go, they will never create communism; no matter how many food stamps you hand out or how high you raise the minimum wage or how good your health care system is — none of this can lead to communism. Because none of these measure touches on the heart of the problem: Labor itself.

However, reduce hours of labor to zero — and you will have communism before you ever even reach zero. The reduction of hours of labor is not like any other reform because no other reform touches on the critical role labor plays in the mode of production.

You can nationalize private property all day long; replace the existing state with an association of producers; or turn money into worthless labor chits — none of these measures directly touch on labor itself. Reduction of hours of labor alone can do this. The logic of my argument follows directly from Marx’s definition of capital as the “appropriation of surplus-labour, production of surplus-value, of profit.”

This is the problem we face, the conceptual obstacle post-World War II Marxism seems unable to surmount: How can the proletariat work out its own emancipation without turning back to the failures of 20th century political parties? How can the working class continue to focus on the seizure of state power, when the development of the productive forces themselves — expressed both in the form of globalization and its attendant neoliberal ideology — are undermining the very capacity of nation states to implement sovereign management of their own national capitals?

The political parties of the 20th century were based on the concept of what is today called accelerationism by some. This strategy is stated simply in the Communist Manifesto:

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

The vision Marx and Engels evoked in this passage is that of a political power held in the hands of this class who basically would do what capital has itself done over the last 170 years: create the material conditions for communism. Going back to the political parties of the 20th century is not only impossible, it is unnecessary.

If Marxist writers like Postone, Kurz, Hudis, Harman, Kidron, Mohun, Sheikh, Tonak, etc. are correct, capitalism has already converted the largest portion of the labor day into superfluous labor time. At this point the proletariat need only to complete the process: convert the superfluous labor time into free disposable time for themselves. Marxists often assert that capitalism, even if it generates its own collapse,  is incapable of creating a communist society; yet, they have never once been able to describe what this latter act of creation consists of.

What is it that only the proletariat can accomplish? It certainly is not creating the material condition for communism — according to Marx in Capital, volume 3, capital itself does this without any assistance from proletarian political rule.

“Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historical task and justification of capital. This is just the way in which it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production.”

So, what can the proletariat do that the bourgeoisie cannot? Since of all classes in modern society, the proletariat alone gains nothing by expenditures of unnecessary hours of labor, it can convert the surplus labor time of society into free disposable time for all.

Land, Accelerationism and the “impending human extinction”

If you want to make the case against Nick Land, you could not do it more completely than the case made against him by Alex Williams. According to Williams, Land seeks to dissolve humanity “in a technological apotheosis”. The terminology is just completely over the top: Land has ‘hijacked’ Deleuze and Guattari, “bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism.”

16l0i3aNote Williams admit this so-called “inhuman pro-capitalism” is already implicit in  Deleuze and Guattari. He cannot possibly accuse Land of having invented it as I have so often accused Marxists of inventing ideas said to originate with Marx. If Land has done anything, it is only to tease out of Deluze and Guattari an inhuman pro-capitalism that was already present.

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