Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Marx's point here is that alienation is prior to private property and to such quantitative expressions of private property as exploitation, wage inequality, etc. “The alienation of the product of labour merely summarizes the alienation in the work activity itself.” In other words, how much of the product of alienated labor is available to the worker to consume is a secondary, and ultimately unimportant, issue compared with the fact of alienation itself. A couple pages later he makes this point even more emphatically: “An enforced increase in wages … would be nothing more than a better remuneration of slaves, and would not restore, either to the worker or to the work, their human significance and worth.” The claim that the level of wages is politically and morally irrelevant is very different from mainstream and even many Marxist approaches that see questions of wellbeing in terms of consumption and justice in terms of distribution of income, and don't consider the qualitative character of work at all.
Marx characterizes alienation of labor in various ways:
- “the work is external to the worker”;
- “he does no fulfill himself in his work”;
- the worker “has a feeling of misery rather than wellbeing”;
- the worker “does not develop freely his mental and physical energies”;
- “the worker feels at home only during his leisure time, at work he feels homeless”;
- “work is not voluntary, but imposed, forced labour”;
- work “is not the satisfaction of a need, but a means for satisfying other needs”;
- the worker “does not belong to himself but to another person.”
To me, this is clear and compelling, but it does raise some questions. Does the concept of alienated labor assume an absolute human nature that finds fulfillment in creative, productive work, rather than analyzing human beings historically? What are the specific characteristics of labor under capitalism that cause it to be more or less alienated? And the question Joao raised – is it really possible that society could function on the basis of unalienated labor, or can (some? most? all?) productive activity only be undertaken to satisfy some other need? Is the best we can hope for from work intrinsically meaningless tasks imposed on us from the outside, but for shorter hours and better pay?
At the risk of being reductive, we can think of unalienated labor in something like the following terms. 1. Absence of direct external coercion, i.e. the pace and content of the work are under our own control. 2. Direct relation to the product of the the work – we understand the place of our work in the larger production process and feel an active connection with that process. 3. Development of physical and mental capacities – the work requires active engagement, develops a distinct skill, etc. 4. The work is worth doing on its own, we would choose to do it even without any compensation or other external inducement.
One might then say that there will always be alienated labor because these conditions can't always be met. Isn't some alienation necessary with all work that requires a highly developed division of labor, since the activity of tens of thousands of individuals can only be coordinated with some external authority? And is it really possible that everyone involved in such large-scale production can have a full understanding of it, let alone a voice in it? Or on the other hand, isn't there work that is necessary but intrinsically tedious or unpleasant? – no external authority compels you to clean your bathroom and the production process is transparent, but it's hard to argue that it develops any physical or mental capacities or that anyone would do it except in the expectation of satisfying the need for a clean bathroom later on.
Needless to say, these questions have been extensively debated, and we won't resolve them here. What does seem clear is that for Marx, the essential question about work was not wages or hours but its qualitative character as human or alienated, and that he believed it was indeed possible for all productive activity to take the form of free, intrinsically rewarding, unalienated labor.
I was especially struck by the suggestion that abstract categories "only serve to facilitate the arrangement of historical material" because it suggests that economics and other social sciences need to be thought of as branches of, or approaches to, history, and in particular should be written as history, or as narrative. I'm thinking of something like Robin Blackburn's Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, which, while a deeply theoretically informed book, read almost like conventional narrative history -- the theory was like a scaffolding that was essential to constructing the building but removed or hidden out of sight once it was done. (You could say the same about the work of various other Marxist historians.)
I'm wondering how seriously we should take these injunctions in our own writing -- how much should we strive to make our work take the form of concrete historical narrative? Is there e.g. a place for theories of crisis in general, or do "our difficulties begin only" when we analyze a particular crisis as it unfolded historically?
Monday, August 10, 2009
Marx discusses three different wages
According to him, it is very clear that relative wage is the most relevant one. Real wage and profit can go together, but relative wages and profits have always, as a rule, an inverse relationship. To him, the main indicator of the poverty of working class lies in the relative wage which tends to decrease as a result of increasing share of the profit of capitalists.
In his words “ [n]either the nominal wages – i.e., the amount of money for which the laborer sells himself to the capitalist – nor the real wages – i.e., the amount of commodities which he can buy for this money – exhausts the relations which are comprehended in the term wages. Wages are determined above all by their relations to the gain, the profit, of the capitalist. In other words, wages are a proportionate, relative quantity”
This point is very crucial for many purposes. When Joseph Schumpeter explains the success of capitalism in his magnus opum “Capitalism Socialism and Democracy” , he argues that, as opposed to the claim of Marx, capitalism has improved the conditions of workers. He counts several improvements in the conditions of working class. One of them is high real wages (he published the book in 1942). This line of argument has been repeated several times. Even, some of progressive critiques have tried to focus on real wages as opposed to relative wages to show the failure of capitalism.
However, Marx’s original position is much more insightful and strong (although in Chapter 8 he has a twist in his position, this may be another discussion). According to him “If capital grows rapidly, wages may rise, but the profit of capital rises disproportionately faster. The material position of the worker has improved, but at the cost of his social position. The social chasm that separates him from the capitalist has widened”.
In this line, in several passages, he seems to think that relative poverty of working class means more antagonism between working class and capitalist class even though real wages increase. Can this position be justified by historical observations? ( If not, why ?). Can we say that Marx does ignore the importance of ideology in this discussion?
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I think in this text Marx offers a very I insightful solution to the debates within Western Marxism in the 20th century – on the role of subjective and objective factors of the communist revolution. Lukács and his followers were seeking an answer to the question why revolution was not successful in Hungary, Germany, etc. in the early 20th century in what they denote as “the subjective factors” – in the specificity of labour movement and self-consciousness of the proletariat. Marx makes a very good point – in the best tradition of his dialectical thinking – that for the revolution to be successful, we need a unity of the subjective and objective factors. On the one hand, a high degree of development of productive forces, on the other hand, high development of self-consciousness. If either one is missing, the revolution will not be successful. As Marx put it, “if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present (namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of society up till then, but against the very "production of life" till then, the "total activity" on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves” (p. 16-17 online).
Hasan brought up an excellent point – on the extent to which communism is feasible only as a “world-historical” phenomenon. I agree with him that several times Marx makes explicit statements about impossibility of “local” communism. At the same time, I would suggest that we interpret these statements carefully. When Marx talks about communism as a world phenomenon, for me, it implies that for communism to be self-sustainable, i.e. a system capable of reproduction, it does indeed need to be universal. As Marx put it, “each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism” (p. 14 online). At the same time, this does not imply that genesis and initial stages of development of communism cannot be localized within a particular country or a group of countries. To put it in the “mystified and mystifying terms” of the Hegelian philosophy, we need to distinguish between communism in its Becoming and its Being. The former can be initiated not as a global phenomenon, whereas for the latter to be a system capable of reproduction, it needs to be a world phenomenon.
There is a quite an interesting point having relevance for the agenda of the left today. Analyzing the class struggle in the Middle Ages, Marx stresses that there exist revolts of completely marginalized strata of the society that are not strong and influential enough, on the one hand, and small action by members of the guild system not questioning the system as such and merely demanding improvements within it, on the other hand: “While, therefore, the rabble at least carried out revolts against the whole municipal order, revolts which remained completely ineffective because of their powerlessness, the journeymen never got further than small acts of insubordination within separate guilds, such as belong to the very nature of the guild-system” (p. 25-26 online). I think it reflects quite well the current situation too – radicalism of the marginalized groups of the society and demands of the wage-labour. The real challenge for me is how can this be overcome?
Marx argues that “in imagination, individuals seem freer under the dominance of the bourgeoisie than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are more subjected to the violence of things” (p. 35 online). I think the first part of the argument is a good point on the reasons behind an appearance of more freedom. As for the second part, I suppose the point on the reality of less freedom is not proved by Marx. Why is it not just a different mode of un-freedom compared to the previous epochs? How can these different modes of un-freedom (i.e., different qualities) be quantitatively compared?
Speaking of transition from feudalism to communism, Marx shows that “here they [serfs] only were doing what every class that is freeing itself from a fetter does; and they did not free themselves as a class but separately. Moreover, they did not rise above the system of estates, but only formed a new estate, retaining their previous mode of labour even in their new situation, and developing it further by freeing it from its earlier fetters” (p. 35 online). Can it be the case that it is the only possible way of freeing oneself, i.e. individually, not only with respect to the transition from feudalism to communism, but also the transition to communism? If it is not applicable to communism, why not? Can setting up enterprises not rising above the capitalist system but forming a new one within it be a mode of liberation nowadays? If yes, how, if not, why not?
Absence on intra-class mobility, a possibility of which is reduced merely to an accident, is one of the arguments by Marx important for his concept of revolution. What can we say about intra-class mobility today? Does this argument hold today, hence, can it be one of the arguments by the modern left? How can it be estimated, if at all?
Marx stresses a transformation of Man for and through revolution: “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” (p. 42 online). Man changes through the revolution, but in order to initiate the revolution the Man should already be changed. Isn’t it a contradictory statement? How can we reconcile the two claims?
Just a note on the meaning behind the concept of abolition of the family: “Where the family is actually abolished, as with the proletariat, just the opposite of what "Stirner" thinks takes place. Then the concept of the family does not exist at all, but here and there family affection based on extremely real relations is certainly to be found” (p. 57 online). I am brining this up because this point is often misinterpreted.
1. Marx has a very interesting discussion of the concept of an economic law. He stresses that abstract laws come into being through fluctuations, continual suspension [p. 260]. That is, these fluctuations are not just violations of the law – the laws operate not despite fluctuations, but thanks to them. There is an even stronger point: “Laws in economics are determined by their opposite, lawlessness” . Law is “an abstract, contingent and one-sided moment” in the real movement . I think these are extremely important considerations on the nature of laws that shed light on a lot of later ideas of Marx. Such a conceptualization can contribute, from my perspective, to understanding the famous tendency of the profit rate to fall and many other laws derived by Marx that are often a subject of hot debates.
2. There is an interesting evolution of Marx’s thought visible especially in this piece. I noticed that what he denotes as private property in his early writings, he discusses as a commodity in his later works. One of the most obvious examples is on p. 267-8. The most striking examples are mutual alienation of private property (=exchange), private property as a surrogate, equivalent (see equivalent and relative forms of value in Volume 1).
1. Ad Al’s comment on freedom and necessity.
As long as the decision making in communism Al talks about is a realization of freedom, its necessity is a form of realization of freedom. Moreover, to the extent this necessity enhances freedom, it becomes a prerequisite to freedom, its premise. That is, the necessity becomes a form of expression and a premise of freedom, which is a truly dialectical relationship of the two. Probably, the difference from the pre-history is the fact that in communism the two are dialectically related in the above sense, whereas in the hitherto existing societies necessity is a direct impediment to freedom, making the relationship between freedom and necessity ‘one-directional’: freedom’s attempt of self-realization, and necessity’s blocking this process. If it is correct, then the contradiction Al talks about does indeed have its actual ontological basis: this contradiction is a reflection in thought of the actual contradiction in the real (future) world – one of the contradictions inherent in communism. A propos, I’d like to stress that, from my perspective, communism is not a contradiction-free system, the question is of the nature of these contradictions that are qualitatively distinct from contradictions of the pre-history. Does it make sense?
2. Ad Al’s point on private property.
I think Al is bringing up an extremely important issue, and I’d love to know what he and Bertell have to say on that. In addition to Al’s remarks, I also want to draw you attention to the fact that, firstly, Marx distinguishes between private and personal property (sorry, can’t recall the text in which he talks abut it) with the classical example of the latter being the toothbrush Al is referring to. Secondly, Marx talks about superseding, sublation [Aufhebung] of private property, not its elimination as it is often understood in primitive versions of Marxism. The concept of Aufhebung – dissolution and preservation – can be another possible way of looking into it.
3. Another interesting point made by Marx in this text is that we can’t transcend [aufheben] philosophy without realizing [verwirklichen] it, on the one hand, though we can’t realize philosophy without transcending it, on the other hand (p. 250). The latter is put by him in another way elsewhere: “Criticism of the speculative philosophy of law finds its progression not within itself but in tasks which can only be solved in one way – through practice [Praxis]” (p. 251). The reason I am bringing this up is because it reminds me of Lukács stressing in his Theory of Class Consciousness that Marxism is a logical development of Hegelian philosophy, Hegel pushed to the logical conclusion of his theory. That is, the solution of contradictions inherent in the Hegelian philosophy lies beyond this philosophy per se.
Let me start with here comments to me and Joao Paulo form the second part, in particular the two addressed to me.
Point 1. Her first point is exactly what I think needed to be brought out, though she did so more clearly than if I had tried to express it. There is a tension there between coming to a conclusion after carefully scientific study, and simply advocating something. They are fundamentally different, but on the surface, to anyone other than someone who has gone through the stuffy process, they look the same – both are simply the assertion by someone. Politically and in the real world, this has to be taken carefully into account. We can do a scientific study of reality (and should, and must), and then put out the results. But what we then run up against (and it is particularly clear in the USA, but it exists everywhere, both in the rest of the developed world where the conservatives operate at a more sophisticated level than in the US, and throughout the Third World where the mode of operating is very different form one country to another) is that conservative (ie, defenders of the status quo) simply assert the opposite. Basically, they lie – sometimes consciously, sometimes believing what they say because they are blinded by their own ideology, and they may even consider they do scientific studies to get their results (that of course is what we up against in the hegemonic mainstream economics). Anyway, all that is to say I think Irene expressed the real difference particularly clearly, but this remains a very living issue that we will confront over and over if we, in line with Marx, try to engage in not just understanding the world but changing it.
Point 2. I agree it is a unity of moral and scientific claims. This immediately posed the question (among others) – what establishes its validity? Again, I am concerned with this not just out of intellectual curiosity (though it is a fascinating theoretical point), but because there have been (and continues to be) long debates on this by people trying to use Marxism to change the world, and I would even say that people have used wrong positions on this to justify bad political policies (I would not say the wrong positions caused the bad policies, I would find that too idealistic). Specifically, people who have wanted to downplay the moral aspects of Marxism (because their moral behavior stunk, and so they did not want considerations of the moral nature of the system to take any important role, as that would condemn their behavior and system – specifically, Stalinism) have given great support to stressing the “scientific nature” of Marxist philosophy (and they are right – it is scientific). So where do morals enter in establishing the correctness or validity of anything? Aren’t all morals entirely subjective, one set of morals just one opinion and anther set of morals another opinion? Can one claim one set of morals can be scientifically supported (again as many Marxists, here often by what I consider good progressive Marxists, have tried to do)?
OK, quickly back to the 4 points she started her note with, some new thought she threw out to think about.
Point 1 – I am not sure I fully agree with her here, it depends on what she has in mind. EXACTLY what is being thought of as “a theory of socialism.” Clearly we do not want any dogma, and clearly we do not want anything like Fourier, Courbet, St Simon, or Owen (*though they were great – especially Owen). Could we have meaningfully gone beyond Marx until some fully healthy process of social transformation beyond capitalism brought out of living experience the material that would then need be intellectually systematized as theory? One of many interesting things to possibly discuss ….
Point 2. Agreed. But that poses the two questions for people trying to change the world – what role (how important a role, etc) does the abolition of private property play in the process of transcending capitalism, and if it is not the same (and it is not), what else essential is needed?
Point 3 – sorry (or perhaps “fortunately” I have to run soon – so quickly:) I have to run, so very quickly – I agree in general with this point, and especially the role of generalizing, but I question the order some – I do not think one can “find a solution to it” UNTIL one has generalized and seen the true significance of the problem – it is then on this basis that one proposes a solution to the problem.
Point 4 – just a short point, her question on the issue of idealism is really the central thing here. One word of caution – “become aware of consciousness” can have two somewhat different meanings – one is to be award on a creation “knowledge,” argue that the social behavior indicates the calls has a tacit consciousness of a reality that they have not yet verbalized, and that needs be done, and the other is to make the class aware that it has a consciousness, ie, as a PROCESS they come to understand their reality (what Marx considered the essence of what separated us form other animals) as opposed to some content – and this is important for making people aware that they can, collectively, become the determiners of their own existence (within limits imposed by nature, but even those change with social organization)\
OK – see ya all in a week. Hasta la victoria siempre, Al
Thursday, August 6, 2009
I think the last piece from the Letters has the following ideas deserving attention:
1. There is an explicit call by Marx for elaborating a theory of socialism – a challenge which is unfortunately taken only by a few of contemporary Marxists, so that our theoretical understanding of what socialism is not far advanced compared to the one one and a half centuries ago.
2. Communism is not identical with abolition of private property (p. 207).
3. Marx offers an interesting perspective on how to approach the existing particular/practical issues of the current capitalism. The major idea expressed by him is that instead of abandoning the existing struggles due to finding them “entirely beneath their [socialists] dignity” (p. 208) the left should explain why they take place (p. 209). Moreover, I think Marx offers an interesting logic of dealing with these issues: consider a particular question (e.g., political) --> find a solution to it --> but not stop here: 1) raise the solution to the level of generality and 2)demonstrate the true significance underlying the problem --> the particular issue is being transcended [aufgehoben] by a more general one (p. 208).
4. Marx argues that to reform the consciousness is to make “the world aware of its own consciousness” (p. 209). A question arises: How is this identification of transformation with making consciousness aware of itself different from idealism, if at all?
Some thoughts on Al’s and Joao’s points:
1. Al brought up a point by Marx that instead of anticipating the future with our dogmas, we need to “attempt to discover the new world through the critique of the old” (p. 207). Al brought up a very important concern that it is a fine position only for a young person elaborating his world view, but after working on this for decades “can you still say you can’t advocate anything (since that would be “dogmas”)?” (Al’s post). I agree with Al that there is a difference in these two situations, and if we understand advocating for anything to be a dogma, then there is an obvious problem with Marx’s point. But this holds only if we identify dogma with advocating for anything. I personally have a different understanding of this passage and of what dogma is. For me, in this piece Marx’s stress on dogma vs discovery is identical to a difference between utopian vs ‘scientific’ socialism, i.e. imagining the world as we want it to be without studying any foundations/possibilities for this world (hence, dogma) vs looking for real seeds of another world and its elements in the old world. Incidentally, this take on the issue is related to another passage when Marx talks about completion of “the thought of the past” (p. 209). Put differently, I do not think that taking a position or advocating for something is dogmatic as long as this position is a product of discovery Marx talks about. Any process of discovery will inevitably shape a position, hence, make you advocate for something, so discovery without taking positions is hardly possible. This is my understanding – I wouldn’t argue that Marx meant this instead of smth else (I don’t find discussions on “what Marx really meant” that fruitful). Further thoughts?
2. I agree with Al on existence of moral position of Marxism. I will advocate for the more sophisticated version of this claim proposed by Al – Marxism is a unity of a moral and scientific claims.
3. Joao makes a very good point (point ‘i’) on treating the antinomy he formulates in a dialectical way – I completely agree with such a perspective.
4. An authoritarian element immanent in the concept of revolution is a very thought-provoking statement by Joao (his counterargument to his own position in ‘iii’) – I would like to discuss in the actual meeting.
5. To Joao’s point ‘iv’. Joao, I think a possible solution to the problem raised by you can lie in a distinction between an “automatic subject” and an “alienated automatic subject”. I think the antinomy you are formulating – between an attempt to prevent “automatic subjects” and leaving some room for what you call “unintended dynamics” – does not exist, if we understand communism to be not about banishing automatic subjects, but banishing alienated automatic subjects. If we understand it this way, automatic subject does leave room for unintended dynamics, etc. To give an example, process of cultural creation immanent in communism can be viewed as an automatic subject, with man being the real subject of this creation.
In my opinion, there is a subject in the discipline of economics that has been understudied, that is the determination of human need. Therefore, I am glad to see that Hasan brought up discussion of subsistence wage determination. I am writing this post to follow up and entertain with this idea to certain extension, and point out some difficulties emerged from this process.
Again, Marx point out that: “It [wage] is the cost required for the maintenance of the laborer as a laborer, and for his education and training as a laborer.” As Hasan pointed out, given this definition of wage, many people tend to go down to the easy path and assume that there is only a single minimum/subsistence wage rate for the entire working class. Hasan further argues that, if we take Marx’s definition of wage seriously, then, different industries might require different training and education levels, therefore, the existence of different subsistence wage would be a fruitful discussion.
Considering subsistence wage as something that varies across industry is clearly an advancement comparing to the traditional mechanical one subsistence wage assumption. However, something interesting happens if we take a step further… Since, according to Marx, wage is “the cost required for the maintenance of the laborer as a laborer”, then what “maintains” laborer as a laborer? Other than food, shelter, water etc. there are plenty of factors that can stop laborer from being laborer (failure to maintain). After all, human beings are, according Marx, social (political) animals. As social animals, self-esteem, integrity etc. are also essential for human to function as productive labor. This seems to suggest that, not only that there exist different minimum/subsistence wages across different industries, but also, different cultures, communities, and historical stages. Here, the argument supports the Marxian argument of social determination of needs and subsistence. Acquiring a understanding of how they are determined socially is a very difficult task, but not impossible. What becomes impossible is coming next.
Let us take the argument even further and consider workers as individuals. I understand that this is a controversial topic because Marx mentioned clearly in the Communist Manifesto that in capitalist society, only capital has individuality, living beings do not. However, the definition of “individuality” here is closer to the definition of personality –personal subjective factors involved when one is acting, while in Communist Manifesto, individuality is defined in a broader sense that involves physical and spiritual freedom, self-consciousness etc. (as far as I understand). If we keep entertaining with the idea of need and subsistence, we cannot escape from individuality because many needs are “individual needs” by nature. Moreover, if we simply look around the ordinary contemporary world we are living in, workers are in fact individuals with different personalities and self-perceptions. Now, to “subsist” as an individual, the worker needs to act according to his or her own individuality, and such individuality is only known by the individual him/herself. Once individuality is considered, then we are walking on a dangerous cliff of turning towards the neoclassicals. If the definition of subsistence also varies across different individuals in accordance with different individualities, then, “need” becomes an arbitrary and indeterminate concept. Consequently, the line between subsistence and luxury becomes thinner and thinner, and “needs” lose its objectivity. An unfortunate ending might be that we have to consider economic activities as something that is oriented towards the satisfaction of wants and desires... Clearly, it is absurd; but we have to take it seriously because it does provide a ground for turning one’s back on the classicals.
Individuality is a troublemaker, at least to my opinion. If you abandon it by assuming a socially (and industrially) determined subsistence wage (or by taking the Ricardian approach to come up with a consumer subsistence basket), then, workers are merely mechanical beings. This approach does not help us to understand our dynamic modern economy. But on the other hand, if we take individualities into consideration, then, the normative framework of political economy based on the determination of objective human needs and subsistence would be at risk. Therefore, I am very puzzled about the next move. But what is clear is that we find no solution in the neoclassical approach to this issue because it is a tautology. What I think is needed here is an alternative micro-foundation, a model of individual that allows the co-existence of individuality and the social objectivity of human needs. But what would this be?
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Second, again, very nice comments by Hassan.
I just want to say a number of things related to what he has said – I will write this in stream of consciousness format, just pretend I am James Joyce. First, as Hasan outlined, Marx’s theory of price fluctuating around prices of production rested on the movement of capital to expand or contract supply. That is also the basis, for the same reason, for his idea of equalized rates of profit (between branches, but not in branches – more on this below). Now what if there are barriers to entry? In fact, as is discussed all the time in the economic sub-field of Industrial Organization, one can get complete competition (that is, prices driven to the cost of production (with the standard profit build in, in the neoclassical approach, but that is a different issue, and can be adjusted for) with just two firms (ie, they can keep other firms out)). In a simple sense one can think of two stores or gas stations in a price war (they will keep undercutting each other until they hit cost), or one can get fancy and go to game theory and talk about Bertrand competition (in which one can get this result) versus Cournot competition. But what is involved is also the same issue that pops up in one form (one form from the 60s and 70s) of the conflict between the neoclassicals and the (bastardized) Keynesians. When firms adjust to disequilibrium, do they adjust prices (the neoclassical) or quantities (the “Keynesians – recall in this simplified and bastardized form of Keynes, one can have “sticky prices,” and so obviously quantities must adjust to disequilibrium)? Now Hasan made a nice point about this adjustment being most obvious in the long run. Just for interest, one can go to the Web page of Dumenil and Levy and see a very nice article (in my opinion, of course) that is involved with all this called “Marxist in the long run and Keynesian in the short run.”
OK, one more thing, a comment in regards to the first question Hasan wrote at the end – not a direct answer, but something related that I think is interesting to think about. I would claim that when Marx disclaimed it held for a single good but did hold for an industry, this was related to his ideas on competition that I started to refer to above. Capital moves between branches, and that equalizes the rate of profit between branches (we know this is not perfect because there are indeed some barriers between branches to capital movement, particularly in the short-run, less so in the medium-run, and one might say not so in the long-run). Equalizing rates of profit is of course putting the prices sold at in the same relation to costs (involved in tied up capital) in the various branches. What Marx did not argue was that profit rates were equalized within a branch through the movement of capital – or that they were equalized at all, for that matter. Like everyone, he held “the law of one price,” that competition meant that the same good from two producers would sell at the same price, and if one had higher costs that person then simply made lower profits. The branch had an average rate of profit, and that is what attracted capital to flow in or out (there is actually a significant unresolved problem in that, since it is not the average that attracts capital, but rather what the capital thinks it can get – maybe that means the return on the most modern capital while older capital gets lower rates, but even that is not the way it is in the real world because that assume uniform wages, and in fact older capital often pays lower wages ….. and so on … really interesting stuff when one goes to the real world!)
OK, enough. There is so much interesting stuff one could talk about in Hasan’s post, and some of it we will this summer, but of course in a day and a half we will not begin to cover all the issues that have already been brought up ….
1) I would hold that human emancipation indeed is possible, and that this would entail exactly ‘the “ restoration of man as a human being”, the genuine resolution of the conflicts between “man and man”, “freedom and necessity”, “individual and species”, “man and nature” (p.348).’ Now this position fully depends on how one defines each of the terms involved, and I think J.P. may be using the terms differently than I would – I think there is a good chance I would agree with the points J.P. will argue, but I do not think that is what Marx had in mind. So talking about this will also involve being very careful to try to see what Marx meant by each term and each claim.
2) I would disagree with the claim by J.P. that ‘Even in the best of worlds, most work will still be a burden, something done for social necessity, not for self-realization.’ I would argue that Marx’s position is that non alienated work will indeed be done for social necessity and at the same time will not be a burden (in a sense he carefully explains) and will entail self-realization. So I think we’ll certainly want to discuss Marx’s ideas on work. Part of this is that Marx certainly stresses two different things in different places concerning work – sometimes he argues for the reduction of work, sometimes he argues for changing the nature of work from something alienating to something through which one creates and realizes oneself (and if that is so, why would there be a need to reduce the time?) – so I’d suggest we think and talk about that.
3) I think it would be important to discuss what Marx had in mind by the concept of the withering away of the state, and the related issue of democracy (one thing that is clear from these readings, Marx was a champion of democracy), and the issues of “bourgeois democracy” versus some sort of “socialist democracy” or “communist democracy” (and there is the claim out there by some Marxists that there is no such thing as communist democracy, because one will not need democracy when one has communism (unlike socialism) – an argument I would disagree with, but again, something that is important to think about because of politics really going on in the world today).
4) And there are other things to discuss that J.P. brings up in this post that are very interesting and I hope we can discuss some of them at the summer camp, but that’s surely enough for a “PS.”
For some reason, Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of State remained neglected in the discussion thread. But from my perspective, it does deserve some attention.
In this work Marx criticizes Hegel for “uncritical mysticism” [p. 149]. More specifically, he expands on this general point along several lines by stressing the following errors by Hegel:
- inversion (of real relationships and appearance, subject and its predicate, etc.). E.g., “the condition is posited as the conditioned, the determinator as the determined, the producer as the product” [p. 63];
- application of a pre-existing logic to an object, instead of deriving the logic from the nature of this particular object [e.g., p. 69, 70, 73, 159];
- simple empirical foundations being masked by a mystifying philosophy resulting in no gain in meaning, with the ‘old’ meaning simply changing its form (i.e. acquiring a philosophical form, getting its ‘approval’) ;
- uncritical attitude towards reality: Hegel measures “the Idea by what exists”, instead of measuring “what exists in accordance with the Idea” .
Now, what can we say about Marx himself. His own work is obviously consistent with his criticism of uncritical attitude, and by turning his attention to the real subject of historical development – man – he seems to solve the problem of inversion, too. But can we make the same statement about the mystification claim? Marx himself quite often puts his argument in a dialectical form, from his early to the late writings.
1. What does Marx actually criticize in Hegel – in practice, i.e. in Marx’s own work: uncritical attitude only, or mysticism as well, in which Marx himself seems to lapse?
2. What is the place of pre-exiting logical syllogisms, concepts, and dialectical figures in Marx’s own theory: are they a matter of presentation without a gain in meaning, a yardstick to measure the logic of argument, or something else?
3. How can one derive logic “from the nature of a particular object”? How should one think and go about it?
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Paulo’s first two points on the EPM, since both his comments and my
responses are LESS controversial – anything anyone says about Marx
can be, and will be, argued about, but they are less controversial
than his following points. And these comments will be long enough
anyway, and the issues invovled in the other two points are HUGE. I
would encourage everyone to carefully read his 3d and 4th points,
since I would expect we will have a discussion on them at the summer
camp. (Some I agree with, some I disagree with, but all of them bring
up issues that I think it’s worth the time to think about, to clarify
our own ideas on.)
1) Agreed, Marx does not engage in a “founding anthropology” in
capital. But I argue it is there, and Capital makes no sense without
understanding his view of humanity. In some sense I would argue Marx
worked out his view on this in his early work, and then did not keep
writing the same thing over and over for the rest of his life (as
some mainstream economists do with their research papers). I would
argue he attacks capitalism above all because it prevents the
authentic development of humans, and if one holds that then one must
have some idea of what authentic development of humans is, hence an
underlying anthropology. But I agree Capital is about capital, not
about that anthropology. The next point continues this.
2) So it is in his early work that he presents his “founding
anthropology.” But here is an interesting point. Marx indeed as Joao
Paulo says defines it negatively, not positively. And I would argue
he has to define it that way, by his method. Recall he is for history
(and in particular humans in struggle) showing the answers. But what
a society can show above all is how it blocks and perverts human
development. That is, since the real world always does that, we
cannot see how humans would develop if not blocked. Now Marx’s method
calls for looking at negations. So he would have some idea of what
humans could become, in some dimensions, from what they are blocked
from doing by a given society (developing their collective powers and
consciousness, etc). But using the method of negation only gives
general ideas of the alternatives, since a given concrete positive
can be negated many ways – it is not that only one negation of a
given reality is possible and therefore we know what we will get if
we negate the exiting conditions. (History is highly contingent and
all that, notwithstanding the existence of laws of motion of social
formations – certainly a point we will want to talk about) Connected
to this is always the point that Marx sees things, including human
development, as processes. So as we break down the barriers imposed
on human development by capitalism, we will develop, let us say
(hopefully!), a socialist society. But that too will have barriers
that will need be broken down to develop still further, into a
communist society. And if we believe that history will not come to an
end, that human development is a process and not some end state, then
communism too must present barriers to human development that will
need be broken down, need be surpassed, for further human
development. But the point is that by the time we start to talk about
communism, and certainly by the time we start to talk about what will
come after communism, we just do not have enough to go on. The things
that will need be broken down to move on have not even been created
as reactions to breaking down capitalist barriers. Hence the obvious
point, the further into the future we look, the more fuzzy and
inexact our vision of even what the possibilities are.
Monday, August 3, 2009
I think your comments capture a tension that exists in the Letters (and, in modified versions, in some of Marx's other writings). On the one hand, we have the idea - which you mentioned in point 2 - of emancipation as involving a 'rationalization' of the world. This could involve, in general terms, humans subjecting social processes to conscious control instead of being controlled by them.
On the other hand, however, we have Marx's idea - which you mentioned in point 3 - that we should refrain from positing "in thought" the ends and features of the emancipated society. In this view, socialism could only be a historical movement. The features of the emancipated society could only be posited by history, and theoretical/philosophical discourse could only be a critical assessment of the results.
Thinking about this apparent antinomy is fascinating, and an adequate 'solution' - which would include discussing an agenda for Marxist politics - would require a lot of effort. At the risk of being sloppy, here are some thoughts:
(i) The above antinomy would have to be apprehended in a dialectical fashion. A statement born "in thought" about what the future society would look like, as soon as it is picked up by acting subjects, becomes a statement effective "in history" - which can even negate it. However, this should not allow us to think of such statement as entirely immanent in history. In fact, one needs to take a step out of history to say something "transcendental" about what ought to exist.
(ii) I agree with you that the political discourse of Marxists should not refrain from making such transcendental statements. We should not be averse to moral foundations (as you discuss in point 1) and, moreover, we should try to discuss the means and ends of a socialist society. It is not adequate, in my view, to trust this task to "goddess history" or to "the masses" (which are often defined in a historicist fashion).
(iii) I hasten to add that this should not imply an authoritarian position (the "vanguard" dominating "the masses"). The transcendental principles of socialism - and, in my opinion, of the transition to socialism - should be democratic. In fact, one can maybe argue that the idea of the 'revolution' as a historical immanence contains (despite its defenders' intentions) an authoritarian principle, or at least a potential justification for authoritarianism: "we should remove those who oppose the movement of history".
(iii) That being said, I don't think we should think of socialism as a fully transparent, rationalized society, or a path for it (see my post on the Manuscripts). Although I agree 'in principle' with the idea that humans should rationally devise ways to prevent social processes from becoming "automatic subjects" that dominate them - such as the capital relation -, I don't think a socialist society should aim to banish all abstraction, unintended dynamics, etc. For example, some form of economic planning could coexist alongside some forms of markets. In discussing such system, we should of course take the 'endogeneity of human preferences' into account, as you stressed, but also the fact that central planners may lack dispersed knowledge, leave little room for spontaneity, etc.
The point is not that our Reason or our motives are faulty, but that we need to take a step out of ourselves as voluntary subjects and gain an understanding of the involuntary results of our interactions, the constraints that present themselves at a given time and place, etc. In short, if we are not be at the mercy of 'history' (the result of all this), we are not to try to completely shape it from "our" point of view. Developing an agenda that effects a "synthesis" of these two positions is to me one of the big challenges for the left.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
I feel that this reading (1891 Edited by Engels) is the one of the most well developed and succinct document about several Marxist issues. Marx mainly makes four points in this reading.
1-The prices of goods fluctuate around their cost of production.
2-Wages are determined by the cost of labor power (the theory of subsistence or minimum wage)
3-There are three wages
a) Nominal wage,
b) Real wage (subsistence wage)
c) Relative wage (for Marx, this is the most crucial)
4-Skilled labor is replaced by unskilled labor as a result of deepening of division of labor and the application of machinery which are direct results of competition among capitalists.
I would like to post some comments and questions for each point. Here, I will try to discuss the first point.
1-The prices of goods fluctuate around their cost of production.
According to Marx, It is a “general law”, because whenever the price of a commodity is higher its cost of production, (as a result of demand and supply conditions) there will be higher profit for the producers of the commodity which, in turn, attracts capital from other industries into high profit industry. The natural outcome of this process is that the price will fall back. If the price is lower than the cost of production, capital will move out from low profit industry which will cause an increase in the price.
It is obvious that this can be true only if we accept that intense competition is the dominant mode of competition under capitalism and related to this, there are not big entries and exist barriers to capital movements. In other words, the most important requirement for the existence of this “general law “ is the existence of intense competition. However, we know that many markets have monopolistic characteristics. One may consider that this can pose a problem for “the general law”.
Marx, as he put it very clearly in several places, is aware of the monopolistic tendencies in many markets. However, for him, “monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly. Monopolists compete among themselves; competitors become monopolists” [The Poverty of Philosophy]. So, for him, monopolistic markets are not immune to competitive pressure too. In this sense, if we consider this part of the Marxist price theory as a dynamic long term price theory, it is difficult to refute it.
In fact, I feel, it has some very apparent similarities with the neo-classical perfect market theory, though it seems to be much more developed, because, at least Marxist theory can understand monopoly and competitive markets in a very dynamic framework
This theory can be easily tested by some statistical methods (such as co-integration technique). In other words, one can test if there is a long-term relationship among prices and their cost of production for different countries or integrated regions. My guess is that although it can be easily verified for (most or all) developed countries it may not be easily verified for especially developing countries (though it is possible to verify it for many developing countries)
I would like to discuss two details about the price determination:
- Although in the many places Marx seems to talk about the price determination of an individual good (at least I got this impression), at the end of Chapter 3, Marx argues that “ of course this [general law] does not hold good for a single given product of an industry , but only for that branch of industry. This statement confused me a lot. if we accept that the general law is only applicable to industry branch, the prices of individual goods in a specific branch are undetermined in this theory. If this is the case, doesn’t it pose a problem to the theory?
-Is substantiating that there is a long-term relation among the prices and their cost of production enough to have a satisfactory price theory? In some cases, although there may be a long –run relationship between the prices of goods and their cost of production, especially, in many less competitive markets prices can diverge from the costs of production for a long time. Can’t this decrease the importance of the “general law”?
been quick (in my onion) to attack people who “only” believe in
equality, etc, as “simply driven by morals.” They like to claim that
they are not driven by morals, but by a scientific analysis of
reality. I claim that as I read this material, and his attack of the
King of Prussia but beyond that the attack on all positions of power,
the call for equality as the only human relation (being dominated is
to be dehumanized), I claim that these Marxist are wrong – Marxism
has a moral position at its core (I am open to argue it has a
position that is both moral and scientific, but such a claim would
need to be carefully formulated, since it seems to go against
something that goes back to Hume and before, that there is a
difference in nature about claims of what is and claims about what
2) This is really small – just note over and over how Marx accepted
so many standard positions of the Enlightenment (which he saw in his
own way, but he did not go against them, which I argue for example
Smith’s invisible hand does). Humans using their reason could move
humanity forward (again, people who argue against economic planning
reject this, though of course one could argue about that). See p 201
– like I would say most intellectuals of the 19th century, he
considered thinking as something that characterized humans, and
something they needed do to fulfill their potential to be human. The
issue of consciousness enters into Marx’s thinking in many ways, and
we should watch out for it. I would argue that this is one reason for
rejecting so called market socialism, but we can go into that (I see
it as accepting that people are fundamentally selfish and out for
themselves and that cannot change, and so we need build markets of a
type that will harness this human weakness and make it work for human
good, even though they don’t really care since they only care for
3) P 207, the very important (and somewhat often quoted line) – “ we
do not anticipate the world with our dogmas, but instead attempt to
discover the new world through critique of the old.” Here is my
concern. This is fine for a young person like Marx who is trying to
figure out his world view. But then when you spend 20 or 40 or 60
years working out your world view, including what the human
conditions suggest would be better for people, can you still say you
can’t advocate anything (since that would be “dogmas”)? Consider
this. Marx said he was open on the form of what rule by the
proletariat should be until the Paris Commune showed it. So that
would be consistent with his claim above. But he already had ideas
about their taking power (as opposed to say sharing power, whatever).
And beyond that, it was in any case his interpretation that history
had shown it – did that experiment of hardly a couple of months
really show what a working class government must be? Could anything
like that have been sustained for a long period? Lenin set up
something related but quite different. And it turned out to be
difficult to organize just in work places, since that would give no
vote to people who did not work or did not have a fixed workplace
(like all the people who worked in homes). In any case, here is the
question – hasn’t Marx formed a dogma once he starts advocating a
government like the Paris Commune – a dogma that though Marx thought
history had showed it, may well not have been showed by history since
that form of government has not appeared again? (in passing, I am a
big fan of the Paris Commune, I think it was heroic and of tremendous
historical importance, and although such a government never
re-emerged, I would say many people have looked to it for ideas for
working class power under different circumstances and in different
times). Anyway, what about this “letting history show” claim?
All three of the posts had lots of points (even while being disciplined and short), and most of the points either posed questions already or simply were good points that don’t leave much room for comment.
Here is one thought I had on reading J.W.’s second point. How much is that a description only of when the capitalists took power (or perhaps any class takes power to hold it for itself) and not directly applicable to when the proletariat does? When we look back (say to France or even the more drawn out case in England – but what about Germany, Spain, Italy, …..????) we see just what Marx said – the bourgeoisie had to carry out a program that rallied the masses, but more than that, which was actually in the interests of the masses as well as of itself – hence of “all society” (that is, progress for all society, it of course was not in the interests of the class it was a revolution against). But in the case of the proletariat revolution, the class with hegemony in the revolution IS the masses. That of course is an often made point – that this will be the first revolution where the masses will enter acting at the leadership in their own interest, not following some other class with the eventual result that the revolutionary process is stopped when that class has what it wants. As a side note, in a country at the level of development of Russia it was essential that the proletariat actually make the peasants see the revolution as in their interest and that it actually be in their interest. But is there anything analogous to either that or to the need for the bourgeoisie to make its project the social project in the bourgeois revolution, which means draw the masses in to supporting it, since this will be a revolution by the masses?
First I just wanted to quote several sentences form Kirsten that I thank are one of many important issues we need discuss about the heart of Marxism, to call people’s attention to them. “In The Philosophy of Right Hegel sees a dualism between individual life, or civil life, and species life, and argues that the task of the state is to integrate the individual into the community in a way that does not jeopardize subjective freedom. (As heterodox economists we recognize that this very dualism is taken up in the mainstream of economics with the market mechanism being its resolution.) Marx astutely recognizes that once again that which is fundamentally human, our species being, is now represented in the state, and is held over and above us. The modern state presupposes that egoistic civil society is the "natural" state of man, such that even with the abolition of religious alienation we are still woefully alienated from our species being. Modern constitutions are "constitutions of private property," legitimizing egoistic life and perfectly articulating the inverted logic of modern life. (The inverted logic we so readily recognize in the creation of that creature 'homoeconomicus.')”
So economics starts with (among other things) methodological individualism, and then says the market supplies the social coordination that obviously does occur, and must occur for human survival. Marx gives get importance to this relation of the subjective individual to the issue of our species-nature (and how these are intimately connected to the possibility of authentic human development, to a communist revolution). And I want to push for people to keep looking for what Marx already thought private property had to do with all this, before he began his long detailed study of capitalism. But what I want o then ask about is the state. First, there is the role Hegel gave to it that Kirsten indicated, and Marx rejects. We know that the bourgeois state has the role of enforcing class interest, hence of presenting the elimination of the antagonism between subjective individualism and recognition of and developing one’s species-nature. Then under a worker government it would use the state to repress the class interests of the bourgeoisie - would that already be reducing the antagonism between subjective individuality and their species nature for the masses? And then the state is supposed to wither away. But if it withers away, what agency is there to execute the collective will of the masses? What agency is there to act in the interests of the species-nature of humanity? While one part of what Marx thought about the state – that its repressive role, which is really its defining role under any class society, would wither away, it seems to me there are other questions about the state in a post class society that he did not address that flow from his ideas of some of the characteristics of such a society, and in particular how his ideas of the state fit in with the idea that was so central to him of the resolution of the antagonism between subjective individuality and our species-nature.
One cautionary word on the question Hasan posed that I am almost sure we will want to discuss in eh summer camp. When Loewe uses the word “passive” to describe the proletariat, it can be misleading. Both Marx in this stage, and Feuerbach saw that the revolution would be carried out by the proletariat – in that sense they were not passive. By the term he means that the ideas came in from the outside (from political philosophers), that set the proletariat into action – they were not self-activating. And that is what Marx was to go on and build into the heart of his theory, including his views on the role of himself and other political philosophers.
Here is one question connected to this, and I certainly do not have a definite answer that could be “proved” even in the weakest sense of that term – is that what we have seen in any sense in the last 150 years? Have the ideas for liberation of the proletariat come from the proletariat itself and form their existence in life? And here is an obvious related question that communists all over the world are discussing – why in a situation where at least in the First World the situation, the living existence, of the proletariats has gotten worse for over 20 years (abandoning the slightly gilded cage of the post WWII structure for the bare-knuckles capitalism of neoliberalism) has there been next to no response by the proletariat of some sweeping scope in its own interests (or even ideas supporting that, as this position says should arise from their life experience)
A final sentence on my own entry – while the issues I flagged that I said I hoped people would pay attention to as they read the readings, and I hoped we would perhaps discuss further when we get together are all OK, in fact all the pages I referred to, and the article I was reading as these issues came to mind, was the very early Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, not the article on the Philosophy of Right (sometimes translated “Law”) that J.W. in fact made his post about – even though I was not directly responding to J.W., sorry about that confusion
Saturday, August 1, 2009
A number of people have told me they have thoughts on reading they have done, and would post, but they are now weeks behind. If they post as a comment to a thread like Hegel's Philosophy of Right, it gets buried at the end of a list of comments, and one needs check every thread every day to see if anything new has been posted.
So I suggest at this point, so people can post stuff on readings they did several weeks ago but for which the questions are still totally valid since our concern is Marx' overall work and methodology, so people reading the list can easily see what new has been posted, that people open a new thread for any new comment. Then title it with what piece it is on. So tomorrow I will post a couple of comments on "Letters from the Franco-German Yearbook," and the next day "On the Jewish Question." I will also post as separate new threads some brief replies to the ideas brought up by J.W in his post on Hegel's/Right, and Kirsten's response, and now the interesting comments Joao made yesterday on the Manuscripts.
I am proposing this change only because we are behind, and people will be posting "make-up" comments - if we had all posted in the week we read things (and had not got behind in our readings, both of which problems I certainly got into), J.W.'s better system would have worked fine, we could have just followed each thread each week and then moved to a new thread. But now we are jumping around in time in our postings (I hope we are - I hope on the next two weeks a number of people post one or two things on stuff they read weeks ago).
For the discussion at the summer camp this will not present any problem, someone will gather all the discussion (or the pints brought up) by reading, whenever it was posted, and we'll work form that there.