Is a fully developed communist society possible right now?
I 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.
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.
Second, 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?
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.
Based on the assumptions Marx employs in Volume 3, superfluous labor time should not exist under capitalism. At the same time, the mode of production is the production of surplus value, i.e., labor time that is superfluous to society. These two ideas mean that when superfluous labor time does actually emerge in the social labor day, a crisis should erupt and the capital produced during this superfluous labor time should be devalued. So all of the evidence pointing to a large amount of superfluous labor time in the economy suggests something else is at work. This something else has allowed the accumulation of superfluous labor time within the social labor day for almost seven decades.
“If State consumption and State credit, crushed together as if by an avalanche, play a central role in this development, this is also due of course, to the fact that the State (unlike a private entity which avails itself of credit) is considered to be a “secure debtor” which means, however, that the State, in the event of a great monetary and credit crisis, will not declare bankruptcy, but will simply expropriate its citizen-creditors.”
The argument Kurz makes here is that the unproductive consumption of surplus value, made possible by the credit extended to the state, is dependent on the state’s ability to repay its debt and must, sooner or later, result
in the state expropriating the owners of capital. I am not especially satisfied with the way Kurz formulates the problem here. My difficulty with Kurz’s formulation is probably best expressed in the words of the bourgeois simpleton, Paul Krugman — for reasons that are not entirely clear to the bourgeois simpletons the long-standing prediction of an impending crisis for Washington’s finances over the last thirty years never finally materialized:
“Fear of a Greek-style fiscal and financial crisis has loomed over much of our policy discourse over the past four years, and has played a significant role in shaping actual policy, constituting the principal argument for austerity in countries that don’t face any current difficulties in borrowing. However, despite repeated warnings that crises of confidence are imminent in floating-rate debtors – mainly the United States, the UK, and Japan – these crises keep not happening.”
Krugman has his explanation for why the predicted crisis “keeps not happening”, but he is a simpleton who thinks the problem is, “as simple and silly” as he is. Labor theory offers a much simpler and elegant explanation for why Washington has never experienced the sort of crisis predicted by bourgeois economists. It is an explanation I will need if I am to finally explain how reduction of hours of labor affects profits in an economy characterized by massive expenditures of unproductive labor time.
I want to turn to the question of the impact of the growing mass of superfluous labor time has on the exchange value and prices of commodities. Once i am finished, I hope you will understand why inflation is not a mystery — and, consequently, why all inflation within the mode of production can be traced to the growing mass of unproductive labor.
As I explained in the previous post, the emergence of a significant mass of superfluous labor time within the mode of production is the result of the tendency toward overproduction of commodities, of overproduction of capital in the form of commodities.
According to Marx in Volume 3 of Capital, this overproduction necessarily results in the devaluation of capital: At the point where overproduction of capital becomes a general condition of the mode of production, no increase in the mass of capital can add to the mass of profits; indeed, the possibility exists that an increase in the mass of capital actually results in a fall in the mass of profits.
To explain the impact a reduction of hours of labor has on the state, it is first necessary to explain three interrelated phenomena that, while not explicitly assumed by Marx in Capital Volume 3, chapter 15, nevertheless can only be explained based on that text. Taken together these three premises amount to the breakdown of production based on exchange value.
These premises are:
A growing mass of superfluous labor time within the mode of production;
a growing divergence between the values and prices of commodities (i.e., inflation); and
a growing mass of state debt that cannot be repaid.
With regards to point 1, we have already spoken of the empirical work of both labor theorists and bourgeois simpletons that point in the direction of a significant mass of unproductive labor time within the so-called economy. However, this observation immediately runs into a problem for labor theory: superfluous labor cannot exist on the premises Marx assumes in Capital, yet it has to be explained based on those premises.
In my last post I showed why I think a reduction in hours of labor would affect the “economy” the same way as a crisis brought on by the falling rate of profit does. The reduction of hours of labor has the effect of withdrawing a portion of the surplus labor time of the working class from exploitation and of reducing the time available to capitalists for production of surplus value.
However, so long as the labor time withdrawn from the capitalist does not reduce hours of labor below the duration necessary for the reproduction of the labor power of the working class, the working class should suffer no change in its material standard of living. The reduction only affects capital and has the same impact as a rise in the organic composition of capital. In this case, however, the rise in the organic composition of capital is achieved by a forcible reduction in hours of living labor imposed by the actions of the working class, rather than by an increase in the proportion of constant capital to variable capital resulting from a crisis of overproduction.
I think this is correct and would appreciate any input others might have on this question.
In my last post I deliberately left out the question of the role superfluous labor plays in this problem; however, in reality the efficiency of the employment of capital in the course of the labor day is not 100%. Some portion of the labor day is wasted, i.e., does not produce value and, therefore, does not count as productive labor time. The portion of the labor day that might fall under this heading has been calculated by various yardsticks by both bourgeois simpletons and by labor theorists. The estimate employed by Borsch-Supan is that wasted labor time amounts to anywhere from 10% to 30% of the typical labor day. On the other hand, labor theorists, employing different measures from bourgeois economists and even among themselves arrive at between 50% and 66% of the typical working day. My own calculation, based on a comparison of currency prices to commodity money prices, finds this wasted labor time now amounts to more than 90% of the labor day.
In question 6, Platypus asks if there is a concrete political demand for the immediate abolition of wage labor:
“If the abolition of wage labor should indeed be a goal of emancipatory politics, what forms of politics or concrete demands should be pursued to attain this goal? How do we get from ‘here’ to ‘there’?”
The question is somewhat confused: Since the state itself is maintaining and enforcing the conditions for capitalist reproduction by extending hours of labor, a political demand for the abolition of labor is not possible. The problem is further complicated by the fact the Left faces is that it conflates opposition to fascist state economic management with opposition to social progress. To resolve these complications, we need to go back to my definition of overwork and unemployment.