Law of Value 9: Abstract Labor

[The video production in Part One of Abstract Labor was done my a fantastic film maker/editor who we shall call 'M' for now. She did a really great job giving the video a consistent, dark vibe and I'm so happy to have been able to collaborate with her on the project.]

Money can really fuck you up. It can make you lose your home. It can make you go to work. It can topple governments, cause wars, pave the jungles…

Of course it’s really nothing by itself: pieces of paper, digits in a computer… And of course money doesn’t literally take away homes, topple governments, cause wars or fuck you up. People do these things. Money then seems to have a strange power to compel people to do things. It has a certain social power.

What kind of social power does money have? It seems to have any social power we might want it to have. In a society in which social life is coordinated by market exchange money has the ability to buy any aspect of this social life, to compel any action, to coordinate any complex activity. The more money we have, the greater our ability to command this social power. This is a non-specific power: It is not tied to any particular activity, commodity or person. It is social power in the abstract.

This is not social power in the form of guns or tanks. It is social power in the form of these strange tokens of value, used to measure the quantitative relations between commodities. This abstract social power goes by another name: value. The subordination of society to the rule of value we call: The Law of Value.

In other times and places social power took the form of a sword. It was direct, concrete. But value is not like this. It is abstract. We do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It does not come from the 1%. It does not come from the FED. It comes from a specific organization of society. “What sort of organization of society is necessary for the existence of this value in the abstract?” [question appears on screen]

This is not just an academic question. This question gets to the heart of how we understand capitalism and how we envision alternatives to capitalism. Often times we hear quite different recipes ending the rule of capital: abolishing private property, ending wage labor, capturing the state, smashing the state, democratizing money, ending money, and so on. There are many different facets, many interpenetrating parts of the dense tapestry of inner relations that make up a capitalist society, and they all bear the mark of the dominance of value relations over our lives. How we understand the relation of the parts to the whole effects how we understand an anti-capitalist project.

So when we ask, “What sort of organization of society is necessary for the existence of this value in the abstract?” we are setting the stage for an exploration of the inner relations of capitalist society.

Free Market

Bourgeois theory tends to restrict its view to the market place. This is why it always refers to capitalism as a “free market society” or a “free enterprise system” rather than a “wage-labor society” or a “production for the sake of production system.” From this narrow viewpoint we only see freely consenting individuals making mutually beneficial exchanges. From this viewpoint it seems that value is nothing else than a benign by-product of mutual agreements between market actors. The benign nature of this viewpoint influences not only mutualist anarchists but also some socialists who want to preserve some element of market exchange in their anti-capitalist vision.

But this narrow picture of exchange is not adequate to actually explain the phenomenon of value in the abstract. When two Robinson Crusoes meet in the desert to trade their exchanges are not abstract at all. They are related to very concrete personal desires. It is quite another thing in a society organized through exchange where we can observe regular, predictable exchange ratios between commodities.

In order for us to form predictable, reliable exchange ratios between things there must be some predictable knowledge of the quantity of things we have to exchange, how much we will have tomorrow, and so on. We must have some predictable supply. The force that constantly replenishes these supplies is, of course, human labor.

This brings us to a fuller picture of our society ruled by abstractions. Rather than just a society of free exchange, it is also a society in which this exchange is regulated by production. The production of commodities by people creates both the demand for and supply of these commodities. The exchange ratios between commodities, their values, are signals which coordinate this social labor process. Thus we have a society in which exchange and production constantly regulate each other. Behind the movement of commodity values in the market lies a parallel process of the movement of labor from one task to another. The social power of money, of value, lies in its ability to move about this labor.

Abstract Labor

If the abstract social power of money comes from its ability to measure and command labor, what kind of labor is this labor? Knitting? Building? Singing? [any examples suffice, depending on good images] It is any kind of labor. Labor in general. Abstract Labor.

We began by asking what sort of society makes the rule of abstractions possible, makes the law of value possible. After penetrating the surface appearance of market exchanges we found that it is a society in which the value relations between commodities are directly related to the labor that produces these commodities. And now we have seen that the abstractness of these value relations is paralleled by the abstract nature of labor. Does this answer our question as to what sort of society makes such abstractions possible?

No.

Marx is sometimes taken to task for his concept of abstract labor. “How is it possible,” some ask, “for Marx to theoretically equate all of these different sorts of labors? Manual and intellectual labor? Skilled and unskilled labor? etc?”  “Labor is never abstract,” they argue, “but is always a specific type labor.”

Marx’s reply is typical of Marx: We don’t have to theoretically equate all these different labors. Society does it for us. Society already treats all labor as an abstraction. For us as individuals our work seems very concrete and very important. But when we suddenly lose our job because of an economic crisis, when we see jobs move to other countries, when we see entire skill sets replaced by machines, we realize that our own livelihood means nothing to capitalism. For capital our work is just an abstract unit in a giant profit calculator. We are just another digit to be moved around. In this sense, though our work seems very specific and concrete to us, for capitalism it is completely abstract. All that matters is that it produces value.

If abstract labor is not a philosophical idea but a real phenomenon, a real abstraction that is made by capitalism itself then that leads us to ask again: what sort of society makes this possible?

The answer is this:

In order for our labor to become abstract units in the profit calculator of capitalism, capital must own our work. Our working time must be a commodity. A society ruled by the law of value requires wage labor.

People are not commodities but their ability to work is. This is called “labor power”. We said that the buying and selling of commodities regulates the division of labor, sending signals that apportion labor between different tasks. This can only happen if labor power itself is also a commodity to be bought and sold, moved about. Wage-labor is the mechanism by which the “hidden hand of the market” moves labor inputs about.

We finally have an answer that seems adequate to our initial question: what sort of society makes possible the law of value, the subordination of society to the abstraction of value? We see that this abstraction of value is tied to the abstraction of labor. And this abstract labor relies on the existence of labor power as a commodity. When labor-power is a commodity then the specific uses of that labor become irrelevant to capital. All that is important is that profit can be produced by exploiting this labor. It doesn’t matter if this labor knits sweaters or makes guns. It doesn’t matter if we work 80 hour weeks or work dangerous jobs. It doesn’t matter when the mines collapse on us. It doesn’t matter when we are replaced by robots or when our jobs move somewhere else. It doesn’t matter when unemployment drives down our wages. Our work is just an input into the production of value, of social power. Capital is the expansion of this value, of this social power, for its own sake, not for any particular purpose.

Value is a social power because it commands people. It buys their time and commands them to do its bidding. It does this not for the sake of the worker or the consumer. It does this not for the sake of the 99% or the 1%. It does this for the sake of producing value for its own sake. It has no human purpose, though there are some humans that benefit greatly from this process.

The Plot Thickens

Yet our answer to this question still points to other questions. What sort of society is necessary in order for wage-labor to be the dominant form of labor? We must have a society in which people don’t have access to their own means of production but instead must sell their labor power in the market in order to survive. This requires private property, a capitalist state to guard this property, and lots of drugs and smooth jazz to keep us passive. This is why whenever the law of value seems to be breaking down, like in an economic crisis, the state must step in to restore the smooth functioning of value relations.

Rather than a simple answer to our question “What sort of organization of society is necessary for the existence of this value in the abstract?” we have arrived at a complex web of social processes. We haven’t found one fundamental evil to be stamped out. Instead, we see that there are many different overlapping dimensions to the question of value. Social power, value relations, class, property relations, and the state are all bound up in our analysis, each reflecting a different aspect of the law of value.

Conclusion

So what parts of this assemblage of factors need to be gotten rid of if we are to overthrow capital? I would argue that we need to do away with it all: value, money, abstract labor, wage-labor, capital, private property, “the state”, etc. Other folks take less ambitious positions. Different political positions on this issue come from different ways of understanding the way the inner relations of a capitalist society fit together.

For the market-socialist vision, it seems that all we need to do is replace the class-relationships in the workplace with a cooperative workplace, leaving market exchange in tact. But such a cooperative society would still have wage labor, socially necessary labor time, value in the abstract, and abstract labor. Cooperatives would still be compelled by competition to produce surplus value in order to expand production and stay competitive. Production would still be for the sake of producing surplus value, and not for the sake of bettering society. It is probable that the most efficient and successful firms would be those with the least cooperative structure and the highest disciplining of labor.

For the 20th century communism of the USSR and China it was initially the seizure of state power by a vanguard of the working class, the nationalization of property, internationalism and the administration of  production by a plan that was thought to be sufficient to break with the capitalist mode of production. Yet the plans of the planners soon began to resemble the most despotic plans of the capitalist workplace. In order to compete in the world market planners found that they needed to extract the highest amount of surplus value from workers as possible. There was still wage labor, socially necessary labor time, surplus value and abstract labor. The same year the conveyor belt was introduced to Soviet Russia they revised their textbooks to claim that the law of value applied to socialism.

This means that if we are to be serious about anti-capitalist politics we have to be serious about our analysis of capitalism. What is it we are really trying to do-away with? And what forms of organization can replace capitalism effectively?

PART DEUX: Abstraction

The word “abstract” can mean many different things. A painting is abstract if it doesn’t have any references to representational objects. An idea is abstract if it moves out of the realm of concrete examples and deals with general principles. When Marx talks about “abstract labor”, as we discussed in video 9, he is using the term in a unique way. For Marx the abstraction that is abstract labor is not one that happens in the minds of philosophers. It is one that happens in reality. It is a “real abstraction”.

This seems an interesting enough proposition to warrant this brief supplementary video on the topic of Abstraction.

To Abstract or Not to Abstract

What does it mean to abstract? We abstract all of the time. When we say “woman” we are not talking about any concrete specific woman. We are talking about women in general. Yet, there is no such thing as a woman in the abstract. We cannot meet her at a bar and buy her a drink. We can only experience concrete women, specific women.

To attempt to look at the complex totality that is a capitalist society only in its concreteness, only in the specific actions of trillions of individuals all happening at the same time, would be madness. We have to separate out the patterns, finding terms that can encompass a broad swath of concrete behaviors into general, abstract terms. Instead of talking about rice, tanks and DVD’s we have to talk about commodities. Instead of talking about carpentry, dentistry, and bicycle repair we must talk about labor.

When we use the word “abstract” we can mean the verb, the act of abstracting, or we can mean the noun, the concept which forms an abstraction.

There are many abstractions which we may choose to extract out of the complex whole of capitalism and label as the most important, fundamental defining abstractions. In forming our abstractions we have choices to make. The way we abstract and the way we piece together these abstractions determines how we understand the whole that we are trying to explain.

In our analysis we found that value is an expression of abstract labor and that abstract labor is a direct result of the organization of production through commodity exchange. We furthermore noted that this organization is only effective when labor power itself is a commodity to be bought and sold. And labor-power only becomes a commodity with a specific type of property relation, and a specific type of state that can guarantee the stability of this property relation. Thus our analysis ‘grounded’ the abstractness of value and abstract labor in a concrete type of social organization.

Rather than an analytical approach that seeks to find an abstract essence behind reality, we took the opposite approach: we moved from the abstract idea of value toward a concrete picture of the sort of world that makes this abstraction possible. Often times in philosophy we see people trying to identify abstract properties or essences that lie behind the concreteness of everyday reality. Marx wants to do the opposite. He wants to identify the specific types of social organization that makes the abstraction of value possible.

This movement from the abstract to the concrete is also a key feature of Hegel’s dialectical method. Yet there is something quite distinctive to the way Marx uses this method: the way Marx’s abstractions are grounded in the real social practices of capitalism.

When we talked about the abstract term “woman” we noted that we cannot ever meet “woman in general”, but only specific women. However we can meet “value in general”. In fact, we carry it around with us everyday in our pocket. It is money. So the abstraction that is value is not a mental or philosophical one. It is a real one. This is why Marx begins his analysis of capitalism with an analysis of the value-form.

This also differentiates Marx’s method from bourgeois methods of understanding capitalism. For Austrian economists like von Mises it is the abstraction of free human action that is the foundational abstraction that frames the theory of capitalism. But we cannot ever see “human action” in the abstract. It is merely a philosophical device and thus appears as an arbitrary starting point for a philosophical system, begging the charge of being an ideologically motivated starting point.

Because abstract labor is a real abstraction this means that the theoretical system that we build out of it is not just a question of logically extrapolating principles and ideas in our heads from a given a starting point, like we would do in bourgeois philosophy. Rather, since the abstraction is a real one, we must proceed by trying to ground this abstraction in real social practice. It becomes an anthropological investigation. This is why, in video 9, the question that always propelled us forward in our analysis was “what sort of society makes this abstraction possible?” We had to uncover a complex system of social practices that allowed such an abstraction to emerge. Such an approach of grounding our analysis in real social practices keeps us from falling into the trap of fetishism.

Fetishism

We have talked about the fetishism of commodities in several videos, uncovering different aspects of the fetish along the way. In one sense the fetish is a bad abstraction. A fetish attaches the social power of the whole to an isolated, abstracted part of the whole. For instance, when we say “money is power” we are taking the social power of labor, as commanded by the value form, and attributing it to little pieces of paper. To treat money like it has some inherent social power is a fetish.

On the other hand, the social power of money doesn’t go away just because we have exposed the fetish with our fancy theories. Money really does have power because value is a real abstraction. This makes Marx’s fetish argument quite mysterious and tricky. It is one thing to make a bad abstraction and attribute the powers of the whole to one piece of the whole. It is quite another when this abstraction is a really existing phenomenon that can’t be changed by theory.

Depending on our vantage point we can argue two different points. One the one hand money and commodities are just objects and do not have any inherent social powers. They derive their value and social power from a specific organization of labor. On the other hand the social power of money and commodities is not an illusion. In a capitalist society they really do have value and social power. The fetish is real.

This strange phenomenon of commodity fetishism leads to all sorts of confusion when we think about capitalism. It can lead people to the conclusion that money has some inherent value, that capital creates its own surplus value without labor, and that exchange value comes from the material properties of commodities.

Marx does not just dismiss such ideas. Instead he subjects them to the same sort of analysis that we have just discussed: he seeks to ground these ideas in real social practices. All of video 9 could be seen as a Marxist critique of the idea that money has some inherent value. Rather than dismissing the idea we acknowledge the fact that money does have power. We then show that this power is not a result of the material properties of money but a result of a specific sort of social organization of labor. Thus we can show that such an idea, the idea that money is power, is the result of a specific type of social relation. In this way Marx destabilized bourgeois theory. He takes bourgeois ideas and shows why they are possible.

A further note on abstraction:

At each step in the analysis it seems like what we mean by “value” is changing. Are we talking about the exchange ratios between commodities? About the relations between the producers of these commodities? About wage-labor? Are we including all of the institutional features of private property and state violence that accompany the law of value? The answer to all these questions is “yes.” When we think dialectically our abstractions have a dimension of flexibility that Bertell Ollman calls “extension”. Our abstractions can contain more or less elements depending on what questions we are looking to answer. When we are talking about the effect of changes in productivity on prices then our use of “value” encompasses commodity prices in their relation to labor time. When we discuss the political crises that have accompanied the current economic crisis then “value relations” refers to the wider set of political institutions as they relate to the contradictions of value production. Our abstraction can extend more or less into theoretical space depending on what questions we are asking.

Suggested Further Reading:

Kapital vol. 1 opening chapters- Marx

The Critique of Political Economy, Chapter 1- Marx

Dance of the Dialectic- Bertell Ollman

Dissasmbling Capital- Nicole Pepperell

Abstract Labor and Value in Marx’s System- Rubin

for a critique of Rubin’s formulation see:

Abstract Labor and the Economic Categories of Marx- Isaak Dashkovskij

Marxism and Freedom – Raya Dunayevskaya

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125 Responses to Law of Value 9: Abstract Labor

  1. Klaas Velija says:

    The main characteristics of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were:
    1. The absence of a class of private owners in agriculture or industry.
    2. The allocation of means of production by means of a system of
    state directives.
    3. A consequent absence of capital goods or raw materials markets.
    4. The existence of a consumer goods market subject to the
    constraint of a non-operative price mechanism.
    5. The absence of a market in land with consequent absence of rent.
    6. A lower variance of incomes from the mean than was the case in
    capitalist countries at an equivalent stage of industrial development.
    7. Surplus value extracted through politically determined division of the concrete forms of the social product between the categories of current consumption, accumulation and unproductive consumption.
    8. The relegation of taxation from a means of extraction of a surplus to fiscal means of securing monetary stability and clearing consumer markets.
    9. The existence of money and wage labor, which seems to be the problem you have with the Soviet Union.
    10. The absence of a reserve army of unemployed.

    >”In order to compete in the world market planners found that they needed to extract the highest amount of surplus value from workers as possible.”

    To quote Marx from the Critique of the Gotha Programme:
    “Let us take, first of all, the words ‘proceeds of labor’ in the sense of the product of labor; then the co-operative proceeds of labor are the total social product.
    From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc.
    There remains the other part of the total product, intended to serve as means of consumption.
    Before this is divided among the individuals, there has to be deducted again, from it: First, the general costs of administration not belonging to production. This part will, from the outset, be very considerably restricted in comparison with present-day society, and it diminishes in proportion as the new society develops. Second, that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc. From the outset, this part grows considerably in comparison with present-day society, and it grows in proportion as the new society develops. Third, funds for those unable to work, etc., in short, for what is included under so-called official poor relief today” (Marx 1875).

    The extraction of surplus in socialist society still exists in a form or another as a means of expansion of the productive capacity of society.

    The rest of the video I could not find any problem with. Excellent job.

    >”There was still wage labor, socially necessary labor time, surplus value and abstract labor.”

    Wage labor does not necessarily hinder the existence of socialism.

    Was socially necessary labor time ever active in the USSR?
    A commodity is a product which may be sold to any purchaser, and when its owner sells it, he loses ownership of it and the purchaser becomes the owner of the commodity, which he may resell, pledge or allow to rot. Means of production did not fall under this category in the Soviet Union. In the first place, means of production are were not sold to any purchaser, they were not even sold to collective farms as they were allocated by the state exclusively to its enterprises. Because of this, exchange value was set artificially by the planning commission.
    Now whether or not this is a preferable condition is debatable, however it doesn’t present the existence of SNLT.

    Surplus value was envisaged as part of socialism by its original thinkers, I don’t see how this demonstrates the absence of socialism in the USSR either.

    Abstract labor still existed and, again, I don’t see how this hinders the existence of socialism in the USSR.

    • Klaas,

      Thanks for the detailed response. I was hoping that my video would provoke this sort of discussion. I am certainly not an expert on soviet economics but I will attempt to defend my points here.

      In general, my impression of soviet thinking on these issues is that the main gist of the argument is always that the USSR is on its way to communism, but hasn’t gotten there yet. Early and late Soviet thinkers refer to a Socialism which is some transition between capitalism and communism. This ‘transition’ uses many of the same categories as capitalism but we are told that it is not capitalism because there is a workers state which is controlling these capitalist categories rather than capitalist categories which are controlling the workers state. My instinct is to not buy these arguments. I would follow Marx is thinking that political relations spring from their economic base and not the other way around. In 1919 we are already getting arguments like this from Bukharin: “The proletarian state cannot exploit the proletariat, for the simple reason that it is itself an organization of the proletariat.” (from “The ABC of Communism” where he is discussing the difference between capitalist nationalization of industry and socialist nationalization of industry. The only difference he gives is that they use the word ‘socialist’ rather than ‘capitalist’.)

      In regards to SNLT, my understanding is that establishing and quantifying SNLT was of utmost importance to soviet planners. In Leontiev’s “A Short Course on Political Economy” he makes use of the categories of SNLT, value and surplus value in describing the way planners organize production. “Thus the law of value is an objective economic law of the socialist mode of production. Economic methods of planned economic management and the economic stimulation of production are based on this objective law.” (p. 274 Leontiev) and later: “For socialist economy to function normally there must be a definite system of interlinked value relations, including price and profit, wages and bonuses, trade, finances and credit, differential rent, interest, taxes, etc.” (p.275) and later: “The price of a commodity produced in a socialist enterprise is a monetary form of its value. Having mastered the law of value the socialist state fixes prices on commodities proceeding from the socially necessary expenditure of labor on their production.” (p. 278) Leontiev then goes onto argue that these categories have a different social content in a socialist society that makes then qualitatively different then capitalist categories.

      I would argue that, even if we accept that planners believed there was a qualitative difference from bourgeois categories, if the law of value is an objective economic law then you cannot politically control it. It will politically control you. I do not argue that there are no supra-historical economic categories. So, for instance, in your mention of the GothaCritique Marx points out that the production of a surplus is a universal aspect of social production, a supra-historical category. But he is talking about a surplus of wealth, not value. Surplus value is a capitalist category. And when we have surplus value production as the goal of production we are no longer dealing with some sort of planned society based on the needs of people. We are dealing with value production for the sake of value production.

      • Klaas Velija says:

        Thanks for the response Brendan, I’ll try to reply.

        >”Early and late Soviet thinkers refer to a Socialism which is some transition between capitalism and communism.”

        In actuality I have seen the term “constructing socialism” used way more often than “reached socialism”. Stalin himself in “Economic Problems of the USSR” explains that socialist relations of production were not yet fully established but substantial progress was being made.

        “Bukharin: “The proletarian state cannot exploit the proletariat, for the simple reason that it is itself an organization of the proletariat.”

        I disagree with Bukharin’s view, it was superficial.

        >”In regards to SNLT, my understanding is that establishing and quantifying SNLT was of utmost importance to soviet planners.”

        Here we are left with a dichotomy on what socially necessary labor time means in Leontiev’s work:

        Is it labor time necessary for the production of a given amount of a commodity or is it the quantity of labour time socially necessary to produce the appropriate amount of the product, i.e. the amount of a product which at the production price meets the effective demand for it?

        The first understanding defines the aggregate value of the output, arising from the nature of a commodity as a bearer of exchange-value;

        The second understanding defines the correspondence between the total quantity of the commodity produced as use-values and the effective demand for those use-values.

        Do you, by any chance, have a PDF file of that book? I’m very interested in reading it.

        >”Thus the law of value is an objective economic law of the socialist mode of production. ”

        Let me quote Stalin from “Economic Problems of the USSR”:

        “It is sometimes asked whether the law of value exists and operates in our country, under the socialist system.
        Yes, it does exist and does operate. Wherever commodities and commodity production exist, there the law of value must also exist. In our country, the sphere of operation of the law of value extends, first of all, to commodity circulation, to the ex-change of commodities through purchase and sale, the ex-change, chiefly, of articles of personal consumption. Here, in this sphere, the law of value preserves, within certain limits, of course, the function of a regulator.

        But the operation of the law of value is not confined to the sphere of commodity circulation. It also extends to production. True, the law of value has no regulating function in our socialist production, but it nevertheless influences production, and this fact cannot be ignored when directing production. As a matter of fact, consumer goods, which are needed to compensate the labour power expended in the process of production, are produced and realized in our country as commodities coming under the operation of the law of value. It is precisely here that the law of value exercises its influence on production. In this connection, such things as cost accounting and profitableness, production costs, prices, etc., are of actual importance in our enterprises. Consequently, our enterprises cannot, and must not, function without taking the law of value into account.

        Is this a good thing? It is not a bad thing. Under present conditions, it really is not a bad thing, since it trains our business executives to conduct production on rational lines and disciplines them. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives to count production magnitudes, to count them accurately, and also to calculate the real things in production precisely, and not to talk nonsense about “approximate figures,” spun out of thin air. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives to look for, find and utilize hidden reserves latent in production, and not to trample them under-foot. It is not a bad thing because it teaches our executives systematically to improve methods of production, to lower production costs, to practise cost accounting, and to make their enterprises pay. It is a good practical school which accelerates the development of our executive personnel and their growth into genuine leaders of socialist production at the present stage of development.”

        We can thus assume with a high degree of certainty that the persistence of the law of value was a necessity for the functioning of the economic plans. It may be argued that the law of value still existed, even if necessary, so the characterization of the Soviet Union as a socialist country remains wrong, and I would concur, partly. In fact, the Soviet Union was still constructing socialism.

        As Lenin pointed out “favorable conditions for the assumption of power should not be missed – the proletariat should assume power without waiting until capitalism has fully developed”.

        >”But he is talking about a surplus of wealth, not value.”

        It seems surplus value to me, let’s examine his quote from the Gotha Critique:

        first of all, we need to define surplus value. Profit, net interest, net rents, net tax on production and various net receipts associated with royalties, licensing, leasing, certain honorariums etc. are all part of the societal volume of surplus-value. With this done, let’s see what the quote asserts:

        “Let us take, first of all, the words ‘proceeds of labor’ in the sense of the product of labor; then the co-operative proceeds of labor are the total social product. From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of production. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc.”

        This deduction can take various economic forms, such as taxation or wage labor, which deprives workers of a part of their labor products. Moreover, the “profits” accumulated by the state were reinvested in society, meaning the workers would get the part of the surplus back in forms of services. Politicians did social labor in managing the politico-legal aspects of the country, so they were contributing to society, deserving a pay. The state apparatus has its costs of maintenance like constant capital or people unable to work, and it also served a social purpose.

        “We are dealing with value production for the sake of value production.”

        I don’t quite understand how Soviet production had value production as its objective as opposed to labor allocation through planning. I would be glad if you elaborated on this.

        All in all, your criticisms are insightful, thank you.

      • Klaas,

        I don’t have a PDF of the Leontiev… picked it up at a used bookstore a few years back. It was being thrown out. Great find. The Stalin quote is very interesting. We would be in agreement then that the law of value was operative in the USSR. And since the labor that produces value is abstract labor, then abstract labor was the form which social labor took in the USSR.

        I don’t see anywhere in the GothaKritik where Marx is referring to surplus value production being an element of communism. As far as I can tell he is talking about surplus labor and surplus wealth. This would be measured in concrete use-values, not abstractly in the form of money.

        The soviet union allocated labor through planning. But they claimed to be using the law of value in order to do their planning. I suspect that the reality of the situation was the inverse: the law of value used them to do its planning.

        We might make a metaphor to the capitalist factory itself, though the analogy is not exact. Within the factory social relations are direct. Production is organized via a plan handed down by management. But this factory is engaged in the capitalist market. It sells the products of its workers on the market and pays them wages which they spend in the market. Profits are spent in the market. This makes the labor in the factory not just the private, directly social labor of the factory, but abstract universal labor which is being equated with the labor of all other workers in all other factories through the process of commodity exchange. Though management seems to be in total control of the factory they are really doing nothing more than the bidding of the law of value. And isn’t this what the capitalists always say when workers complain about lost jobs or other negative aspects of value relations? Doesn’t management always respond to these complaints by saying that they are just doing the bidding of the market, that these decisions are out of their control?

        I think that the parallel with the Soviet state is clear. Forced to trade on the world market and borrow money on the world market the soviet state was forced into capitalist value relations. Though it attempted to create some sort of directly social labor through planning this labor still counted as abstract universal labor on the world market. And planners found themselves emulating the worst forms of capitalist draconian factory discipline in order to discipline labor to the need to compete on the world market. It didn’t take long until it was declared that the law of value operated in the USSR and capitalist value categories were blatantly adopted as means of organizing the labor process. Yes there was planning going on, but how was it different than the planning that goes on in a Nike factory?

        I guess one of the questions this sort of analysis seems to point to is “What does it mean to have a transition period?” Either the law of value is operating or it is not. Either labor produces commodities for commodity exchange or it doesn’t. It very well may be that some sort of intermediate stage might be necessary in order to lay the grounds for a communist society. I don’t really know what this would look like. But we should be wary of sloppy theories of some transition “hybrid” between capitalism and communism because we’ve seen this hybrid in action in the 20th century and it was just state capitalism.

  2. Martin says:

    Hi Brendan,

    Great video. Thanks.

    Couple of points/questions (and staying a million miles away from the “what was the USSR?” debate…):

    1. Marx derives abstract labour in ch 1 vol 1, before he has introduced the concept of wage labour at all. I know the idea that there was ever a society composed entirely of nice little petit bourgeois owner-producers is complete nonsense. However, Marx manages to talk about abstract labour and to show why it exists as the substance of value whenever production for exchange is the dominant way in which production occurs without discussing wages. I think you do a good job of showing how the wage system works to allow changes in value to be given effect and therefore makes abstract labour function etc but I would like a bit more on this to make it clearer for me.

    2. I guess related to this is all the stuff about whether abstract labour exists prior to exchange etc./only in exchange etc.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Martin

    • Martin,

      You have asked the question I hoped someone would ask. As with other topics in this video series, I have consciously tried not to separate value and capital as levels of analysis. I know that in a great deal of marxist scholarship there is an emphasis on seeing two different levels of abstraction, often referring to the first chapters of vol. 1 as picturing “simple commodity production”, a term Marx never used and which I don’t think is a useful concept at all. It is clear that in these opening chapters Marx has abstracted away from the specific class relations of capitalist production and deriving the concept of abstract labor from the mere phenomenon of commodity exchange. In my opinion he isn’t really ending the analysis here. The concept of abstract labor still doesn’t make sense until we get to the chapter on labor-power and exploitation when we see what sort of society would make this sort of abstraction possible. I was mainly influenced on this point by the Nicole Pepperel thesis I linked in the above Suggested Readings.

      In most of these videos I have attempted not to make any of my own revisions to Marx but to the present the ideas in their original form to the best of my ability. In this video I think I am getting to the real point Marx is driving at, though I am moving really fast through several levels of analysis that Marx spends much greater time with.

      As to the second question, I think value is created in production, but only a certain type of production produces value: production for exchange. The Rubin piece in the above Suggested Readings speaks to this point towards the end. This labor is both concrete and abstract labor at the same time. It is abstract prior to exchange because it exists in a society of abstract labor, where exchange is just a moment in the reproduction of abstract labor.

  3. DeadweightLoss says:

    I am going through the series, and trying to be as generous as possible.

    First: Marx, in his Kapital, insists that in order for a horse to be equal to a dozen furs, say, it would mean that these two quantities would each in turn have to be equal to a third quantity, Labor Power. Marx’s innovation here was to abstract a quantity of potential labor power from labor itself. The LTV was the dominant paradigm of his day, and he applied it without serious scrutiny. Marx assumes some form of Labor Theory of Value throughout the work, inferring its existence via the fact that commodities were being valued on a quantitative basis.

    One assumption here that must be scrutinized is that these quantitative valuations are coming from a property intrinsic to the commodity itself. This is the core dispute between Marxian Kapitalists and all other students of economy. He who asserts must prove, and Kaptalists have had very little success in actually demonstrating, rather than assuming, as Marx did, that the prices of goods come from intrinsic qualities in the goods themselves, namely “Socially Necessary Labor Time” (SNLT). In so demonstrating, they will have to address the mountains of evidence that there is no such intrinsic property in any commodity, SNLT or otherwise, determining prices of goods.

    One such piece of evidence is something that is more clear now than it was in Marx’s day. Marx saw labor becoming “proletariatized” and homoginized, and figured that labor itself could be homoginized into some quantity of SNLT.

    This is not the case. No matter how unskilled, how replaceable, or how indistinct labor is, labor in-and-of-itself has no meaning in the absence of the purpose of the labor, i.e. the enterprise. A factory worker screwing a certain widget onto a snu only becomes labor vis-a-vis its contribution to the final product. As these products are heterogenous and mutually exclusive (one widget used for good A cannot simultaneously be used for good B) the labor applied to make them is heterogeneous and irreducible into any uniform labor factor.

    Labor can be measured in certain ways, such as man-hours, productivity, and cost, but none of these imply the existence of a uniform entity called “Labor” or SNLT. The only thread running through these various entities called Labor is that people doing the work are being paid a wage

    This inattention to the inextricable connection between labor and the enterprise to which it is being put to use is what leaves Marxism vulnerable to the Das Mudpie argument which you blithely dismiss by assuming (there it is again) that the labor is socially useful. There is a huge circularity here, as the labor is socially useful because it produces a wage, and it only produces a wage because it is put in the service of the production of a commercially viable commodity.

    LTV, for instance, doesn’t take into account the possibility of Loss. A capitalist, if he invests for the production of a product that is not viable commercially, still pays his laborers. The product however, may not even command enough price to meet the labor costs, to say nothing of other inputs. Labor Costs per unit might amount to $50, while the unit can only clear the market at $30 per unit.

    This is more than a hypothetical possibility. It happens all the time. It is why businesses and product lines fail. It is extremely difficult to reconcile this with price being intrinsic to some Labor factor contained in the good. The only way to do so is to dig deeper into the black box of non-falsifiability, and say that the SNLT unit, because of the absence of social necessity, was lower than the actual wages paid! Every time a product fails even to recoup labor costs, the laborers were treated generously; while every time a product yields a profit, laborers are exploited!

    Of course, it is the decisions of the actors in the market which determined that the product was not viable, which in turn revealed the lack of social necessity of the enterprise, and thus, the labor inherent in the enterprise, which in turn informed the capitalist to turn his investment to more productive enterprises. Market prices are thus what organize labor into productive enterprises. It is the price of the product that confers value to the labor not the other way around.

    I am aware of a certain callousness in the language, but none of this has any bearing on what labor is in fact socially beneficial, or how workers deserve to be treated, or any moral consideration. This is a description of the cold eye of the market.

    • Mr. Deadweight,

      First- thanks for the comment on my previous post about Supply and Demand. I found your criticism useful in helping me make sure to be more clear about the meaning of a couple arguments. I hope to respond to those comments of yours soon, when time allows.

      But onto this comment, which I think demonstrates several common misunderstandings about Marx’s theory of value.

      First, you are using the term Labor Power in a different way then Marx. When Marx says “Labor Power” he means the ability of a person to work as distinguished from the work itself which he calls labor. A worker sells their labor power to a capitalist for a wage. They do not sell their labor. The products of labor are sold in the market as commodities. But labor can’t be sold, only labor power.

      Hence, the ’3rd thing’ argument reveals that abstract labor is the content of value, not labor power.

      In regards to your claim that Marx merely accepts uncritically the LTV of prior economists, this just shows that you must not have read much Marx, as Marx saw his project as a radical critique of political economy. He subjects the LTV and all aspects of classical and vulgar economy to close criticism. He also develops his own theory of value, which he never refers to as “The Labor Theory of Value” incidentally, and develops the defense of his economic categories (including labor as the content of value) quite painstakingly in Capital and elsewhere. So I think it is just ignorant to say that Marx never defends any of his positions on abstract labor as the content of value.

      When you talk about an “intrinsic property” of a commodity I don’t think you are using the term “intrinsic” in the way Marx means “intrinsic”. This is understandable b/c what Marx means by intrinsic is not immediately obvious from the word itself. If anything the word is there to ensnare the sloppy reader or serve as a subtle jab at the universal/ideological categories of his bourgeois predecessors. The value of commodities is not a “property” of the commodities in the way a physical property is. Value is an entirely social category. Value is the result of a specific social form of production, and it is entirely unstable. The value of a good is never certain, it changes constantly, it can lose value, it can gain value, and it can have no value at all.

      When you point to the concrete uses of various commodities and to the diversity of concrete labors that go into making these commodities, you could very well be quoting directly from Marx. Marx does not think that all labor will be reduced to the production of the same use-values or will all take on the same concrete labor process. Rather, labor in a capitalist society is both concrete and abstract at the same time. This is the result, not of some slow historical process which is changing the nature of labor into some ideal capitalist labor, but of the fact that our labor only becomes social through the process of equalizing the products of labor in the market. In this process of equalization of labor through commodity exchange, our labor counts not as concrete labor but as abstract labor. The process of exchange abstracts away from the concrete nature of labor. The fact that labor is both concrete and abstract at the same time is reflected in the fact that a commodity has both a use-value and an exchange-value.

      In regards to the supposed impossibility of SNLT I would just point out that labor productivity is measured all the time in the workplace and there are well established metrics of this used by bourgeois economists all of the time.

      “LTV, for instance, doesn’t take into account the possibility of Loss”. Wow. You really have no idea what you are talking about. Marx is very very very interested in the fact that commodities do not automatically get purchased, or as he puts it, there is a separation between purchase and sale. In fact, you might say this is the central aspect of commodity exchange that he is trying to theorize. When he says that commodity production is not directly social labor this is because labor only becomes social through the process of commodity exchange which means that there is always the possibility that commodity will not be sold and the labor will not becomes social. This indirect form of apportioning labor is the main topic of Marx’s value theory. This is why the MudPie argument is pointless. Marx does not think that everything has a value just because labor went into it.

      Your description of firms producing below and above the SNLT and market signals punishing or rewarding firms, and firms then responding to these signals to reapportion labor in society is more or less the way Marx understands the process. So you are not arguing against Marx by doing so.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        “In regards to the supposed impossibility of SNLT I would just point out that labor productivity is measured all the time in the workplace and there are well established metrics of this used by bourgeois economists all of the time.”

        Productivity, Man-hours, and cost, etc. are extremely different from SNLT as concepts. The first group measure tangible entities, (hours, ratio between hours and units, ratio between hours and revenue, the cost of these hours). These are entities which exist in fact and are measured in tangible units.

        SNLT remains a black-box entity that is distinct from any known measure of labor and which is hypothesized to exist only as a post-hoc explanation of a peculiar Marxist notion of “Value”, which in turn is another hypothesized entity, distinct from “value” as used in standard English, be it subjective or objective. This “Value”, in turn exerts an hypothesized influence on price, which is the only verifiable entity that exists in this rigmarole.

        SNLT is a strictly inferred entity that remains, insofar as anyone can see, unfalsifiable, similar to the way phlogiston theory, if protected stubbornly enough, is unfalsifiable. All you have to do is explain all phenomena of combustion in terms of this hypothetical entity called phlogiston in spite of the lack of any predictive or explanatory power of the theory.

        Then of course, there is the notion that our conceptions of what Marx is actually saying are simplistic and untutored and we have to read everything he ever wrote to grasp the complexities and subtleties accordingly. Even if we read Marx’s entire output, we are then asked to read the volumes of literature expanding and elaborating Marxist economics to have a suitable grasp of these intricate complexities.

        But this is a simple evasion. Someone reasonably familiar with a theorist need not read the entire cannon of work based on this theorist in order to have direct questions and challenges answered directly. Otherwise, one could easily say that no one who has not read all of the early Church Fathers has any right to put any doctrine of Catholicism to any scrutiny.

        Here is a very simple, direct question.

        What would it take to falsify the Marxist notions of Value and SNLT?

      • Um… I do not want to turn the discussion into a personal attack on you for not having “read enough Marx”. I would agree that there is a lot of Marx to read, and that one doesn’t have to have read EVERYTHING to grasp the essentials of the theory. But your previous comments showed not that you were missing some subtlety of the argument, but that you misunderstand the very basis of the theory. You can’t point to some instance of a commodity not being sold and say that somehow refutes Marx when Marx’s entire point is that labor only becomes social through the uncertain, indirect process of market exchange. You are arguing against some strawman version of Marx that one might read on Mises.org or hear in some college ECON class, but you are not arguing against what Marx actually said. The misrepresentations of Marx out there are numerous which is sad because all you have to do is crack open Capital and think for yourself if you want to know what he was actually saying. This is one of the reasons I do this blog, hoping that people might realize that what other people told them (some Marxists included!) about Marx was inaccurate and that they should read him themselves and think for themselves.

        As to SNLT, I think you are still barking up the wrong tree. SNLT is nothing more than average productivity. This a commonplace concept. There is nothing mystical about it. Do you deny that, for a given commodity, one can find an average productivity? And do you deny that there are market forces that reward firms for producing more efficiently than others while punishing those that work less efficiently? The concept is nothing more than these simple commonplace observations. It’s implications are quite profound when considered within the totality of capitalist social relations, but the basic concept is quite simple, concrete, and clear.

        To falsify the concepts of SNLT and value you would have to prove that market prices have no effect upon the labor process, that the allocation and disciplining of labor happens through some other mechanism other than commodity exchange.

  4. MrEverpresent says:

    ““LTV, for instance, doesn’t take into account the possibility of Loss”. Wow. You really have no idea what you are talking about. Marx is very very very interested in the fact that commodities do not automatically get purchased, or as he puts it, there is a separation between purchase and sale.”

    Yeah, Volume 2 of capital is almost entirely devoted to this problem (realization problems etc).

  5. Luke says:

    Brendan, I really enjoy your stuff, you along with some other “Marxists” really changed my academic interests from history to Economic theory and political science. Just a quick question about your comments regarding Coops. Since I’m a strong believer in them.

    My initial opinion of Marx was largely shaped from Richard Wolff, so as I read Capital, I constantly keep coming back to this idea of surplus(or perhaps Wolff). The minute I heard the idea of surplus labor it really just clicked with me.

    So, as I work my way through Capital(done with first reading), I am constantly seeing how surplus value is creating the capitalist world. Even as I watch and read your stuff I am still seeing it in these terms. I always ask myself, what would it be like if workers controlled the surplus.

    My question is, if surplus is created by the productive worker(for the most part), why shouldn’t those workers be the ones controlling it? I also wonder why you believe the most successful “Coops” would be the least democratic(or maybe most repressive)? In a world of democratic decision making, why would laborers subject themselves to such conditions? Or perhaps why would that community allow workers to be exploited so horribly? Certainly a world where the dominate form of work is done in enterprises that are collective in nature, the value of labor would be well formed, and understood and appreciated.

    Also, doesn’t it seem likely that in such a world, workers would probably become far more concerned with real issues, and not so much work? From this it seems more likely that the world you and I dream of could come to exists. Certainly the social relation between Capital and Labor would be destroyed forever right?

    Perhaps I am a hopeless dreamer, but I just can’t see humans collectively(workplaces, communities) making the kinds of decisions that we see Capital make. The relationship would be altered forever.

    • Luke,

      Thanks for the comment. I too have taken part in cooperatives in my life that were very inspiring. I think we are all in agreement that people should have direct control over their workplaces. The difference between myself and someone like Wolff is not over whether there should be democracy in the workplace. It is over whether these democratic workplaces are part of a market society or part of a democratically planned society. Market societies differ considerably from non-market ones. In particular, labor takes the form of value relations between commodities rather than direct social relations between producers, and surplus labor takes the form of surplus value. Surplus value would still exist in Wolff’s market socialism and, I would argue, would have the same basic control over society that it does today. Rather than people controlling their work and lives, they would be acting at the behest of the law of value.

      Perhaps being a little more concrete would be useful here:

      Let’s say you start a coop in a market society. You need capital to start a business. So you borrow it from a bank. Now the bank is your capitalist. Your surplus value goes to the bank. Let’s say, in this market socialist paradise, the bank is a publicly owned bank that gives out low-interest loans for socially responsible enterprises, etc. etc. The bank still has to make a profit on its loans. People wouldn’t put money into the bank if they didn’t receive interest from it. So while the bank may be able to take a hit here and there, in the aggregate it must appropriate the surplus value of society. So it is not that different than banks today.

      If coops are competing in the market place then they are innovating to lower the SNLT. This means that labor is still being disciplined by an external compulsion to produce for the sake of surplus value creation rather than for the sake of some democratic social purpose. The coop that does best in the market is not necessarily the most cooperative or most enlightened one. The coop that does best in the market is the one that produces most efficiently. Sunkist is a coop. Land-o-Lakes is a coop. Are these examples of worker control? I imagine they resemble the traditional capitalist workplace in most respects. But even if the coop made all of its decisions via consensus would this really be that amazing if it ended up making the same decisions a capitalist management team would make? In fact, in the 90′s ‘self-directed work teams’ became all the rage in management when management realized that it was easier to compel workers to do things if you gave them illusion that they were making the decisions themselves.

      • Luke says:

        Brendan,

        I understand that the market would still exist the end goal would always be for it’s abolishment, I can’t speak for Wolff, but from the books of his I read, I don’t get the sense he is some advocate for the market place like you make it seem.

        The real questions perhaps should be, how to get there?

        Labor controlling their surplus is the start isn’t it? It has to start there it seems.

        If coops did rule the day, do you think they would go big? Running a business democratically is a PITA, getting bigger just makes it worse. Democracy is, unfortunately(or maybe fortunately?) messy business. It seems more likely it’d be smaller collectives. Would such society even allow massive business to exist?

        If democracy is understood to be all encompassing why wouldn’t workers start to actually do planned economies? It’s been going on forever, it only recently got a bad name.

        Would interest really be such a bad thing if banks were publicly owned, not by some state entity but by the community, which also happens to be the workers who borrowed from the bank? Wont Capital always exist in some form? There is Labor, there is Land, and there is Capital. Will these paradigm ever change?

        The overwhelming majority coops that exist now, like the ones you mentioned I think we could agree are nothing like what you or I are talking about. They have no worker control, they are ESOPs, which I think are a joke(oohh a stock, what a POS), but better than nothing, which isn’t saying much.

        I don’t see how we get to the world you and I really want, without first going this way. When I talk to peers about Coops, and controlling their workplace, etc, they are very receptive, when I mention the things you do they get turned off, or even defensive, it’s weird. .

        My questions may be way off topic, so I apologize, I just want to ask questions about your views on Coops since you seemingly dismiss them out of hand.

      • Luke,
        I think your questions are really really important. These are exactly the kinds of discussions we need to have.

        To begin with an aside: One of the things about much of the OWS dialogue I’ve heard over the past year that bothers me is this notion that if we just kicked out the rulers and replaced them with ourselves (ourselves being usually just a vague reference to ‘the people’ or ‘the 99%’) then we would never get into the kind of mess we are in today. This sentiment seems to prevail over any actual critique of the STRUCTURE of society. Somehow it is believed that if the workers at GM ran the plant then there would never be an economic crisis because they would make different decisions about what to do with the business than capitalists do. Such a perspective trivializes any sort of discussion of the actual laws of motion of a capitalist society and reduces everything to a political question.

        The same is true for the dominant Leftist narrative about the cause of the crisis which blames Neoliberalism (ie bad rulers) rather than the system itself (a system where the division of labor is coordinated by the law of value). I agree with you that when I talk to people they are much more likely to want to blame individuals for the state of affairs in society rather than embark on a systematic analysis of the actual structure of capitalist social relations. But this is not a fault of value theory. It is a fault of pathetic liberals and their political apathy.

        Let’s start with your question about banks. I have a savings account at Bank of America. I get interest. Somehow though I still have no control over anything that happens in society. Would things really be different it Bank of America became a credit union? No. It would still seek to make a profit through the extraction of interest. It could still conceivable do all of the things it already does. I highly recommend reading this short piece by Doug Henwood:
        http://lbo-news.com/2011/11/08/moving-money-revisited/

        ….where Henwood lists some of the horrible things that credit unions are doing in his neighborhood.

        In terms of the smaller-is-better ethic of your comment, I would challenge you to really consider whether this is a legitimate assumption to make. Small businesses are often more exploitative than larger ones because the profit margin is so small. The most efficient use of labor is usually in large-scale production, where the coordination of many workers allows for the highest output. Smaller firms require more work to produce the same output. This is why larger firms usually out-compete smaller ones in the market, leaving only marginal avenues of production open to small businesses (used book stores, hair salons, restaruants, etc). But where big capital can’t directly control these industries it controls them indirectly through the banking system.

        So if you and I decided to start a co-op, first we would have to chose and industry where we could survive competitively which rules out most industries. We couldn’t make cars or build highways. Then, in order to start our business we would need to borrow money from a bank. And they we would find ourselves making all the same decisions that other small businesses have to make in the market except that we would be making them democratically. So the political form of decision making WITHIN the workplace would be different, but the relations in the market between workplaces would be the same. Would we really be in control of our surplus in such a situation?

        But Marx’s theory of value is about these value relations between firms and the sort of coercion and domination they produce and obscure. Internal factory relations are already direct social relations, whether they take the form of a despotic manager, a self-directed work team with minimal supervision, or a co-op. These are all directly social workplace relations. The indirectly social part of the equation takes place outside of the workplace in the market. and here is where the law of value swings into action.

        And, finally, there has always been Land and Labor but not always Capital! Capital is not synonymous with “social surplus”. Capital is the a distinct form of social surplus: surplus VALUE in a self-perpetuating cycle made possible only through the exploitation of wage labor!

  6. DeadweightLoss says:

    There is a huge difference between average productivity and SNLT. SNLT is at the core of a Marxian concept of Value in a way that average productivity is not.

    “The fact that commodities can measure their worth against each other implies that they have an intrinsic Value…Value…is the means by which the labors of isolated producers are coordinated by market exchange ”

    This explanation seems circular. The statement holds true if (perhaps if and only if) Value is held to mean price, and “Intrinsic” is held to be meaningless. Reformulate the statement thusly:

    “The fact that commodities can measure their worth against each other implies that they have a…. Price…Price…is the means by which the labors of isolated producers are coordinated by market exchange ”

    This is now an obvious triviality. Relative price is in fact implied by exchange, and it is the only thing directly implied by exchange. Price/exchange is the means by which the productive activities of producers are coordinated.

    Let us call this the negation of your proposition: that price by itself is sufficient to explain exchange value without reference to any other entity of “Value”. The only value necessary to explain exchange is the fact that market participants value the objects being exchanged.

    You then go on to say that the “Value of a sandwich may be one hour of labor”, implying that Value is measurable in simple hours. Again, Value is a superfluous concept. All you can say is from the moment the raw materials are harnessed to the moment the sandwich is made, the average amount of man-hours of labor per sandwich, at all stages of production, is 1. Imputing this concept of Value yields no information.

    You then go on to say that the Value of a commodity is the Average Labor Cost per unit. This is simply a baseless assertion. It is a fact-value error. The Average Labor Cost per unity (ALC) is just the ALC. In and of itself, it holds no other meaning.

    At all stages of this argument, Value is a superimposition that is arbitrarily equated with ALC. Now your argument reduces to the following:

    “Commodities in societies with Capitalist modes of production possess an intrinsic property of ALC, because labor that was sold for a wage went into making them. This holds for commodities that sell and those that are not sold. It holds for all commodities.”

    The notion that Value is equatable with ALC is simply a fiction. It is a spurious, made-up notion of Value. And it seems to be the only difference between the notions expressed here and regular economics.

  7. MrEverpresent says:

    Deadweightloss. Do not feel this as an insult. But please go read Marx first before writing this, excuse me, nonsense. It is really impossible to discuss with someone who has not a clear understanding of Marx. It’s like talking against a wall.

    • DeadweightLoss says:

      Are you kidding me? Brendan in his video shows a graphic stating that workers are exploited insofar as they are not renumerated by the full price of the product.

      “A laborer who produces $20 of commodity value for every $5 he gets paid is exploited for the remainder” (this is a paraphrase, but it is pretty much an exact representation of Brendan’s statement in “Contradictions”.

      This statement translates plainly into an identification of Value with labor costs.

      Of course, he uses the previously undefined term “Commodity Value” (which means exchange value I can only assume) in a continual barrage of continually shifting terminology. It is the onus of the person purporting to explain something to be clear and consistent with terms and meanings. I am, however, presently inclined to believe that Kapitalist economics itself relies upon such obscurities and equivocations because it is not coherent. I am watching his series with something that can be called hostile charity, trying my best to find some point of contact between what he is saying and any sort of reality I can comprehend.

    • DeadweightLoss says:

      By the way Everpresent, you might want to correct McCooney himself on this point, since in a prior discussion he explicitly stated that SNLT is the average cost of labor.

      “SNLT is nothing more than average productivity.”

      But of course, what seems to be happening is that we have certain ever-shifting amorphous concepts called SNLT and Value, the meanings of which have to be more concrete one moment and more intangible the next, depending on the rhetorical exigencies of the moment, so that we can continue to defend meaningless, void, circular, and irrelevant concepts, and salvage repeatedly debunked theories.

      This is partially a bias on my part (that’s the hostile part of charitable hostility) but there is nothing in the goings on in either this wordpress page or the video series (or my reading of Kapital) that has done anything to disabuse me of this.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        Now, you might reply that there is a difference between average cost and average productivity, but the two concepts are so interrelated, and the concept of exploitation so connected to the notion of average labor cost, that I fail to find any real significance in the distinction.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        deadweightloss: “You then go on to say that the Value of a commodity is the Average Labor Cost per unit. ”

        Brendan: “SNLT is nothing more than average productivity”

        Bourgeois economists cant even see the difference between these two sentences. Poor economists.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        See below.

  8. MrEverpresent says:

    I mean, this sentence summarizes your ignorance:

    “You then go on to say that the Value of a commodity is the Average Labor Cost per unit. ”

    No, no, no. Brendan never wrote that. Value is average labour time in a given society and place. Price is an expression of value.

  9. DeadweightLoss says:

    So that we are all clear EverPresent:

    In one enterprise, We have:

    Average Labor Productivity (ALP) = $100 revenue/labor hour.

    And Average Labor Cost (ALC) = $30 wages/hour labor.

    Whereas in the average in a commodity class (cc), we have:

    ALP(cc) = $70 (SNLT)

    ALC(cc) = $30 (competitive wage)

    And the “super-profit” would be the difference between the standard profit and the profit of the more productive enterprise.

    I really, really want to establish that this is what he is saying, because it is incredible.

  10. DeadweightLoss says:

    Also, if I have in fact penetrated the concept of SNLT, what is the precise nature of the relation between Value and SNLT?

    • Mr deadweight,

      It seems to me that what you are really trying to interrogate is not the concept of SNLT but the relation between value and price. SNLT is not a particularly mystical or controversial topic. If we can both agree that market competition exerts pressures upon the labor process, and that there is a moving average level of productivity, then I see nothing further to debate. You have countered that there is some mystical relation between SNLT and value and that this is really the substance of your beef with me. Before we address value can we agree that the concept of SNLT is very real, that it refers to a real process, and that it is clearly definable?

      As to your comments about “labor cost” I believe the misunderstanding is in the word “cost”. If a worker produces surplus value for the capitalist (that is, additional value above the value of their wage) than the entire value produced by a worker is more than the cost of their labor power. This is why “labor cost” is not synonymous with SNLT. SNLT includes the value of the wage plus surplus value plus the value of constant capital inputs. This is why I can’t really make any sense of the particular numerical example you have given.

      I’d be much more interested in discussing what I believe to be the crux of your question: what is the use of value as a category when we can just talk about price? But first we need to get rid of these other things which are cluttering up the discussion: a fruitless sidetrack about SNLT, a claim that Marx thought labor-time and price were identical, conflating labor-power and labor time, and thinking value is the same as the cost of labor-power. As you can see from this long list of clutter, it seems you have several confusions as to what Marx is saying. I’m not sure how you can be so critical of a theory which you don’t seem to understand. It is quite easy to disagree with a theory if you get to make up your own version of it. It is quite another thing if you are trying to understand it first, before you form your opinion.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        I gather that SNLT represents either:

        A: industry-wide average level of labor productivity, or
        B: industry-wide average total cost of production.

        Either way, the point is to use it as a standard according to which one can reference moving levels of productivity, spurred on by innovations in the production process, which later must be adopted by the industry as a whole to remain competitive.

        I will gladly concede that this is a definable and workable category, though not an unproblematic one. (For one thing, it is a clear-cut entity only in the case of perfect substitutes, for instance, as per your illustration, if any TV = any other TV in quality or usage.) For the sake of clearing up the issue of Value, however, I will gladly admit SNLT as is, and avoid quibbles.

  11. Martin says:

    socially necessary labour time is the magnitude of value. abstract labour is its substance.

    It isn’t really helpful to talk about “super profits”, or indeed profit at this stage. I think you would be better to stick to “surplus value”. In your industry wide example the average rate of surplus value is 70/40. The particular example you give of a firm has a rate of 100/30.

    However as they might have spent different amounts on machinery in one firm compared to the other then one cannot, using your example, talk about profits.

    You can say the firm has a higher rate of surplus value than the industry average.

    It may in fact have a lower rate of profit…. but that is another video.

  12. Martin says:

    woops sorry- the first rate is 70/30. Typo hell.

  13. DeadweightLoss says:

    “The labor-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labor required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth.”

    This rather explicitly states that Given a Commodity Class: SNLT is the average amount of man-hours required to produce a unit of said commodity.

    I concede that this most definitely exists. It is possible to define a commodity class, and once defined, there will be, by mathematical necessity, an average amount of man-hours required to produce the commodity. Furthermore, given standard production practices, there will be an average amount of man-hours required for each task, per unit as well.

    The relation that exists between this and the “Value” of a commodity, which informs its price, approaches equivalence. Am I right on this point?

    Exploitation, under this system, can be defined as uncompensated work time. Hence, once the cost of capital is covered there remain two ratios: one of SNLT to price, the other of SNLT to wages. The existence of profit implies that these ratios will be distinct. The worker as a class is, theoretically, being deprived of the full value of his work.

    Since Labor Markets and Commodity Markets are competitive, innovations allow for radical divergences between these to ratios of SNLT to price and SNLT to wages, since a worker could, with better technology, increase unit output without seeing any increase in wages.

    Do I have this straight?

  14. MrEverpresent says:

    Let me already help clarify a number of points though. There is a value of labour power (distinct from wages but interrelated) -> the value of the goods necessary to reproduce the mental and physical capacities of the worker that he has expended during labour. Why is this so? Why is value calculated in this manner? Wages pay for the use of labour power (the expenditure of physical and mental capacities of the worker during production of a commodity). The employer doesnt pay for the value of the goods that the employee produces. The expenditure of labour power is the only thing that is getting paid eventually. So it is quite self evident that the capitalist only pays for this expenditure, right? Well, traces of exploitation are already visible here: the value of the commodity that the workers produce can and is definitely meant to be higher than the value of the labour power (the value of the goods necessary to replenish the capacities of the worker spent during work). We almost miss something: the fact that the use value of labour power has also the capacity to produce more value than itself has. The employer doesnt pay the value of the commodity back to the employee that he has produced.The capitalist owns the commodities that the employee produces. Legal code will always conceal this relation: it obscures the relation between wages and value.

    • DeadweightLoss says:

      So I hope (and I gather) that I have the basics down.

      Allow me to first express my sympathies with this line of reasoning.

      First, Marx was specifically looking to analyze a specific historical social mode of production, and the society that emanated from it. He is critiquing 19th century industrial capitalism in a certain way.

      He is specifically trying to understand a specific dilemma that was troubling people at this time: why is a mode of production that is so effective in producing so much stuff at the same time producing so much misery and poverty for so many.

      In this vein, Marx was confronted with something that was historically rather new, but so long in coming and so subtle that few people understood it in his time: the concept of stuff as wealth, of wealth consisting in the accumulation of stuff which is in tern accumulated by producing massive amounts of stuff to consume. This stuff had been the trappings of wealth, so it caught people by surprise that a fundamental change had taken place in the wealth-stuff relation.

      In the midst of all this, workers were being worked harder than ever, being used as machines, for a seemingly insensate purpose of producing more and more stuff that they barely got to enjoy themselves in spite of the facts that they made it. And despite the “wealth” they were producing, they had lost even the meager control over their own lives that they once had as peasants. And all of this was concealed in a system that seemed to consist of contract and voluntary exchange, and seemed to be uncoercive.

      This is the light in which Marx is to be read, and the light in which he does make several contributions. But there are other facets of his criticism that do fail, and they fail for their being overly general. Instead of criticizing his historical moment as a historical moment, he wanted to build a Hegelian construct describing the flow of history, for which his critique had to be fundamental. But it is in these very fundamentals where his project fails.

      But that’s a topic for another time.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        It is not necessary to make Marx and his work trapped in 19 th century misery and poverty. The reason why he is still read today is because he formulated general laws of capitalism applicable to capitalism as a whole. Who reads Adam Smith today. Only economic historians might find his writings amusing. Perhaps also lost labour sociologists. Marx was also fundamentally making a critique of classical political economy that is still relevant today.
        One fact for you: no mainstream economist ever wrote one (lengthy of non lengthy) relevant critique of Marx. Why? Because they never got him right. Only certain people read him right. And they are the real “one percent”.
        Economics is in its very basis radically different (ontology, epistomology, methodology). Marx wasnt constructing an “hegelian construct”. Certainly not something idealist. His concepts are more real than for example “utility preference scales” and “marginal utility” which are partially ideology. Economics is in its very basis ideology for elites and for the masses without proper education. How explain otherwise the basic fact that we as “enlightned” individuals are still dominated by blind economic forces? I’m sure that in 1000 years from now they will be laughing with our generation and society. We work harder than fucking chimpansees. I taught mainstream economics too many years myself. That’s my only sin of life. I want other people not to repeat my sin.

      • This is a ridiculous characterization and displays a total lack of understanding of Marx. For one, the creation of wealth for a ruling class is not a unique characteristic of capitalism- the appropriation of surplus labor in the form of surplus value through the exploitation of wage labor is what is unique about capitalism. Secondly Marx didn’t derive universal laws of historical motion based on this. He derived the laws of capital. This is elementary Marx. Pick up the first chapter of Capital and read the first sentence.

  15. DeadweightLoss says:

    MrEverpresent has just presented Orthodox Economic Marxism as though it were relevant outside an extremely marginal sect of academics.

    “Marxism” in general is only relevant in the Western Academe, where it is very powerful. It has no viability at all politically anywhere in the world, not even in the former Soviet Union, where liberalization failed so badly, is there any real nostalgia for the Soviet Era. Nonetheless, Marxism has far outlived Marxist Economics.

    Marx did not present general economic laws. His contribution lies in the recognition of hidden patterns of coercion that were prevalent in societies that, on the surface, seemed entirely free of coercion. Marxism is good at weeding out structural forms of coercion and control, including those embedded into language itself. Unsurprisingly, that’s where Marx endures.

    Marxist Economics does not possess enough generality or coherence to adequately describe any economic processes. Neoclassical Economics, for all its flaws, has routed Marxist Economics for good reason. Note that by NeoClassical, I DON’T mean Neoliberal, which is pure fraud.

  16. DeadweightLoss says:

    One example:

    In the Marxist Model, Value is derived from Labor time, and profit is Surplus Value extracted from the laborer.

    But when scrutinized, the Marxist Model assumes profitable enterprises, and draws conclusions based on industry-wide averages of productivity.

    We have to start from the beginning here.

    Economic activity consists of inputs being transformed by human labor, skill, and creativity into outputs. Let us call this combination of labor, skill, and creativity Human Energy. This applies to all modes of production. The objective of economic activity is to create wealth, that is, for the outputs to be of more value than the inputs.

    Thus, if we were a small community building a series of longhouses, the added value would be evident by the observation (revealed preference) that Human Energy was spent turning raw material into longhouses, rather than the other way around. This value added to inputs by Human Energy would not be assigned an exchange value in the absence of items to exchange, but the increase in wealth, the profit of the community, consisted in the difference between the value of the inputs and the outputs.

    Note that labor was only a constituent input, yet the value of the longhouse does not consist in the labor. We know this because once everybody has a place to live, the community stops building longhouses. If someone decided to build an extra longhouse, despite the labor expended, the longhouse would have less value, precisely because the difference between the output and the input would be far less once everyone has enough longhouses to live.

    Notice that in this society, SNLT exists, and the framework of Marxian value theory could be applied. But it would have no bearing to reality because the value of the longhouses would have nothing to do with how many hours it takes on average to build a longhouse. The additional longhouse has less value, and further longhouses have less value still, precisely because the difference between the inputs and the outputs is negative.

    Here is opportunity cost in action. Any society will, at some point, decide that the enterprise of the longhouse is not worth undertaking because of the opportunity cost. The inputs, land, resources, and Human Energy, would be better spent elsewhere.

    This is the beginning of the reason why Marx’s assumption of profitable industries is a fatal assumption, because a real theory of economic behavior has to account for the existence of profitability itself. Marx cannot account for what he assumes, and he assumes a whole range of economic behaviors.

    Even in this collectivist autarky, we find the Neoclassical Principles of Economics (Opportunity Cost) apply and Marxian ones do not. The challenge is now to see if this holds with economies that feature exchange, and eventually with industrial economic conditions.

    • So, Sr. Deadweight, given the amount of space you’ve been taking up on my blog, and the amount of time it takes to respond to you, and given the fact that your comments continue to display a complete ignorance of Marx, I wonder if it would be unreasonable to ask you to read a few chapters of Capital before you continue to post these silly “critiques” here. I don’t want to sound insulting… after all this blog is here to help people as they work out the details of Marx… but it’s just that I get the impression that you are overeager to jump to a throw-down critique of Marx before you really have any idea what you are talking about. I’d rather not waste my time continuing to explain your mistakes to you.

      For instance, in this last comment you have the Universal and Particular completely backwards. Marx was not attempting to build some universal theory of human society in which value theory would be able to explain all societies. On the contrary he was critiquing the ahistorical way in which bourgeois economics projected bourgeois categories back into history to make all societies look like variations on the Universal same theme, thus naturalizing capitalist social relations while at the same time depriving economics of any theory of the Particular social relations of capitalism. Marx’s value theory is a critique of bourgeois econ and a theory of the way capitalist societies work, not all societies.

      There is a difference between the creation of wealth, measured in heterogeneous physical use-values, and the creation of surplus value. All societies create a surplus of use-values. But this surplus does not always take the form of surplus VALUE. Marx is arguing that the Particular laws of surplus value are unique to a capitalist society and not Universal laws of all society. Thus he can see the historic limit to capitalism. In the example you have given there are no value relations because labor is directly social. Labor does not need to take the form of commodities in exchange in order to become social, it does not need exchange values, it is not indirectly social. It is immediately part of the social labor of society. The surplus labor is directly measured in use-values not exchange values.

      In this example of directly social labor SNLT does NOT exist because there is no social process that measures the output of labor against a common temporal standard and adjusts labor inputs and productivity accordingly. Labor can’t be moved about to meet some anonymous pressure of social averaging because it is not wage labor. You could, by committee or authority, try to enforce some average level of productivity but this could only be measured in use-values and would not have any of the characteristics of SNLT in the sense that Marx uses the term.

      And in regard to this strange comment about Marx “assuming profitability”… for one, he doesn’t assume that all industries are profitable. Have you heard of Marx’s Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit…. ie his theory of crisis? But, of course, he does point out the fact that capital must turn a profit In VALUE TERMS if it is to remain capital and not be devalued. This is not a UNIVERSAL law of all society, but a PARTICULAR FACT about CAPITALIST production.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        As this exchange has progressed, the author has become as tiresome as he is incoherent.

        There is no talking to a cultist. At every turn, whoever he is talking to just hasn’t adequately grasped the Great Sage. Why, if you only read chapter 26, verse 31…etc etc.

        Whatever. There are more valuable things to do than convince people to stop worshipping a dead horse.

      • Sometimes people start with chapter 26 but I think if you read chapter 1 it might clear up most of your confusion. How about you read that and then come back and update your critique?

        I, personally, would never, say, got to Steve Keen’s blog and leave a long critique of Sraffian economics having never read anything about Sraffa. I would never go to Krugman’s blog and leave a long critique of Keynes not knowing anything about Keynes. I might ask questions on such a blog so that I could get a better understanding.

        I have taken the time to write rather long and detailed responses to your ridiculous “critiques”. I have done so because I think this material is accessible and is possible understand given a little effort. I have never said anything remotely cult-like. I have never said “it is so because Marx said so”. Rather I have patiently explained the theory. In my fantasy world you would admit that you are full of shit and then go read some Marx, if only to try to prove me wrong on some point. But hopefully in ACTUALLY READING THE PERSON YOU ARE CRITIQUING (I know this sounds crazy) you might learn something…. like that theoretical perspectives are usually more nuanced and complex than the cyber-strawmen they are reduced to in the vacuous space of the internet, or that conversations are more constructive when you don’t begin assuming the other person is an idiot.

    • Paul says:

      “We know this because once everybody has a place to live, the community stops building longhouses.”

      In your example, the reason for production is use value (house to live in), not exchange value (house to sell). Thats something completely different. Your’re actually describing a communist society thats builds just as many houses as required.

      “yet the value of the longhouse does not consist in the labor.”

      This is because in your example, there is no wage labor and no exchange value, only use value.

      ” But it would have no bearing to reality because the value of the longhouses would have nothing to do with how many hours it takes on average to build a longhouse. The additional longhouse has less value, and further longhouses have less value still,”

      You still dont understand the LTV. If we apply your example (correctly) to the real world, this would mean that there is overproduction (of longhouses) and price falls below value. Capitalist cannot realize surplus value, hence no profit, hence no more production of longhouses. No Problem for the LTV.

      Your example has no bearing to reality, because its production for use value, not for exchange. No wage labor, no money, nothing. (You still make the mistake to stick to the marginal utility theory).
      Even your assumtion that “once everyone has a place to live” society stops producing is ridiculous. In reality there’s overproduction of food, cars, TVs etc… And there’s homelessness.

      • DeadweightLoss says:

        Hello Paul.

        Thank you for actually engaging the argument I made rather than telling me to “go read more Marx” and expecting me to diligently proceed like a good pupil.

        The argument I am making is that the concept of a tension between use value and exchange value, while real, in a sense, is not real in the sense described in Orthodox Marxist Economics. It is real only in the sense that money tends to mask productive relations between people, contributing to social alienation, gaps in social perspectives, conflicts, and solipsism. In my opinion, Marx deserves a lot of credit for his exposition of these dynamics in a general, non-quantifiable sense, as it was no mean conceptual feat. However, his derivation of the purported division between use-value and exchange-value, relating to the gap between Socially Necessary Labor Time and Labor Compensation, is, I am sad to say, is utterly spurious.

        Again, we start with “Socially Necessary Labor Time”, (SNLT) which references an industry standard in man-hours required for the production of a class of commodities.

        This concept is inadequate because it assumes the existence of profitable enterprises. When I said this originally, the originator of this site confused this concept with the assumption that all industries are profitable, when it only assumes that some industries are profitable. I probably should not have snapped at Kapitalism101 as quickly as I did for failing to make this distinction, but what can you do when someone pretends to be your schoolmaster?

        You might say, but this is not really an assumption, because it is self-evident that profitable industries do in fact exist. But to evaluate a business according to the standards of an industry is to compare the value created by that business with the value created, on average, with the industry in which it participates as a whole. It doesn’t address the composition of the value itself, which remains in a black box. All it does is compare the average black-box value produced by the industry per man-hour with the black-box value produced by one particular enterprise within the industry per man-hour. The substance and origins of that value remain unaddressed.

        This is fatal to Marxist accounting, since it requires SNLT, which is simply an arithmetic average of productivity of value, to masquerade as the substance of the value itself. It is like stating that because I on average grow a basket of oranges per month, that oranges are therefore composed of basket-months. All I have done is replace the word “value” with “orange” and apply the same reasoning.

        Or to put it another way, it is like saying that if a baseball player is far inferior to the average Major Leaguer in talent, the player will not make the major leagues, and then from that concluding that the success of the individual Major League talent depends on his performance relative to the standards of the league. This is true in a trivial sense, but it says nothing about the source of the actual talent itself. It only compares the exogenously present talents of a specific player with the average player.

        Similarly, SNLT is an aggregate statistic of the productivity of various individual firms that says nothing about why the firms are productive in the first place. Productivity itself is exogenous to the model. All that it can do is cite which firms deviate from the average.

        Value-added fixes this problem in a way that applies in collectivist autarkies just as much as in market economies. I described the economic principle in a collectivist autarky referring to longhouses. It is a rather simple matter to expand it to a market economy and demonstrate that the principles do not change.

        To do this, we have to introduce the concept of investment. Investment is necessary to build and maintain wealth in all kinds of societies. In order to become wealthier, humans must defer consumption and apply their energy to adding value to capital goods. Thus, if our hypothetical tribe wishes to build the longhouse, it must first decide what it is going to do, and then apply its resources in the doing. These resources are finite and cannot be placed in two places at once, therefore every project taken has an opportunity cost. Wood, stone, and time used for the longhouse cannot be used for hunting or gathering or agricultural tools, or to make clothing, or for consumption or leisure.

        Once a decision has been reached and a project underway, the investment is made. Resources in land and labor (capital goods) have been advanced to yield a product that will, we hope, be of greater value than those resources in current form. Already we have the element of risk. If a storm blows all the longhouses away, then the venture would have failed.

        The main difference between this state of affairs and modern economies lies in the investment model. Modern investments are made by individuals for private gain. The investment described above is made by a collective body operating in a social hierarchy with protocols of decision-making, and is done for collective benefit. This makes a profound impact in the economic decision-making and resulting social order, but not in the sense that orthodox Marxist notions of surplus value and exploitation, as will become clear when the subject is revisited,

  17. Paul says:

    Dear Deadweight,

    I read carefully what you wrote and I think I know what you want to say.

    The “source of the actual value itsself” and the “why the firms are productive in the first place”.
    I am still positive about the LTV, so I will try to give an explanation.

    I think it is crucial to look at the role of the consumer. Of course, in the total abstract, people decide what is valuable or not. But be aware this is not a drawback from the LTV. This just corresponds to the use value. If something isn’t (considered to be) useful at all, it can not become a commodity, hence “carry” exchange value at all. So in the absolut total absract, of course “people decide” what is valuable or not. This is also “why firms are productive in the first place”. Of course the typical marxist answer would be “because they want to make a profit”. But again, this corresponds to the use value. Marx now wants to investigate how, on the basis of these trivial facts, this process is carried out exactly, to put it as simple as possible.

    As i mentioned before, the actual role of the consumer ist crucial. There marginalist concept is like “the consumer is king”. Marginalists believe, to put it in a nutshell, that the consumer not only has the power to decide what is useful or not, but also to determine prices, by subjective valuation. They make this argument in order to completely get rid of any social relation between within the production process (=capitalist/wage labour). But within every society, there are social relations. However, marginalists do not want any social relations to be part of their theory.

    The LTV argues, that the labor time accounts for prices. But it’s not ment in such a way that value is being “imposed” on the consumer. Of course the consumer chooses. But he does not choose, or even determine price. He just chooses “buy, or not buy”.
    This is an important restriction to the role of the consumer. The comsumer is “binary”, if you want so. But the price already exists, BEFORE the consumer chooses “buy or not buy”.
    Now why is exchange value (which lies at the very basis of price) being determined by human labor time?
    This is actually quite simple. Because human labour time, in the aggregate, is the ONLY cost in production. Why? Because machines work for free.
    Since in kapitalism, many firms compete against each other in order to sell their products and the consumer chooses buy or not Buy, he will always buy the cheapest.
    So those capitalists, that produce at low costs (=little human labour necessary in the production process), will preveil.

    The role of SNLT is, that it is a norm within that competition. Those producing above fail, those below succeed. Because they can offer cheaper prices.

    The fact that some firms arent profitable doesnt matter. Remember (exchange) value is not “imposed” on the consumer by the SNLT. Thats not the point os SNLT. It’s just a norm within the competitive production process. If an industry isnt profitable, it just means that it cannot offer at prices that will make the consumers buy. Or it produces something that isnt considered to be useful.

    So the marxist mechanism is like that: Capitalist has to pay wages to produce something (that is considered to be useful). He has to pass on this costs to the consumer, but consumer buys cheapest.

    Marginalist mechanism is like this: Consumer pays according to his “preference scale”.

    But this is problematic. Why should someone that earns 1200$ rate a car to be worth 50000$? And someone that has 2000000$ rates it just as much? That doesnt make sense. Why are iPhones, although certainly more useful and important so society nowadays, cheaper than mobile phones in the 90ies?

    So I think the “marxist mechanism” is more suitable to describe reality. Capitalist has to pass on production costs (=wages) to consumer, consumer buys cheapest.

    • DeadweightLoss says:

      I agree that there should be a way for economic injustice to be examined on the level of economic analysis. There are economists who have been trying to do precisely that, and in so doing “debunk” some of the excesses and biases of modern neoclassical economics. Steve Keen is one example.

      The problem is that Orthodox Marxist Economics OME is neither necessary nor appropriate to the task, simply because it relies on Cost-based value theories (such as the LTV) which have been demonstrated ad-nauseum not to describe reality.

      For instance, Marx himself, I believe, acknowledged that certain goods of natural scarcity, which are not the product of labor and are yet marketable (land, rare classic art, etc.) nonetheless have the ability to find a price on the market. Marx simply admits them as an exception and proceeds as if the law simply applies to all goods that do embody labor in them.

      But he who asserts must prove, and if it is possible for a price-mechanism other than the LTV to function for some classes of goods, then one must ask whether this same non-LTV price mechanism actually function for classes of goods previously held under the LTV umbrella.

      Thus, the following statement is thus falsified.

      “Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third…This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities…If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour.

      Obviously, if there is a class of commodities in which labor cannot explain price (as everyone acknowledged) then labor is simply another scratch-off in the process of elimination.

      A “law” that admits orphan exceptions is suspect simply because any observation can be turned into a law if exceptions are allowed whenever they arise. I could say that the downward velocity of a falling object is in fact determined by their mass if I simply confined my examples to feathers and rocks and allowed any anomalies as exceptions.

      In order for a law to have value, it has to work in a specific, well-defined set of conditions, and in an overwhelming percentage of individual cases in which those conditions apply; and those conditions cannot be trivial or circular (which is to say, it isn’t useful to say that this or that law works except when it doesn’t.)

      And no one has yet been able to point out any observed application of the LTV to anything. Consider the performance of the precious metals over the last 10 years. This has completely eclipsed any conceivable change in productivity of labor over that period, and yet, it does not appear as though we will be going back to $200 gold, ever. The same thing occurred in 1971 with $35 gold. Here we have a counterexample.

      Another thing, the LTV would have it that capital goods themselves only have value for the labor embodied in them, and so on down the supply chain. But we find that the opposite is true. It is the value of the final product that gives value to the capital goods.

      For example, the past decades have witnessed advances in technology which, in order to be applied, require certain rare earth minerals. What we have seen is that even though the productivity of labor through which those rare-earth minerals is acquired has not changed much, the value of the minerals and the capital goods required to attain them has increased substantially. In the absence of the internal combustion engine, oil is just a filthy sludge. The price of oil has far more to do with its uses, and the demand entailed by its uses, then with labor productivity. And in ALL these cases, we note something important, even if labor productivity was assumed to be held constant, such developments would cause radical shifts in relative prices.

      All of these facts are consistent with price deriving from subjective valuations meeting physical restrictions on supply, with the results realized through exchange on the market, in the marginalist conception. None of them are consistent with the LTV. Labor productivity, insofar as price is concerned, represent one facet among many on the supply side alone. The LTV cannot claim any market phenomenon that it explains better than subjective preferences of the market meeting supply constraints, and there are a good deal of instances in which the LTV doesn’t work at all, while marginalism does.

      The question lies not so much with price, but with value, and only there do the Labor Theorists have an interesting claim to make, but I don’t have the time or space here to contest it. Suffice to say that when it comes to real prices and observable market phenomena, LTV has had nothing to say for well-nigh a century and a half.

      • Paul says:

        “For instance, Marx himself, I believe, acknowledged that certain goods of natural scarcity, which are not the product of labor and are yet marketable (land, rare classic art, etc.) nonetheless have the ability to find a price on the market. Marx simply admits them as an exception and proceeds as if the law simply applies to all goods that do embody labor in them.”

        Marx has explained very detailed how the price for land comes about. I’m gonna try to explain it simplyfied with my own words.
        If you own a piece of land, and i own a business and i want to build a factory on your land, because i have run out of land, are you gonna let me buid a factory in your garden for free? No. You will let me pay a rent. Well, the “value” of your land, although it is not a product of labour, is derived from that, to put it short. It simply arises out of competition and is nothing but a share of profits, hence it can be traced back to wage labour.

        Rare classic:
        Two things. There’s productive and non-productive labour, and the LTV doesnt tell you what to do with your money. You can give $1000 to an artist in exchange for a piece of art and you can throw $1000 out of the window. What the LTV tells you, is that economically its the same thing. You share your wealth with another person. In the first case with an artist, in the second case with a lucky finder.
        Productive labour is exploited by capital (payed by investments) and creates new wealth, unproductive labour is payed by already existing wealth (wages…). You can pay an artist as much as you want, its not a falsification of LTV. And there are many unproductive kinds of labour in our society. Doctors, teachers, artists, prostitutes, policemen…

        “Obviously, if there is a class of commodities in which labor cannot explain price (as everyone acknowledged) then labor is simply another scratch-off in the process of elimination.”

        No. Its not that simple.
        The price of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour (the equilibrium price to be more specific) that went into it does not mean that each and everything that has a price has to be a product of labour. The logic is one-way. Its like if you say “every woman is a human being” does not equal “every human being is a woman”. But it is important to point out that money, historically, grew out of commodity exchange…

        LTV doesnt mean that there are no subjective preferences in the world, it does mean that prices (of products of labour) do not “consist of” subjective valuations. Or that the subjective valuation of the consumer is expressed by buying the cheapest… (of a given commodity class)

        Its interesting that you give the “feathers and rock” example. Because thats a perfect way to compare marginal utility to LTV.
        Isaac Newton says that the downward velocity is absulutely independent of mass. In reality, it differs. Why? Because of fraction. So in fact, in reality you have to make exeptions to this law for each and every body existing on earth. What does this mean? That Newton didnt understand the laws of gravity? No! Because he LEAVES OUT friction, he can uncover fundamental laws of nature that those, who are “blinded by friction” cannot!!!

        Same with Marx. Because he leaves out supply and demand in the first place, he is able to uncover fundamental economic laws, which those who are “blinded by supply and demand” cannot!!!

        Thats why marginal utility “is always right”. If someone argues that different masses fall at a different speed, he’s also “always right”. Because its just an OBSERVATION, not an EXPLANATION!
        And thats why liberals can never explain crisis, the government, government debt, unemployment etc…

        Arguing against LTV is like arguing against Newton ;-)

  18. superman says:

    “This is fatal to Marxist accounting, since it requires SNLT, which is simply an arithmetic average of productivity of value, to masquerade as the substance of the value itself. It is like stating that because I on average grow a basket of oranges per month, that oranges are therefore composed of basket-months. All I have done is replace the word “value” with “orange” and apply the same reasoning.”

    This is just ridiculous. The average is calculated on societal level or relevant enterprises in competition. Why do you keep persisting? You do not understand one iota of Marx. But keep on posting, it’s my joke of the day.

    • DeadweightLoss says:

      “Or to put it another way, it is like saying that if a baseball player is far inferior to the average Major Leaguer in talent, the player will not make the major leagues, and then from that concluding that the success of the individual Major League talent depends on his performance relative to the standards of the league. This is true in a trivial sense, but it says nothing about the source of the actual talent itself. It only compares the exogenously present talents of a specific player with the average player.

      Similarly, SNLT is an aggregate statistic of the productivity of various individual firms that says nothing about why the firms are productive in the first place. Productivity itself is exogenous to the model. All that it can do is cite which firms deviate from the average.”

      Hi superman. Read that and ponder it. It presents a rather glaring logical fallacy inherent in using value relative to the industry standard as a proxy for value itself. You have to account for the industry standard, rather than accept it as a given. Otherwise, you have severe “survivor bias” in your analysis.

      Take your time and think carefully before responding.

      Thank you.

  19. DeadweightLoss says:

    “If the price of a commodity is determined by the amount of labour (the equilibrium price to be more specific) that went into it does not mean that each and everything that has a price has to be a product of labour. The logic is one-way. Its like if you say “every woman is a human being” does not equal “every human being is a woman”. But it is important to point out that money, historically, grew out of commodity exchange…”

    But he who asserts must prove. If you admit that price mechanisms can exist that are not the product of labor, what evidence is there that there are two price mechanisms operating, one with labor and one without?

    That’s why I mentioned value. It is true that labor adds value to marketable commodities. But it is also true that labor can subtract value.

    Kapitalism thinks that Marx can take care of this problem simply by assuming that all the labor he refers to is “socially useful labor”. But you really can’t assume that because it is only the result on the market that determines whether the labor is socially useful or not, as well as its degree of social utility. This assumption renders the entire argument circular.

    I can take steel and rubber and turn it into a Cadillac or a Yugo. Because SNLT and the LTV are post-hoc, circular concepts, they pretend that the Yugo fails because it failed to meet up to an industry standard. Unfortunately, the entire focus on the industry standard as prior to the success or failures of individual companies is logically inverted. Individual successes and failures are the source of industry standards, though such standards do produce a feedback loop of information.

    Thus the Yugo was unprofitable because the enterprise subtracted value. You could sell a Yugo, but not for more than it cost to make it and distribute it. The fact that the labor subtracted value in this case was only revealed by the market. It is the market which retroactively validates labor (and other investments) when it gives value to the labor by valuing the product at a price above cost. Labor has no economic value until the product of the labor finds demand in a marketplace.

    This is why it is impermissible simply to assume “Socially Useful Labor”. If the question is “what gives commodities value?”, and you simply restrict your attention to commodities that have value, you are simply begging the question, because of course labor adds values to commodities to which labor has added value. But if you include failed commodities in your set, you realize that in those cases, labor has subtracted value, so therefore, it must be that labor is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for the production of valuable goods that are not simply present in nature.

    Because what is the determinant separating useful labor from useless labor? In the real world, it’s not as simple as TVs and mud pies. You make investments and you take the risk that your enterprise will be marketable. It is by no means certain. And the outcome often has little to do with SNLT and how much you deviate from it in either direction. (The pet rock had no industry standard to compare with. It was its own market.) It involves the matter of whether or not people want what you are producing. Is there any demand for it? Is there any reason why they should purchase your product instead of something else. (The absurd illustration regarding TVs Kapitalism used in his video made it seem as though any TV was a perfect substitute for any other, and the only determinant for profit were deviations in labor productivity. But you need ridiculous premises to support ridiculous conclusions.

    Look at these words, “investment”, “risk”, these are the things that capitalists keep talking about when trying to defend their profits. Often, their case is highly overstated, and sometimes it is outright fraudulent, but there is something there behind the smoke.

    Without the price action of the market there would be no way of determining if the value of the product exceeded the opportunity cost, which, by the way, is the reason for the legendary inefficiencies and failures of all Communist economies ever implemented. Simply put, for economies to achieve anything beyond rudimentary necessities some form of price mechanisms must exist, because the complexity of allocating all of the capital inputs to productive uses is inordinate in any advanced economy.

    And that is why Mt. Everpresent is reduced to simply calling me names. He would prefer not to admit that these objections are in fact pertinent, are not dependent on any misrepresentation of the spirit or doctrines of OME, and do in fact falsify the doctrines, although he will never admit it. He has chosen his Holy Book, and he will abide by it until he gains any sense, which, from the looks of it, is almost certainly never.

    Speaking of Everpresent and Kapitalism, Orthodox Economic Marxism (OEM) as a culture has an uncanny resemblance to the Medieval Church in the way it propagates and transmits itself. It has its cannon, its volumes and volumes of commentaries upon its cannon which proceed for several generations of commentary (a comment upon a comment upon a comment, etc). It has its Church Founders, and its Wise Men. It seems even to have its institutional framework that has to be penetrated for you to be Taken Seriously as a Marxist; and this institutional framework (really a patchwork of periodicals and very marginal academic posts) places a heavy premium on a lot of familiarity with the Cannon. And above all, it has its core dogmas that cannot be challenged or even adjusted or modified in any way.

    One thing that is somewhat different is its defense mechanisms. OEM whom I have observed have very similar patterns of behavior when challenged. The challenger is first derided for his lack of familiarity with the Canon (in the OEM universe, this is a Very Big Deal) and if that doesn’t work, a runaround of meaningless loquacity involving intricately phrased gobbledygook using a mishmash of jargon as though it had any bearing. When examined carefully, the porridge of jargon is not only revealed as being utterly irrelevant, but often it is totally meaningless.

    I hope this aside dissuades Everpresent from addressing me again.

    • Paul says:

      “what evidence is there that there are two price mechanisms operating, one with labor and one without? ”

      circuit of capital

      “because it is only the result on the market that determines whether the labor is socially useful or not”
      Yes. If there’s exchange, labour is social necessary. I tried hard to explain to you that SNLT doesn’t “impose” value on you.

      “Because what is the determinant separating useful labor from useless labor?”
      If someone else accepts the products of a given kind of labour. Whats the problem?

      “In the real world, it’s not as simple as TVs and mud pies.”

      In the real world, different masses fall at different speeds? Was Newton an Idiot to say that the downward velocity is independent of mass?

      “The absurd illustration regarding TVs Kapitalism used in his video made it seem as though any TV was a perfect substitute for any other, and the only determinant for profit were deviations in labor productivity. But you need ridiculous premises to support ridiculous conclusions.”

      Same here. Is it an absurd illustration to investigate the free fall without friction, when in reality there is friction? You decide…

      “Without the price action of the market there would be no way of determining if the value of the product exceeded the opportunity cost”

      Supply and demand, according to MARX, are signals to the producers if they should expand or diminish their productivity. Whats the problem?

      “which, by the way, is the reason for the legendary inefficiencies and failures of all Communist economies”

      “Communist econoies” in fact were nothing but a giant monopoly-capitalism. Monopolist can dictate price, market doesnt work anymore. Its the same thing in “our world”, thats why there are laws concerning that.

      You dont pay the scarcity or the subjective value! What would “Mr Scarcity” or Ms “Subjective Value” do with your money? You pay the labor that becomes necessary because of scarcity or because of demands.Thats the message of the LTV.

    • Deadweight,

      I continue to believe that the answers to your “critiques” lie not far from available sources and that you have taken it upon yourself to interpret theory in line with your preconceived notions rather than try to actually understand. This continues to lead you to argue against strawmen. Your persistence may because you are a troll but I will respond, at least briefly to the main “points” because I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and because I’d like readers to see a response. I will delete further posts from you that make outrageous strawman arguments or reassert claims that have already been addressed. I will not delete those that appear to be in the spirit of open-mindedness and constructive debate. If you want to have un-censored freedom to make shit up about Marx feel free to post on mises.org.

      Marx’s theory of value is not a cost-based theory of value because surplus value does not cost the capitalist anything.

      Non-labor goods still have a price because they exist within a society where money takes the form of abstract value. Why is it that money can measure value in the abstract? Why can any good be commensurable with any other good regardless of its origin? See the video you are currently posting on for an answer.

      You will notice, as a side note, that the marginal utility theory which you claim answers these questions better, has no theory of the value of money because it begins with the abstraction of barter. As soon as money enters the equation, as as soon as the consumer confronts commodities with prices in the market, the entire abstraction of marginal utility breaks down into circularity and non-sense. See my post on “Simon Clarke:Marx, Marginalism and Sociology”, or my video “Subject-Object”.

      Re the quote from Capital, makes it sound like Marx is merely saying intrinsic value is a result of any two things which exchange. Ah…. but you’ve fallen into the trap Marx has laid for you. If you were to read the context around that quote you’d see that this abstraction is soon grounded in an analysis of the equivalent form of value, and the general equivalent…. we soon see that Marx is discussion not an isolated act of exchange but a specific form of social production regulated by exchange in which all commodities are commensurable with each other. So we can’t take this as some sort of analytic proof. Rather it is a sociological claim. In this wider context his argument is quite powerful: the fact that any commodity can measure it’s exchange value in any other commodity means that a commodity has both an exchange value and a value. The value can be expressed in a multitude of different exchange values. The reason that labor is the substance of this value is that human labor is the means of producing commodities and the means by which we attain commodities (we must labor to produce things to sell in the market in order to buy the things we want.) It is the social metabolism behind the entire process of exchange.

      Precious metals act as money and hence follow the rules of money, not general commodities.

      Productivity is not exogenous to the model of SNLT at all. SNLT explains why capitalists must increase productivity and the exact mechanism which enforces this disciplining of labor. See my video on SNLT.

      Re “other price mechanisms”. The idea, at this level of abstraction, is no different than the neoclassical concept of “equilibrium price”. Do prices always equal their “equilibrium price”? No. Lots of factors keep us from reaching this perfect meeting point of supply and demand. Does this mean that supply and demand exist as the same level of abstraction as those other factors (imperfect information, monopoly, etc.) No, these modifying forces act at different levels of abstraction to modify the effectiveness of supply and demand at coming to an EQ point.

      The same is the case for value theory. Marx knows that supply and demand effect money prices. He identifies the force behind supply and demand as social labor. But, as in the neoclassical model, a whole host of forces modify the forces of supply and demand. Does this mean that the social labor process does no longer stand as the force which creates supply and demand? No.

      Deviations of value and price are essential to the theory, as I’ve said over and over. See my post on Value and Price Q&A.

      The theory of SNLt does not “assume that a commodity is useful” at all. It shows how society decides what is useful or not. Things that aren’t useful don’t get bought. People make those decisions based on their opinions. It doesn’t matter that they have opinions. Their opinions aren’t creating value by buying things. They buy things by selling their labor in the market for a wage and spending this on things. (or capitalists who invest in production for a profit and then spend this profit). thus, through a seemingly atomistic process of individuals maximizing their utility, the social labor process is regulating everything. Labor is reallocated through the deviation of value and price. nuff, said. I will not entertain more on this point unless you can acknowledge that you understand the argument.

      Also, you have to stop this stupid “OEM” thing and this childish ranting about the “Canon”. Any topic requires knowledge if you want to have a debate.

  20. Strannik says:

    Not sure if you understand my question, but is it correct that for Marx abstractions he uses have no “actual” or “independent” content, they are only labels to describe relationships? So words like “value” in his theoretical glossary depend entirely on the concrete context they are used in?

  21. mreverpresent says:

    My opinion: His concepts (abstractions) are defined by relationships with other concepts or abstractions. These concepts are on the level of abstractness (in the mind of the author). The relationships are therefore abstract. To rise to the more concrete, (for example current economic crisis) one has to investigate as much as possible other relationships with other abstract concepts (to be defined or already present in the mind of the author). Consequences: 1) Marx his work is always and necessarily incomplete 2) it cannot be a closed system of concepts, certainly not a rigid system in any way. For example: if you wan to study the criminal justice system and the use of monetary sanctions, one has to have an abstraction of the state and the relationships of the state with other concepts. What does it mean to have a “relationship between concepts”? Well, in my opinion every concept in the system is adjusted to the other one. For example the existence of use value and its definition is related to the idea of value. Every concept of Marx can be used to describe the capitalist system in its entirety if one has a reasonable set of abstractions of which all relationships are thoroughly studied. It can be used to destabilize certain concepts like for example capital as a fixed thing.

  22. Strannik says:

    If I understand this correctly, any debate between a bourgeois and marxist thinker is a rather pointless excercise, because they don’t just have different definitions, they have different understandings of what a definition *is*. For a marxist, defintion of a concept would mean elaborating its realtions to other concepts. A bourgeoise would demand to know precisely the opposite – what is the idealist essence of the concept which would remain the same independently of the context. And for the marxist that simply does not exist?

  23. mreverpresent says:

    Yes, you are right. That’s how I think Marx abstracted. I have to say that it makes defining concepts a very troublesome affair because you always have to see how your concepts relates to other things. I think it is the reason why Marx always got carried away while writing Capital. There were always other things. He actually learned Russian to investigate agricultural policies. I think it is also a reason why I think that direct applications of Marx his Capital to for example crime fighting or other elements that he didnt investigate in a thoroughly very troublesome without elaborating and realy thinking through the theoretical framework. There is actually little Marxism that tries to engage dialectically with the concepts of Marx. There is so much work to do.

  24. Strannik says:

    I guess part of the problem is that even contemporary marxist theoreticians favour common text-flow for describing their theories, which in my opinion are not well suited for describing complex evolving models. For example, software and business analysts have developed a number of techniques for abstracting complex relational models. A sophisticated marxist could perhaps modify these to develop more compact methods for describing Marx’ theories.

    Of course, this is all a problem for theoretical sociologists. It seems a lot easier to “live” marxism than to understand or explain it theoretically. Probably because in concrete situations we share a common context, while in theoretical debates we have to establish it first.

  25. Sertii says:

    Brendan,

    I must say your videos are great but I have one complaint about your treatment of 20th century socialism. There is a lot to say about the USSR and China and there are many legitimate arguments to be made in favor of them and many lessons to be learned. I disagree with your opinions on them, but since this is your blog and your these are your videos, I would like to request a more nuanced approach to them, especially seeing as you are educating many people new to Marxism. Thank you very much.

    • MrEverpresent says:

      Millions of people died in the Russian and Chinese regimes. It was a bad idea from the start to try to build “communism” there. Their collectivization of agriculture resulted in massacres (with some exceptions here and there). It’s like they wanted to make their own version of primitive accumulation with the state as the main perpetrator.
      I’m happy that we can discuss Marx and his work in a new age that is not orthodox.

      • Sertii says:

        But that is not a proper historical materialist analysis of what happened. As communists I’m not sure it’s right to apply the liberal analysis and isolate events (events which are a matter of debate even today) from their context. This is exactly what I was talking about. Socialism has a certain economic basis in that it rests on capitalist relations already existing, as opposed to feudal relations. These relations did not exist in agriculture in neither China nor Russia, hence the necessity for collectivization and centralization. What you called “primitive accumulation by the state” is an applicable term because the forceful revolution of the mode of production is one of the reasons a state, as in organized class action, is necessary at all. Unless you are arguing that the Russians should have submitted to the Tsar and the Chinese should have let the Kuomintang rule.
        All I’m saying is that, as an educator for many, it would be nice if Brendan didn’t make anti-communist comments like “the 5 year plans soon became more despotic than the most despotic capitalist plans”, which is something I would expect from my high school history teacher and not from a Marxist.
        I really appreciate the effort Brendan puts into making these videos, but I just wanted to leave some feedback.

        Cheers

  26. Sertii says:

    In addition, you might find this article (http://clogic.eserver.org/2010/2010.html) somewhat interesting.

    • MrEverpresent says:

      Yes, but I think we should not be blind for the consequences of their revolutions and human suffering. Human suffering is never good. Is it not so that “the transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialized production, into socialized property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.”

      We should not travel the path of capitalist transformation

      • Sertii says:

        Well yes that was exactly my point. The productive relations in agriculture were feudal, which means there was a peasantry which owned scattered property and no capitalist that owned massive amounts of land and employed agricultural workers, which could easily be expropriated. The only way forward was to abolish these relations. Had they not collectivized they could not start making 5 year plans, they could not have industrialized as fast as they did and thus could not have beaten the Nazis at all. I think at this point we should stop moralizing about the force that was used against the peasants. This would have to be done anyway, either by capitalism or socialism. There was no way out of that. In the context of an approaching invasion, this was literally the best possible outcome.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        Marx claimed offcourse that “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.”

        But in his letter to Vera Zasulich in 1881 http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/03/zasulich1.htm: “Thus, in the final analysis, it is a question of the transformation of one form of private property into another form of private property. Since the land in the hands of the Russian peasants has never been their private property, how could this development be applicable?”

        He actually thought that the Russian peasant commune could be the basis of socialism in Russia.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        I think for example that Chayanov idea was much better for Russia in that time and hopefully without shedding blood and creating human suffering:

        https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/1811/6350/1/The_Theory_of_Peasant_Co-operatives.pdf

  27. Sertii says:

    But in the end this was not possible, because most of the peasants wanted their own private lands to farm, essentially becoming small capitalists. We can of course take into account what Marx said, but that is not Marxism. The peasant commune would have to be transformed into a state run enterprise at some point. You can’t have a basis for socialism if the peasant class still controls all agricultural production. Peasants are not workers and the two classes sometimes have opposing interests. This was especially shown to be true in the Civil war. Again, in the context of an impending invasion, the preferable option would be to make this transition faster rather than slower. In China, where they were in a somewhat different position, they did do something similar (transforming the peasants etc). In Russia however, given the material conditions, this was not applicable.
    Maybe (and it’s a pretty big maybe) it was possible to achieve high enough productivity with peasant communes in order to industrialize. I don’t believe this was the case, and the leadership of the USSR at the time agreed with me.
    But this is not the point I wanted to make. I just wanted to express my opinion on the blanket statements that are made in otherwise very explanatory and good videos. No one is saying that everything the USSR and the PRC never made mistakes, but the other extreme, the narrative of so-called “State Capitalism” (or totalitarianism) is equally erroneous and misguided and is in some cases just a knee-jerk reaction to Western propaganda by Leftists.

  28. Sertii says:

    Just a clarification, I’m not accusing Brendan or you of forming their views out of a knee-jerk reaction. I am merely stating that this is a way some people new to Marxism may have formed their views and that given the audience Brendan has, it may be unwise to reinforce anyone’s views.

    • The two Questions a communist revolutionaryist needs to ask is
      What is the role of the vanguard?
      And how and (more importantly) when to deconstruct the vanguard?
      If the vanguard is not deconstructed it will be stuck in a revolutionary state
      This can be totalitarian
      you can only defend the Soviet violence for so long, until you realize Stalin was incompetent and arguably Trotsky would have made a better leader
      But still communism is not complete until the vanguard is no longer needed

      And that is a more difficult topic

      • Sertii says:

        >And how and (more importantly) when to deconstruct the vanguard?

        This is quite obvious, when there are no more major capitalist-imperialist countries that threaten you.

        >If the vanguard is not deconstructed it will be stuck in a revolutionary state. This can be totalitarian

        I think this analysis is a bit superficial and un-materialist. First of all, the word totalitarian doesn’t really mean much outside of bourgeois academia; it’s pretty much a word invented to lump the USSR and nazi germany in one category. It’s a term that leaves class completely out of the picture.

        >you can only defend the Soviet violence for so long, until you realize Stalin was incompetent and arguably Trotsky would have made a better leader

        Wow, you will have to substantiate your claim. Stalin was an incompetent leader?The USSR under his leadership was the first socialist country to come into being, repelled the largest invasion to ever take place in the history of mankind, went into space, collectivized, implement 5-year plans, raised millions of people out of poverty on a scale never before seen in history and defended Marxism-Leninism. I would hardly call this the result of “incompetence”. Leaving aside the fact that you assume that Stalin completely controlled everything and that some of the mistakes he made on matters that were under his control would not have happened if Trotsky were in power. This is completely idealist and borders on “Great man” theory.
        You’re going to have to be more specific on which instances of soviet violence you refer to. Any revolution is violent and mistakes will be made. The purges for example were a major mistake, but on the other hand they weren’t the result of some supposed “paranoia”, but a very real expression of the fear that existed in soviet society due to the Anti-Comintern pact.

    • Sorry to come to this discussion late. I am glad my comments finally raised the ire of some Stalinists. I had hoped my comments in this video would provoke reflection by some of the fans of my series that identify as Stalinist/Maoists, etc. I have long noted that I have viewers from this milieu and I have wanted to clearly distinguish my presentation of ideas (which I would characterize as being in the tradition of humanist readings of Marx) from the distortions of Marx associated with Stalin. This video provided an opportunity for such a distinction to be made since the issue of abstract labor and its relation to capitalist value relations is a clear metric by which we can determine whether or not a society has escaped the law of value.

      One cannot deny that the Soviet state was governed by the law of value. As I state in this video, Stalinist textbooks were eventually revised to claim that the law of value was not a theory of something that had to be overcome in order to have socialism, but instead, a theory of how to run a socialist society. The question is then not whether or not the law of value operated in the USSR (since it was consciously applied by planners… just see Lenotiev’s “Short Course on Political Economy) but whether or not the law of value and abstract labor are hallmarks of capitalist social relations.

      This video takes the same position as Marx, that abstract labor is a defining and unique characteristic of capitalist social relations. If you look at the II Rubin essay that I link above (in the references under the text of this video) and the response to Rubin you will see that this very question was a hot topic of debate during the brief period of intellectual freedom that existed in the early Soviet state. Both of these essays appeared in the journal “Under the Banner of Marxism” whose pages hosted a lively and diverse amount of opinions and debate before the cult of Stalin came to dominate Soviet intellectual life. My position accords with that of Rubin. Of course Rubin was tortured and executed by Stalin for his opinions.

      Back to Sertii’s argument that I should be wary of reinforcing bourgeois critiques of the USSR: I agree that it is important not to just adopt a bourgeoisie critique. But I have done nothing of the sort. I have made my critique clearly from a Marxist position- Unlike bourgeois positions which treat “totalitarianism” in an abstract way, as a purely formal political phenomenon, I have talked about the mode of production, and identified the key aspects of the mode of production (abstract labor and the law of value) that are relevant to a critique of the USSR. Thus I am showing my audience what theoretical avenues are open to Marxists who wish to put forward a theory of communism that goes beyond the problematic model that evolved in the USSR.

      • Sertii says:

        First of all there is no such thing as “Stalinism” and you will find no one calling themselves that. Stalinism is Marxism-Leninism applied on the given conditions of the USSR in the time of Stalin. Personally I fashion myself as a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist.
        Now, let’s begin:
        The analysis you make is just as one sided as Stalin’s own: Focusing purely on the base and not the superstructure of a given society. Arguing that the USSR was capitalist because the Law of Value still operated lacks any dialectic rigor. Even if Marx himself personally said that if there is abstract labor in a given society (which I would argue was not a dominating force in the Soviet Union; just look at how they referred to growth in the economy by tons of steel/factories/coal produced and not GDP), then that society is 100% capitalist, then this would obviously be wrong. What Marx personally said is not necessarily Marxism.
        It is not possible to instantly abolish all facets of the Law of Value even in the best situations, and the USSR after two consecutive wars was not even close to that. It is idealist to think that all these social relations of capitalism will instantly cease to exist after a revolution. This is simply not possible. Any society will bear the birthmarks of the previous one.
        That is not to say the Law of Value should continue to exist forever. It should constantly be pushed back and struggled against. In the final analysis, the struggle against the Law of Value is the struggle between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie (this is the Maoist understanding), and arguing that the Proletariat will be able to instantly defeat it’s enemies is absurd. This would mean that Full Communism was possible immediately after a revolution. Both Stalin and Mao, whatever their faults and the mistakes they made, were committed to this struggle.

        Perhaps you would be interested in this article: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/zhang/1975/x01/x01.htm

      • I haven’t focused purely on base at the expense of the superstructure. I have clarified what tools we might use to form an analysis of the superstructure. Bourgeois theorists treat the repressive state apparatus of the Soviet state as a product of some sort of authoritarianism in the abstract. I suggest that the superstructure can only be understood in relation to its base. And so I suggest that the intensity of exploitation in the USSR and the accompanying state apparatus necessary to maintain this level of exploitation cannot be explained unless we understand that the USSR was engaged in value production.

        “What Marx personally said is not Marxism…” I don’t know where you are going with this unless you are suggesting that the analysis of the law of value is not a central part of Marx’s analysis of capitalism. This would be wrong.

        It would also be wrong to just suggest that Stalinism was nothing more than a practical application of Marxist-Leninism. It was a complete degeneration and annihilation of Marxism. Literally, the best and most promising Marxist intellectuals were rounded up and executed. In their place came party bureaucrats that used Marxist jargon, with no real understanding the the theoretical depth and breadth of Marx, as a tool for state repression and personal gain. There is nothing remotely Marxist about this. Rather than a philosophy of human liberation Stalinism is a philosophy of state power and social control.

        I agree that abolishing the law of value is not easy and that it cannot be done overnight. But I will again point out that abolishing the law of value was not a stated goal for Stalinists. Rather the law of value was seen as a theory for state-capitalist planning.

  29. No doubt the soviets made mass achievements. I completely regret the fall of the union and wish they were still around.

    But I will call anyone incompetent who when faced with the task of collectivization of agriculture and others, push though agenda with brutal unconscious violence. I see this as a lack in creativity.

    Lenin even left agriculture momentarily private and had his “strategic retreat”
    He did not just have the army bust in on them and take their shit in the way that happened under Stalin.

    As a leader, and in that circumstance. You can brutally smash though agenda. Or
    You can think of a creative way to do things.

    And are you claiming Stalin wasn’t paranoid?

    This guy would kill and imprison his closest friends and party members.
    If his house guards wont so afraid of him they might have noticed he wasn’t waking up one morning.
    No one wanted to bother him when he had his stroke. So they didn’t find out till it was too late.
    It is also rumored the party members held back on getting him a doctor so he would die.

    No doubt strong measures were needed in dire war time situations. But Stalin took it too far. Way to far. And didn’t stop.

    Too me it just sounds like your are too apologetic for the purging.

    We should look at the Soviet Union and recognize the achievements. But still criticize and know what to put into a “how not to” category.

    • Sertii says:

      Please, there are many valid criticisms to be leveled at Stalin, but “he killed his family and closest friends” is not one of them. This is the kind of bourgeois shit I was talking about.

      What you would be right to criticize him about would be the rather rough handling of collectivization, the errors committed in the purges and lack of dialectic reasoning.

      • Why do you have to defend Stalin so strongly?

        To achieve communism we have to

        design a state that is incorruptible

        We have to design production so it is not commodfiable

        We have to rid ourselves of economic contradiction

        And we need to take care of ourselves and survive on this rock that is hurling around a fireball (earth and sun) in a space we hardly understand

        In order to do this, The state must not exist, the law of value must not exist, and economics must not exists.

        If they don’t exist they wont cause problems, which act as chains on humanity.

        From this where would you get that Stalinism is communism?

        Seems to me like the vanguard got paranoid and went crazy

        But now hindsight is 20-20 and we can now add a “how not to” section in our evolutionary ideas.
        Maybe now we can say the vanguard must also follow a rule of law agreed upon by the people in a directly democratic vote

        Again I praise the USSR achievements but I would be a bias fool if I would let the un creative, hard lining, stalinsim cloud my judgement of what I really want.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        The law of value was still operating in Russia like Brendan told us.

  30. Dr.Kividos says:

    Where are those Soviet historians when you need them.

  31. Sertii says:

    The repressive state apparatus can only be understood in the context of value production? What about the Dictatorship of the Proletariat? What about the threat of war? What about internal counter-revolution? These threats are inherent in any revolutionary society. Why would the bourgeoisie not try to do anything in it’s power to destroy the USSR? Completely abstracting from all these real and concrete issues is not the proper thing to do. What happened to understanding the base in relation to it’s superstructure? This is the one-sidedness I am referring to. You can’t explain the base as a function of the superstructure or the superstructure as a function of the base. You have to consider them together, in a dialectic manner.

    The whole point of revolution is the forcible movement of the base from the superstructure. And you are telling me that in this period of revolution and massive upheaval we should consider all of soviet society, with it’s deficiencies and successes as a function of it’s base?

    Stalinism absolutely is ML as applied in the USSR. Mistakes in it’s application, as was the case in the purges, do not change this fact. I agree that the purges were in hindsight a major mistake. Many people were wrongly executed and others who should have been executed were not. People who were not supposed to be granted such juridical powers were granted them. Stalin himself admitted these mistakes as well as his own personal responsibility in the whole matter. HOWEVER, given the conditions of impending nazi invasion (which by 1937 one would have to be a fool to not be aware of) and the objective existence of fifth columnists within and without the party (whoever these actually were) merits a more balanced approach.

    Marxism is the science of society. It explains what we want to do if we wish to move society forward. And what Marxism tells us above all is that the Proletariat must become the ruling class so that all classes be abolished. And until this time, the Proletariat must remain the ruling class – by any means necessary.

    In addition you will have to substantiate your claim in that “Stalinism” was a complete degeneration of Marxism. Granted, Stalin wasn’t the best theoretician, but he never claimed to be and no one claims that he was. Marxists-Leninists and Marxists-Leninists-Maoists admire him for his practice in defending the USSR and the various achievements of this nation during his rule.

    In the end, you concede that removing the Law of Value is difficult process that cannot be completed overnight. I am glad you did so because I was about to point out that the only person who did attempt this was Pol Pot.

    And a quote from Uncle Joe:

    “In the last phase of communist society, the amount of labour expended on the production of goods will be measured not in a roundabout way, not through value and its forms, as is the case under commodity production, but directly and immediately – by the amount of time, the number of hours, expended on the production of goods. As to the distribution of labour, its distribution among the branches of production will be regulated not by the law of value, which will have ceased to function by that time, but by the growth of society’s demand for goods. It will be a society in which production will be regulated by the requirements of society, and computation of the requirements of society will acquire paramount importance for the planning bodies.”

    From “Economic Problems of the USSR”. The abolition of the law of value was almost certainly the stated goal of “Stalinists”.

    • This recently posted talk/text by Andrew Kliman directly speaks to my argument in regards to the Law of Value in the USSR and its importance in understanding 20th century “communism”. Kliman argues that state planning is not the same as abolishing the law of value. I believe this approach gives us the most relevant insights for future political struggles. I am sorry that I do not have the time to respond in greater detail this week.

      • Sertii says:

        But that is not my argument. I’m not claiming state planning equals the abolition of the Law of Value (though I would definitely argue that it’s hold was diminished). I argued that looking only at the base to look whether or not the Law of Value held is a flawed method of analysis. If I were to apply it otherwise I could argue that since Cambodia didn’t have money, private property, wage labor etc, in other words the Law of Value didn’t hold, Cambodia was a paradise of full communism. However this was not the case, and we see that we need to insert other elements into our analysis, or in other words, apply historical materialism.

        Could you link the interview you mentioned because you have quite a few interviews/talks with Kliman and I’m not sure which one you are referring to?

      • http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/video-the-incoherence-of-transitional-society.html

        Sorry. I meant to post the link in my last comment.

        re “it’s hold was diminished” due to state planning. This is the sort of argument I am addressing. You cannot legislate value production. In the end it will always be the requirements of value production that determine whether the system can reproduce itself.

        re “I argued that looking only at the base to look whether or not the Law of Value held is a flawed method of analysis.” Commodity production (ie the law of value) is specifically a function of the base, not the superstructure. The law of value is the capitalist mode of production. An analysis of the base necessarily entails analyzing the various superstructures that may arise from this base and the complex interactions between them. No one is denying this. All I have ever said is that one cannot understand the USSR without understanding that it was involved in value production. I never said “the superstructure is irrelevant”. I said that the economic base of a society is a fundamental thing to understand if we want to understand the superstructure. The particular historical forms the superstructure may take are of course a product of various contingent historical factors. But the base determines and limits these particularities.

        I also find it really appalling that you find the need to apologize for Stalin’s purges. The purges were not directed just against counter-revolutionary forces. Stalin was the counter-revolutionary force and he purged all of the critical and intelligent Marxists from the country. There is no possible way that the execution of a brilliant mind like Isaac Rubin can be called the “practical development of Marxist-Leninism”. This is a site for discussing and learning about Marxist theory not defending or apologizing for the people responsible for hunting down and killing Marxists.

  32. Sertii says:

    @Doug Prishpeed
    >Why do you have to defend Stalin so strongly?

    I don’t think I’m defending him that strongly at all. It is kind of sad that in the US this is considered extremely apologetic. I could go on about the Ukraine famine being a hoax, “Trotsky-fascist” conspiracies and so on. I think i’m being pretty balanced on the subject.

    >We have to design production so it is not commodfiable

    >We have to rid ourselves of economic contradiction

    >And we need to take care of ourselves and survive on this rock that is hurling around a fireball (earth and sun) in a space we hardly understand

    >In order to do this, The state must not exist, the law of value must not exist, and economics must not exists.

    Yes, these things will happen in communism

    >From this where would you get that Stalinism is communism?

    I don’t neither did Stalin and anybody else. “Stalinism” was the dictatorship of the proletariat, Socialism.

    >Seems to me like the vanguard got paranoid and went crazy

    The vanguard does not have some inherent nature. This is idealism and fetishism, not Marxism

    >But now hindsight is 20-20 and we can now add a “how not to” section in our evolutionary ideas.

    I would disagree in your absoluteness. I’m not saying it should be emulated, but it provided valuable experience. Not everything we have learned is negative.

    >Maybe now we can say the vanguard must also follow a rule of law agreed upon by the people in a directly democratic vote

    absolutely, but this does not mean multi-party elections.

    @MrEverpresent
    >The law of value was still operating in Russia like Brendan told us.

    But the Law of Value cannot be completely eliminated in the dictatorship of the proletariat, only confined. The elimination of the law of value is equivalent to full communism. One of the articles i posted discusses this:

    http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/zhang/1975/x01/x01.htm

    • You have a great analysis of how to conduct a proper revolution. It is good, and I agree with the revolutionary vanguard, or as you put it “dictatorship of the proletarian”

      I don’t like to put it this way because it is not necessarily in the rule of the proletariat, it is a party acting FOR the proletarian
      A dictatorship of the proletariat would be a direct democracy and no real private property.
      BUT
      in order for this to happen the whole structure of society must be reconstructed. Which requires a vanguard.

      What I don’t like about your responses is. You seem to apologetic for the purging.

      I would prefer you take into consideration that it was unnecessarily brutal and violent far beyond a proper revolutionary state.

      Like how you continuously refer to the purges as a “mistake”. It was not a mistake, the orders were given. And the people blindly and fearfully followed those orders.
      its like,, I feel like you are saying (sarcasm added) “whoops, didn’t mean for that to happen”

      I feel modern and classic Marxist, socialist/communist are distancing ourselves from the times under Stalin, (and Mao) for those very reasons. And I feel they are right to do so.

      And to be honest I don’t like the revolution stuff. Its violent and horrible and is everything we don’t like about capitalism.

      How are you doing convincing lay people why there needs to be a “temporary dictatorship”?

      As far as my opinion goes I don’t want revolution. But I am honest and will say it is not avoidable at some point.

      If that is indeed the case then….. I WANT HINDSIGHT!!!!! I WANT RULE OF LAW FOR THE VANGUARD!!!

      I DON’T want PURGING!!!!!!

      I would also like you to emphasize were things turned into a nightmare for the people in these barbaric 20th century vanguards.

      When speaking to the average lay person. This will assure them we aren’t just dicks that want to take everyone’s stuff away!

      Especially in America where the spawning radicalism is to think that everones commin to get your freedoms!

      And to them,,,, we are those people.

      But that is wrong and I want people to know that. The way you talk tho,,, it doesn’t help

      • Sertii says:

        >What I don’t like about your responses is. You seem to apologetic for the purging.
        I would prefer you take into consideration that it was unnecessarily brutal and violent far beyond a proper revolutionary state.
        Like how you continuously refer to the purges as a “mistake”. It was not a mistake, the orders were given. And the people blindly and fearfully followed those orders.
        its like,, I feel like you are saying (sarcasm added) “whoops, didn’t mean for that to happen”
        I feel modern and classic Marxist, socialist/communist are distancing ourselves from the times under Stalin, (and Mao) for those very reasons. And I feel they are right to do so.

        I don’t feel I’m being apologetic. I feel I’m being reasonable. And you seem to be somewhat ignorant on how the purges were conducted. Stalin basically gave a few people the power to sentence someone to death. It wasn’t him sitting down at his desk and going “hmm, who shall i kill today?”. Many of these things weren’t under his control. Stalin admitted his responsibility for this himself.
        I don’t feel you are taking into account the impending invasion though. France, who didn’t purge, fell in one week, because of internal issues. The reason for initiating the purges was absolutely justified. The way they were carried out though was a major mistake.
        I myself tried to distance myself from these figures. But this is not proper. One has to engage in them and find out what they actually did and did not do in order to learn from their mistakes.

        >How are you doing convincing lay people why there needs to be a “temporary dictatorship”?

        There won’t be a dictatorship over the workers, but over the other classes. Notice how Stalin mostly hurt peasants and intellectuals in the collectivization and the purges respectively? I’m not saying it was some ultra-democracy for workers, but the Soviets and such weren’t completely controlled by the Party.

        Are you familiar with the events of the Great Proletarian Counter Revolution? You can’t get any closer to direct democracy than that.

        >If that is indeed the case then….. I WANT HINDSIGHT!!!!! I WANT RULE OF LAW FOR THE VANGUARD!!!

        >I DON’T want PURGING!!!!!!

        NO ONE want purging, violence and that stuff. If it were up to us we’d have full communism on day one. But “men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please”.

        Look, i live in greece. You may have heard that there is this new party, the Golden Dawn. These people regularly kill others for being immigrants or communists. The police supports them fully. This is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Perhaps if you were in this situation you might sympathize with some of the repressions against counter-revolutionaries.

        >When speaking to the average lay person. This will assure them we aren’t just dicks that want to take everyone’s stuff away!
        >Especially in America where the spawning radicalism is to think that everones commin to get your freedoms!
        >And to them,,,, we are those people.

        Many people will always have bourgeois ideology internalized in them. This is especially so in western first world countries, were most workers are members of the Labor Aristocracy, not of the proletariat. If i were you, i would smile at knowing the bourgeoisie fears you.

  33. OK now I know where you are coming from now that I know you are in Greece.

    But the 20th century model of revolution is internally problematic. A proper role of the vanguard needs to be fully stressed. Respecting a rule of law is a great start.

    From a few quick searches on Google about Stalin you can yield ridiculous death numbers and horror stories. And this is what people attribute to our ideas.

    The purging goes beyond necessary.

    That is just down right ridiculous

    This needs to be seen ,not as a “mistake” but as a serious flaw that needs to be addressed.

    This needs to be a cornerstone in the next revolution

    And, I have actually been thinking lately of the possibility of revolution in Greece.

    So far, I have come to the conclusion that a revolution in Greece could have a large impact on the world by showing other countries modern societies can have revolutions too.
    It could possibly be a trigger to shift global political economy. And I believe things will only get worse for you guys.

    I’m not sure what is going to happen in the coming decades. And yes I fear the erection of fascism from the fascist sects in Europe. But I also fear the same problems could happen that occurred in the 20th century communist revolutions,

    Like I said earlier. I don’t really want anything to happen. But that is out of my control.
    And, if communist revolution were to break out in Greece or anywhere in Europe, I would absolutely hate for it to go like it did before.

    That is why I draw emphasis.

    • Sertii says:

      >But the 20th century model of revolution is internally problematic. A proper role of the vanguard needs to be fully stressed. Respecting a rule of law is a great start.

      There is no “model” for revolution. All we have is the mode of analysis, Marxism. This has progressed massively since Marx, with huge practical and theoretical contributions by Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

      >From a few quick searches on Google about Stalin you can yield ridiculous death numbers and horror stories. And this is what people attribute to our ideas.

      Would you expect to live in Capitalism without capitalist propaganda?

      > Respecting a rule of law is a great start.

      This is a moot point, because who decides the law? What if the law tells you to let reactionaries and counter-revolutionaries do their thing? Will you let the proletarian revolution go to waste because you uphold “the law” above else. Laws are ideology, and suggesting that legal laws are above anyone, you are being idealistic. There are no rules in class war. It’s a dirty, messy business. This is why we hate class society in the first place, but this does not means that if we ignore class war we will somehow be placed above it.

      >So far, I have come to the conclusion that a revolution in Greece could have a large impact on the world by showing other countries modern societies can have revolutions too.
      It could possibly be a trigger to shift global political economy. And I believe things will only get worse for you guys.

      the revolution has already started, join up.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naxalite_insurgency

      >And yes I fear the erection of fascism from the fascist sects in Europe. But I also fear the same problems could happen that occurred in the 20th century communist revolutions,

      Fascism is terrorism by the bourgeoisie, Socialism is terrorism by the proletariat on the bourgeoisie. You should not fear the latter.

      >Like I said earlier. I don’t really want anything to happen. But that is out of my control.

      And this is where we differ. I really do want it to happen, and I think it is somewhat under our control. Organize!

      • Times Under Stalin were way too far and riduculasly brutal

        Times under Mao were also the same.

        And for what?

        Russia is capitalist and just cheated on elections

        And China is now capitalist and their government sensors media so the people wont question them.

        Where the fuck is the success?!?!?!

        What was all that stupid unnecessary violence for.

        NOTHING!

        If the law of value exists and the state exists it can always just transform back

        That is why they failed

  34. OK Sertii you have had 3 of us say you are apologetic and supporting revolution in a way we disagree with.

    We are also like you, follows of Marx’s teachings and we believe in a higher form of society.

    But there is a definite dissiagrement in the role of the vanguard.

    Under the given circumstances if you were the state apparatus in the Stalin era of soviet revolution. Would you have us all killed?

    And then after we were killed classify our deaths as a “mistake”??

    If a revolutionary idea has no safeguards against these things they can happen!

    The flaw I see is the “dictatorship of the proletarian” is not the role of the vanguard
    If that is the case then it is a dictatorship…FOR…the proletarian!

    Its representative dictatorship and therefore not fully in control of even people.

  35. Sertii says:

    @Brendan

    >Commodity production (ie the law of value) is specifically a function of the base, not the superstructure. The law of value is the capitalist mode of production. An analysis of the base necessarily entails analyzing the various superstructures that may arise from this base and the complex interactions between them.

    But what I was saying is that the USSR and China are revolutionary societies which were undergoing a process of transformation from capitalism to communism. They were not a distinct mode of production. You cannot understand these societies by looking at the base and noticing that the Law of Value is regulating production (to a larger or smaller extent). Otherwise the only conclusion you can come to is that a given society is either capitalist or communist and no attempt at making this transformation will ever be adequate unless the transformation from capitalism to communism. Saying you can only understand the superstructure if you realize that this society was engaged in value production is a moot point; of course this society was engaged in value production to an extent and needed a state to defend and at the same time gradually reduce it’s hold. How else would they organize their labor, since society was not yet restructured for full communism? It seems as though you either take the ultra-leftist position and claim that the Law of Value should have been abolished instantly but then concede that this wasn’t possible. I don’t know, this seems kind of contradictory. What would you have done?

    @DougPrishpreed
    >Where the fuck is the success?!?!?!
    >What was all that stupid unnecessary violence for.
    >NOTHING!

    You’re saying if it’s not perfect we shouldn’t try at all? Also, I spent my time explaining to you why it wasn’t as simple as “stupid and unnecessary”. Just because it seems stupid and unnecessary to you at your desk doesn’t mean there wasn’t a real threat at the time

    >If the law of value exists and the state exists it can always just transform back

    well what do you propose?

    >That is why they failed

    The degree to which the Law of Value holds is clearly a matter of class struggle. They lost the struggle and a qualitative change occurred. Socialism, because it a stage of change and transformation is inherently unstable. There is nothing you can do about that, unless you resign from the movement and accept capitalism for ever.

  36. >well what do you propose?

    First of all I want to make it clear I do not support any violence at all

    But if it were to break out I would hate to see a style like USSR Stalin times

    So that needs a rule of law restricted vanguard.
    And a faster transition to a directly democratic society

    Also I don’t feel like we can like you say “struggle against the law of value”

    Because the law of value will always win… Always

    The law of value must be totally gone away with.

    These are totally broad ideas and need particularities worked out for sure.
    But these NEED to be cornerstones to any revolutionary!!!

    If your interested in seeing more or less my vision of a higher society I get a lot of inspiration from Jacque Fresco. He wont call himself a Marxist or a communist but he lays out a amazing vision (that pretty much is the high form of communism)

    If you apply Maxis understanding of value to his model you see it doesn’t exist.

    Next time you have free time you should check out a documentary on his model called “The Venus Project”
    This is the most advanced model against the law of value I have seen thus far. (even though it has no idea of that fact)

    Its called “future by Design” can be found on you tube
    here is the URL

    (and Brendan if you haven’t seen this I would greatly recommend it as a model against the Law of Value)

    • Sertii says:

      Listen Doug, the whole point is that you can’t instantly abolish the Law of Value because that would mean that the bourgeoisie will instantly disappear after a revolution, which would mean that full communism is attainable immediately (disregarding the fact that people here are criticizing Stalin for so-called “Socialism in one country” while your vision would most likely means some form of “Communism in one country”)

      Venus Projects are nice and all, but you are saying that full communism is attainable immediately, which is just not the case.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        @Brendan

        >Commodity production (ie the law of value) is specifically a function of the base, not the superstructure. The law of value is the capitalist mode of production. An analysis of the base necessarily entails analyzing the various superstructures that may arise from this base and the complex interactions between them.

        But what I was saying is that the USSR and China are revolutionary societies which were undergoing a process of transformation from capitalism to communism. They were not a distinct mode of production. You cannot understand these societies by looking at the base and noticing that the Law of Value is regulating production (to a larger or smaller extent). Otherwise the only conclusion you can come to is that a given society is either capitalist or communist and no attempt at making this transformation will ever be adequate unless the transformation from capitalism to communism. Saying you can only understand the superstructure if you realize that this society was engaged in value production is a moot point; of course this society was engaged in value production to an extent and needed a state to defend and at the same time gradually reduce it’s hold. How else would they organize their labor, since society was not yet restructured for full communism? It seems as though you either take the ultra-leftist position and claim that the Law of Value should have been abolished instantly but then concede that this wasn’t possible. I don’t know, this seems kind of contradictory. What would you have done?

        You keep saying that we have look at these regimes “in a materialistic way”. The fact is that these societies’ you’re speaking about had a rigid, fixed, orthodox interpretation of Marx: an anti-intelllectual approach to Marx.

        Each application of the stalinist model resulted in massacre. This is an empirical fact. The only small exception is the leadership under Tito but they diverged from stalinist orthodoxy and the collectivization didnt result in mass expulsion or proletarization (most people already fled the country). Massacres in so called “socialist countries” were a direct result of the results of collectivization: their quickness, the extent of the collectivization and the discussion by cadres on the results.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        The first part was quotation, my part is below…

  37. Yes I agree a revolution would be needed and yes probably be messy

    But what my main points are …

    it IS important that the law of value is overturned and the state withers away

    That didn’t happen in 20th century communism, and now pretty much all have private enterprise again.
    So I classify it as a failure.

    My other main points…

    There should be safeguards against purging.
    One person should not be as powerful as Stalin or the people under him.

    I think the soviet state could have sated to deconstruct in the 70′s thats almost 50 years of vangurdism,

    seems like a good amount of time to me

    But then in that case people can come to know power and not want to let go. And this also needs to be taken into consideration.

    Basically my points have not changed and I think I’m about done with the back and fourth, but it has been well.

    I think our discussion alone shows there are many questions about the role of the vanguard and how transform/transition to a new society.

  38. Sertii says:

    I am somewhat tired of repeating myself concerning specifically Stalin so I’ll just leave this here:

    http://www.marxists.org/subject/china/documents/polemic/qstalin.htm

    These are my views, these are the views of most revolutionaries that are struggling today in the world, concerning Stalin. Read the article and comment on it if you wish.

    Brendan takes the thesis of Kliman as it was put forth on the link he provided. While I greatly respect Kliman for his work on political economy and his defense of the TSSI, I feel his politcal views (and, if I may assume, the political vies of the MHI?) are somewhat dogmatic.

    The article then correctly proceeds to point out that central planning doesn’t equate the complete abolition of the Law of Value, but then quotes Dunayevskaya, who claims that it is not possible for the living standards to increase in central planning where the Law of Value still exists. Whatever her reasoning, this is clearly false, because the living standards of the Soviet and Chinese people did massively increase and the socialist bloc inspired fear into the hearts of the bourgeoisie for the larger part of the century. This is a typical example of only looking at form and not at content, or in other words looking at the base and not the superstructure. This point of view is very old, it dates back to the late 19th century and early 20th century Kautskyism. As i have pointed out before, this point of view is mistaken because it is un-dialectical. Yes, looking at the base and how this affects the superstructure is important, but so is looking at the particular superstrucutre and how this affects the base. Otherwise you can only see static societies, and cannot perceive any sort of motion. This same falacy is repeated in the paragraph that relates the opinion of Paresh Chattopadhyay. And again in the next paragraph there is a failure to perceive socialism as a process and not a definite mode of production.

    “[Many leftists believe that..] But if we do have the right forms of organization, then overcoming capitalism is a simple matter.”

    ML disagrees with this. Overcoming the social relations of capitalism after a revolution requires intense and unceasing class struggle, with the proletariat having the state in it’s hands as a tool. There is no guarantee that we will win this struggle, just as there is no guarantee that we will never again have socialism and that we will descend into barbarism. Seeing the process of socialism as anything other than a process and expecting correct organization to deterministically lead the proletariat to victory is an incredibly old idea, and only people who don’t comprehend dialectics believe this.

    ” After all, no one—including Stalin—intended to turn the USSR into the monstrosity it became.”

    This is a somewhat sad comment, because not only is it chauvinist, it shows how the mainstream US left today has completely embraced bourgeois ideology, and merely assumes that everyone agrees that the USSR was a “monstrosity”. Or perhaps it’s some sort of Trotskyist influence pervading academia?

    The author then again claims that the mere existence of the Law of Value in a given society means that this society is completely dominated by the Law of Value. Leaving aside the fact that this remains unsubstantiated, tell me, was it Stalin or the Law of Value that “dominated” the Soviet People?

    “exchange of products must be eliminated”
    I assume here the author means exchange of commodities.

    And then during the final part, where the author talks about the transitional society et cetera, his confusion is revealed. The author views (or believes the persons he is criticizing believe) that Socialism is a distinct mode of production from both capitalism and communism. The difference between capitalism and socialism is that the proletariat holds control of the state, has political supremacy, in other words, the proletariat holds and controls the superstructure. The fact that the Law of Value still exists, It has gained the upper hand in the class struggle and steadily but surely captures the economic base and transforms it from capitalism to communism. The basis for this is the underlying contradiction between the base and the superstructure. Society must either engage in constant and unceasing class struggle and attain Communism, or regress back to capitalism. The author has not critiqued “Stalinists” or Maoists, but has merely stated that if, by applying dialectic logic to capitalism, we find that through the contradictions between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie the proletariat must gain political supremacy (the Dictatorship of the Proletariat), then we must also apply the same logic to Socialism, where the proletariat captures the economic base and the transition to communism is completed. This was crystallized by Mao more than 5 decades ago and is not some novel discovery.

    Just because the Law of Value holds doesn’t mean a given society will automatically revert to “State-Capitalism”. Otherwise, how is any change possible, if we today live in a society ruled by the Law of Value?

    And the final comment “I am not arguing that everything has to change all at once. I am not denying that some changes must be gradual”, which just seems to just be handwaving at some abstract form of revolutionary praxis, after just having called any actual revolutionary praxis which people gave their lives for and still continues to inspire oppressed peoples around the globe a “monstrosity”.

    I have noticed this trend in first world communists (and especially academics), to ignore the experiences of the international communist movement and attack revolutionary theories that actually hold sway to the worlds oppressed peoples. I believe this is because these theories, unlike others, have been tainted by reality. There is a complete refusal to engage with and learn from the practical experience of actually existing socialism of the 20th century. Most Academics parrot bourgeois critiques either immediately, or as a function of ideology and this completely removes any ability at critical thought concerning this experience. Most of these people call for a return to Marx and ONLY Marx, most likely because the only revolutionary praxis he lived through was the failure of the Paris Commune, which, because it was a failure, has not yet been vilified by the bourgeois mainstream. Similarly, academic Marxists of the West refuse to take responsibility for any bad things that are bound to happen, if only because we live in the real world and not some romantic story where the proletariat achieves communism by kindly asking the bourgeoisie to give up the means of production. Like anarchists who were in the spotlight for less than a year and can claim that “if it wasn’t for those dang Stalinists all of Spain would be anarchist now!”.

    No one can ignore these theories on the basis that they cite “murderous dictators” and so the western left is trapped in a quagmire of applying Marxism in the most dogmatic way possible in order to avoid any actual practical experience we have gathered and the violence that comes with revolution.

    Anyway, that was my rant. I don’t mean to offend anyone personally by the way, and if i did please say so.

    • Since you have a lot to say about Kliman’s paper maybe you should leave comments on the MHI site so that you can discuss them with him directly:http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/video-the-incoherence-of-transitional-society.html

      He is much more articulate than me on the subject. As to your comments…

      You accuse my position of dogmatism yet your response is full of dogmatic, obnoxious phrases like “these are the views of most revolutionaries” and “marxist-leninism disagrees with this” which sound like they are parodies of the sorts of things vanguard party-members say. This sort of thinking, and your steadfast/ignorant defense of Stalin, is pure dogmatism. If you want people to listen to your point of view you need to not treat Marxism like you can read it from a bible.

      They idea that Kliman’s positions on state capitalism are dogmatic shows a total ignorance of the history of the ideas that Kliman has put forward- the difficult uphill battle to advance the concept of state capitalist in Russia in a climate of Stalinist orthodoxy. The theory of state capitalism emerged in an extremely hostile climate and struggled for decades to win adherents in a left that was totally dominated by the conception of communism identified with the USSR. The idea of a reading of Marx that was different from that of the USSR was incredibly hard to sell in the 20th century.

      As to this issue of base and superstructure and your repeated claims that there is something one-sided about my approach: The only way I can make any sense of your argument is if I assume that you are arguing for some idea of transitional society where the mode of production is still capitalist but there is some sort of socialist element in the superstructure which gives the totality some sort of revolutionary character that makes it different than a modern capitalist society. And since you are so adamantly defending the USSR and Stalin I can only assume that you think that the USSR would be an example of a such a revolutionary society.

      I would agree that the superstructure of USSR was different in many ways from the capitalist west. And I think we both agree that the law of value, and hence capitalist relations of production prevailed in the USSR. The disagreement seems to come down to what significance to give the mode of production in an evaluation of this USSR.

      Your position, which you dogmatically assert is THE Marxist-Leninist position, is that if there is a vanguard party in charge then we can ignore the mode of production and just trust the party to be acting in the interests of a future communist society. Part of the problem is this idea that the superstructure of a transitional state can somehow be totally divorced from and in control of the base. Talk about a one-sided, undialectical picture of base-superstructure! Even though the party leaders are administering capitalist production, profiting from the exploitation of workers, engaged in the disciplining of labor, directing inter-imperialist war, etc we are supposed to trust that their ideological orientation is pure and that they are adhering to the ML line!

      RE “was it Stalin or the Law of Value that “dominated” the Soviet People?” Well now we can really get into the Base-Superstructure question. According to your analysis it was Stalin, and we can ignore the law of value. According to my analysis it was the law of value via Stalin. Which is more dialectical? You ask why the existence of the law of value is evidence that a society is dominated by the law of value. If the relations of production are value relations then we have the existence of wealth in the abstract. We have a need to accumulate wealth in the abstract, not for human need. We have a need to discipline labor and adjust production to the needs of accumulation for its own sake. All of these characteristics describe the USSR. These aspects of the base were all expressed through various concrete historical realities (like competition with the west). Sometimes socialists use these concrete realities as excuses as if we should ignore the fact that concrete reality is still an expression of abstract categories. We can make all of the excuses we want. Many of them are valid. But that doesn’t stop concrete reality from being an expression of abstract categories: ie the advent of Taylorism in the USSR as an expression of Relative Surplus Value.

      Re transitional society: What does it mean to “steadily but surely capture the economic base and transform it from capitalist to communism.” What does the base look like when it is half capitalist and half communist? I can only make sense of this if your analysis is one that equates communism with state ownership. But if you equate communism with something more Marxist, like for instance the eradication of socially necessary labor time, then I see no way for production to be half regulated by SNLT and half not regulated by SNLT.

      I totally agree with the position you critique in your last statement as “academic” and “ignorant of practical experience”. I think we should learn from the failures of 20th century “communism” but not repeat these experiments. They belonged to a particular historic moment, one that will not come again. It is not an issue of needing to pass nuanced judgement on every position of every “communist” leader of the 20th century. It is purely a question of what kind of society we want to have and how we are going to get there from where we are now. A return to Marx is important because Marx was a philosopher of human freedom, not a philosopher of state capitalism. If we want to build a vision of a future society and movements to move toward it we will not inspire people by waving around pictures of Stalinist gulags, famines and assembly lines. We need a bold and uncompromising vision of communism.

      • Sertii says:

        >They idea that Kliman’s positions on state capitalism are dogmatic shows a total ignorance of the history of the ideas that Kliman has put forward- the difficult uphill battle to advance the concept of state capitalist in Russia in a climate of Stalinist orthodoxy. The theory of state capitalism emerged in an extremely hostile climate and struggled for decades to win adherents in a left that was totally dominated by the conception of communism identified with the USSR. The idea of a reading of Marx that was different from that of the USSR was incredibly hard to sell in the 20th century.

        Wouldn’t it make sense for people engaged in real struggles to listen to people who had previously managed to liberate a third of the world, challenged the world Imperialist system and struck fear into the ruling class over some guy in a university? I can definitely imagine this being hard for Kliman; which only shows how the left of today is so much worse than the left of 20th century.

        >As to this issue of base and superstructure and your repeated claims that there is something one-sided about my approach: The only way I can make any sense of your argument is if I assume that you are arguing for some idea of transitional society where the mode of production is still capitalist but there is some sort of socialist element in the superstructure which gives the totality some sort of revolutionary character that makes it different than a modern capitalist society. And since you are so adamantly defending the USSR and Stalin I can only assume that you think that the USSR would be an example of a such a revolutionary society.

        You don’t seem to grasp my main point. Socialism is not some specific mode of production, neither capitalist not communist. It is a mode of production in motion; it constantly changes. It has to, because it still suffers from internal contradictions.

        >I would agree that the superstructure of USSR was different in many ways from the capitalist west. And I think we both agree that the law of value, and hence capitalist relations of production prevailed in the USSR. The disagreement seems to come down to what significance to give the mode of production in an evaluation of this USSR.

        I would agree that the Law of Value existed, not that it was prevalent. The fact that the means of production were not commodities during the Stalin-era is pretty significant, no matter how you look at it.

        > Your position, which you dogmatically assert is THE Marxist-Leninist position, is that if there is a vanguard party in charge then we can ignore the mode of production and just trust the party to be acting in the interests of a future communist society. Part of the problem is this idea that the superstructure of a transitional state can somehow be totally divorced from and in control of the base. Talk about a one-sided, undialectical picture of base-superstructure! Even though the party leaders are administering capitalist production, profiting from the exploitation of workers, engaged in the disciplining of labor, directing inter-imperialist war, etc we are supposed to trust that their ideological orientation is pure and that they are adhering to the ML line!

        First of all, I don’t agree that party members were “profiting from the exploitation of labor”. While most were somewhat better of, it is not comparable with actual profiteering and exploitation. It is also debatable to what extent these countries were “directing inter-Imperialist war”. As to your last point ” we are supposed to trust that their ideological orientation is pure and that they are adhering to the ML line! ” no, hence the whole “Cultural Revolution” and “Purges”.

        >According to your analysis it was Stalin

        No, according to my analysis it was the Proletariat through the Proletarian State.

        >You ask why the existence of the law of value is evidence that a society is dominated by the law of value. If the relations of production are value relations then we have the existence of wealth in the abstract. We have a need to accumulate wealth in the abstract, not for human need. We have a need to discipline labor and adjust production to the needs of accumulation for its own sake. All of these characteristics describe the USSR. These aspects of the base were all expressed through various concrete historical realities (like competition with the west). Sometimes socialists use these concrete realities as excuses as if we should ignore the fact that concrete reality is still an expression of abstract categories. We can make all of the excuses we want. Many of them are valid. But that doesn’t stop concrete reality from being an expression of abstract categories: ie the advent of Taylorism in the USSR as an expression of Relative Surplus Value

        So concrete realities don’t matter when we consciously act to shape society the way we wish? In the end everything is a result of abstract categories? Are you telling me that when we look at society we should abstract reality away and look at it solely through abstract categories? Nothing about this is dialectical or materialist. Correct me if I am wrong and misrepresenting your position because this just seems absurd to me.

        >Re transitional society: What does it mean to “steadily but surely capture the economic base and transform it from capitalist to communism.” What does the base look like when it is half capitalist and half communist? I can only make sense of this if your analysis is one that equates communism with state ownership. But if you equate communism with something more Marxist, like for instance the eradication of socially necessary labor time, then I see no way for production to be half regulated by SNLT and half not regulated by SNLT.

        Socialist society isn’t “half this half that”. It is a society IN MOTION, and characterized as socialist by the fact that it is IN MOTION. You seem to take some sort of Idealist position here that can only comprehend static objects.

        > I totally agree with the position you critique in your last statement as “academic” and “ignorant of practical experience”. I think we should learn from the failures of 20th century “communism” but not repeat these experiments. They belonged to a particular historic moment, one that will not come again. It is not an issue of needing to pass nuanced judgement on every position of every “communist” leader of the 20th century.

        I mentioned this because I view claims of “State Capitalism” (something I expect to come out of Anarchists, but anyhow) to be a purely a way for western leftists to avoid looking at the shitty things that existed in actually existing socialism. Any mention of famine, bureaucracy etc is dismissed because the nations were “not REAL or TRUE socialism”, as if socialism is some abstract ideal where nothing shitty ever happens and is a classless society with no state and no class struggle occurring. I’m not necessarily claiming this is what you specifically are doing, but this is the general vibe I gather from the far away lands of the first world through the Internet.

        This is bad because when faced with criticism, leftist don’t think “hmm, what could have been done better?”, but have this kneejerk reaction of the likes “It’s because Stalin was evil and literally Hitler. If only Trotsky had been in his place then everything would have been magical and great!” This basically brings us back to square one. They ignore any experience we gathered through all of the 20th century, avoiding these real issues that existed, because “that wasn’t socialism in the first place”.

        >It is purely a question of what kind of society we want to have and how we are going to get there from where we are now. A return to Marx is important because Marx was a philosopher of human freedom, not a philosopher of state capitalism. If we want to build a vision of a future society and movements to move toward it we will not inspire people by waving around pictures of Stalinist gulags, famines and assembly lines. We need a bold and uncompromising vision of communism.

        Marx was much more than a philosopher of human freedom (whatever you mean by that). “A return to Marx” sounds great at first, but you most likely mean it in the sense of “Everyone who actually did anything was flawed in how they read Marx and we should ignore any practical experience we gained from there because these people didn’t apply any of the stuff we gain from Marx in the first place!”.

        I think that the vision of sending militant reactionaries and bourgeois scum to gulags is a pretty uncompromising and radical image of a revolution, wouldn’t you agree?

    • Sertii says:

      I have always found that the last testament of Lenin was irrelevant. Is there anything more cultish than merely wanting to do whatever Lenin wanted done, trying to emulate him in every respect? If the party cannot think for itself, what’s the point?

      This is very similar to some people who, when trying to find out what’s the proper stance to take on a subject, merely try to find out what Marx would have done. As in, instead of using marxism as a method to try and find an answer, they merely seek for quotes which can probably shed some light. Quotes do not help you to have an understanding of things, they are merely an escape route to an apparently easy solution. This really peeves me.

      Plus I don’t know how worthwhile it is to look into Lenin’s personal relationships with party officials. He often had positive and negative things to say about everyone.

      Most controversies about this are actually fueled by counter-factual historical fantasies.

  39. Dr.Kividos says:

    ussr is no good. No lessons to be drawn, only dustbin of history (and many graves and repression). NEXT!

    • Sertii says:

      What a scientific and Marxist aproach! If something goes wrong, we’ll just say it happened because of state capitalism!

      • Dr.Kividos says:

        i dont like to break eggs when i’m cooking. You want to break many eggs in greece. Good luck with your coup d’etat. I hope it fails.

  40. Comrade says:

    Hey Setii, I’m gonna re make your comment and turn it on you

    I have always found that (Stalin/Mao) are irrelevant. Is there anything more cultish than merely wanting to do whatever (Stalin/Mao) wanted done, trying to emulate Them in every respect? If the party cannot think for itself, what’s the point?

    Now I have more points

    And WTF do you keep saying about how Marx isnt Marxism, That is BS total BS.

    Look, If you want a society with surplus value production and a party under ownership of the means of production you didnt do SHIT! ITS STILL CAPITALISM. IN FACT ITS MORE LIKE FEUDALISM!!!!!!

    All you have been doing is worshiping Stalin, Surplus value production, and party dictatorship!!!!!

    Oh, and IT FAILED!!! RUSSIA AND CHINA ARE CAPIALIST TODAY!!!!

    WHAT THE FUCK WAS THE POINT OF ALL THE REVOLUTIONARIES THAT LOST THEIR LIVES?!?!?!?!?!

    NOTHING ,ONLY HINDSIGHT!!!!!

    • Sertii says:

      >I have always found that (Stalin/Mao) are irrelevant. Is there anything more cultish than merely wanting to do whatever (Stalin/Mao) wanted done, trying to emulate Them in every respect? If the party cannot think for itself, what’s the point?

      The difference is that I don’t base my opinions of things Stalin/Mao said; as you apparently do with Lenin. If you had looked through the thread, you would have noticed that nowhere did I claim these people were infallible, or made no mistakes. You seem to interpret the word of Lenin as gospel. It would be impossible for any subjectivity on the part of the Great God Lenin, as he is always correct and never wrong.

      >And WTF do you keep saying about how Marx isnt Marxism, That is BS total BS.

      It’s not “BS”. If you think Marxism is a set of quotes from some of the stuff Marx wrote and not the method he used to look at the world, then I suggest further (less religious and more scientific) readings of Marx and other marxists.

      >Look, If you want a society with surplus value production and a party under ownership of the means of production you didnt do SHIT! ITS STILL CAPITALISM. IN FACT ITS MORE LIKE FEUDALISM!!!!!!

      Again, you seem to ignore my argument completely. First of all what do you mean “it was more like feudalism”? Are we discussing Ideal categories or material reality? What about the USSR reminded you of feudalism? Do you believe it is possible to instantly do away with surplus value, ignoring the fact that society is completely structured around it and restructuring all of society and culture is not something that can be done instantly? Do you deny the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat? Do you even understand it?

      > All you have been doing is worshiping Stalin, Surplus value production, and party dictatorship!!!!!

      And you seem to be worshiping bourgeois liberalism

      >Oh, and IT FAILED!!! RUSSIA AND CHINA ARE CAPIALIST TODAY!!!!

      WHAT THE FUCK WAS THE POINT OF ALL THE REVOLUTIONARIES THAT LOST THEIR LIVES?!?!?!?!?!

      NOTHING ,ONLY HINDSIGHT!!!!!

      Nothing? Seriously? Perhaps the achievements of actually existing socialism seem nothing compared to the incredible comfort and luxury our dear “Comrade” seems to experience in their life. For other people however, these achievements are considered significant. What did the Paris Commune achieve? NOTHING, if we are to listen to you. Socialism of the 20th century achieved nothing only for the bourgeoisie and the classes in the first world that benefit from Imperialism. Your opinion comes purely from this position and I reject it.

  41. Comrade says:

    1) I’m not a Lenin worshiper

    2) I must have a better understanding about Marx than you because you fail to see the implications of having surplus value production in the first place.

    3) it is exactly like Feudalism, Surplus value production for the elite central planners. They extracted more value from the worker than the worker cost, and used that extra value to re invest in larger sums of constant capital. And what do you know, They got themselves a falling rate of profit. They then go bankrupt, and sell their factories and building’s to capitalist for cheap.

    Does this ring any bells? this is how feudalism fell in the first place!!!

    4) I dont have a blueprint for how to end surplus value production and I understand the value of the vanguard but a logical person would see the failures of the Paris commune to USSR, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, and all the rest of them.

    i must also say I have a lot of sentiment to these attempts but honestly, they either failed or they are stuck in vanguard revolutionary mode to this day.

    5) Stalin didn’t win WW2 the Russian people did.

    6) Its not just about Stalin or Mao. it’s about the fact that the people had to turn to Stalin and Mao for their means of subsistence.

    and that is because the people didn’t own it themselves.

    There was no “dictatorship of the proletarian” it was dictatorship of the vanguard.

    • Sertii says:

      > 1) I’m not a Lenin worshiper

      Then why did you post that link?

      > 2) I must have a better understanding about Marx than you because you fail to see the implications of having surplus value production in the first place.

      How do I fail to see the implications of surplus value production? It seems you fail to see the dialectical relationship between base and superstructure. The base influences the superstructure, but how is it possible to have a revolution if the superstructure doesn’t also affect the base?

      > 3) it is exactly like Feudalism, Surplus value production for the elite central planners. They extracted more value from the worker than the worker cost, and used that extra value to re invest in larger sums of constant capital. And what do you know, They got themselves a falling rate of profit. They then go bankrupt, and sell their factories and building’s to capitalist for cheap.

      No, it’s not exactly like Feudalism. Do you have any idea what feudalism is? In feudalism you have peasants and landlords. Both of which did not exist as of the collectivization. This assertion is so ridiculous I can’t believe you actually put this theory forward. You claim that workers were still exploited in the Marxian sense in the USSR. Nowhere do I disagree with this. It’s interesting that you then claim that there was a falling rate of profit. This is untrue, because even by the 80′s, most of Soviet industry was still *approximately* the same as what was laid down in the Stalin-era. We can go into this about how means of production were not commodities during that era and how they were turned into commodities afterwards. Neither is it true that the soviet union went bankrupt. The economy was still growing even after all the disastrous reforms it went through after Stalin.

      >Does this ring any bells? this is how feudalism fell in the first place!!!

      No, that’s not how feudalism fell, feudalism fell through bourgeois revolutions.

      > 4) I dont have a blueprint for how to end surplus value production and I understand the value of the vanguard but a logical person would see the failures of the Paris commune to USSR, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, and all the rest of them. I must also say I have a lot of sentiment to these attempts but honestly, they either failed or they are stuck in vanguard revolutionary mode to this day.

      Of course you don’t, because this is something reserved for Communism, when there are no more classes or a state. The whole argument is about what we do in the years immediately following the revolution. The countries you mention were failures eventually, but they were still OUR failures and deserve to be treated as such. Dismissing them as state-capitalism doesn’t lead anywhere. No thought is spared as to what will happen to people who don’t wish to build socialism, reactionaries (yes, these will still exist), petty-bourgeois intellectuals, potential classes from previous modes of production that might prove to be reactionary. And this isn’t done because “these things didn’t exist in true socialism anyway so we don’t really have to bother with them”, as if socialism can only be socialism if a very particular checklist of conditions is met, and only then.

      > 5) Stalin didn’t win WW2 the Russian people did.

      First of all, the Soviet people won, not the Russian people. The Soviet Union contained many ethnicities and nationalities. Second, Stalin was a member of the soviet people and in a commanding position at that.

      > 6) Its not just about Stalin or Mao. it’s about the fact that the people had to turn to Stalin and Mao for their means of subsistence.
      and that is because the people didn’t own it themselves.
      There was no “dictatorship of the proletarian” it was dictatorship of the vanguard.

      What do you mean “they didn’t own it themselves”? How would complete communal ownership work in an epoch where there are still antagonistic classes? When society is still structured in ways that favor the Law of Value?
      All you’re doing is complaining that we can’t instantly have communism, and condemning everyone who got out and did something against capitalism didn’t achieve your utopian vision of what communism is.

      You can also argue in the same way that in the US for example there is no dictatorship of the bourgeoisie but a dictatorship of the White House. Your comment rests on a fundamental ignorance of the class nature of any state.

  42. Comrade says:

    Ok so I think you pointlesly are defending 20th century “comminism/socialism”

    The point is not to get stuck in a North Korean style state

    The point is to end surplus value production

    And I agree unfortunately a vanguard is necessary

    Most of what I agree with in the realm of revolutions are from Tony Cliff.

    I will post a short video series on his criticisms of the Bolsheviks

    By the way I think shifted a little bit from eairleier comments quoting “uncle Joe” really…you call him uncle Joe?!?!?!
    LOL really? LOL

    But I really dont want to debate a dogmatic Stalin apoligist any longer so Im done

    • Sertii says:

      >Ok so I think you pointlesly are defending 20th century “comminism/socialism”

      Without the quotes too.

      > The point is not to get stuck in a North Korean style state

      I’m not saying North Korea has socialism, but I hope you aren’t one of those people going around supporting Imperialist war in the DPRK.

      >The point is to end surplus value production

      well duh

      > videos

      I actually originally didn’t want to bother watching them at first because I thought “oh good god another trotskyist”, but I was actually pleasantly surprised, because I completely agree with the video and believe it contradicts you. Can you point out to where the videos refute my points?

      >By the way I think shifted a little bit from eairleier comments quoting “uncle Joe” really…you call him uncle Joe?!?!?!
      LOL really? LOL

      On a daily basis. Do you have a problem with that?

  43. (By the way I am Comrade I just didn’t log in as this profile before)

    >“oh good god another trotskyist”

    Yeah… you are in a Stalin and Mao cult that is making you look at the world as they did…Paranoid, barbarous and full of stupid answers to situations

    My points have not changed throughout any of this

    You just got your heart throbbing for brute’s that use unnecessary violence to sole problems and ultimately fail to end surplus value production

    I’m done with this, if you just want to have a parade about Stalin let me post one more video

    “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”-Uncle Joe <3 XOXOXOXO

    • Sertii says:

      What the hell is wrong with you? I want principled debate and you resort to liberal insults? Can you address my main point without repeating yours over and over again? You call yourself a communist but aren’t interested in debate for the sake of unity and progress?

    • Yes this discussion is degenerating. Please refrain from personal attacks, swearing, and juvenile insults. I disagree with Serti on his position but I see no reason why things should get personal or why the discussion should degenerate into juvenile attacks.

      I am too busy to get into this debate at the moment, but I will remove any future posts that are not in the spirit of honest dialogue.

  44. MrEverpresent says:

    I do not even want to begin a debat. It would take me ages to write and discuss all the misrepresentations and mistakes in his arguments. I have other things to write about. Let us discuss Marx his political economy. There is plenty of work there.

    • Sertii says:

      Sure, but while Brendan had said in part 2 of his introduction that these videos would not contain his opinions but only a presentation of the Law of Value, he then proceeds to comments on a subject that is vastly debatable among communists. I didn’t start the debate, Brendan did.

      • for the record:
        this video is about abstract labor and the law of value. It states that both operated in the USSR. Both you and I agree with this as did many soviet thinkers. So perhaps this is not a widely debatable point. The debate rather seems to be as to what significance this has in explaining the character of the soviet state. This video doesn’t really deal with that. Rather it suggests that an understanding of the mode of production would be an important ingredient to have in analyzing the soviet state. My comments in the video are meant to be open-ended and provocative- to encourage viewers to think about how they might apply the concept of abstract labor to 20th century communism and to draw their own conclusions.

        You, Serti have been unhappy with this and have tried to reduce this to some sort of simplistic idea as if I think that this means that the specific concrete situation that soviet state was in is not important for understanding its character. But I have never said this. You have also tried to make some sort of argument about how my position is idealist, which is a total misunderstanding of what I am saying. I don’t know why you would say that an analysis of the mode of production is idealist!

        Unfortunately, I am too busy at the moment to engage any further on this debate. I think you should engage with Kliman on the subject.

  45. Sertii says:

    You don’t have to reply to this, I just want to have the last word.

    Look Brendan, I’m not really interested in debating Kliman and the MHI. The MHI are a group that is made up of a privileged section of a privileged Labor Aristocracy in the most powerful Imperialist country in the world. On top of that they seem to take pride in the fact that they are not a political party, in other words, they don’t take political action, meanwhile deriding anyone who did in the past engage in practice as “Stalinist”. They seem to believe that there can be revolutionary theory without revolutionary practice. Their very existence can almost be seen as chauvinist.

    I am well aware that your views align with the MHI and that if I wished to directly challenge these views I would be challenging the views of the MHI. In the end, I’m not interested in what this group believes, because it is extremely irrelevant, even in the small scope of things.

    You on the other hand play a part in educating the Marxist (internet) population in established Marxist theory and as such, you are more relevant than the MHI. It follows then that it would be more correct on your part to no engage in liberal “provocative” behavior and keep your own personal views to yourself. If you keep the context of your comments in mind, the context of rabid anti-communism, then your comments, even if they were intended as neutral and open-ended will certainly be interpreted as your (negative) opinion by all but the most critical thinkers. I don’t believe you did not consider this, seeing as you often talk about your target audience. As such, the video most certainly contained bias and opinions that are not universal to Marxists.

    Our disagreement lies in that you believe that any revolution that does not manage to eliminate the Law of Value instantly is a failed revolution (I can only come to this conclusion because if you accept that the Law of Value is present for a time after a revolution, then we are mostly in agreement and you have no reason for criticizing revolutions of the past). My position is that what constitutes a revolution(ary society) is primarily a conscious effort on part of the superstructure to transform the base. A (proletarian) state is required for this transformation. When the base has been fully transformed, we have communism. Until that point, we have Socialism, or the dictatorship of the Proletariat. It is fully possible for this to fail; after all, this is still an era of class struggle. Reading through the article you linked, he says “So I can certainly imagine an unstable state of flux in the process of transforming capitalism into socialism, a state of flux in which capitalism’s economic laws and imperatives haven’t yet been fully dismantled”. Which means we are somewhat in agreement on this. But then on what basis does Kliman criticize the USSR in the Stalin-era?

    As I said, you do not have to reply to this, but please do keep it in mind in your future educational projects.

    • For the record you have completely misunderstood my arguments. And though it’s not my job to defend the MHI I have to say that your characterization of their organization is completely off. I think you should take more care to understand the positions you are critiquing.

  46. MrEverpresent says:

    End of discussion.

    • Sertii says:

      Even if we completely deny that social existence by and large determines social consciousness and completely accept everything that is said by someone at a university owned by the largest Imperialist force on the planet, what is the point you want to make?

      That Stalin treated peasants badly? Do you understand the concept of “class struggle” and “dictatorship of the proletariat”? Peasants at the time had opposing interests to workers. Peasants wanted land for themselves, while it was in the interest of workers to have peasants collectivize, because they needed food to industrialize to be able to later beat the Nazis. The dictatorship of the proletariat (the USSR) is what it’s name says: a dictatorship of the proletariat. Meaning that, should any class have opposing interests to those of the proletariat, they will be forced to act to the interests of the proletariat and not their own.

      What was the point you wanted to make?

      • Well this dictatorship of the proletariat sounds pretty uncool to me mate. You’re not gonna convince many people with that kind of argument. No proletariat’s gonna force me to do anything man.

      • MrEverpresent says:

        So you ignore human suffering. How convenient.
        The point, however, is that the collectivization had nothing to do with class struggle or a dictatorship of the proletariat. It was a minority that forced an extremely callous experiment onto people. There was not even a proletariat yet (compared to the west). They created their own “proletariat”.

  47. Sertii says:

    @MrEverpresent

    If you want to make moral judgements about it you can do so, but don’t expect me to care. Collectivization was absolutely a moment of class struggle.

    Many peasants wanted each of them to have their own land to become small capitalists. This would increase their personal profit, but overall food production would be lower.

    Workers were interested in higher food production, because food production is a bottleneck for industrialization and they needed more advanced industry to raise their standard of living and defend an incoming invasion.

    So, we have contradiction between classes. Workers want peasants to collectivize, peasants don’t want to collectivize. Since workers revolted a few years ago and established the dictatorship of the proletariat, it would seem very reasonable to force peasants to bend to the will of the workers. This by the way also ended all famines after that.

    Unless you want to argue that the world would have been better off if the nazis had beaten the USSR, it makes no sense to say that “It was a minority that forced an extremely callous experiment onto people”. Please refrain from making moral judgements before making scientific and objective judgements. It can cloud your reasoning.

  48. OK… Setrii.. I just think there is no excuse for what Stalin and Mao did.
    But these are just people who control surplus value production and it is up to chance who you get. Some may be good other’s brutes. This is why there needs to be a discussion on the role of the vanguard.

    And this is why surplus value production needs to be ended so this is gone for good… And the communist revolutionary Marxist’s are the only ones who know this and the only hope to END IT FOR GOOD!!

    And to everyone else…
    I do not believe the end goals of higher society will be achieved without a vanguard party.
    I think in the Tony Cliff videos I posted earlier, Tony makes the realistic point. That a surplus value ending movement must be symmetrically equal to its enemies. It is true that is what communism is not about. But it is a means of achieving an end. It is a tool and does not reflect the goal of the work.

    We must be sympathetic to Sertii’s cause. He is in Greece and the country is in horrible chaos. And the Golden Dawn party is a likely pawn to the ruling classes to get what they want. Give Greece a few more years of this and I don’t know how this will end. (especially because everything looks like it will get WORSE!)

    Golden Dawn are fascist’s they are racist and they are ORGANIZING!!!
    Watch this video on one of their protest and watch more on them and you will be horrified.

    Someone need’s to stop this and it wont be the state and it wont be the capitalist. It must be a vanguard in the name of the working class and a goal to smash surplus value production.

    That is looking like the only option

    • Sertii says:

      >OK… Setrii.. I just think there is no excuse for what Stalin and Mao did.
      But these are just people who control surplus value production and it is up to chance who you get. Some may be good other’s brutes. This is why there needs to be a discussion on the role of the vanguard.

      Hence democratic centralism. Believing that Stalin and Mao were to blame for any of the bad things that may (or may not have happened) is Great Man Theory and as a Marxist you should stop thinking this way. Especially if you are a (Trotskyist) Leninist, you should also realize that a state has a class nature. Meaning you can have a proletarian state and a bourgeois state. Now, what determines which class owns the state is a whole other discussion.

      Check out these links:
      http://brown-eggs.tumblr.com/post/52024537257/anti-stalinism-and-the-legacy-of-state-socialism

      http://monthlyreview.org/commentary/did-mao-really-kill-millions-in-the-great-leap-forward

      >And this is why surplus value production needs to be ended so this is gone for good… And the communist revolutionary Marxist’s are the only ones who know this and the only hope to END IT FOR GOOD!!

      All Communists want to end surplus value production. The point is (and Cliff said this in his video) that you must know what you can do now and what you can do later. Trotsky didn’t believe that Stalin was bad because surplus value was still being generated in the USSR. After all, when Stalin supported collectivization and 5 year plans, Trotsky wanted to stay on the NEP. So that’s not where the argument should lie.

  49. Dr.Kividos says:

    You receive my vote Doug. You can be my vanguard leader.

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