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Tag: wertkritik

“Karl Marx was right, but it doesn’t really matter.”

I have been reading this short piece by Matthew Yglesias “Where do profits come from? The obscure feud that tears left-of-center economics apart”. As the title states, the crux of the discussion is the failure of neoclassical economics to offer a credible alternative to Marx, who asserted that labor is the source of both wages and profit. The inability of the bourgeois simpletons to offer a credible alternative to Marx’s explanation results in a rather bizarre set of assumptions:

“Heterodox economists argue that it is circular to say that the profits accruing to the owners of capital are determined by the marginal productivity of capital, and then to calculate the quantity of capital in part by asking how profitable it is to own the capital goods.”

takethebigbagLabor theory says that profits are simply that portion of value created in excess of the value of the wages of the workers, while mainstream economics holds profits result from the marginal productivity of capital.

It should be clear that mainstream economics has already conceded this point to labor theory: labor is the source of all profit. No matter how this argument is obscured in all the gibberish of neoclassical economics, it has been demonstrated both theoretically and practically that there is only one source for both wages and profit: the labor of the worker.

As Yglesias points out:

Mainstream economists went through a few iterations of attempting to refute this objection before essentially concluding that it was correct. This is, indeed, one of the reasons why people on the heterodox side often seem to be embittered. The mainstream concedes the point, but tends to deny its significance.

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Anselm Jappe and the end of the wertkritik school?

JappeI might turn out to be wrong, but based on my reading of Anselm Jappe’s “Towards a History of the Critique of Value”, I think wertkritik has encountered its limits. In the essay, Jappe shows that all you can get from wertkritik is an ever longer laundry list of dumb shit that will go when labor goes. This effort played a crucial role historically by challenging Marxism in all of its varieties, but it cannot do what we need right now — indicate a path forward.

Jappe states wertkritik has refused to come up with practical actions based on its methodology, but this is a specious argument: What he should have said is what the critics say themselves: wertkritik cannot provide a practical guide to action.

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“The real fruit of their battles …”

This is part three of a three part series. Part one can be found here; part two can be found here

3. “What Marxists once meant by ‘class consciousness’ is no more.”

wotwuIn the previous section of this essay, I argued, properly understood, Marx and Engels assumed the proletarian social emancipation does not take the form of a conflict with the ruling class. To say this has implications for the present crisis is an understatement. I think it goes a long way toward explaining why the most remarkable feature of the present crisis is the lack of a class struggle — which absence has been puzzled over by both bourgeois ideologues and by Marxists.

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Marxian Hipsters, Old Skool Marxists and the Abstract and Fetishized Notions of Social Emancipation

worksource-oregon-job-fairThe hipsters of value critique can often be heard describing present society as one founded on an abstract and fetishized mode of social domination. Most of the rest of us have no idea what the fuck any of that means, but we know it sounds pretty impressive. If pressed to explain what this bullshit even means, the value critique hipster might refer to Adorno or some other theoretical heavy, as does the writer of this blog post, “The All-Penetrating Ether of Society: Adorno, Exchange, and Abstract Social Domination”:

“[A]ccording to Adorno, unlike the ‘idealist’ ‘subjective and ‘reflexive’ prognosis of reification, which centres on the undialectical appearance of the thing, and criticism that seeks to dynamize these things, the trouble is with the social ‘conditions’ that structure human interaction.

In Adorno’s view the later is theorized by Marx’s analysis of the fetish character of the commodity, which Adorno reads as a social category that expresses the objective social form of existing social relations.

“the fetish-character of commodities is not chalked up to subjective-mistaken consciousness, but objectively deduced out of the social a priori, the process of exchange.”

Ah!”, I nod in what appears to signal agreement, mostly because I don’t want to expose my complete inability to understand a single damn word the blogger wrote, “Yes, we must objectively deduce something that requires eight semesters of Hegelian philosophy out of something else that requires mastery of Capital, volumes 1, 2 and 3. Uh … by the way, would you like fries with your order?”

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Chris Wright and Wertkritik: Giving away the farm?

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.

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A Question for the Wertkritik School: Does the commodity even still exist?

Here are some thoughts on “The metaphysical subtleties of the commodity” by Anselm Jappe. Part of the dead end wertkritik has encountered in its critique seems to be contained in several of the formulations Jappe employs in this talk.

In his talk, given in 2011 or so, Jappe argued:

“The commodity possesses a peculiar structure, and if we thoroughly analyze the most diverse phenomena, contemporary wars or the   collapse of financial markets, the hydro-geological disasters of our time or the crisis of the nation-state, world hunger or  changing gender relations, we will always find the structure of the commodity at the bottom of it all.”

I find Jappe’s argument hard to accept, since the commodity has likely not existed at least since 1971, and perhaps as long as 1929, when advanced countries moved away from the gold standard and the use of commodity money as the standard of prices. I make this apparently outrageous statement in order to raise a fundamental question about the wertkritik approach. That approach, as I understand it, rests on the definition of the commodity as given by Karl Marx in Capital, Volume 1.

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Wertkritik and The State: “It’s complicated”

“The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.” –Elmar Flatschart, “Marx and Wertkritik”

“The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie” –Karl Marx “Communist Manifesto”

Okay, so which of those views is right and which is bullshit?

If the abolition of labor doesn’t inform and determine political activity, what remains to inform it? The Left balks at advancing the demand for abolition of labor because it is “unrealistic”. How will the worker pay her miserable 30 year mortgage and service her credit cards if she does not work long hours? Doesn’t this imply that, absent the aim of the abolition of labor to inform politics, politics will be “informed” by poverty and debt?

I think wertkritik has so far failed in its project precisely because it seeks only “to understand society, via a negative critique”, not to change it. We can, in this view, know what we are against, but can never really know what we are for. The failure here is that wertkritik, following the tradition of post-war Marxism, has thus far failed to bring the state in its new role as manager of the national capital into the analysis of the mode of production.

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Jaime Semprun rejects the Manifesto — hilarity ensues

semprun5In an essay written sometime around 2007, “Notes on the manifesto against labor”, the late Jaime Semprun critiqued wertkritik and discovered it was not up to the task because it embraces the most obsolete thesis of the Communist Manifesto: the reappropriation of the productive forces.

What I find interesting in Semprun’s argument is his opening:

“It would seem to be granting too much credit to technological modernization to say that it has made labor “superfluous”. Without even considering the qualitative dimension of labor saving technology (what does “liberation” by machines cause us to lose?), it is quite doubtful that, in the quantitative sense, modernization makes labor obsolete and can only preserve it by increasingly artificial means (the central thesis of the Manifesto).”

This statement was formulated in a style that is typical of the approach taken by intellectuals to the problem of social emancipation. When did Marx say modernization makes labor superfluous? The term modernization is a signifier for a social process that implies a lot more than the mere introduction of machines into the labor process. Capital — a social relation between individuals — not technology or modernization, makes labor superfluous.

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Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now (Final)

7. The Centrality of Labor in Marx

At the start of this series I noted that, according to Elmar Flatschart, wertkritik states the abolition of labor is not the same as social emancipation. In his view, the abolition of value is only a condition of social emancipation, but social emancipation itself is a more complex problem.

At first glance this conclusion might be seen as very pessimistic, since it implies that even in the absence of any material need for labor, the great mass of society might still be trapped in compulsory labor and the debilitating division of labor to the sole benefit of an ever diminishing group of exploiters.

Gold Coins Being Weighed on ScaleThis is not a minor point. The concept of the abolition of labor is central to Marx’s and Engels’ theory. Uri Zilbersheid calls the abolition of labor one of Marx’s most important ideas; he notes the concept is central at least in “his early writings and to some degree in his later writings”. Yet, Zilbersheid observes, the abolition of labor receives little attention from Marxists:

“the radical Marxian vision—the abolition of labour—has not gained due recognition. Marxian thought is devoted to liberating humanity from all kinds of servitude, and the abolition of labour constitutes a major aspect of this liberation.”

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Can We Completely Abolish Labor, Right Now?

In my previous post, I explained that the wertkritik school has come to a rather startling conclusion:

“The abolition of value does not equal social emancipation”.

The argument Postone, Kurz, Flatschart and others make with regard to the critique of value is not very complicated: Materially, socially necessary labor time can be reduced without a corresponding reduction in the quantity of labor actually expended.

arbeitmachfreiBut, can the material need for labor be reduced to zero without the end of wage labor itself? For some ungodly reason, Postone and Kurz take the anarchist position that even in the absence of any material need for labor at all, wage labor can still exist. Okay, fine. Let’s leave that to one side for now.

This means, a number of different theorists, employing various sorts of critical analyses, have all come to the same conclusion, which has been presented in the form of a non-identity: the abolition of value is not the same as social emancipation.

To really understand the significance of the wertkritik school’s argument, it could better be stated as follows: Not all the wage labor we perform is materially necessary. The reduction of the material need for wage labor does not, of itself, lead to a reduction of the amount of wage labor actually performed. So, there is a very high probability that most of the labor we perform everyday is entirely superfluous to any need.

At this point, the wertkritik scholar simply stands there with a grim look on his face and declares solemnly: “The call for the abolition of labor does not have immediate ramifications for Marxist politics.”

Now you have to realize what wertkritik has stated: the fact that you get up every morning to an alarm clock and shuffle off to work in some disgusting cubicle for eight or ten hours a day has no ramifications for Marxist politics! And, the wertkritik school theorist proclaims, this is true even if the work you are doing is completely fucking unnecessary to you or anyone else!

Do you think they ever stopped to ask themselves: “Well, this very well might have no impact on Marxist politics, but what about the implications for the person actually performing the useless labor?” Do the rest of us have a fucking life, dreams, hopes and wants of our own, or are we just mindless fucking tools for the accumulation of capital? Apparently, it never occurs to the wertkritik school that their work might have some passing significance for cubicle jockeys watching the clock. It never occurs to these idiots that the dead space between the time you park your car in the company lot and the time you start it again to go home might be filled with something other than mindless production of surplus value.

Something, like, for instance, A FUCKING LIFE!

Instead, all we get from these asshole academics are indecipherable phrases like “negative critique”, or “the abstract and fetishized character of modern domination”.

You would think one of these assholes might just pick up some data from the fascist state and try to determine the extent to which material socially necessary labor has been eliminated and compare this with the amount of labor people are actually doing. But — NO! — that would be too much like relevant fucking work. And the last thing we want is for Marxism to be relevant to any-fucking-body’s life. Let’s just keep it as it is: an irrelevant circle-jerk among folks with eight semesters of fucking graduate-level Hegelian philosophy.

So, Wertkritik really does not have a complicated argument: it states most of the work we do is absolutely unnecessary — superfluous. But it states it in such dense and arcane language that, apparently, the message doesn’t even penetrate the brains of the handful who actually understand it.

If these fuckers can’t figure out what their theoretical effort has produced, who the fuck else is going to?

We can.

We really don’t need those assholes to pick their noses out of a fucking book long enough to understand what they are saying. Once we grasp their essential argument, it is possible to verify it without much difficulty.

And, once we do this, we will see that Elmar Flatschart is an idiot and that wertkritik has profound implications for Marxist politics.

So, let’s start with the numbers — and there are a lot of them.

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