A Post-Capitalist Future-Not By Politics Alone. Radio-Free Humanity. Episode 22



Brendan interviews Andrew about his With Sober Senses essay, “Not by Politics Alone: Thinking Through a Post-Capitalist Future.” They discuss what’s wrong with thinking that we can transcend capitalism simply through decentralized decision-making, or experimentation, or by putting different people, with different priorities, into power—and why it’s dangerous to put the whole burden of working out answers on the backs of the completely “new people” that revolution will supposedly create. The discussion calls attention to the economic problems that will need to be solved, such as the need for economic coordination, and why they will need to be solved in a different way than under capitalism. Brendan has Andrew explain why he rejects claims that the economic problems can be solved simply through income redistribution and overcoming the wastefulness of capitalism, and why, instead, a new liberatory mode of production needs to be worked out.

The episode’s current-events segment focuses on the Trumpite drive to re-open US schools in the midst of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

We welcome and encourage listeners’ comments, posted on this episode’s page.

Please visit MHI’s online print publication, With Sober Senses, for further news, commentary, and analysis.

Click here for more episodes.

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4 Responses to A Post-Capitalist Future-Not By Politics Alone. Radio-Free Humanity. Episode 22

  1. Westicle says:

    Hi Brendan, I had a question about labor as the source of value. I was reading about your reasoning as well as some posts on reddit and I read Caffentzis’ essay on why machines can’t create value but I’m still having a hard time conceptualizing it. The general argument as far as I can tell is that labor can create value because of the human ability to refuse to work. However I still can’t understand how this would make it some that the total amount of profit is equal to the total amount of surplus labor. From the capitalist’s point of view labor-power is just an input so why would it have the special ability of being the sole source of profit compared to other inputs in the production process. I don’t see exactly how the argument that labor has a self-negating property would solve this.

    • Hi. I at one point liked Caffentzis essay about this but I no longer agree with him. His take is not at all what Marx says. Can you remind me where I have written about Caffentzis essay before? I would like to take that content down.

      • Westicle says:

        Hi. I believe you reference his essay for further reading in one of your old posts on the law of value series, specifically the one entitled On Labor as the Substance of Value. You also make the same argument as him that the labor produces value because of the ability for humans to refuse work in your value and price Q&A. Also I’m if you disagree with Caffentzis then why do you think value is the sole source of value. I’m still confused as to how you can be able to attribute the entirety of profit to surplus labour time. For example, a lot of examples given on reddit didn’t introduce private property into the scenario. The problem for me is that while it is obvious that in a simple commodity production scenario all of the income a producer receives will be attributable to the labor time that was required to produce whatever they sold, it is less obvious why when commodities are not sold at their values and the people selling commodities aren’t the ones that produced them directly why the profits in aggregate will still be equal to the surplus labour time in aggregate.

      • Thanks. I need to write a proper essay on this topic at some point. Unfortunately, my life is unbelievably busy right now. I suggest reading the first 11 chapters of volume 3 of Capital as well as the first chapter of Vol. 1.

        In the mean time, here is part of something I wrote 3 years ago and did not publish/post regarding this issue and the way Marx understands surface appearance in relation to underlying relations.

        Marx and Ricardo

        The tendency toward an average rate of profit makes it hard to see the way surplus-value enters into the values of commodities. On the surface it appears that the amount of profit a capitalist makes is only dependent on the size of her investment. Prices of production make it hard to see how socially necessary labor time forms the values of commodities. On the surface it seems like commodities are just “worth” their cost-price plus an average rate of profit. These “converted forms” of value obscure the essential relations of value production and make it difficult for an analysis of capitalism to move beyond surface appearance.

        It was just such difficulties that led Ricardo to a dead end in his attempt to explain capitalist society with a labor theory of value. Ricardo believed that the prices of commodities were determined by the labor-time required for their production. Yet he also understood that this claim contradicted the tendency toward average profit rates. Ricardo’s solution was to settle on a weaker statement of a labor theory of value, saying that changes in productivity caused corresponding changes in price, but abandoning any stronger claim about labor-time determining the absolute magnitude of prices. This solution was not entirely convincing as it seemed to concede that other factors were just as important as labor-time in the determination of prices. This problem was a major theoretical issue in the economic literature before Marx’s time. Marx’s theory of prices of production, published posthumously in Volume 3 of Capital, solved this problem that Ricardo and so many others had failed to solve.

        Marx’s comments about what theoretical differences allowed him to solve this problem, where Ricardo had failed, are quite illuminating. “But Ricardo does not examine the form-the peculiar characteristic of labour that creates exchange-value or manifests itself in exchange-value- the nature of labour. Hence he does not grasp the connection of this labour with money or that it must assume the form of money.”1 The peculiar characteristic Marx is referring to is the fact that the substance of value is abstract labor. “The character of this ‘labour’ is not further examined. If two commodities are equivalents- or bear a definite proportion to each other or, which is the same thing, if their magnitude differs according to the quantity of ‘labour’ which they contain- then it is obvious that regarded as exchange-values, their substance must be the same.” 2

        Marx is referring to the “third thing” argument discussed in a previous chapter [CHAPTER # HERE] wherein the fact that a commodity can be equal to another commodity is evidence that commodities share a common substance. Marx then establishes that this common substance is the abstract labor objectified in commodities.

        Ricardo does not investigate the substance of value at all. Rather he is merely concerned with examining to what degree labor-time determines money prices. In contrast, in Chapter 1 of Capital Marx says that he must first set aside a discussion of exchange-value until he has first dealt with the two-fold nature of labor. Only once he has dealt with objectified abstract labor forming the substance of a commodity’s value can he then explain the way this value must appear in the form of money prices. These money prices are a form of appearance of value. This lays the theoretical groundwork for a theory of capitalist society that makes a clear distinctions between the inner relations of capitalist production founded on value production and the appropriation of surplus labor, and the way these relations appear on the surface of society as prices between commodities and capitalist profit.

        Marx’s approach allowed him to show how value magnitudes are transposed through the process of capitalist competition and arrive at prices of production. This was only possible because Marx understood value as distinct from price, and surplus-value as distinct from profit. Ricardo, on the other hand, wanted to deduce average profits directly from the determination of value by labor time. He wanted to make all surface appearances immediately congruous with the idea of labor determining value. This, “leads to erroneous results because it omits some essential links and directly seeks to prove the congruity of the economic categories with one another.”3 Marx’s sophisticated understanding of the difference between value and price and between surplus-value and profit allows him to theorize these “essential links” so that he can derive prices of production from value magnitudes. Surplus-value is one of these links. Without the notion of surplus-value one cannot theorize profits directly from socially necessary labor time. Ricardo, missing these essential links, is just led to believe that the world of appearance contradicts his theory of value.

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