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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Can SYRIZA be fixed? Can Greece?

If this Jacobin article, Becoming Syriza Again, is any indication, even the remaining radicals within SYRIZA have no idea why it is failing.

The writer acknowledges that the debate over Greece leaving the euro, which raged within SYRIZA for a period of time before the split, was an oversimplification. However, even now he proposes no alternative economic program that would allow SYRIZA to achieve its stated aim of bringing austerity to an end while avoiding Grexit.

He proposes a 5 step solution in which SYRIZA must:

  • Hold onto power;
  • Stop fighting with KKE and other Leftists;
  • Eliminate opportunism in its ranks;
  • Reconsider staying in the eurozone; and,
  • Put forward a new vision that inspire the country.

Here is my problem with this essay.

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SYRIZA’s capitulation and the art of class war

According to Panitch and Gindin, it turns out that Syriza’s room for maneuver was less than we hoped:

“Of course, the room for manoeuvre was much narrower than the leadership hoped, not least because of the incapacity of the left in Northern and Central Europe to shift the balance of forces in their own countries in even a minimal way. On the other hand, Syriza would never have been elected on the basis of a call for leaving the eurozone, nor would it have won the recent referendum. Those in and out of the party who have always called for an immediate Grexit never were persuasive on the necessary political conditions for this. Given the limits imposed by the unfavourable international balance of forces, those of us who argued that the room for manoeuvre inside the EU was a lot narrower than the Syriza leadership hoped, and therefore favoured connecting a socialist strategy to Grexit – and always made this view clear to our Syriza comrades – could not, however, help but be sympathetic to the dilemmas they faced. Not to have been would have been churlish beyond measure, especially given the socialist left’s own political weakness in our own countries.”

Which begs the question: Who is we? Most Leftists I follow were highly skeptical of SYRIZA’s prospects, and even its commitment to radical change, from the first.

suntzuUnlike Panitch and Gindin, most of us knew already from the very first that SYRIZA’s space for maneuver was critically compromised and it did not take five months of frustrating negotiations to arrive at this conclusion. In the United States, all you had to do is look at the history of recent labor negotiations at Boeing and GM, where labor was forced to concede terrible losses simply so workers could keep their jobs. Was this not enough to conclude labor’s bargaining position had been critically undermined by four decades of neoliberalism? If not, could we not extend this to the abandonment of the working class by the labor and social democratic parties of the world market? Finally, when even the Soviet Union and China together went all in for capitalism wasn’t this clue enough?

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A reader responds to my post, “What is the difference between Association and the State?”

2the-communist-manifestoA reader has written a response to my post, What is the difference between Association and the State? I have posted the comment here for convenience and because it raises some important questions regarding how Marx and Engels should be interpreted. I hope to post a reply to the questions tomorrow:

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“There is no alternative” (for Marxists): Costas Lapavitsas Edition

“There is no alternative”, is the famous aphorism coined by Margaret Thatcher in reply to her critics. According to the Wikipedia, TINA means, “economic liberalism is the only valid remaining ideology.” Economic liberalism is generally taken to mean dismantling of the social welfare state that emerged after World War II and collapsed into disarray beginning with the 1970s depression. However, in a recent interview, Costas Lapavitsas essentially argued that, for Marxists another sort of TINA TINAreigns: Because of a lack of policy tools drawn on labor theory, Marxists had on alternative but to make use of the very same Keynesian policy tools that produced the rampant stagflation of the 1970s depression. In this post, I take exception with Lapavitsas’ argument.

My argument is not only that Marxists have no need to rely on Keynesian policy tools for their short-run program, Keynesian policy tools have the same aim of Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy tools and run counter to the aim of communism. Instead, Marxist should drawn directly on labor theory to produce a set of immediate demands. Labor theory, according to my reading, argues Marxists should not seek to “exit” the crisis of capitalism, but should take as their starting point the limits imposed by production for profit on the production of material wealth. Our immediate program should be to push the production of material wealth beyond the limits imposed on it by production for profit.

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Capitalism Without A Capitalist: Why SYRIZA probably will fail

arguing-evangelismThere are two absolutely essential essays drawn from post-war Marxism that are key to understanding why SYRIZA most likely will fail: The first is Robert Kurz’s “Domination without a subject” and Michael A. Lebowitz’s “What Keeps Capitalism Going”.

Kurz explains why what we call Marxism is a reductive critique of the concept of domination  that is incapable of explaining “mature” capitalism:

“One of the favorite terms of leftist social critique, stated with all the thoughtlessness due to the obvious, is that of “domination”. The “rulers” were and still are considered in countless essays and pamphlets as malefactors of vast and universal but vague reach, in an attempt to explain the miseries of capitalist socialization. This framework is retrospectively applied to all of history. In the specifically Marxist jargon this concept of domination is extended by adding the concept of the “ruling class”. In this manner the understanding of domination acquires an “economic basis”. The ruling class is the consumer of surplus value, which it cleverly and perfidiously and, of course, violently, appropriates.

It is immediately apparent that most theories of domination, including the Marxist ones, display a reductive utilitarian approach to the problem. If there is an appropriation of the labor of “others”, if there is social repression, if there is open violence, it is for someone’s use and advantage. Cui bono—this is what the problem is reduced to. A consideration of this kind does not fit with reality. Not even the construction of the pyramids of the ancient Egyptians, which devoured a not-insignificant portion of the surplus product of that society, can be forcefully reduced to a perspective of (purely economic) benefit of a class or caste. The reciprocal massacre of the various “rulers”, for reasons of “honor”, remains notably outside of any simple calculation of utility.”

Lebowitz explains why a close reading of Marx will show capital “produces a worker who looks upon its requirements as ‘self-evident natural laws’?

“When we think about the dependence of the worker on capital, is it difficult to grasp why capitalism keeps going? After all, Marx not only proposed that capitalism “breaks down all resistance” he also went on to say that capital can “rely on his [the worker’s] dependence on capital, which springs from the conditions of production themselves, and is guaranteed in perpetuity by them” (899). Capitalism tends, in short, to produce the workers it needs.”

Both essays go a long way toward explaining why SYRIZA, although it now has in its hands management of the largest single employer in Greece, likely will never consciously exploit this position to advance the emancipation of society from labor.

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Mule-headed Marxists and Hours of Labor

Donkey CarrotCertain mule-headed Marxists in the Socialist Equality Party have made an argument against reducing hours of labor that they know or should know is complete bullshit.

That argument is that any reduction of hours of labor must lead to a fall in the material subsistence of the working class. They know or should know that this argument violates every assumption in labor theory of value,  but they insist on spreading it among the working class. Why they insist on spreading this complete fabrication is beyond me, but I am now going to educate them. At the end of my refutation, these “Marxists” will either concede they are completely wrong, or turn tail and run.

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