Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 8, 2014

Questions about socialism and value theory

Filed under: economics,socialism — louisproyect @ 8:42 pm

Recently a correspondent posed some questions to me that I would like to respond to publicly since others might get something out of my response.

Q: “How would a socialist system account for jobs that don’t occur on property? Or small businesses that adhere to the service industry where minuscule amounts of profit comes from labor time as opposed to capital investment? i.e., I get paid $22 per hour / 89.50 labor rate. 60 otherwise goes overhead. And I sell the parts my boss invests in with his capital.”

I’ve been faced with this question and I’m unsure how to respond; what is a fairly short explanation of how a social system based on workplace democracy would replace this? What’s the socialist solution to this problem?

A: In general, I shy away from questions about how a future socialist system will work but in the Russian revolution the original intent was to only expropriate the big capitalists. In the immediate period, however, a policy of War Communism led to the expropriation of all privately owned firms, large and small. This was a function more of the need to disempower a middle class that was hostile to the revolution rather than comply with any socialist blueprint—which of course Marx never intended to begin with.

Once the civil war ended, War Communism was abandoned. From that point on, large enterprises remained collectivized but small to medium sized peasants were given a lot of leeway—similar to the experiment taking place in Cuba today. Cuba adopted something similar to War Communism in its early years but this was a function more of the prevailing understanding of what “socialism” was about in 1960 than anything else. It really made no sense to expropriate small hotels, restaurants, retail shops and the like.

I am not exactly sure I get the drift of you math but in a way it is beside the point. If the American working class ever seizes control of Exxon, IBM, Chase, GM, Pfizer, Monsanto et al, it will be absolutely unnecessary to take over small enterprises. The important thing to understand is that unlike a pizza parlor or a nail-polishing shoppe, Exxon and Monsanto have enormous social and economic power. Negligence by Exxon destroyed wildlife in Alaska for a generation. Monsanto’s drive to make GM hegemonic will lead to huge risks for the ecosphere. These are our big concerns not whether a bike shop or a frozen yogurt shop adheres to the labor theory of value.

Q: Hello, I’m getting ready for a debate on Marxism and my opponent has in the past pointed out that value is in fact subjective. I may value a pot at $100 yet he may value it at $50. If it is true that Labor determines the value of this pot, how do I argue against the Subjective Theory of Value?

I myself do not possess too much of an understanding of the Labor Theory, and most attempts at reading long articles do little to advance my knowledge. If I’m understanding the Labor Theory wrong, can you give me a simple explanation of it devoid of confusing rhetoric and such?

Thanks a lot.

A: This is a variation I have heard on arguments against the labor theory of value that involve art, which in a way a pot can be seen as. For example, how does a painting by a well-established abstract artist command prices of a million dollars when it was executed in a day while a landscape by a mediocre artist that took a year to paint is valued at $1000?

Marx was far more concerned to explain the pricing of more mundane items like a yard of cotton textiles, which do not involve taste or training. Capitalist production does not involve esthetics. Steel production, mining, manufacturing, rail transportation, etc. all revolve around basic commodities and services that can be produced anywhere. That is why offshoring has become such a powerful weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie.  There was a book review recently in the NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/business/a-game-of-chairs-and-globalization.html) that takes a close look at what takes place with the Bassett furniture company:

There are superb scenes in which Mr. Bassett’s son, and then Mr. Bassett himself, go in search of the Louis Philippe, finally finding it being made in a grim plant in a remote corner of northeast China near the North Korean border. Their quest climaxes when Mr. Bassett meets face to face with the owner, who is planning a mammoth factory complex that threatens to eradicate what remains of the American industry. Mr. Bassett is coldly informed that the only way Vaughan-Bassett can survive is to shut its factories and sell Chinese furniture.

The furniture company managed to resist offshoring but the overall prospects for that kind of manufacturing is grim.

Another book that I would strongly recommend is “Capital Moves: RCA’s Seventy-year Quest for Cheap Labor” by Jefferson Cowie that I read when it came out in 1999. Much of it can be read online:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Pyggeea2yj0C

I should add that the labor theory of value is best understood as a way of understanding  the class relationships between worker and boss rather than as a way of pricing commodities—although a couple of British economists have written extensively about how computers would make such a thing possible under socialism: http://users.wfu.edu/cottrell/eea97.pdf. It is very technical, I’m afraid.

I think James Devine, a California economist, wrote one of the best things: http://myweb.lmu.edu/jdevine/notes/Law-of-Value.html

Here is an excerpt:

In an e-mail discussion, Brad deLong of U.C.-Berkeley economics wrote that: “The LTV [labor theory of value] is not true: average market prices are not labor values, and the deviations of the average prices of particular commodities from their labor values are not simple redistributions of ‘surplus value’ from boss to boss…. “

It’s hard to say that Marx’s “labor theory of value” is “not true” if one doesn’t understand it, just as it’s hard to say that it’s “true” if one doesn’t understand it. In fact, there are a lot of questions about what “it” is. In fact, it’s unclear what to call “it.” Below, I present one interpretation of the “LTV” which I hope will make these questions clear, allowing us to move on to other issues.

Finally, there’s a very good piece by Brian McKenna on CounterPunch titled “If Marx’s Math is Fundamental, Why Do So Few Teach It?” that is very good. It is drawn from his personal experience:

I’ve had several fast food jobs. I’ll never forget my first. I was 19 and I flipped burgers at Gino’s (a competitor of McDonald’s) in 1975 in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I was earning money for college. Ginos advertised “flexible hours” to cater to college student’s busy needs. I signed on at $1.90 an hour, plus one free hamburger per shift.

One day I was called in at the last minute for an evening shift of four hours. Not owning a car, I took public transportation to the place, about 4 miles away, for the 4:00 shift. It started to rain. When I arrived, soaking wet at 4:00, I was told, ‘we don’t need you anymore tonight, Brian.

“But it took an hour to get here and I want to work. Please let me do something.”

“Can’t you see?” the manager pointed out the window, “it’s raining out, hard, and no one is coming into Ginos. We don’t need you. Can you work a shift on Saturday at 11:00 to 2:00?”

“Can I at least have my hamburger?”

“But you didn’t work!” he said.

Needless to say, those bastards at McDonald’s and Ginos will be on the expropriation block the day after the workers seize power.

35 Comments »

  1. My understanding of the LTV is that it only applies to commodities produced by wage labour for future sale by the capitalist in question. That’s why the art example, when used as a refutation of the LTV, doesn’t work. It’s the same reason the fact that someone dying of thirst in the Sahara would be willing to pay millions of dollars for a drink of water doesn’t refute the LTV–capitalism doesn’t produce art in the sense that artists do or search for thirsty travelers in the desert, it produces masses of commodities by wage labour for excange. Do I have that right?

    One quick question; would socialism use the LTV as a means of determining production? My understanding of Marx indicates that the LTV applies only under capitalism, though I could be mistaken, so why under socialism would we apply the same yardstick, so to speak?

    Comment by Mick — July 8, 2014 @ 9:36 pm

  2. Cockshott and Cottrell make the case for using the LTV under socialism or at least using labor time as a way of price calculation.

    http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/socialism_book/

    Comment by louisproyect — July 8, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

  3. The problem with the example of the pot is that it confuses price and value. The value (average socially necessary labour time) needed to make the pot is not the same as the price someone is willing to pay for it. The same goes for the water in the desert.

    Comment by John edmundson — July 9, 2014 @ 4:37 am

  4. The “labor theory of value” is not precisely a labor theory of value, governing all labor throughout all history, no more than the “law of value” is precisely a law of all value. At the root of both is the specific configuration of capital, where labor power is organized as a commodity, as a value, exchanged for an equivalent to its cost for reproduction, when it produces that equivalent in less time than the working day. Hence surplus labor becomes surplus value. The value is not the value actually embodied in the moments of production, but the socially necessary labor time, the value that is required to reproduce the commodity in the current conditions. Value is current, a function of reproduction. Cost is historic.

    Yes, Cockshott and Cottrell claim that the law of value, and the “labor theory of value” will apply under socialism– which shows how little they understand about the origins of value production. Commodities precede capitalism, production of value, for the accumulation of value does not, and can only dominate production when wage-labor is the determining mode of production. Which means that Cockshott and co. never get to Marx’s point of abolishing wage labor. Surplus certainly will exist; but surplus value will not.

    For example– it is well known that brass fixture on doors, faucets etc. have germicidal properties. However, because of the greater surplus value that can be appropriated through the manufacture and use of steel, steel is used in hospitals instead of brass. The value quotient “defeats” so to speak the use value. Now if Cockshott and co. are right, socialism will continue to favor steel over brass in hospitals. One more reason to stay away from hospitals where the law of value dominates.

    The point is not to mimic capitalism; to be more rational in the organization and appropriation of value than capitalism; but to abolish the value production through the “free association of producers.” Of course this should come as no surprise, given Cockshott’s politics– his loyalty to Soviet style mimicry of capitalism, and of course his enthusiastic Ricardo-ism.

    The “law of value,” where commodities exchange in proportion to the labor time necessary for their reproduction, does not exist separate and apart from the class relations that engender, and are reproduced by, such exchanges. So if someone’s telling you that the law of value will operate under “socialism”– they are essentially arguing that the bourgeoisie as a class and the proletariat as a class will survive under socialism, and the condition of labor will remain as wage-labor.

    Comment by sartesian — July 9, 2014 @ 1:15 pm

  5. This is so wrong and so alien from Marx that’s hard to know where to start or end. No mention of use value and exchange value even. Glad to see the poster before me interjected some sense.

    “Socialism” that not only maintains value production but also classes? That’s no socialism that Marx would recognize or that modern workers would mobilize to establish.

    An honest Marxist would suggest that the person asking the questions start by reading Marx himself. “Wage Labor and Capital” and “value price and profit” are very easy to get through and were actually designed with poorly educated workers of the time in mind.

    Comment by Steve D — July 10, 2014 @ 3:26 am

  6. I have a friend who’s an artist. He recently started trying to sell his work and so he had to put a price on his paintings. He had never done this before, so he put a price he thought was fair. To his surprise, he overvalued his work. People in the industry instructed him to use a formula. I forget what the formula was, but it was something like $3 per square inch or something. Anyway, the price is not important. My point is that it seems like, for most artists, art work is still valued largely by the amount of work put into it. There are exceptions with great works of art, as there are exceptions with most products, but I would say that those are just that, exceptions.

    Comment by Ricky — July 11, 2014 @ 12:43 pm

  7. The LTV regulates production in a capitalist economy, it ensures artisan type work is a peripheral activity, it also ensures the necessity of government intervention in capitalist economies on a massive scale. If you had 2 goods and one took 10 hours to make and the other 20 hours to make but both fetched the same market price, then the capitalist would simply not produce the good which took twice as long and had the same value! He would find that he wouldn’t be a capitalist for long if he did! Or imagine if the product that took more time to make actually had a lower market price! Who in their right mind would produce that for market?

    The answer to the small capitalists who pays their workers a pittance is to end state aid to such enterprises and let the market decide their fate. This would be the best transition policy. Let these zombie companies die out.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 13, 2014 @ 11:07 am

  8. Right, let the zombie small companies which pay a pittance, like Wal Mart. Paying workers a pittance IS the market deciding fate.

    Comment by sartesian — July 13, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

  9. Wal Mart is not a small business the last time I looked?

    On Sartesians point about the abolition of the LTV under socialism, well maybe or maybe not. The LTV is not just a class relation but also a solution to a problem. Engels points out that the LTV operated in peasant communities on Germany. It is simply wrong to say that keeping the LTV in some form means you need to keep the class relations of capitalism. If that is the case I want it spelling out exactly why this is the case, rather than it being put as an assertion.

    Socialism will need to regulate the allocation of resources, it will likely want to move more resources to social goods, this will necessitate the maximising of productivity in directly productive sectors, e.g. large scale manufacturing, agriculture. Is there a better mechanism than the LTV for achieving this and if so what is it? This is something socialism is going to have to figure out and discover. Maybe Sartesian has it all worked out and if he has then lets hear what it is.

    No offence to past geniuses or present comrades but ‘free association of producers’ tells us next to nothing, other than a very generalised hint of something. I haven’t got a clue what that means actually. Maybe Sartesian can spell it out exactly, seen as it sees it as how the socialist economy will work?

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 13, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

  10. Spell this out: E-n-g-e-l-s w-a-s- w-r-o-n-g. As Marx points out time and time again; the law of value, where commodities are exchanged in proportion to the labor time necessary for their SOCIAL REPRODUCTION, dominates only through the destruction, the overthrow, of subsistence production, and the separation from the direct producers from the means of production; in agriculture, this means…..the land.

    The failure to accomplish that full separation, that dispossession, and to overcome subsistence production is precisely the mark of uneven and combined development– i.e. the limits to capitalist development.

    How can there be a “labor theory of value” operative with socialism when wage-labor, which is the organization of labor-power as value producing value, is abolished?

    The whole point of Marx’s analysis that indeed, there is a “better mechanism” than LTV for achieving the productivity of labor, but that achieving this “better mechanism”– [and what mechanism is it? Is it a thing? Of course not, it’s a RELATION. It’s the organization of labor as other than a value], requires a certain material development to support this higher social organization.

    Comment by sartesian — July 14, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

  11. You say that Engels is wrong but then say that the LTV comes to dominate only under capitalism, this is what Engels is saying. He is saying that the LTV actually operated in a less mature form in non capitalist societies. If you believe that the LTV only came into existence once capitalism had come into existence then you are not looking at things in an historical and dialectical way. All you are saying is that capitalism was born and then the thing that underpins capitalism was created later. This is a paradox. Just like money, the LTV existed in some form prior to the existence of capitalism, the birth of which was a long historical process. As Marx says the old is pregnant with the new.

    The example you used was regarding hospitals and the use of brass and steel but this only accounts for what will get produced and what won’t. The other side is how the thing gets produced, by this machine or that machine or by labour intensive methods. Remember that part of the LTV includes socially necessary labour time. If machine A produces in 10 hours and machine B produces the same thing in 4 hours then socialism will go with machine B (just as capitalism would), all other things being equal. Therefore socialism will have a concept of socially necessary labour time, i.e. some form of the LTV will exist, possibly, under socialism.

    It may well be that what actually gets produced, brass or steel for example, will not be based on the LTV but by some other mechanism but I don’t think we can assert this as a fact.

    Hospitals are a classic example of where productivity is hard to measure, therefore in those sectors a form of the LTV may not be desirable. But the more efficient society is at allocating resources the more it can deploy to these sectors. The more efficient direct production is, or the higher the level of productivity, the more resources that can be directed to hospitals and other ‘social goods’. Socialism will need a mechanism for assessing, monitoring and planning this.

    Cockshott and Cottrell may well simply want to reform Stalinism but at least they have taken their heads out the clouds and brought the question down to a practical plain. How will socialism deal with x,y and z they ask. They believe this is the way to engage workers, come up with practical ideas and enough of abstract notions such as ‘free association of producers’.

    I don’t disagree that the re-organisation of production based on relations is fundamental but it doesn’t make socialism immune from very practical problems that require practical solutions. But simply saying that the mechanism for allocating resources is to change the societal relations is speaking in an idealistic way, still with your head in the clouds, the practical question is how the classless society will allocate resources?

    When you say this society based on new relations requires a ‘certain material development’, what is this saying exactly? How do we know when that day arrives, will there be a sign we should look out for? Is that the day when the workers should start to get engaged? This is nonsense, the ‘certain material development’ required for the overthrow of capitalism is simply the existence of the working class; the ‘certain material development’ almost came into existence the minute capitalism had developed. All we can say then is the potential for the overthrow of capitalism is with us right here right now. This really doesn’t have much to do with waiting for a better mechanism to allocate resources, or with productivity reaching a certain level. Capitalism didn’t come with ready-made solutions to all its problems; it has had to learn very painful lessons along the way. Socialism will go through the same experience, albeit in a different way.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 15, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

  12. Exactly what are you saying, Simon? Look, for a law to be a law it has to govern; it has to explain and in effect DETERMINE the process under examination. You want to say that the law of value determined exchanges in pre-capitalist economies? In subsistence economies? Does the law of value explain, and govern the peasant economy, yes or no?

    Laws cannot be both “determining” and not yet mature.

    Exchange exists; the distribution of the social labor time exists; but the determination of both by the law of value occurs only when the condition of labor is such that it has to present itself as a value in exchange for the value equivalent to its own means of reproduction. That does not occur in the peasant economy; it doesn’t occur in the peasant communes of China, in the ryots of India; the communal agriculture of the barangays in the Philippines.

    Right, right Cockshott and Catrell are really down to earth, solid fellows, who thought democratic reform could be accomplished in the already socialist (as they claimed they were) states. What crap.

    The question is not specifically how will the workers deal with X, Y, Z; but rather what steps must the workers take to do away with the class of workers. Cockshott never gets to that point. It’s immaterial, literally, for him. And in making it immaterial, he is recreating the condition of labor that leads us to capitalism, exactly as the so-called “socialists” states have done. That’s the practical problem; how doworkers avoid reproducing the conditions of their own exploitation. Certainly not by having production determined by the law of value.

    Short version: Marx points out, Engels to the contrary notwithstanding, how historically specific, and limited, value and its laws are. He says, and rightly, “All economy is the economy of time.” Indeed it is. But not all economies of time are economies of value.

    Comment by sartesian — July 16, 2014 @ 11:58 pm

  13. “Exactly what are you saying, Simon?”

    Firstly I am not saying Cockshott and Cottrell are correct. But asserting they are wrong it doesn’t make it so!

    But what I am really trying to say can be summed up with a few examples –

    If no form of the LTV will exist under socialism then what stops someone going into a cooperative store with a bag of potatoes and exchanging those with a brand new motorcycle?

    How will a socialist society determine the most efficient way of producing a good?

    Upon what basis will a socialist society allocate resources in response to demand?

    “The question is not specifically how will the workers deal with X, Y, Z; but rather what steps must the workers take to do away with the class of workers”

    No, this is just one of the questions, and from that question a whole set of new problems arise, which a socialist system will have to deal with. Cockshott and Cottrell are responding, rightly or wrongly, to those critiques of planning and the rational economy, such as Hayek and more specifically members of the labour movement, by attempting to explain, rightly or wrongly, how socialism will deal with issues such as, allocation of resources, responding to demand, valuation of goods, innovation etc etc. These are specific problems that critics of socialism have posed, some have tried to answer these questions by developing ideas and theories as to how a socialist economy would operate. They believe that when workers are listening to a debate between socialists and its critics, workers will not be won over with abstract phrases such as “association of free producers’.

    I also think Cockshott and Cottrell go well beyond a conception of socialist planning, they devote a whole section to property relations!

    A form of value can exist prior to it being universal and mature, in German peasant communities goods would be exchanged on the basis of the time it took to produce the good. This is not because of some nefarious interest but because exchanging goods on this basis is the logical way to exchange goods! The question is why would this logic not apply to a socialist system?
    Now my initial understanding of your position was that socialism would do away with exchange but your last comment suggests otherwise. So on what basis will this exchange take place and how will it regulate a socialist economy? These are practical questions, not idealistic ones.

    As I mentioned previously the working class can take power right here right now and deal with problems as and when they arise. However, the working class surely cannot take power without some concrete and practical preconceived policies already developed. This is what Cockshott and Cottrell are attempting to do.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 17, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

  14. Was the reproduction of the German peasant communities in the 16th, 17th century governed by the law of value? Yes or no? Was feudal England, feudal France, regulated by the law of value, yes or no? It really is just that simple.

    Socialist society will not determine the most efficient method of production on the basis of exchange value; on the basis of expropriating surplus value; but upon most effectively satisfying human need; and that is exactly what and why Marx talked about the free association of producers. Practical problems are indeed practical problems, but they do not exist separate and apart from the social relation of production. Value is a specific social relation of production that requires a specific organization of labor as wage-labor.

    Now, here’s the practical question that needs to be answered. Will wage-labor remain in socialist society? If not then what possible basis can their be for value accumulation?

    If wage labor will cease to exist then the law of value cannot operate? The criteria for determining, comparing, efficiencies will be satisfaction of need through reduction of working time. How few people have to work fewer hours to satisfy the objective need– like brass fixtures in hospitals– not how few people have to work so many hours to produce surplus value, like the steel fixtures which compromise the critical need in hospitals– prevent the transmission of pathogens through contact.

    Comment by sartesian — July 18, 2014 @ 3:47 am

  15. Ok sartesian let us ditch the debate about the historical development of labour time as a basis of valuing goods and rewind a little here, you originally said,

    “Cockshott and Cottrell claim that the law of value, and the “labor theory of value” will apply under socialism”

    But is this what they claim? Will the law of value regulate the socialist economy? In a capitalist economy the LTV is an unconscious regulator of production, behind the backs of everyone. This unconscious regulation necessitates the massive conscious intervention of the state into capitalist economies. Under the Cockshott and Cottrell proposal the economy is already presumed to be under the conscious control of the ‘people’, so the regulator of production under Cockshott and Cottrell’s socialism is not the LTV but conscious humanity itself.

    However, like Marx, Cockshott and Cottrell believe that labour time, rather than being discarded will be raised to an even higher level under a socialist economy. So they propose non circulating labour certificates, which will be the equivalent of hours worked. This will be the currency in a socialist society. So goods will be valued based on the labour time, but for socialism to be efficient some form of socially necessary labour time will also be required. These will be the practical mechanics of a socialist economy.

    Now you can make your own mind up if what Cockshott and Cottrell propose is effectively capitalism without the capitalists or whether it is true to Marx’s conception. I think the latter. However maybe we must challenge Marx here?

    In a world of 7 billion+ people how does the ‘free association of producers’ actually work in practice? How do 7 billion+ people contribute to the conscious decisions of a socialist economy? Is it possible to retain a multitude of consumer goods, which implies division of labour etc etc, and not have the worker alienating his product to some extent, whether it is to a capitalist or a socialist planning regime? In other words is it actually possible to eliminate unconscious mechanisms in a huge economy? This is where the market socialists have challenged Marx, Cockshott and Cottrell etc. This is where some Marxists have said that socialism isn’t so much a fetish of planning but who makes the decisions about the surplus created by workers. So to some Marxists socialism is, in effect, at least in the transition period, not about changing what the workers produce as part of their necessary labour time but what they get to produce as part of their surplus labour time. And then over time the necessary part will begin to evolve toward a more conscious and rational basis or maybe none of the above!

    But if you think a socialist economy will not have to face these very practical questions then I would say think again.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 20, 2014 @ 10:21 am

  16. OK, I’m more than happy to ditch it once we answer the question “Did the law of value regulate pre-capitalist, or non-capitalist, economies?”

    As for Cockshott– you mean I’m going to have to read that book again? I think that’s nothing but sadism on your part. I am willing to do that, again, provided we reach an answer to another previous question: “Does socialism utilize, create, reproduce, etc.etc. wage-labor?”

    After that, I’d like to point out that Cockshott & co. should, in theory, have no objection to maintaining and expanding wage-labor; after all I believe it’s in the introduction to that same book where he talks about Stalinist terror– and that terror was directed against the workers, not the bourgeoisie; and against the peasantry who were not, are not, and mostly never were “proto-capitalist– as being an effective tool for the building of socialism.

    Moreover, in discussions I’ve had with Cockshott he supports providing greater compensation to “more productive” workers under his version of “socialism,” which to my mind is antithetical to Marx’s arguments in the Critique of the Gotha Program. Cockshott can call his tiered compensation “labor vouchers”, he can call it whatever he wants, he can put Stalin’s picture on it, or the big four Marx Engels Stalin Mao, but once he introduces the gradient, the certificate will become, and be used, as means of exchange, and we’ll have a functional equivalent of money and of course, wage-labor.

    But I’ll read the book again, as long as the above questions are answered.

    Comment by sartesian — July 20, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

  17. “As for Cockshott– you mean I’m going to have to read that book again?”

    Only if you didn’t understand it the first time?

    “Does socialism utilize, create, reproduce, etc.etc. wage-labor”

    Marx believed the socialist form of money was Labour certificates, non circulating and based on hours worked. Now in theory, forget that Cockshott says more productive workers may be paid more for a minute, even if everyone was strictly paid the same, so one hour was the same for everybody regardless, you may still get exchange of these certificates. So workers may decide to give up 5 hours of their labour time for sexual favours for example. So does that possibility invalidate the whole thing? Throwing out the baby with the bath water springs to mind here. But socialism may employ technology to ensure these labour certificates can only be used by the person they have been issued to (but they may also be objectionable?).

    But if you reject any form of labour certificates or any form of money, then tell us what you propose, the central committee telling everyone what they will or won’t consume?

    “Moreover, in discussions I’ve had with Cockshott he supports providing greater compensation to “more productive” workers under his version of “socialism,” which to my mind is antithetical to Marx’s arguments in the Critique of the Gotha Program.”

    Depends what you mean by more ‘productive’. But this is a practical question and not an idealistic one. For example, in many worker co-ops the difference between the highest and lowest paid is much much smaller than it is in a typical capitalist enterprise, also where unions are stronger you tend to get less of a gap between managers pay and those of workers. But I don’t think you can assert, as a principle, how workers in a socialist society will decide how to distribute ‘wealth’. They may, or may not, learn that some incentives are required.

    I guess my fundamental problem with your position is that you appear to have absolute truths to which a socialist society must adhere, which I don’t think any society can really live up to. I think this is dangerous on a number of levels and not in keeping with a historical materialist attitude.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 20, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

  18. Absolute truths? Just that the emancipation of all of society is contingent upon the emancipation of the working class; that the emancipation of the working class must be, can only be, accomplished by the class itself, organized as class by itself, through its own structures of power; just that anything “less” than that will necessarily devolve into something other than socialism. And I think those absolute truths are completely un-ideological, but rather are the conclusions drawn from a careful, materialist, study of revolution(s).

    And……I believe Marx wasn’t kidding when he wrote in the COTGP: “Within cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers DO NOT (emphasis added) exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here AS THE VALUE (italicized in the original) of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour. The phrase ‘proceeds of labour’ objectionable even today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.”

    After that, I don’t believe in anything except that rock and roll saved my life.

    Marx goes on to give us his famous depiction of the socialist society as it emerges from capitalism, where it is still “stamped with the birthmarks of the older society from whose womb it emerges.” OK let’s keep that in mind, because Cockshott’s notions in Towards a New Socialism where formulated, not in response to a new proletarian order emerging from the capitalist womb, but rather from the experience of an order he already considered to be socialist decaying into a capitalist order. I think we’ll find that to be of great significance, and truly distinguish Cockshott’s explanations from Marx’s critique. I think we’ll find, by looking at the COTGP that Marx did not in fact regard “labor certificates” as a socialist form of money.

    I think it’s nonsense to talk about such certificates being “non-circulating,” while at the same time, describing how “So workers may decide to give up 5 hours of their labour time for sexual favours for example. So does that possibility invalidate the whole thing? “– what it does invalidate is the notion that the certificates can somehow be “non-circulating.”

    Think about the example you provide. To whom will an individual worker, male or female, hand over his/her “5 hours of labor time”? A sex worker? And how does one, and why does one, become a sex worker? To exchange sex for… labor certificates that represent the means of subsistence? What is that if not a commercial transaction where we simply change the title of the medium of exchange from money to labor certificate.

    Are certain individuals going to be designated as “sex workers,” by the state, even a democratically controlled, proletarian state? Or is everyone going to become a sex worker? Required to spend X number of hours as such a worker, because we know, individual labor isn’t the point, it’s the collective social labor of all that is required? All you have done is ensured that the relations be human beings is mediated not by need, or desire, but by a “thing,” which is itself nothing but a representative of the already existing relations between producers and owners. In short, your labor certificate is but another iteration of the commodity fetish.

    Marx makes it very clear that the equality “administered” embodied in the labor certificates he suggests, is a necessary inequality– necessary to the extent that it represents a transition from that society where “the same principle as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents, so much labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form” prevails, to a society where that principle does not prevail.

    The entire issue is the transition itself. The inequality is maintained, this “primitive equality” preserved, until “all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly.” That means in fact the society doesn’t transition because of, or to a society where we award more compensation to individual workers based on “degree of difficulty,” or individual productivity. Productivity is recognized as a social process, a result of social labor, and so the reward to the individual cannot possibly be made on the basis of such individual “output,” at least without fracturing the basis for socialism which is the unity of the class as a class, for itself as a class in order to abolish classes. Specifically, precisely, exactly, the revolutionary society in transition does not bestow greater rewards, greater compensation, based on “individual ouptut.”

    Think about it. What is the basis of social productivity? It’s the revolutionizing of the production process, not the efforts of individuals. The “incentive” method of labor compensation is but one more method primitive accumulation.

    As for handling practical problems, I think the first practical solution we offer is……….recognizing that our individual proposals are…speculations, and that a revolutionary class will have many more resources, and much better solutions to practical problems than our speculations.

    Comment by sartesian — July 20, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

  19. Thanks sartesian, lots of interesting points. I feel we could be stumbling toward some kind of agreement.

    But let us stumble into agreement by being critical,

    Firstly a few quotes from Marx,

    Marx discusses how labour time will work in the future society:

    “Economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree. However, this is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values (labour or products) by labour time”

    I think we will see later how you effectively reject Marx’s distinction here.

    Marx imagines the future society:

    “The total product of our imagined association is a social product. One part of this product serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another part is consumed by the members of the association as means of subsistence. This part must therefore be divided amongst them. The way this division is made will vary with the particular kind of social organization of production and the corresponding level of social development attained by the producers. We shall assume, but only for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour-time. Labour-time would in that case play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the correct proportion between the different functions of labour and the various needs of the associations. On the other hand, labour-time also serves as a measure of the part taken by each individual in the common labour, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption”

    Marx says the following about Labour certificates:

    “The certificate of labour is merely evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour, and of his claim to a certain portion of the common product which has been set aside for consumption.”

    Now we can take Marx at face value here and the new socialist society can joyously proclaim labour certificates that simply represent a portion of total labour, assured in the fact that the evils of exchange have been banished forever! But let us look at the practicalities that a socialist society may, OR MAY NOT, face. How will these labour certificates get issued and how will the issued certificate be identified with the recipient? The socialist society may, OR MAY NOT, use technology to ensure that no one can give these certificates to anyone other than the person identified. But this may be objectionable, OR NOT, on the grounds of NSA type snooping. But even if the certificate is identified with the individual who was issued with it what is to stop an individual going into a store and purchasing lingerie and giving it as a gift to someone else? In return for the girft, sexual favours may be offered or even love! So you are quite correct to say that labour certificates could create a balck market or used for, gulp, exchange! But a socialist society may, OR MAY NOT, take steps to ameliorate this by, for example, having an expiry date on the certificate, treating ‘social goods’ different from ‘consumer’ goods etc.

    The question is does the above invalidate the whole basis of labour certificates, and therefore , as you infer, is Marx wrong to distinguish between exchange under capitalism and labour certificates under socialism? Or is this throwing out the baby with the bath water. Do we say, if the socialist society is imperfect to our vision then we ditch the whole thing as merely capitalism in another form? You also need to answer the practical question, if not labour certificates then what?

    “And how does one, and why does one, become a sex worker?”

    By deciding to be one, because they like it or because it represents a need in society. But we could ask the same question for any form of concrete labour.

    “Are certain individuals going to be designated as “sex workers,” by the state, even a democratically controlled, proletarian state?”

    At last a practical question! Again you could ask this of any form of concrete labour. If there is a NEED for the services of sex workers, for example in our society disabled people often rely on sex workers for intimacy, the socialist society may decide sex work is part of the total social labour, OR MAYBE NOT. But if it isn’t then I suspect it will carry on regardless, unless you vision of socialism is the police state. You abstractly talk about human relations being mediated by need, without bothering to actually ask the practical question, what is need, how is it derived and what happens when needs clash?

    “All you have done is ensured that the relations be human beings is mediated not by need, or desire, but by a “thing,” which is itself nothing but a representative of the already existing relations between producers and owners.”

    We already assume that the LTV will no longer be the unconscious regulator, instead socialism will largely eradicate the unconscious and make the regulator conscious humanity. In that case the need becomes the thing and the two are no longer in contradiction. You talk of need and the thing as if they are eternally mutual opposites but the entire point is that they are not!

    “Marx makes it very clear that the equality “administered” embodied in the labor certificates he suggests, is a necessary inequality– necessary to the extent that it represents a transition from that society where “the same principle as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents, so much labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form” prevails, to a society where that principle does not prevail.”

    Marx nowhere says that the transition period is capitalism. So we must be clear that while old forms appear in the new society the new society is indeed new, and even in the transition essential differences are present. The development to the higher form of society, based on a kind of abundance made possible by the productivity gains of the preceding transition period will be one of solving and resolving practical problems. But this higher form of communism is not the point of departure, the transition most certainly is.

    “That means in fact the society doesn’t transition because of, or to a society where we award more compensation to individual workers based on “degree of difficulty,” or individual productivity.”

    Who ever said it did? But socialist society may, OR MAY NOT, find that some incentives are required. If we take the historical materialist approach here by looking at concrete reality, we find that in worker co-ops the pay gap between highest and lowest is drastically reduced compared with capitalist firms. This is the point of departure, not some absolute truth that everyone gets exactly the same, BUT MAYBE THEY WILL.

    “As for handling practical problems, I think the first practical solution we offer is……….recognizing that our individual proposals are…speculations, and that a revolutionary class will have many more resources, and much better solutions to practical problems than our speculations.”

    Yes they are merely modest proposals but unless you believe we are a million years away from the glorious day, these modest proposals need to take shape and form the basis of political programmes, right here, right now. Marx never really put into his political programmes, “the association of free producers”, or other such abstractions. No he was forced to get practical, even the goals were presented as immediate practical issues.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 21, 2014 @ 8:27 pm

  20. Thank you for reproducing this from Marx: ““Economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree. However, this is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values (labour or products) by labour time”

    It is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values… by labour time. Essentially different from……….the law of value. I think Marx is saying “All economy is the economy of time, but not all economy of time is economy of value.”

    So with that we conclude the original issue– re the law of value. No, it did not apply to the economic life of the peasant commune; no it will not apply to socialism.

    We can argue forever about labor certificates. I think your notion of them being “non-circulating” is pretty much nonsense, since you describe them as the labor equivalent of money. If so, they must circulate, as is inherent in your description of the renumeration for sex work.

    No, I don’t envision a society where a society classifies certain individuals as sex workers, who in order to draw the means for their own subsistence are compelled to be sexually available to anyone and everyone. If that doesn’t smack of a police state, or something worse– right out of 1984 I don’t know what does. Nope, socialism to me is not that society where everyone takes a turn in the barrel. There is a difference, believe it or not, between enjoying and participating in sexual relations, and doing so for currency, whether that currency be money or labor certificates.

    I’m not throwing anything out, least of all babies, but I think all this speculation about labor certificates, and the claims made for them are pointless.

    As for “whoever said it [compensation for workers on the basis of individual output, intensity etc.]– ummmh….I think this started when I pointed out that Cockshott did say it, did support it, and I think you found merit in that position.

    So if you no longer hold to that, that’s great. I’ve no accomplished the three things I wanted to accomplish: 1)the labor theory of value is historically specific to capitalism 2) it cannot exist separate and apart from the class relations of capitalism 3) compensating workers on the basis of “individual productivity” is, besides being an oxymoron, just mimicking capitalism.

    And most certainly did put “free association of producers” into his political programs, unless of course you don’t consider communism, you don’t consider the “all the springs of cooperative wealth” to be a political program.

    Comment by sartesian — July 22, 2014 @ 12:51 am

  21. I think we are going round in circles here so I will make this my last word and allow you the final say.

    Let us start with the 3 areas where you imagine you have it all figured out:

    “1)the labor theory of value is historically specific to capitalism”

    You talk about oxymorons and then say something is historically specific! No it isn’t, what is specific to capitalism (if we can say such a thing) is that the LTV is the unconscious regulator of the system and is universal. But the alienation of the product and the exchange based on labour time existed prior to capitalism and the development of the LTV to being the universal unconscious regulator of capitalism was an historical process, a process that is still unfolding incidentally. And furthermore the Marxian critique of capitalism is that value comes into contradiction in capitalism (causing crises), for example as centralisation and concentration of wealth occur, as prices deviate from value, money hoarding etc etc etc. Marx and Engels make the point that only under socialism does the economy of time reach a higher level where the contradictions are resolved. It isn’t so much that socialism abolishes the LTV but that it resolves all the contradictions inherent in it.

    Here is Engels on the matter from capital Volume 3 (if you read this section you will see that Engles quotes Marx, so if you say Engels is wrong you have to say Marx is – I don’t think they are):

    “The peasant of the Middle Ages knew fairly accurately the labor-time required for the manufacture of the articles obtained by him in barter. The smith and the cartwright of the village worked under his eyes; likewise, the tailor and shoemaker — who in my youth still paid their visits to our Rhine peasants, one after another, turning home-made materials into shoes and clothing. The peasants, as well as the people from whom they bought, were themselves workers; the exchanged articles were each one’s own products. What had they expended in making these products? Labor and labor alone: to replace tools, to produce raw material, and to process it, they spent nothing but their own labor-power; how then could they exchange these products of theirs for those of other laboring producers otherwise than in the ratio of labor expended on them? Not only was the labor-time spent on these products the only suitable measure for the quantitative determination of the values to be exchanged: no other way was at all possible. Or is it believed that the peasant and the artisan were so stupid as to give up the product of 10 hours’ labor of one person for that of a single hours’ labor of another? No other exchange is possible in the whole period of peasant natural economy than that in which the exchanged quantities of commodities tend to be measured more and more according to the amounts of labor embodied in them. From the moment money penetrates into this mode of economy, the tendency towards adaptation to the law of value (in the Marxian formulation, nota bene!) grows more pronounced on the one hand, while on the other it is already interrupted by the interference of usurers’ capital and fleecing by taxation; the periods for which prices, on average, approach to within a negligible margin of values, begin to grow longer.”

    Link is here:

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/supp.htm#law

    Engels wrote this in response to Conrad Schmidt, who called the LTV a ‘scientific hypothesis’, Engels objects to this and claims it is actually a concrete historical development, and moreover it is the logical and practical basis of exchange. Read the full link it is all in there.

    “2) it cannot exist separate and apart from the class relations of capitalism”

    As Engels points out it did exist, it didn’t suddenly spring into existence post festum, it was an historical development. If it wasn’t Schmidt would be correct to call it a ‘scientific hypothesis’.

    “3) compensating workers on the basis of “individual productivity” is, besides being an oxymoron, just mimicking capitalism.”

    This is simply dogma, I may agree with you but a socialist society will not live in the world of dogma and may find that reality doesn’t exactly match the schemas of the thinkers. I think Cockshott is merely getting off the cloud (not that I necessarily agree with his ideas).

    Right, now to some specifics.

    “No, I don’t envision a society where a society classifies certain individuals as sex workers, who in order to draw the means for their own subsistence are compelled to be sexually available to anyone and everyone. If that doesn’t smack of a police state, or something worse– right out of 1984 I don’t know what does.”

    Implied in your comment here is that your vision of socialism is a society where people are classified to do certain amounts of concrete labour, just not sex work! So while raising the spectre of 1984 you actually appear to endorse it! A police state but without sex work! I never said people would be classified as sex workers incidentally.

    “And most certainly did put “free association of producers” into his political programs”

    The political programmes Marx co-authored with actual workers parties had to be very practical and ditch some of the abstractions, this is how it is when the real world comes crashing in. For example the following,

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm

    It starts with a preamble, which is a bit abstract, but even here practicalities stick their nose in, as they must, so for example, the abstract:

    “That the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex or race”

    Followed quickly by the semi abstract:

    “That the producers can be free only when they are in possession of the means of production”

    Followed by the practical:

    “That this collective appropriation can arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat – organized in a distinct political party.”

    Followed by the aim of the party (before going straight into the practical policies):

    “The French socialist workers, in adopting as the aim of their efforts the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to community of all the means of production, have decided, as a means of organization and struggle, to enter the elections with the following immediate demands”

    But nothing here about association of free producers, just the idea that the capitalists are expropriated and the means of production returns to the community. This is where Cockshott starts from, the community have the means of production in their hands, what happens next…

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 22, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

  22. OK that’s your last word. I’m quite content to leave it at that because:

    1. I think your last words demonstrate quite clearly your misapprehension of Marx’s critique of capital, that is to say his critique of value production, which as he makes clear can only occur, and regulate society, when the laborer, stripped of all other means, is confronted with the condition of his/her own labor, that is to say the USE of his/or her own labor, only as a VALUE in EXCHANGE for a value equivalent to the means of subsistence. That specific condition of labor NEVER occurs in the peasant commune, in pre-capitalist societies.

    2. Engels was wrong. Just flat out, simply wrong, as was Kautsky who parroted him. Engels can say anything he wants, but what he says regarding the law of value is not what Marx wrote, analyzed, and explained. Read Capital; Read the Grundrisse, and the rest of the Economic Manuscripts 1857-1860, and the Ethnological Notebooks.

    3. That bit about sex workers, where because I don’t recognize, or believe that society will classify a portion of the population as sex workers, gets distorted into supporting all other classifications, and by implication, commercial exchanges backed up by compulsion, is nothing but bullshit. It’s not even good enough to qualify as sophistry. It’s just bullshit.

    Comment by sartesian — July 22, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

  23. If you leave this with abuse then I take the right to respond, but only to the direct abuse,

    “or believe that society will classify a portion of the population as sex workers, gets distorted into supporting all other classifications”

    Bullshit? You raised the idea in the first place! Why would you think that sex workers would be classified as sex workers but no one else? I certainly never raised the idea of people being classified as sex workers or compelled to be sex workers – this was your flight of fancy. I didn’t actually say sex work, I started off by saying sexual favours, which is different to work. I only mentioned sex work when you brought it up. And only in the context of really saying that I didn’t know how a socialist society would treat sex work. My comments were littered with ‘OR MAYBE NOT’ for a reason you know. This is my fundamental problem with your position, you have your vision and seem fairly keen to keep hold of it, without bothering to ask difficult questions. We must build a cathedral to your vision, any deviation to be considered deformed. This is how I interpret your position. All such positions, by necessity, must resist the urge to ask practical questions.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 22, 2014 @ 8:55 pm

  24. Ummmh……here’s what you said:

    1. ““So workers may decide to give up 5 hours of their labour time for sexual favours for example. So does that possibility invalidate the whole thing?”

    2. ” “And how does one, and why does one, become a sex worker?”

    By deciding to be one, because they like it or because it represents a need in society. But we could ask the same question for any form of concrete labour.”
    _____________

    In your society, where workers may decide to give up 5 hours of their labor time, which labor time can only be “given up” that is to say exchanged, traded, through labor certificates, and where everybody is a worker, exactly whom will these workers be exchanging their 5 hours of certificates with for sexual favors if not other workers? And those who “decide” to become “one” or because society determines their is a need for “it”– what would you call those ones, serving the need for “it”? Presbyterians? Monks?

    As for all your “practical questions” your only practical answer is, as you so generously point out is “maybe this,” but “maybe not.” That’s real practical.

    It’s not bragging if you can do it; it’s not abuse if it’s an accurate. Bullshit is exactly what it is.

    Comment by sartesian — July 23, 2014 @ 1:33 am

  25. Point of fact: The reference Simon makes is to Engels’ supplement to vol 3; the discussion of the “eternal” operation of the law of value includes no quotation from Marx where Marx allegedly makes the claim that Engels does. Engels introduces terms and themes that Marx does not employ himself in his critique of Capital or in his analysis of pre-capitalist economies– “simple commodity production” and “natural peasant economy.”

    I’d love to see an example of a “natural peasant economy”– where independent agricultural producers marketed their surplus product as surplus values, determined by the labor time contained therein. No such “natural” economy has ever existed. “Peasant economies” might exist as communal formations, where no such exchange of value exists; they might exist within feudal relations, in which case force, compulsion, “obligation” claim product, not value, and where some rural producers might exchange products that are not essential for subsistence, but no such exchange is an exchange of value; the peasant economy may exist as it did in China with a declining productivity determining restricting the area for a exchange; but a “natural peasant economy”– there is no such animal– it’s akin to the bourgeois ideologists’ “natural laissez-faire capitalism”– nostalgia for something that never exists.

    Comment by sartesian — July 23, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

  26. Ok let us give you a puritan vision and then throw into the mix some nasty sex stuff. We assume that socialist society is using labour certificates to distribute that part of total labour allocated to consumption (just as Marx and Engels envisaged). A rape crisis centre worker (OK not that puritan but it is the early days of the transition) gets 20 hours of labour certificates for a particular week, to spend on what she likes (we assume here that socialism will allow people to make up their own minds as to what they spend their certificates on – within reason). The rape crisis centre worker spends 19 hours on going to see a play, on buying new shoes (no sexist suggestion here) etc. The other 1 hour she decides to give to someone else, who by day is an ambulance driver. In return for the 1 hour the rape crisis centre worker wants some sexual gratification (I know, how could they let her work at a rape crisis centre). So she goes onto the internet where there are some people who offer their services (we assume here that the world socialist government hasn’t yet cleansed the internet of all its foul nastiness, being fairly early days and all) in return for some extra labour certificates. After the hour or so of passion the exchange (gulp) is made. The ambulance driver obtains 10 hours labour certificates, and makes various purchases (OR MAYBE NONE OF THE ABOVE).

    Does the above invalidate the whole basis of a socialist society?

    If it does how will a socialist society stop this happening? This is where my mind thinks of police state.

    And please do answer this question – IF NOT LABOUR CERTIFICATES THEN WHAT? I think people have a right to know what will be the basis of their consumption needs in your socialist society, small details like that are quite pertinent if you ask me. Will it be dictated by the central planning authority or will people freely pop into any store and take out what they like? The latter would certainly make rational planning problematical!

    BTW you totally, I mean totally, miss the point of my ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe not’. This is to demonstrate that the vision often deviates from reality. Therefore when Cockshott and Cottrell take their heads out of the clouds and focus on the practical this raises fundamental questions. If you go into a struggle never thinking beyond the vision then you will soon come unstuck.

    On where I said Engels quotes Marx, here is what I actually said “if you read this section you will see that Engels quotes Marx”, that is meant to say, go to the link and read the whole thing and see how Engels confirms Marx agreed with this to.

    But for your benefit let us explain this in a little more detail.

    Firstly, Engels tells us that Conrad Schmidt calls the LTV a scientific hypothesis, a necessary theoretical starting point (which I would claim is your position). So Engels tells us that in a letter Schmidt declares “the law of value within the capitalist form of production to be a pure, although theoretically necessary, fiction.”

    How does Engels immediately respond to this? He says the following,

    “Schmidt… does not make sufficient allowance for the fact that we are dealing here not only with a purely logical process, but with a historical process, and its explanatory reflection in thought, the logical pursuance of its inner connections”

    He then quotes Marx on the subject:

    “The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, thus requires a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a definite level of capitalist development…. Apart from the domination of prices and price movement by the law of value, it is quite appropriate to regard the values of commodities as not only theoretically but also historically antecedent (prius) to the prices of production. This applies to conditions in which the laborer owns his own means of production, and this is the condition of the land-owning working farmer and the craftsman, in the ancient as well as in the modern world. This agrees also with the view we expressed previously, that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community. It holds not only for this primitive condition, but also for subsequent conditions, based on slavery and serfdom, and for the guild organization of handicrafts,”

    Engels then makes the following point “Had Marx an opportunity to go over the third volume once more, he would doubtless have extended this passage considerably. As it stands, it gives only a sketchy outline of what is to be said on the point in question. Let us, therefore, examine it somewhat closer.”

    And when Engels examines the point more closely he goes into what I argued above.

    Now we can do two things here, take the word of the man who was the lifelong intellectual companion of Marx and who knew him intimately or we can take the word of sartesian. I will leave free thinking individuals to decide.

    But I have now had enough of you, and I suspect your response will show further and deeper misunderstanding. So on your next reply please don’t ask any more questions just try to respond to the questions I asked you, particularly about Labour certificates.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 23, 2014 @ 4:51 pm

  27. This should read the following

    “the ambulance driver obtains in total 10 hours labour certificates during the week from his sexual services”

    Just so we don’t get confused

    But please don’t forget to answer the question, IF NOT LABOUR CERTIFICATES THEN WHAT?

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 23, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

  28. Or you can think for yourself, based on the totality of Marx’s work; on all he wrote about value production and the determination of value. And you can actually look back in history and try to find that “natural peasant economy.” You can try and find that rustic paradise where artisan craftsman engaged in the production of surplus value; where peasants haggled and trucked with each other in that glorious Eden of the marketplace where everybody just knew how much labor time was embodied in every thing and any thing.

    We’re back to this: did the law of value determine the economic reproduction of feudalism? Yes or no. Did it determine the economic reproduction of tax-farming in Egypt under the mamluks; or the transformation Mehmet Ali brought about in the 19th century? Yes or no. Did the law of value regulate exchanges and the reproduction of society in pre-conquest Mexico? Yes or no.

    And you might then ask, how is it possible to claim at one and the same time that the law of value regulated exchanges within the “natural peasant economy” when (1) such the “original” “natural” agricultural economy was communal and (2) As Marx points out “This agrees also with the view we expressed previously, that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community.” The evolution of products into commodities arises between different communities, not within the “natural peasant economy.”

    Then you just might want to follow where Simon’s “eternal” once and future law of value gets socialism. It gets him to this:

    ” A rape crisis centre worker (OK not that puritan but it is the early days of the transition) gets 20 hours of labour certificates for a particular week, to spend on what she likes (we assume here that socialism will allow people to make up their own minds as to what they spend their certificates on – within reason). The rape crisis centre worker spends 19 hours on going to see a play, on buying new shoes (no sexist suggestion here) etc. The other 1 hour she decides to give to someone else, who by day is an ambulance driver. In return for the 1 hour the rape crisis centre worker wants some sexual gratification (I know, how could they let her work at a rape crisis centre). So she goes onto the internet where there are some people who offer their services (we assume here that the world socialist government hasn’t yet cleansed the internet of all its foul nastiness, being fairly early days and all) in return for some extra labour certificates. After the hour or so of passion the exchange (gulp) is made. The ambulance driver obtains 10 hours labour certificates, and makes various purchases (OR MAYBE NONE OF THE ABOVE).”

    Then, bigger foolthat he is Simon actually ask with a straight face if “this” the above invalidates socialism. The answer of course is that what he has described doesn’t invalidate socialism because it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with socialism. What he describes is nothing but a pseudo-left parroting of free market capitalism, where people are compensated and free to make their own exchanges. And that is just bullshit. That notion is exactly the notion that Marx explodes with his historical materialism, and his critique of capital. All Simon does is substitute labor certificates for money and regurgitate the entire myth– which tells us that the best he can do is to mimic the mystification of the the labor process and the exchange process that is fundamental to capitalism.

    Comment by sartesian — July 23, 2014 @ 10:48 pm

  29. This, BTW, is hilarious: ‘Engels then makes the following point “Had Marx an opportunity to go over the third volume once more, he would doubtless have extended this passage considerably. As it stands, it gives only a sketchy outline of what is to be said on the point in question. Let us, therefore, examine it somewhat closer.” ‘

    Marx had had plenty of opportunity to go over the third volume more than once more, since in his correspondence he indicates that he has essentially completed the three volumes around 1867. That gave him 16 years or so to expand on the timelessness of the law of value as the determining factor in all economies. Marx, of course, saw fit to not conduct explorations into this timelessness, but actually do the opposite– explore economies where the law of value did not regulate the reproduction of economic life– the most famous, I guess, exploration being that of the Russian mir, the peasant commune.

    Comment by sartesian — July 24, 2014 @ 3:37 am

  30. What is hilarious isn’t what Engels says but that someone 150 or so years after the event, who neither knew Marx or Engels can say, with some degree of certainty, that Marx had said all he had to say, and that the man who was his lifelong intellectual companion and closest friend was wrong to say otherwise! Again free thinking individuals can judge for themselves what is hilarious and what isn’t.

    But then again this absurdity is the only way your whole argument really holds water.

    BTW the you falsified the quote from Marx, totally falsified it. Interesting methodology you employ. But again this deception is the only way your whole argument really holds water.

    You seem to have an inability to think in terms of historical development. So to you something must be either historically specific or eternal. I am not going to go into the flaws with this was of thinking because I think it speaks for itself.

    Left posturing is to talk in abstraction (which you are a master at), to never leave the realm of vision. My vision of socialism is one thing (I could posture all day about it), but that vision has to be critically tested. That is all that I am doing with my example, critically testing my own vision. You turn this into; this is what my vision is. This is because you only think in terms of the vision and never leave the clouds, you can only argue within the framework of competing visions. Try subjecting your vision to criticism, that is my tip of the day.

    Then who knows maybe you can begin to answer the question you are studiously avoiding, IF NOT LABOUR CERTIFICATES THEN WHAT?

    Incidentally, in the critique of the Gotha Programme, which you are apt to quote (ironically as it happens); Marx goes through this in a little detail. In fact Marx actually goes further than I do (or probably would). He says that ‘bourgeois rights’ and all its ‘defects’ are inevitable in the first phase of communist society! WOW – Bourgeois right in a communist society. Talk about deflating a vision! So much for this having “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” to do with socialism! He even explicitly mentions certificates,

    “He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.”
    The phase to which you refer is what Marx called the higher phase of communist society. Your whole focus is on this phase, which in Marx never moves beyond a theoretical abstraction. This is not the action of revolutionary enthusiasm but that of the ‘True Socialists’ Engels sarcastically criticised. But then we have already been told that Engels knew next to nothing!

    This first phase of communist society is the natural point of departure for Cockshott and Cottrell. By focussing on this first phase they raise all sorts of questions as to how this first phase would practically work. This is the immediate priority for serious socialists, not abstract debates about the true meaning of the higher phase or what ones vision of it is.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 24, 2014 @ 4:10 pm

  31. What quote of Marx did I falsify. The one where he says all economy is the economy of time? The ones you provide? The one where Marx says that the distribution of goods under socialism will be essentially different than that where VALUE determines the exchange? The one where Marx says “free association of producers” or “the springs of cooperative wealth….” The one where I point out the contradiction in the notion of value regulating the exchanges of commodities in the natural peasant economy with “This agrees also with the view we expressed previously, that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community.” Marx says exactly that. It may be in conflict with things he says in other places, but that’s why you have to think about what Marx wrote at a total system.

    What you don’t seem to get is the fact that commodities exist prior to capitalism; value, as such predates capitalism; the organization of labor as a value for the purposes of producing surplus value– which is the basis for the law of value, does not pre-date capitalism. The exchanges of “equal values” or equal labor times that might, or might not occur, are peripheral, marginal, secondary, not causal, determining, regulating mechanisms. Engels claim, parroted by Kautsky, is that the law of value regulates exchanges, regulates the reproduction of a natural peasant economy. No such economy has ever existed. The “natural” economy was either hunter-gatherer, or when practicing settled agriculture, communal.

    Did the law of value determine the relations between slave and slaveholder in ancient Greece? Rome? Among indigenous American and Caribbean tribes?

    As for your self-proclaimed practicality and concreteness: You concretely avoid dealing with the conditions, the relations, you have created with your labor-certificates being exchanged among workers for sexual favors. You’ve created a little hustler Eden where sex is exchanged by some in order to gain a value equivalent to the means of subsistence. You can call that socialism. I call it petty capitalism. You do that despite the fact that your original condition was that the labor certificates be “non-circulating.” Guess your definition of non-circulating and that used by the rest of the world must be different. You concretely avoid providing a single example of a natural peasant economy where economic life was regulated by the law of value. You concretely avoid answering the question if the law of value governed the feudal economy; if it governed the tax-farming in Egypt.

    Your practicality and claim to “concreteness” are nothing but a pose.

    What do I offer in contradistinction to labor certificates? Nothing but merciless criticism, as one of my absolute truths is that the emancipation of labor starts with criticism of the nonsense presented as “socialism.” At one time, Stalinist terror is Cockshott’s tool of socialism; now it’s his take on labor certificates and his computerized democracy– and all you can get from either of his tools is an ersatz, and second rate, capitalism.

    Comment by sartesian — July 24, 2014 @ 4:40 pm

  32. “What do I offer in contradistinction to labor certificates? Nothing but merciless criticism”

    Well in the critique of the Gotha programme Marx offered labour certificates, you though apparently offer ‘merciless criticism’.

    The falsification,

    you turn this:

    “that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community.”

    into this:

    “The evolution of products into commodities arises between different communities, not within the “natural peasant economy.”

    Marx’s (and his lifelong intellectual companion Engels) idea is that exchange first took place not within the same community but between communities, he is going back here to primitive societies. This is its genesis.

    You turn this into Marx saying that exchange never took place within the “natural peasant economy”, that the evolution of products into commodities never actually happened. It just sprung into existence, somehow. It is total and utter falsification.

    You actually have to physically change the comment in order for it to fit into your narrative, this says more than a thousand words could. So I will leave it at that.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 24, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

  33. There’s no falsification here since I quoted Marx exactly as it is written. And I never said products don’t become commodities. You have to deliberately misread what I wrote to draw that conclusion. I have always maintained that commodities precede capitalism. I argue that the evolution of productions into commodities didn’t originate, nor did value relations originate, in the “natural peasant economy”– first because no such economy ever existed, and secondly the original agricultural economic forms were not based on private property, hence the impossibility of “private exchanges” regulated by the socially necessary labor time contained within commodities.

    I even reemphasized in the previous post that you don’t appear capable of distinguishing between exchange of commodities and the production relation of capital; between value as a marginal, secondary economic relation, and the law of value which determines the reproduction of the society.

    And I agree with Marx that evolution of products into commodities begins with the contacts between different communities, not within one community or a supposed “natural peasant economy” based on a so-called simple commodity production, of which you cannot provide a single example.

    I think Marx’s notion of labour certificates are not very thoroughly developed, but the rest of his critique makes it quite clear how limited they are, how roughly and rigidly “equal” the terms of compensation must be, and how the scenario you describe of workers exchanging supposedly non-circulating certificates of labor for sex, meaning one party at least in the arrangement is providing the service in exchange for something equivalent to the means of subsistence is nothing but recapitulating petty commodity exchange. Marx makes no reference to any such process similar to what you describe, and quite clearly does not envision such certificates circulating in the economy and being utilized for private exchange. Nor does Marx ever proposed providing more certificates or certificates representing more means of subsistence of the basis of individual achievement. Stakhanovism is not socialism, even of the crudest sort.

    Comment by sartesian — July 24, 2014 @ 8:33 pm

  34. “There’s no falsification here since I quoted Marx exactly as it is written”

    No, its a total falsification. We will leave it at that. How can anyone debate with someone who employs such dishonest methods?

    I did credit you with more character than that, I mean these debates on the left are quite old and often done with good intentions but you have demeaned yourself.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — July 27, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  35. You think you can leave it at that, but the quote was quoted correctly. My interpretation is my interpretation. You state that I am claiming the evolution from products to commodities never took place. I have clearly stated that it did; that it did NOT occur in a natural peasant economy. Marx’s comment about the transformation taking place initially at the “margins” where communities come into contact with “foreign” communities– a statement he reiterates in various works, is, IMO accurate and evidence of Marx’s understanding the difference between commodities and capital.

    Glad to disappoint you regarding your criterion for “character.” You didn’t disappoint me one bit. I’ll leave it at that.

    Good job never answering a concrete question, though. You’ll go far with that.

    Comment by sartesian — July 27, 2014 @ 3:37 pm


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