Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The theory of exploitation

Where do profits come from? How can wage-labour reasonably be described as wage-slavery? If a worker makes a free contract, as an individual equal before the law, with an employer, isn't that a fair day's wage for a fair day's work?
Shouldn't the word "exploitation" be reserved for exceptional cases where workers are exceptionally at a disadvantage in the wage-bargain, rather being used (as Marxists use it) for all wage-labour?
The Grundrisse offers a faster-burning and more vivide first draft of the answers to these questions which Marx develops in Capital.
In Capital, Marx is laconic and deliberately "flat" about why it is labour that sustains capital.
"In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power". [Chapter 6].
It just so happens that way, and that's that.
In Capital, when Marx introduces the concept of surplus value (the common underpinning, in his theory, of capitalist revenue of all sorts), he starts by imagining that wages are equal to the amount of value added by a worker in a day. Impossible: there would be nothing for capital to feed on! A seemingly pedantic distinction resolves the conundrum. The value of labour-power (which underpins wages) is determined by the labour-time embodied in working-class subsistence, not by the labour done by the worker after the capitalist has bought the labour-power.
"The owner of the money has paid the value of a day’s labour-power; his, therefore, is the use of it for a day; a day’s labour belongs to him. The circumstance, that on the one hand the daily sustenance of labour-power costs only half a day’s labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can work during a whole day, that consequently the value which its use during one day creates, is double what he pays for that use, this circumstance is, without doubt, a piece of good luck for the buyer, but by no means an injury to the seller". [Chapter 7]
"By no means an injury to the seller!" Only over hundreds of pages, in Capital, does Marx build up the picture which shows that the market criterion, "by no means an injury to the seller", is only a half, or quarter, or one-tenth truth. In Capital, Marx does not use the words "exploit" or "exploitation" until chapter 11. Even there, those words are mostly used in a fairly neutral way.
In Capital Marx chose a deliberately toned-down, give-your-opponents-their-strongest-argument approach. Compare the Grundrisse.
"The exchange between capital and labour... splits into two processes which are not only formally but also qualitatively different, and even contradictory:
(1) The worker sells his commodity... for a specific sum of money... (2) The capitalist obtains labour itself.. the productive force... which thereby becomes... a force belonging to capital itself..."
"Instead of aiming their amazement in this direction - and considering the worker to owe a debt to capital for the fact that he is alive at all, and can repeat certain life processes every day as soon as he has eaten and slept enough - these whitewashing sycophants of bourgeois economics should rather have fixed their attention on the fact that, after constantly repeated labour, he always has only his living, direct labour itself to exchange..."
"The worker cannot become rich in this exchange, since, in exchange for his labour capacity as a fixed, available magnitude, he surrenders its creative power, like Esau his birthright for a mess of pottage. Rather, he necessarily impoverishes himself... because the creative power of his labour establishes itself as the power of capital, as an alien power confronting him. He divests himself of labour as the force productive of wealth; capital appropriates it, as such...
"The productivity of his labour, his labour in general, in so far as it is not a capacity but a motion, real labour, comes to confront the worker as an alien power; capital, inversely, realizes itself through the appropriation of alien labour".
"The worker emerges not only not richer, but emerges rather poorer from the process than he entered. For not only has he produced the conditions of necessary labour as conditions belonging to capital; but also the value-creating possibility, the realisation which lies as a possibility within him, now likewise exists as surplus value, surplus product, in a word as capital, as master over living labour capacity, as value endowed with its own might and will, confronting him in his abstract, objectless, purely subjective poverty. He has produced not only the alien wealth and his own poverty, but also the relation of this wealth as independent, self-sufficient wealth, relative to himself as the poverty which this wealth consumes, and from which wealth thereby draws new vital spirits into itself, and realizes itself anew".
"After production, [labour capacity] has become poorer by the life forces expended, but otherwise begins the drudgery anew..."
In the earlier parts of the Grundrisse, Marx follows other economists in calling what the capitalists buy from the workers "labour". In the very course of writing the Grundrisse, he realised that was wrong. The worker sells not labour but labour-power, or the capacity to labour.
The best-known explanation of this distinction between labour and labour-power is Engels' introduction to a later edition of Wage Labour and Capital. Engels' introduction is deliberately "flat", in the same way that Marx's exposition in the early chapter of Capital is. In the Grundrisse, we see the distinction dawning on Marx; and it is not merely a distinction, it is a conflict.
"Living labour itself appears as alien vis-a-vis living labour capacity, whose labour it is, whose own life's expression it is, for it has been surrendered to capital... Labour capacity relates to its labour as an alien... Just as the worker relates to the product of his labour as an alien thing, so does he relate to... his own labour as an expression of his life, which, although it belongs to him, is alien to him and coerced from him... Capital is the existence of social labour".
The distinction between labour-power and labour is not just a logical distinction, but a social process of separation, a question of social power. Marx was to explain further in Theories Of Surplus Value:
"Instead of labour, Ricardo should have discussed labour-power. But had he done so, capital would also have been revealed as the material conditions of labour, confronting the labourer as power that had acquired an independent existence and capital would at once have been revealed as a definite social relationship".
The explanations in the Grundrisse are all the more powerful because here - in contrast to some of his earlier writings, and more sharply than in any other of his later writings - Marx stresses that "the workers themselves... will not permit [wages] to be reduced to the absolute minimum; on the contrary, they achieve a certain quantitative participation in the general growth of wealth".
That they do so is politically important: it is what makes wage-workers within capitalism able to get "a share of civilization which distinguishes [them] from the slave" - such as "participation in the higher, even cultural satisfactions, the agitation for his own interests, newspaper subscriptions, attending lectures, educating his children, developing his taste etc".
The formal equality which the wage-worker achieves in capitalist society is important, too: it "essentially modifies his relation by comparison to that of workers in other social modes of production".
The evil is one not to be remedied by higher wages, or more complete formal equality.
Thus Marx's comment, some years later, on a clause in the German socialists' Gotha Programme which said that the problem with wage-labour was an "iron law" keeping wages too low:
"It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!"
Of course slaves generally did not get enough food. Of course slave revolts were good even if limited to demanding bigger food rations. Of course it is inherent in the system of capitalist wage-labour that wages are squeezed down. Of course it is important that workers struggle to get even a little bit more. But Marx developed his theory so as to encourage workers to rebel against wage-labour as a whole, not just against low wages, just as, in their time, slaves had eventually rebelled against slavery as such, and not just against small food rations.
The same thought is expressed in the Grundrisse:
"The recognition of the products as [labour-power's] own, and the judgement that its separation from the conditions of its realisation is improper - forcibly imposed - is an enormous advance in awareness, itself the product of the mode of production resting on capital, as much the knell to its doom as, with the slave's awareness that he cannot be the property of another, with his consciousness of himself as a person... slavery... ceases to be able to prevail as the basis of production".

Martin Thomas

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Sunday, June 24, 2007


Marx's telescope

Marx's Grundrisse, and the long-term perspective on how capital prepares the working class to develop itself as a revolutionary class
By Martin Thomas

Download pdf of this contribution here

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PowerPoint presentation on the Grundrisse

Click here for a short PowerPoint presentation on the Grundrisse.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007


Workshop discussions on the Grundrisse

Handouts with discussion points, for workshop session on the Grundrisse at Workers' Liberty summer school, London, 30 June/ 1 July 2007. Download as pdf.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


Study schedule

The page references to the McLellan book of excerpts are to the Paladin edition, 1973.

Section 1: pp.83-111.
McLellan excerpt 1, p.26ff.
Key passages.
Notes from our discussion
The method of inquiry and the method of presentation. What do historical materialism, the primacy of the mode of production as a determinant, and dialectics mean? The arts and material development (pp.109-11). (In this connection it may be useful also to look at Marx's short 1873 Afterword to Capital volume 1, and his even shorter Preface to "A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy", the other texts where Marx said he was discussing methodology).

Section 2: pp.883-893.
McLellan excerpt 2, p.58ff.
Key passages
Notes from our discussion
Free-trading and protectionism. Bastiat and Carey.

Section 3: pp.115-134 (also 161-2 and 248-9).
No excerpts included in McLellan.
Key passages
Notes from our discussion
Critique of Proudhonist socialism as represented by Darimon. "The foolishness of those socialists (namely the French, who want to depict socialism as the realisation of the ideals of bourgeois society articulated by the French revolution) who demonstrate that exchange and exchange value etc. are originally (in time) or essentially (in their adequate form) a system of universal freedom and equality, but that they have been perverted by money, capital, etc..."

Section 4: pp.135-172.
McLellan excerpt 3, p.70ff; 4, p.76ff; 5, p.81ff; 6, p.86ff.
Key passages
Notes from our discussion
Critique of those socialists who advocated that workers should be guaranteed the full fruits of their labour by being paid in "labour-money" (money representing so many hours of labour rather than so many dollars), and then being able to buy goods and services representing exactly as many hours. "This demand can be satisfied only under circumstances where it can no longer be raised".

Section 5: pp.172-250.
No excerpts in McLellan.
Key passages
Notes from our discussion
Money as the "god among commodities" and the "real community" of capitalist society. "Wage labour on one side, capital on the other, are therefore only other forms of developed exchange value and of money". Accounting money and hard cash. Circulation and the other functions of money. Crises.

Section 6: pp.250-266.
McLellan excerpt 7, p.89ff.
Key passages.
Notes from our discussion
What is capital? The difference between a trading economy and capitalist production.

Section 7-10: pp.266-458 (also pp.487-8 and 514-5).
Excerpt 8, p.89ff (=pp.278-9)
Excerpt 9, p.93ff (=pp.304-310)
Excerpt 10, p.100ff (=pp.325-326)
Excerpt 11, p.102ff (=pp.331-2)
Excerpt 12, p.104ff (=pp.359-364)
Excerpt 13, p.111ff (=pp.409-410)
Excerpt 14, p.113ff (=pp.415-6)
Excerpt 15, p.115ff (=pp.450-6)
Excerpt 16, p.122ff (=pp.456-8)
Excerpt 18, p.139ff (=pp.487-8)
Key passages.
Notes for our discussion
How capital becomes productive. How the exchange-relation between the capitalist and the worker, formally free and equal, is in fact a relation of exploitation. "Labour is absolute poverty as object, on one side, and is, on the other side, the general possibility of wealth as subject and as activity... Instead of... considering the worker to owe a debt to capital for the fact that he is alive at all, and can repeat certain life processes every day... these whitewashing sycophants of bourgeois economics should rather have fixed their attention on the fact that, after constant repeated labour, [the worker] always has only his living, direct labour itself to exchange..."
"Capital is productive, i.e. an essential relation for the development of the social productive forces... Those who demonstrate that the productive force ascribed to capital is a displacement, a transposition of the productive force of labour, forget precisely that capital itself is essentially this displacement, this transposition, and that wage labour as such presupposes capital... The demand that wage labour be continued but capital suspended is self-contradictory".
The difference, however, between capitalist and pre-capitalist exploitation: "The sphere of [the worker's] consumption is not qualitatively restricted, only quantitatively. This distinguishes him from the slave, serf, etc.... [The] essential civilising moment... on which the historic justification, but also the contemporary power of capital rests..."
The "great civilising influence of capital; its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry"; and simultaneously its limitedness, its propensity to crises.
"Capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real existence".

Section 11-12: pp.458-533 (and pp.769-70, and pp.881-2).
McLellan excerpt 17, p.125ff (=pp.459-471)
Key passages
Notes for our discussion
Extra note: The "civilising influence of capital"
Extra note: productive and unproductive labour
Extra note: more on "why the working class"
Extra note: Geography and historical materialism
The historical emergence of wage-labour from pre-capitalist trading economies. The distinction between capitalist wage-labour and e.g. medieval day-labourer relations.
Capital, circulation, public works, and privatisation. "The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital".

Section 13: pp.534-690.
Key passages
Notes for our discussion
McLellan excerpt 19, p.141ff (=pp.539-542)
Excerpt 20, p.145ff (=pp.610-4)
Excerpt 21, p.150ff (=pp.649-652)

Section 14: pp.690-743 (especially 701-712)
Excerpt 22, p.154ff (=pp.692-704)
Excerpt 23, p.164ff (=pp.704-6)
Excerpt 24, p.167ff (=pp.708-711)
Excerpt 25, p.171ff (=pp.711-2)
Key passages
Extra note: crises
Three questions arising from pages 690-743
Extra note: revolutionising education

Section 15: pp.745-882.
Excerpt 27, p.176ff (=pp.748-750)
Excerpt 26, p.173ff (=pp.831-833)
Notes for our discussion
"Capital as fructiferous". Tendency of rate of profit to fall. Interest and profit. Money and precious metals. Alienation.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007


Extra note by Roger on "the impossibility of state capitalism"

I agree with Martin that attempts to prove state capitalism to be logically impossible have little value. Nevertheless, attempts have been made and in some cases appear to have some backing from Marx.

For example, in a debate with Harman, Mandel brandished a quotation from the Grundrisse, to the effect that capital can only exist as many capitals. The logical point is that a hypothetical single capital would have no other capital to be compared with, and so couldn’t have exchange value. (In the same way there could not be only one commodity in the whole world). Mandel implied that this purely logical point made state capitalism an impossibility.

Yet state capitalism, in the mundane sense of the state acting as a capitalist, is a commonplace in capitalist societies. For example, in Australia, until recently, the Commonwealth Bank was a state bank, operating in much the same way as the other banks, similarly Qantas was a state owned airline, run along commercial lines. We can imagine a society where production is dominated by state capital and so call that society “state capitalist”, without in any way endorsing the idea of a single capital.

Even in the limit of a whole country being a “single trust” there is no logical impossibility. The trust buys means of production and labour power on the world market and sells its products on the world market and makes a profit. Trotsky thought such a single trust could not exist in practice (because it would be overthrown by the workers), but that is a different issue from logical impossibility.

Kautsky (and others) have argued that a “single master” is necessarily extremely onerous for the workers. But a “single master” only arises if the workers are forcibly denied access to the world labour market. In a hypothetical state capitalist East Germany, the workers could freely move to and work in West Germany. Unfortunately in the real East Germany, attempts to move to West Germany could easily be fatal – casting much doubt on the notion that East Germany actually was an example of state capitalism.

Bukharin considered a single trust covering the entire globe. There would now really be a single master and commodity production would not exist. Bukharin concluded: “This would be capitalism no more, for the production of commodities would have disappeared; still less would it be socialism, for the power of one class over the other would have remained (an even grown stronger). Such an economic structure would, most of all, resemble a slaveowning economy where the slave market is absent”.

This is the only case where state capitalism is logically impossible, but the circumstances are so extremely hypothetical, that this one case has no relevance to the issue of whether some countries were or are state capitalist..

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Saturday, February 10, 2007


Extra note: debate on the Stalinist USSR

What light does Marx's discussion of the defining characteristics of capital shed on the debates about the nature of the Stalinist USSR?

Comments on this site:

From notes on pages 743-882

Martin Thomas: "Exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital"

As regards "backward branches of industry" on the margins of modern bourgeois economy, Marx writes:
The most odious exploitation of labour still takes place in them, without the relation of capital and labour here carrying within itself any basis whatever for the development of new forces of production, and the germ of newer historic forms... What takes place is exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital. [p.853].
And earlier, he writes that in the development of English capitalism, wage-labour only became fully "free" at the end of the 18th century.
Absolute surplus value... appears determined by the absolute lengthening of the working day above and beyond necessary labour time. Necessary labour time works for mere use value, for subsistence. Surplus labour time is work for exchange value, for wealth...
At this stage the difference between the production of capital and earlier stages of production is still merely formal. With kidnapping, slavery, the slave trade and forced labour, the increase of these labouring machines, machines producing surplus product, is posited directly by force; with capital, it is mediated through exchange...
This form of surplus labour appears in the slave and serf modes of production etc., where use value is the chief and predominant concern, as well as in the mode of production of capital, which is oriented directly towards exchange value...
In... relative surplus value, which appears as the development of the workers' productive power, as the reduction of necessary labour time relative to the working day, and as the reduction of the necessary labouring population relative to the population (this is the antithetical form), in this form there directly appears the industrial and the distinguishing historic character of the mode of production founded on capital.
The forcible transformation of the greater part of the population into wage labourers, and the discipline which transforms their existence into that of mere labourers, correspond to the first form.... coercive measures employed to transform the mass of the population, after they had become propertyless and free, into free wage labourers... This is repeated in a similar fashion with the introduction of large industry, of factories operating with machines...
Only at a certain stage of the development of capital does the exchange of capital and labour become in fact formally free. One can say that wage labour is completely realized in form in England only at the end of the eighteenth century, with the repeal of the law of apprenticeship. [p.769-770].
In my view, these passages shed some light on Stalinist state capitalism as a system heavily oriented to "absolute surplus value".

Roger Clarke: "Exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital"

This section heading heading shows the problem with describing the Stalinist USSR as "Stalinist state capitalism". Surely this description, even with the qualification "state", implies that the capitalist mode of production not only existed, but was dominant, in the USSR.
Marx makes a distinction between "free labour", i.e. propertyless non-bonded labour, and "wage labour", which is also "formally free" in its exchange with capital. Of course wage labour is ultimately compulsory labour, but the compulsion is not direct, as it was in earlier modes of production.
"Only at a certain stage of the development of capital does the exchange of capital and labour become in fact formally free. One can say that Wage labour is completely realized in form in England only at the end of The eighteenth century, with the repeal of the law of apprenticeship. [p.769-770]."
Thus Tudor England was "a stage in the development of capital", but was not yet capitalism. Nor does it make much sense to describe Tudor England as "still feudal", when the defining relationships of feudalism were already in an advanced state of dissolution. Yet I do not know of any serious attempt to define a "Tudor" mode of production. There are periods in history, which may last for centuries, where the concept of a definite mode of production is not useful. More light is cast on the Tudor period by looking back at the feudal system in dissolution and forward to the capitalist system yet to be developed than by attributing the events of this period to the dynamics of the "Tudor" mode.
I think something like this is the rational core of Ticktin's "no mode of production" view of the USSR. Unfortunately he spiced it up with cute "paradoxical" formulations - "the mode of no mode" etc. My friend in NZ propose instead to explore the idea that, although the Stalinist system was relatively short-lived, there was a distinct "Stalinist" mode that was constructed in the 1929-34 period. Of course the world capitalist system exerted a profound influence on the USSR, but it does not follow that the USSR was just a cork bobbing on the capitalist sea. Did the USSR also have its own inner spring and does it make sense to describe this inner spring as "capitalist"? Despite the use of railways, factory production and other "capitalist" technology, there were huge differences between the relations of production in the USSR in 1934, and anything that Marx would have described as capitalism.

From notes on pages 458-533

Martin Thomas: Capital without wage-workers? Wage-payment without capitalist wage-labour?

It is possible for capitalists to emerge without any large number of wage-workers. For example, merchant capitalists. Another example: "slavery is possible at individual points within the bourgeois system of production" [p.464]; "the plantation owners in America... are capitalists... based on their existence as anomalies within a world market based on free labour" [p.513].
Generalised wage-labour - wage-labour as the main form of deployment of labour - is impossible without capital; and generalised capital is impossible without wage-labour.
But sometimes large numbers of workers can be paid in the wage-form without being capitalist wage-workers. Workers living from a wage, salary, stipend, or fees are not necessarily wage-workers working for capital. For centuries there are many such workers, paid from revenue rather than capital.
"The entire class of so-called services from the bootblack up to the king falls into this category. Likewise the free day-labourer... In Asiatic societies... whole cities arise... from the exchange of [the monarch's] revenue with the 'free hands'... The pay of the common soldier is also reduced to a minimum... but he exchanges the performance of his services not for capital, but for the revenue of the state..." [p.467].
"In bourgeois society itself, all exchange of personal services for revenue - ... cooking, sewing etc., garden work etc., up to and including... civil servants, physicians, lawyers, scholars, etc. - belongs under this rubric, within this category..." [p.468]...

Relevance to debates about Stalinism

What light does this discussion shed on the debates about Stalinism? Your conclusion as to whether the workers in the Stalinist states were wage-workers or not depends, up to a point, on how much you reckon Marx's third condition, "a free exchange-relation - money-circulation - between both sides", must be understood as requiring a fully, or nearly fully, free market, or only as requiring that the relationship be mediated through money, perhaps on a very imperfect market.
In fact labour markets are extremely "imperfect" in almost all capitalist states - for varying reasons, sometimes to do with trade unions - and the basic development of the concept of wage-labour presupposes only the money-relationship, not any particular level of freely-competitive price-setting, nor any particular level of individual legal freedom going with the money-relationship beyond the requirement that the worker not be a slave or a serf legally annexed to another individual.
That the worker is a "slave" to "capital in general" does not contradict wage-labour. "The free worker... sells the particular expenditure of force to a particular capitalist, whom he confronts as an independent individual. It is clear that this is not his relation to the existence of capital as capital, i.e. to the capitalist class". [p.464].
Logically, you could build on Marx and argue that in the USSR the bureaucrats formed a state-capitalist class while exploiting by methods other than wage-labour, because of their "existence as anomalies within a world market based on free labour". (That was approximately Tony Cliff's idea, though his summary was that the whole economy was capitalist despite no wage-labour). The more common view (e.g. of some Regulation School writers) that the Stalinist USSR was a wage-labour society, but not a capitalist one, seems harder to mesh with Marx's argument.

Roger Clarke: Capitalist free labour

“A presupposition of wage labour, and one of the historic preconditions for capital, is free labour and the exchange of this free labour for money, in order to realize money, to consume the use value of labour not for individual consumption, but as use value for money.”
Grundrisse p.471
“When e.g. the great English landowners dismissed their retainers, who had, together with them, consumed the surplus product of the land; when further their tenants chased off the smaller cottagers etc., then, firstly, a mass of living labour powers was thereby thrown onto the labour market, a mass which was free in a double sense, free from the old relations of clientship, bondage and servitude, and secondly free of all belongings and possessions, and of every objective, material form of being, free of all property; dependent on the sale of its labour capacity or on begging, vagabondage and robbery as its only source of income.”
Grundrisse p.507
Here the “freedom” of the labourer appears merely as two negatives – absence of the old relationships and absence of labourers’ property.
Yet in Capital these same ideas are expressed more “positively”
“It [capital] can spring into life, only when the owner of the means of production and subsistence meets in the market with the free labourer selling his labour power. And this one historical condition comprises a world’s history. Capital, therefore, announces from its first appearance a new epoch in the process of social production.
Capital p.170
“The capitalist epoch is therefore characterized by this, that labour-power takes in the eyes of the labourer himself the form of a commodity which is his property; his labour consequently becomes wage-labour. On the other hand, it is only from this moment that the produce of labour universally becomes a commodity.”
Capital p.170 footnote
While “free” labour does not imply political rights such as the right to vote or the right to join a trade union, it does, in Marx’s finished exposition in Capital, mean something more than the mere absence of slavery or serfdom. That something is the effective ownership by the worker of his own labour power.
Thus the existence of a genuine (not necessarily “perfect”) labour market is a defining characteristic of a capitalist system. The “imperfection” introduced by trade unions shows that “perfection” can be a disadvantage to workers. However trade unionism is based on the existence of a genuine labour market and simply tries to obtain a better price for the sellers of labour power.
Direct compulsion can still occur under established capitalism, but only as an anomaly – eg the cotton plantation owners in the US were capitalists who exploited slaves, but they could only be capitalists because production by wage labour was the general rule in the US, i.e. the dominant mode of production in the US at the time was capitalism.
Cliff’s “state-capitalist” theory of full-blown Stalinism (the USSR from 1929-1956) is nonsense. Direct state compulsion in USSR was an anomaly in the world economy, but was the general rule in the USSR in this period. Therefore the dominant mode of production in the world was capitalist, but the dominant mode of production in the USSR was not.

From notes on pages 250-266

Martin Thomas: Marx identifies capitalism indiscriminately with a society where exchange-value dominates, and a society where wage-labour dominates. He bridges the gap by arguing that the domination of one must mean the domination of the other. For example, if exchange-value dominates, then the mass of the population have no direct access to the means of subsistence, but have to buy them for money. Since they do not own the means of subsistence, they can get that money only by selling what they do still own - their own labour-power.
On the very broadest scale this equation may work. But in actual history there is a lot of slippage.
Some societies may be more or less dominated by exchange-value while wage-labour is still secondary. In the countryside, the working population has some access to the land, but uses that more to grow cash-crops than to supply itself directly, and moreover every household depends on bits and pieces of paid labour for others as well as its own work on its own land. Paid labour takes place under a variety of relations, but rarely in straightforward capitalist forms. Some of it is tied into quasi-feudal relations of dependence, for example by "debt servitude". Some of it has more the character of an exchange of services between neighbours on not-very-different economic levels than of capitalist employment.
Conversely, take the Stalinist states. Some Marxists deny that wage-labour existed there at all. Leave that debate aside for a moment, and consider the debate among the large and diverse number who agree that wage-labour (in impure, distorted forms) did exist there. Many of them would still say that, because exchange-value did not dominate sufficiently there, the Stalinist states were not (state-)capitalist.
True, the workers were paid wages and had to buy their means of subsistence in the market, or rather in a variety of markets (official publicly-run markets; officially-licensed free markets; grey and black markets). Even if those markets were very far from a neo-classical economist's ideal, they were still markets. But for producer goods the role of the market was much smaller. There were grey markets operating between different enterprises, but to a large degree the enterprise's acquisition of consumer goods depended on government allocation rather than on straightforward purchasing-power. Therefore (they say) not capitalist. Some even argue that state capitalism, in contradistinction to competitive capitalism, is a contradiction in terms, because if the state dominates capital then exchange-value cannot dominate the distribution of producer goods.

From notes on pages 135-172

Martin Thomas: To work, a time-chit system presupposes a bank which would in fact be a general ruler of production. In which case, if that bank planned everything, what would be the purpose of the chits? The bank would have to be either "a despotic ruler of production and trustee of distribution" or "a board which keeps the books and accounts for a society producing in common" (notice, having in mind debates about the nature of Stalinism, that Marx assumes that these two possibilities are radically different from each other). (p.115-6).

From notes on the Introduction

Martin Thomas: In my view, also, the Introduction has had some bad effects on later "Marxism".
You can read it as saying that production is dominant a priori - that there is a structure called the relations of production which shapes society a priori without any intermediary of human action. You can see the harmful effects of that in the idea that the Stalinist USSR was a workers' state because of the supposed relations of production. (One of the problems with the approach is - actually in line with Marx's argument in the Introduction - it is tricky, or even impossible, to define "relations of production" in abstraction from everything else in society).

Furthe reading: link to past debates

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Notes for our discussion on pages 743-882

In these pages, Marx's notes become much scrappier, and sometimes for many pages on end are little more than strings of copied-out excerpts from previous economists. I saw five main themes worth discussion, some of them returns to ideas previously sketched in earlier pages of the Grundrisse; and a few other interesting remarks.
First, the more bitty interesting remarks, and then the more solid (but also "heavier") themes.

*1. Dr Price and Jesus's shilling

The notion of capital as a self-reproducing being - as a value perenniating and increasing by virtue of an innate quality - has led to the marvellous inventions of Dr Price, which leaves the fantasies of the alchemists far behind, and which Pitt earnestly believed and made into the pillars of his financial sagacity in his sinking fund laws... The following, a few striking excerpts from the man:
'Money bearing compound interest increases at first slowly. But, the rate of increase being continually accelerated, it becomes in some time so rapid, as to mock all the powers of the imagination. One penny, put out at our Saviour's birth to 5% compound interest, would, before this time, have increased to a greater sum than would be obtained in a 150 millions of Earths, all solid gold...
'A state need never, therefore, be under any difficulties; for, with the smallest savings, it may, in as little time as its interest can require, pay off the largest debts.'
His secret: the government should borrow at simple interest, and lend out the borrowed money at compound interest.
No less a figure than John Maynard Keynes offered a similar scenario - based on the idea that capital's appropriation of new wealth is based only on the arithmetic of compound interest, not on the exploitation of labour - with tongue only partly in cheek:
I trace the beginnings of British foreign investment to the treasure which Drake stole from Spain in 1580. In that year he returned to England bringing with him the prodigious spoils of the Golden Hind. Queen Elizabeth was a considerable shareholder in the syndicate which had financed the expedition.
Out of her share she paid off the whole of England’s foreign debt, balanced her Budget, and found herself with about £40,000 in hand. This she invested in the Levant Company --which prospered. Out of the profits of the Levant Company, the East India Company was founded; and the profits of this great enterprise were the foundation of England’s subsequent foreign investment. Now it happens that £40,000 accumulating at 3.5 per cent compound interest approximately corresponds to the actual volume of England’s foreign investments at various dates, and would actually amount to-day to the total of £4,000,000,000 which I have already quoted as being what our foreign investments now are. Thus, every £1 which Drake brought home in 1580 has now become £100,000. Such is the power of compound interest!
[Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, 1930].

*2. Alienation and its overthrow

Social wealth confronts labour in more powerful portions as an alien and dominant power. The emphasis comes to be placed not on the state of being objectified, but on the state of being alienated, dispossessed, sold; on the condition that the monstrous objective power which social labour itself erected opposite itself as one of its moments belongs not to the worker, but to the personified conditions of production, i.e. to capital...
But obviously this process of inversion is a merely historical necessity, a necessity 832 for the development of the forces of production solely from a specific historic point of departure, or basis, but in no way an absolute necessity of production...
With the suspension of the immediate character of living labour, as merely individual, or as general merely internally or merely externally, with the positing of the activity of individuals as immediately general or social activity, the objective moments of production are stripped of this form of alienation...
The worker's propertylessness, and the ownership of living labour by objectified labour, or the appropriation of alien labour by capital - both merely expressions of the same relation from opposite poles - are fundamental conditions of the bourgeois mode of production, in no way accidents irrelevant to it...
Where... wage labour... is the point of departure, there machines can only arise in antithesis to living labour, as property alien to it, and as power hostile to it; i.e. that they must confront it as capital. But it is just as easy to perceive that machines will not cease to be agencies of social production when they become e.g. property of the associated workers.
In the first case, however, their distribution, i.e. that they do not belong to the worker, is... a condition of the mode of production founded on wage labour. In the second case the changed distribution would start from a changed foundation of production, a new foundation first created by the process of history.

*3. Training for labour in general

We discussed before the idea that capitalist development simultaneously drives to "de-skill" every particular job and to require a higher level of general education and training of the whole working class. Marx seems, rather cryptically, to point to this idea in one passage.
Capitalist growth, he writes, requires growth of the population and [its] training for labour (including thereby also a certain amount of free time for non-labouring, not directly labouring population, hence development of mental capacities etc... [p.774].

*4. "Exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital"

As regards "backward branches of industry" on the margins of modern bourgeois economy, Marx writes:
The most odious exploitation of labour still takes place in them, without the relation of capital and labour here carrying within itself any basis whatever for the development of new forces of production, and the germ of newer historic forms... What takes place is exploitation by capital without the mode of production of capital. [p.853].
And earlier, he writes that in the development of English capitalism, wage-labour only became fully "free" at the end of the 18th century.
Absolute surplus value... appears determined by the absolute lengthening of the working day above and beyond necessary labour time. Necessary labour time works for mere use value, for subsistence. Surplus labour time is work for exchange value, for wealth...
At this stage the difference between the production of capital and earlier stages of production is still merely formal. With kidnapping, slavery, the slave trade and forced labour, the increase of these labouring machines, machines producing surplus product, is posited directly by force; with capital, it is mediated through exchange...
This form of surplus labour appears in the slave and serf modes of production etc., where use value is the chief and predominant concern, as well as in the mode of production of capital, which is oriented directly towards exchange value...
In... relative surplus value, which appears as the development of the workers' productive power, as the reduction of necessary labour time relative to the working day, and as the reduction of the necessary labouring population relative to the population (this is the antithetical form), in this form there directly appears the industrial and the distinguishing historic character of the mode of production founded on capital.
The forcible transformation of the greater part of the population into wage labourers, and the discipline which transforms their existence into that of mere labourers, correspond to the first form.... coercive measures employed to transform the mass of the population, after they had become propertyless and free, into free wage labourers... This is repeated in a similar fashion with the introduction of large industry, of factories operating with machines...
Only at a certain stage of the development of capital does the exchange of capital and labour become in fact formally free. One can say that wage labour is completely realized in form in England only at the end of the eighteenth century, with the repeal of the law of apprenticeship.
In my view, these passages shed some light on Stalinist state capitalism as a system heavily oriented to "absolute surplus value".

1. "Capital as fructiferous"

Commodities are products of labour. But they are sold as products of capital. They are sold under conditions governed by the competition of capitals. The active agents of the process, i.e. the capitalists, measure that price in relation to their costs (all their costs), and their gain (excess of sale prices over costs) in relation to the capital employed, i.e. as profit, gain divided by stock of capital, not as surplus value divided by wages.
Capital relates to itself as self-increasing value; i.e. it relates to surplus value as something posited and founded by it; it relates as well-spring of production, to itself as product; it relates as producing value to itself as produced value. It therefore no longer measures the newly produced value by its real measure, the relation of surplus labour to necessary labour, but rather by itself as its presupposition... Surplus value thus measured by the value of the presupposed capital, capital thus posited as self-realizing value—is profit... The product of capital is profit. [p.746].
From this follows (but Marx expands on this nowhere in the Grundrisse) that prices diverge systematically from value (the so-called "transformation problem").

2. The tendency of the rate of profit to fall

This famous "law" was first expounded (first at any length, anyway) in the Grundrisse. It is in the Grundrisse, too, that we find Marx's most extravagant claim for this "law".
This is in every respect the most important law of modern political economy, and the most essential for understanding the most difficult relations. It is the most important law from the historical standpoint. [p.748].
Here, I think, we have to take the term "political economy" in the sense in which Marx subtitled Capital "a critique of political economy". Remember that both Adam Smith and David Ricardo believed (for different reasons) that there was a "law" inexorably pushing down profit rates. Almost a century later, John Maynard Keynes believed the same thing. Marx, rather understandably, seizes on this conclusion of the bourgeois economists as showing, out of the mouths of its own advocates, that capitalist economy was bound to undermine itself. And he thinks he has found a different (sounder) explanation for it.
When Marx came to expound the "law" with a bit more care, in Capital volume 3, he put quite a lot of emphasis on the countervailing factors, and presented it as much more a general tendency, and less an iron law, than Smith or Ricardo did. It remains a fact, I think, that Marx's reasoning on this question was fundamentally wrong.
The main value of the exposition in the Grundrisse is that Marx presents the argument in fresh, straightforward form, without the complications and qualifications which he would add in Capital volume 3, and thus shows the fallacy more clearly.
Marx argues that increasing labour productivity must mean that workers work with a greater mass of machines and raw materials, and therefore the ratio of capital advanced to living labour must rise. Since the surplus value derives from living labour, and the proportion of living labour which can produce surplus value rather than covering wages can only rise in a limited way, the ratio of surplus value to capital advanced, i.e. the gross profit rate, must fall.
The growth of the productive power of labour is identical in meaning with (a) the growth of relative surplus value or of the relative surplus labour time which the worker gives to capital; (b) the decline of the labour time necessary for the reproduction of labour capacity; (c) the decline of the part of capital which exchanges at all for living labour relative to the parts of it which participate in the production process as objectified labour and as presupposed value. The profit rate is therefore inversely related to the growth of relative surplus value or of relative surplus labour, to the development of the powers of production, and to the magnitude of the capital employed as [constant] capital within production. In other words, the... law is the tendency of the profit rate to decline with the development of capital... [p.763].
The fact that in the development of the productive powers of labour the objective conditions of labour, objectified labour, must grow relative to living labour -- this is actually a tautological statement, for what else does growing productive power of labour mean than that less immediate labour is required to create a greater product, and that therefore social wealth expresses itself more and more in the conditions of labour created by labour itself? [p.831].
The capital can grow and the rate of profit can grow in the same relation if the relation of the part of capital presupposed as value and existing in the form of raw materials and fixed capital rises at an equal rate relative to the part of the capital exchanged for living labour. But this equality of rates presupposes growth of the capital without growth and development of the productive power of labour. One presupposition suspends the other. This contradicts the law of the development of capital, and especially of the development of fixed capital. [p.747].
The fallacy: the growth of the mass, or the complexity, of the machinery and the raw materials, does not necessarily mean a growth in their value. If the productive power of labour increases, so also does the productive power of the labour which extracts raw materials or builds machinery.
Marx himself notes that fixed capital is employed only to the extent that its value is smaller than the value it posits [p.766].
Think that through. A capitalist introduces a technical innovation. He will do that only if it raises his profit. If he is the first to introduce that technical innovation, he gets a windfall profit, because he can sell at a price set by his competitors, who produce with higher costs.
Eventually the innovation diffuses. The pioneer capitalist has to cut his selling price. That means that the costs for other capitalists will fall (exception: if the pioneer capitalist produces only luxuries, bought neither as inputs for production nor as wage-goods. In that case, the costs for other capitalists stay the same).
As adjustment proceeds, the pioneer capitalist's profit rate falls from his initial windfall rate - but other capitalists' rate rises. When adjustment is complete, the new general rate is still higher than (or in the exceptional case, no lower than) the old one.
In real life, of course, any number of disturbances could have reduced the profit rate in the meantime. But the profit rate can fall as a pure result of technical innovation only if (somehow) the innovation increases not only real but also money wages.
Or think through the relation between fixed capital and surplus value from another angle. The fixed capital at any point in time is an "objectified" form of the proportion of the surplus value accumulated over a number of previous years, that number being set by the lifespan of fixed capital.
Fixed capital simply cannot spiral into hugeness while surplus value remains limited, for otherwise there would not be sufficient surplus value to supply the required annual increments in fixed capital. There can be a long-term, general tendency for the ratio of fixed capital to surplus value to rise only if there are long-term tendency either for the proportion of surplus-value accumulated (rather than consumed) to rise (there is no such tendency), or for the lifespan of fixed capital to increase (the general trend is rather the opposite).

2.1. Rate and mass of profit

In Capital volume 3 Marx argues that the long-term tendency is for the rate of profit to fall but the mass of profit to rise.
That could be so, of course, without necessarily posing any big problem for capital. There is nothing "natural" about a 15%, or 10%, or 5% rate of profit. Why shouldn't capital gradually, as the decades pass, become accustomed to an always-slightly-decreasing "normal" rate of profit, given that the actual mass of loot increases (and, even more so, the use-values in which that loot is embodied)?
Even if the tendency of the rate of profit to fall were a fact, it does not, contrary to Marx, follow that it would mean that the development of the productive forces brought about by the historical development of capital itself, when it reaches a certain point, suspends the self-realisation of capital.." [p.749].
Bastiat seems to have argued that point. If so, I can't see but that Bastiat was right, on that particular point. Marx denounces Bastiat with great sarcasm, drawing on Ricardo [p.755-6]; but all Ricardo seems to have done is pointed out, arithmetically, that a certain level of decline in the percentage profit rate could produce a reduced mass of profit even if the stock of capital rose (six per cent of 1.1. million is less than seven per cent of one million).
The arithmetic proves nothing at all about real economic trends; if the fall in the rate of profit is supposed to be due to the increase in the stock of capital relative to living labour (as it is in Marx's argument), then an increase from one million to 1.1 million in that stock cannot produce a fall in the rate of profit from 7% to 6%.

2.2. Comment on Ricardo

In passing, however, on these pages, Marx makes two comments on Ricardo which have critical edge against many over-hasty generalisations in the social sciences, including some propounded by Marxists.
Ricardo, so Marx argues, elevates a historical relation holding for a period of 50 years and reversed in the following 50 years to the level of a general law; and constructed general and eternal laws about physiological chemistry at a time where the latter hardly existed... flees from economics to seek refuge in organic chemistry [p.752, 754].
(Ricardo's version of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall was based on a supposed law of increasing costs in agriculture as population increased and agriculture had to spread out to worse and worse land; those increasing costs would drive up wages, because it would cost the workers more to eat, and thus cut into profits. The gainers would be the landlords, drawing increased rents on the better land).

2.3. The growth of the unproductive "middle class"

Marx is commonly held to have predicted the extinction of all middle layers of the population in capitalist society, and a stark polarisation between working class and capitalists. In the Communist Manifesto there is indeed a prediction of that sort.
Marx's settled view was different. In the notebooks published as Theories of Surplus Value he wrote:
What [Ricardo] forgets to emphasise is the constantly growing numbers of the middle classes, those who stand between the workman on the one hand and the capitalist and landlord on the other. The middle classes maintain themselves to an ever increasing extent directly out of revenue, they are a burden weighing heavily on the working base and increase the social security and power of the upper ten thousand. [TSV 2, p573].
Here in the Grundrisse he writes:
A mass of parasitic bodies come to cluster around capital, and, under one or another title, they lay hands on so much of the total production as to leave little danger of the workers being overwhelmed by abundance. [p.757].

3. Interest

In Capital volume 3 Marx argues that interest arises from the phenomenon of "capital as fructiferous": because an industrial capitalist can expect to make x% per year profit from an advance of capital, he can and will borrow the money from a money-capitalist, giving the money-capitalist y% per year interest and keeping (x-y)% as what bourgeois economists call "profit of enterprise". The relative value of x and y is an empirical question determined by the balance of forces between the two groups of capitalists, active industrial capitalists and money-capitalists.
The beginnings of this theory are explained here.
The form of interest is older than that of profit. The level of interest in India for communal agriculturists... indicates.... that profit as well as part of wages itself is appropriated in the form of interest by the usurer... Historically, the form of industrial profit arises only after capital no longer appears alongside the independent worker. Profit thus appears originally determined by interest. But in the bourgeois economy, interest determined by profit, and only one of the latter's parts. Hence profit must be large enough to allow of a part of it branching off as interest. Historically, the inverse. Interest must have become so depressed that a part of the surplus gain could achieve independence as profit. [p.851-2].

4. Money

Marx devotes many pages to excerpts from other economists on money, collecting facts about money systems at various times and commenting critically on bourgeois theories.
Unfortunately the two main propositions of Marx's comments do not hold up today.
First: that money must be based on gold, or some similar actual money-commodity, actual embodiment of actual labour. For some purposes money can be replaced by tokens, but never for all.
Commodities, as values, are objectified labour; the adequate value must therefore itself appear in the form of a specific thing, as a specific form of objectified labour. [p.795].
As mere numerical magnitudes, as amounts of any unit of the same name, [commodities] only become comparable to one another, and only express proportions towards one another, when each individual commodity is measured with the one which serves as unit, as measure. But I can only measure them against one another, only make them commensurable, if they have a unit - the latter is the labour time contained in both. The measuring unit must therefore [be] a certain quantity of a commodity in which a quantity of labour is objectified. [p.793].
In these pages, Marx refers to the "assignats" currency of revolutionary France, not even professing to represent any specified thing [p.807]. But only in passing: he makes no comment on whether this exception demolishes his rule that only precious-metal-based money is possible.
There is room for argument about when that rule became untrue, but it is certainly untrue now. No central bank holds any quantity of gold remotely adequate to support its currency, or guarantees any gold-equivalent for its currency. For some time now, central banks have been systematically selling gold (slowly, so as not to collapse the market); instead, they hold dollars, yen, or euros as their reserves.
The dollar is not a title to a given quantity of gold. It is a title to a quantum of average US labour. The exact size of that quantum varies somewhat, and is even difficult to determine; but then, it was always difficult to determine the exact amount of labour-time embodied in a quantum of gold.
The new things are evidently, on one side, the growth of the world market beyond the scale that the quantities of gold existing in nature could possibly serve as adequate reserves; and, on the other, the greater strength of the capitalist state, and the greater confidence of the capitalists that the state will, within limits, preserve the ratio of the dollar to US labour-time.
This is, of course, unstable. A collapse of the dollar would wreck world trade without even the option of returning to "specie payments" (settling outstanding bills in gold) except on a small scale. But it is how the world is now.
The best explanation of this that I know comes from the French Regulation School economist (and now Green politician) Alain Lipietz, in The Enchanted World and Mirages and miracles.
Marx's second proposition is a radical inversion of the "quantity theory" of money and prices.
Prices regulate the quantity of currency and not the quantity of currency prices, or in other words... trade regulates currency (the quantity of the medium of circulation), and currency does not regulate trade.... [p.814].
This is true only if the money is based on gold or another precious metal. It is not true for pure paper money. (The inverse, the "quantity theory", is not true either, but that is another matter).
Marx does add, rather cryptically, that this law is not equally applicable to the fluctuations of prices in all epochs. His example of it not applying is e.g. in antiquity, e.g. in Rome, where the circulating medium does not itself arise from circulation, from exchange, but from pillage, plunder etc.

5. Value and capital

Right at the end of this section of the Grundrisse, on pages 881-2, is a fragment which is plainly a first draft of the opening pages of Capital volume 1.
The interesting thing here is the final sentences, which present the whole of economic history as a process, first of the break-up of diverse pre-historic communal systems by exchange, then of the apotheosis of exchange (in capitalism), then of the replacement of capitalism by a new communism.
The system of modern private exchange not the spontaneous economy of societies. Exchange begins not between the individuals within a community, but rather at the point where the communities end -- at their boundary, at the point of contact between different communities... India offers us a sample chart of the most diverse forms of such economic communities, more or less dissolved, but still completely recognizable; and a more thorough research into history uncovers it as the point of departure of all cultured peoples.
The system of production founded on private exchange is, to begin with, the historic dissolution of this naturally arisen communism... A whole series of economic systems lies in turn between the modern world, where exchange value dominates production to its whole depth and extent, and the social formations whose foundation is already formed by the dissolution of communal property...
Earlier, Marx once again makes it very plain that when he starts Capital volume 1 by analysing value, he considers value as formed and shaped by fully capitalist society.
Value, which appeared as an abstraction, is possible only as such an abstraction, as soon as money is posited; this circulation of money in turn leads to capital, hence can be fully developed only on the foundation of capital, just as, generally, only on this foundation can circulation seize hold of all moments of production... Categories such as value, which appear as purely abstract, show the historic foundation from which they are abstracted, and on whose basis alone they can appear, therefore, in this abstraction... The concept of value is entirely peculiar to the most modern economy, since it is the most abstract expression of capital itself and of the production resting on it. In the concept of value, its secret betrayed. [p.776].
Marx cannot quite have meant the last-but-one sentence literally, that value is entirely peculiar to modern capitalism (and does not exist at all in any of the various previous societies with extensive exchange?) More in line with the argument, and more plausible, is the proposition that the full development of value occurs only in modern capitalism.
These pages also include a succinct restatement of why price not only is, but has to be, different from value.
Why is labour time, the substance and measure of value, not at the same time the measure of prices, or, in other words, why are price and value different at all? Proudhon's school believe it a great deed to demand that this identity be posited and that the price of commodities be expressed in labour time. The coincidence of price and value presupposes the equality of demand and supply, exchange solely of equivalents (hence not of capital for labour) etc.; in short, formulated economically, it reveals at once that this demand is the negation of the entire foundation of the relations of production based on exchange value. But if we suppose this basis suspended [i.e. capitalism abolished], then on the other side the problem disappears again... [p.794-5].

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Extra note: revolutionising education

In a broad historical overview, capitalism has greatly increased the general level of education. In closer focus, however, today's capitalist societies appear as doing this very patchily and inefficiently.
Why? It is of concern to us. In this field as in others, socialism will have to build on what has been developed by capitalism.
Some common explanations are only partial.
1. Capitalism demoralises, brutalises, and exhausts a large part of the working class, so that successive generations have no confidence in their ability to acquire wide learning, and do not even try. Yes: but a large pool of working-class people with very limited literacy and numeracy is a drag on capital. A moderate increase in the literacy, numeracy, and self-confidence of these workers would be of advantage to capital. Governments plainly strive to achieve that moderate increase - only, with very limited results.
2. Capitalist governments fail to do many things which would be in the long-term interests of capital, because those things cost money, they lack a powerful particular capitalist lobby to promote them, and so they fall victim every time budgets are tight.
3. Capital fears too wide a diffusion of critical thinking. Yes, but it also fears too narrow a diffusion. By the very nature of capital - fluid, dynamic, ever-changing - capitalist thinking is not monolithic. In almost every sphere of thought other than those immediately touching on capitalist privileges, capital positively welcomes critical, imaginative, outside-the-box thinking.
4. Capital cuts down on general education, such as philosophy, in favour of promoting narrower vocationally-oriented education. I'm not sure that this is even true. Even if philosophy courses are cut back, media studies courses proliferate, and most of the media-studies knowledge is as useless to the bourgeoisie as it is to the working class. Universities build up media studies and cut back philosophy not because of some grand capitalist plot, but because media studies is more popular and brings in more "customers".

There are plenty of immediate issues to be campaigned in relation to the above points, particularly the first and second. But there is more to it.

The Bolsheviks, in their educational experiments (which largely failed, because of poverty, in the short time they had before the counter-revolution), based themselves not only on Dewey's learning-by-doing, but on the ideas which Marx develops in Capital (attributing them to Robert Owen) on the integration of education with productive labour. They called it "the unified labour school".
In all human history until relatively recent times (the point is made by Bruno Bettelheim), children acquired their education, their work discipline, and their concept of what work was and education was for, by first observing and then, gradually, more and more, working with their parents and other nearby adults.
This pattern had many oppressive features. It tended to socialise the children of the great majority into thinking that life could have no possibilities other than a narrow circle of endless, back-breaking toil in the fields (plus, if they were female, further back-breaking housework).
Yet the sudden disappearance of the pattern has strange results. Most children, today, never see their parents or adult neighbours working (except in housework). If they visit a parent's workplace to have a look, very often what they see will be incomprehensible: the parent just sits at a computer. If the child asks a parent what he or she does at work, the parent may be hard put to give a comprehensible answer. (In my impressionistic experience, it is quite common to find that children, even teenagers, do not understand at all what their parents do at work).
Education is thus separated off from work, or even from any well-understood image of work. Hence the constant talk about making schooling "relevant", and the ineptness and often destructiveness of the attempts to make it "relevant". (Mathematics in schools, for example, has been reduced to a collection of "problem-solving techniques". The core of the subject, the idea of mathematical proof, has been scrapped. Yet the problems which are used to practise these "techniques" are almost always, and more or less perforce, highly artificial: "Jessica's daughter is one-third Jessica's age. In 11 years' time Jessica will be twice as old as her daughter. How old is Jessica now?")

Children, from the age of 14, still are inducted into work: but in a very special way. Overwhelmingly, as teenagers, they work in a very narrow range of workplaces - fast-food places, car washes, supermarkets, video shops - with very few other workers much older than themselves.
There is almost none of the fruitful-on-both-sides interaction which could happen when teenagers move to and fro between "real" adult workplaces and the classroom.
Increasingly, mainstream workplaces are set up so that even when a teenager comes in on "work experience", there is nothing for the teenager to do except marginal, menial tasks (photocopying, making coffee, etc.)
Where direct manual labour plays an important part, especially if the manual labour has become light and delicate because of mechanisation, child workers are readily valuable to capital. That is how it was in the 19th century textile mills.
In many modern capitalist workplaces, especially in the richer countries, it would require considerable, and expensive, redesign of the work process to make it possible for teenagers to do work, alongside the adults, from which they would learn.
No capitalist wants to bear that expense. No capitalist government wants to try to impose that expense on recalcitrant capitalists. They confine themselves instead to ineffectual "work experience" courses.
Socialism can and should transform the relationship between work and education.

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