Marx’s critique of socialist labor-money schemes and the myth of council communism’s Proudhonism - David Adam

Anton Pannekoek

In this article, David Adam takes aim at Gilles Dauvé's critique of the council communists, which has been influential in the communisation milieu.

Some left theorists have claimed that the council communist tradition actually advocated a self-managed capitalist economy, rather than a truly communist one. This essay aims to expose and dismantle that myth by examining some writings of council communists, particularly those of the Dutch Group of International Communists and Anton Pannekoek, and comparing them with Karl Marx’s own writings on post-capitalist labor-time accounting. Through this process, I hope to show that the myth about council communism is fundamentally based on a misrepresentation of Marx’s stance on these issues. In order to understand the similarities and revolutionary perspectives of Marx’s and the council communists’ analyses, it is necessary to dispel the myths about Marx’s own views, and to emphasize his distinction between measurement of labor under capitalism by “value,” and measurement of socialist “directly social labor” by time. Accordingly, much of the essay will focus on Marx.

It is clear that self-management was a primary concern of the council communists. As Pannekoek put it in 1952, “Workers’ councils does not designate a form of organization whose lines are fixed once and for all, and which requires only the subsequent elaboration of the details. It is concerned with a principle—the principle of the workers’ self-management of enterprises and of production.” 1 Some critics contend that the theory of workers’ self-management advocated by Pannekoek and others, by ignoring the specific content of communist social relations, in fact perpetuates capitalist social relations. The contention that the council communists advocated capitalist forms is tied to the question of labor certificates, or vouchers, an idea that has a long history in the socialist movement.

Gilles Dauvé’s 1969 critique of the council communist tradition in “Leninism and the Ultra-Left” seems to be an important point of reference for a modern tendency that theorizes revolutionary transformation as “communization” and questions the traditional Marxist notion of a revolutionary transitional period. 2 Dauvé rejected the ideas of labor certificates and of labor-time accounting as part of a critique of any notion of a socialist “management of the economy.” 3 The representatives of the council communist tradition, Dauve asserted in a follow-up essay, “Notes on Trotsky, Pannekoek, and Bordiga,” “were wrong to look for a rational accounting system in labor-time.” 4

Dauvé claims that Marx himself rejected labor-time accounting and vouchers at the beginning of the Grundrisse. 5 One significant reason to be skeptical of Dauvé’s claim is the fact that Marx proposed just such a system of labor-time vouchers as part of the first phase of communism in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, written after the Grundrisse. It is true that Marx was extremely critical of the idea of “labour-money,” which he associated with the Ricardian socialists and the Proudhonists. Yet, in 1875, he offers support to the idea of tying consumption to work-hours through “certificates.” Was Marx going back on his previous position? Was he assuming the persistence of the law of value in a communist society? This essay will argue that Marx did neither of these things, and that his remarks in the Critique of the Gotha Programme—and the council communist elaboration of this theme, whatever its flaws—are consistent with his critique of “labour-money.” This demonstration will reveal Dauvé’s use of Marx’s theory to rest on a misunderstanding. While Dauvé’s critique of the council communist attitude toward political parties will be unaffected, his influential critique of “self-management” will be significantly weakened.

Marx’s Gothakritik

First we must briefly review what Marx wrote in his Critique of the Gotha Programme regarding the first phase of communism. There are three more or less distinct periods described by Marx, which are often confused. There is a period of revolutionary transformation, a first phase of communist society, and a higher phase of communist society. Within the context of discussing these societal shifts, “socialism” is never described by Marx as a distinct phase, as he did not differentiate between the concept of socialist society and communist society—the terms were interchangeable for Marx. 6 Nonetheless, Marx divides socialism or communism into two phases. Before any type of communist society comes into existence, Marx writes of a necessary “revolutionary transformation”: “Between capitalist and communist society there is a period of revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There is also correspondingly a period of political transition, in which the state can be nothing else but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” 7 Although described at an earlier point in the Critique, the two phases of communist society chronologically follow this transformation of capitalism into communism. The first phase of communist society ties individual consumption to hours worked, while the higher phase of communist society functions in accord with the principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” 8 Marx describes the first phase of communism as “communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, as it emerges from capitalist society.” In this first phase of communism, the worker “gets from society a receipt that he has contributed such and such an amount of labour (after a deduction of labour for common reserves) and withdraws from society’s stores of the means of consumption an equal amount costed in labour terms.” 9 While Marx discusses this form of society as still marked by its emergence from capitalism, and therefore inadequate in certain respects, it is nonetheless described as communism: a society that has dispensed with the state, value, and the institution of wage-labor.

Right from the first phase of communist society, labor must be socially distributed for the purpose of satisfying human needs. By contrast, the post festum social planning of capitalism requires that the human labor expended on the products of individual capitals be evaluated against the norm of socially necessary labor time, thus returning more or less of society’s labor-time in the form of money than was set in motion by any given capital. In a capitalist society, the “active norm” of socially necessary labor time operates through competition to discipline the capitalist producers. 10 In the first phase of communist society, remuneration is tied to labor performed, but the labor of the individual producer is recognized directly, through the process of production, as a contribution to the material wellbeing of society. The labor expended on products does not, in Marx’s words, “appear any more as the value of these products, one of the material properties that they possess, because now in contrast to capitalist society, the labour of individuals will no longer be a constituent part of the total labour in a roundabout way, but will be a part of it directly.” 11 The mystery of the value-form stems from the fact that capitalism is a “social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite.” 12 The crucial distinction for Marx between capitalist society and communist society is this: workers are no longer dominated by their alienated labor in the form of capital, since they have brought production under their collective control. This destroys the fetishistic, value-form of the product of labor. As Marx put it in Capital: “The religious reflections of the real world can, in any case, vanish only when the practical relations of everyday life between man and man, and man and nature, generally present themselves to him in a transparent and rational form. The veil is not removed from the countenance of the social life-process, i.e. the process of material production, until it becomes production by freely associated men, and stands under their conscious and planned control.” 13 As we shall see, in Dauvé’s critique of labor-time accounting, this is not the fundamental distinction between capitalist and communist forms of society. He instead characterizes a conscious measuring of average labor-times as constitutive of the capitalist value-relation.

The Famous Critique of “Councilism”

Dauvé’s seminal critique of the council communist tradition, laid out in the essay “Leninism and the Ultra-Left,” condemns the council communist theory of workers’ self-management for reproducing capitalist relations of production. In another essay entitled “Notes on Trotsky, Pannekoek, and Bordiga,” the Italian left communist Amadeo Bordiga is viewed as a sort of corrective to the Dutch-German Left’s ideology of self-management. But what exactly needs to be corrected? What is it about self-management that is capitalist? It is not democratic control of production per se, but rather the assumed existence of certain social relations within the self-managed economy envisaged by the council communists. Dauvé writes, “The theory of the management of society through workers’ councils does not take the dynamics of capitalism into account. It retains all the categories and characteristics of capitalism: wage-labour, law of value, exchange. The sort of socialism it proposes is nothing other than capitalism—democratically managed by the workers.” 14 This central claim is simply false.

But what is Dauvé even referring to? While he has a number of footnotes citing Marx’s work, he cites no council communist text that would validate his claims. Here we must review a bit of history. The Dutch council communists had, in the 1930’s, supported the idea of using the average labor time needed to produce goods as an accounting unit for a communist economy. Paul Mattick and the American council communists supported and publicized these ideas. 15 The major work on this subject, written by the Group of International Communists of Holland (GIC) and published in 1930, was called, “Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution.” 16 The GIC was meticulous in assembling Marx and Engels’ comments on the topic of communist society, and their ideas are seemingly an elaboration on Marx’s brief comments in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. In the GIC’s schema, workers would receive certificates for the hours of labor they perform, and these would be redeemable, after certain deductions for general social services, for the amount of goods, which, on average, took the same amount of time to produce. These certificates would not circulate like money, nor would they be used in relations between productive enterprises. Here is a passage from their book that describes this setup:

The sole role of labour certificates is to function as the means to enable individual consumption in all its variety to be regulated according to the measure of labour-time. A part of the total ‘yield’ of any individual unit of labour is, in the course of daily economic life, already consumed through the processes of socialised distribution, ie., reproduction, whilst only a certain proportion of that total can make its way in the form of labour certificates into the hands of individual consumers and be expended in accordance with the production times stamped upon the separate consumption articles. We have already observed that the mass of labour certificates issued becomes continually smaller as the process of socialisation of distribution proceeds, finally to reach a figure of nil. 17

This last sentence essentially refers to the passage to the higher phase of communism. 18 Despite what Dauvé writes, the GIC very clearly opposed what Marx called “wage labor,” and advocated a classless society in which the workers collectively managed production and distribution. In the GIC’s proposal, the needs of society are to be ascertained through shop organizations and consumers’ cooperatives, and there is to be no market. 19

The GIC did not wish for workers to democratically manage independent enterprises, which would exchange with each other, and were critical of Proudhon’s influence on syndicalism in this regard. In their analysis, this sort of opposition to all centralized control would paradoxically lead to what they called “State communism” (as in the Soviet Union) as an economic necessity, since the workers would not have established centralized economic control from below: “It is, of course, also possible that syndicalist tendencies may be present, with such a degree of strength that the attempt of the workers to assume their own administrative control over the industrial establishments is accompanied by attempts to retain the role of money as the medium of exchange. Were this to occur, the result could be nothing other than the establishment of a form of guild socialism, which in its turn could only lead by another road to State communism.” 20 In an article on anarchism and the Spanish revolution, the GIC writes, “The right of self-determination of the workers over the factories and enterprises on the one hand and centralization of management of production on the other, are incompatible so long as the foundations of capitalism, money and commodity production, are not abolished, and a new mode of production, based on the social average labor-time substituted instead.” 21 Furthermore, the GIC directly challenged Marxist thinkers, such as Kautsky, who they considered to advocate the persistence of capitalist economic categories:

The point must be made at the outset that Kautsky speaks quite unreservedly about the ‘prices’ of products as if these still have validity under communism. He is of course entitled to keep faith with his own terminology since, as we have seen, ‘prices’ continue to function in the Kautskyian brand of ‘communism’. In the same way as, for this ‘Marxist’, the category of value is attributed with everlasting life and just as, under his ‘communism’ money also continues to function, in the same way prices also are assured an eternal life. But what kind of communism is it in which the same economic categories continue to have validity as exist under capitalism? 22

The GIC argued that, in what they called a “system of planned use-value production,” in which “the relation of the producers to the social product is directly expressed,” the computation of the labor-time necessary to produce these use-values “has nothing to do with value.” 23 So, in what way were these enemies of the persistence of the economic categories of capitalism advocating the rule of the law of value? Dauve writes, “Pannekoek and his friends [the GIC] were quite right to go back to value and its implications. But they were wrong to look for a rational accounting system in labor-time. What they propose is in fact the rule of value (since value is nothing but the amount of social labor-time necessary to produce a good) without the intervention of money. One may add that this was attacked by Marx in 1857, at the beginning of the Grundrisse.” 24 In a book on the history of the German Communist Left, Dauvé makes a similar claim, criticizing the GIC’s book for preserving “the value relation, the general equivalent,” even while destroying its apparent forms, referring the reader to Marx’s critique of Proudhon. 25

It must be pointed out, however, that value is not simply “the amount of social labor-time necessary to produce a good.” This is merely the magnitude of value, the average amount of time it takes to produce some use-value. 26 In a communal economy, products do not take on the form of value to begin with, so on Marx’s usage, what is being described is no longer a measure of value. Dauvé must say what he does, however, so that any measurement of average labor time can be classed as “value” and therefore capitalist, without specifying how the social relations of a democratically planned economy are value-relations in Marx’s sense.

Dauvé uses “value” as a scare-word, a way of justifying the ascription of “capitalist” to council communist proposals without actually citing any compelling evidence that either 1) the Marxian law of value should be said to operate in a democratically planned economy, or that 2) the council communists advocated democratic planning only at the level of the enterprise. For example, Dauvé writes disapprovingly, “Pannekoek’s Workers’ Councils defines communism as a democratic system of book-keeping and value accounting.” 27 For Dauvé, labor-time accounting as such is constitutive of the law of value.

Pannekoek, of course, never defines communism in the manner described by Dauvé. Here are some relevant passages from Pannekoek:

Labor is a social process. Each enterprise is part of the productive body of society. The total social production is formed by their connection and collaboration. Like the cells that constitute the living organism, they cannot exist isolated and cut off from the body. So the organization of the work inside the shop is only one-half of the task of the workers. Over it, a still more important task, stands the joining of the separate enterprises, their combination into a social organization…. How will the quantities of labor spent and the quantities of product to which [the worker] is entitled be measured? In a society where the goods are produced directly for consumption there is no market to exchange them; and no value, as expression of the labor contained in them establishes itself automatically out of the processes of buying and selling. Here the labor spent must be expressed in a direct way by the number of hours. The administration keeps book [records] of the hours of labor contained in every piece or unit quantity of product, as well as of the hours spent by each of the workers. In the averages over all the workers of a factory, and finally, over all the factories of the same category, the personal differences are smoothed out and the personal results are intercompared…. As a plain and intelligible numerical image the process of production is laid open to everybody’s views. Here mankind views and controls its own life. What the workers and their councils devise and plan in organized collaboration is shown in character and results in the figures of bookkeeping. Only because they are perpetually before the eyes of every worker the direction of social production by the producers themselves is rendered possible. 28

As we will see, Pannekoek’s description of the transparency of the communist process of production is reminiscent of Marx’s description of communism in Capital. Marx decidedly does not identify the “rule of value” with bookkeeping and conscious social control over the production process, but rather with the producers’ subordination to the production process. According to Marx, “the concept ‘value’ presupposes ‘exchanges’ of the products. Where labour is communal, the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as ‘values’ of ‘things’.” 29 It is nonetheless in this sort of society, as described by Pannekoek above, that Dauvé insists workers’ councils would necessarily function like capitalist enterprises. 30

Does Marx’s argument in the Grundrisse support Dauvé’s position, as he suggests? The criticism of the labor-time accounting of the GIC is made on the basis of Marx’s value theory, although there is conveniently no mention made of Marx’s comments in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. If Marx actually rejected this sort of labor-time accounting in the Grundrisse, this would seem to clash with his remarks in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. Was Marx mistakenly advocating a return to capitalism in that text, or did he not identify labor-time accounting with capitalism and the law of value?

The use of the labor-certificates described by Marx would require some form of labor-time accounting to keep track of the amount of time that it takes to produce various goods, both because this is necessary for a planned allocation of resources, and also because the labor certificates are to be denominated in units of labor-time. But why are such certificates advocated by Marx, instead of denounced as a utopian labor-money scheme? In order to better understand how Marx understood these issues, we will look at his various writings on the subject of labor-money schemes, as well as investigate how Marx employed his value theory in this context.

Marx’s Critique of Labor-Money

Marx’s critique of labor-money is predicated on the idea that it cannot do what it is intended to do. He calls it a “pseudo-economic term.” 31 That socialists would propose such an ineffective solution to the problems of capitalism suggested to Marx an inadequate understanding of the role of money in capitalist society. As early as 1844, in his notes on James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy, Marx was developing a distinct theory of money within the framework of his understanding of human alienation. Marx views money as expressive of particular social relations—relations that have escaped genuine human control. He writes that “the mediating movement of man engaged in exchange is not a social, human movement, it is no human relationship: it is the abstract relation of private property to private property, and this abstract relation is the value which acquires a real existence as value only in the form of money.” 32 It is precisely this understanding of the genesis of money that Marx uses against Proudhon, when he exclaims, “Money is not a thing, it is a social relation.” 33 This understanding of money is reaffirmed in the Grundrisse, where Marx writes that in money “individuals have alienated their own social relationship from themselves so that it takes the form of a thing.” 34

It is on this basis that Marx criticized the advocates of labor-money. Since the value-form, and thus money, springs from the social relation of private exchange, simply modifying the token used to effect this exchange cannot do away with the basic inadequacies of the capitalist mode of production. Marx explains that criticism is often directed at money and interest to the exclusion of the social basis of capitalism due to the fact that all of the irrationality of capitalism appears most forcefully in the money market. As Marx wrote in 1851,

Since it is in the money market that the entire crisis erupts and all the features of bourgeois production recur as symptoms, which, it is true, become incidental causes, nothing is simpler to understand than the fact that it is money that narrow-minded reformers who stick to the bourgeois standpoint want to reform. Because they want to retain value and private exchange, they retain the division between the product and its exchangeability. But they want to modify the token of this division in such a way that it expresses identity. 35

Marx’s most extended treatment of these reformers is in the Grundrisse, where Marx criticizes the Proudhonist Darimon and the Ricardian socialist John Gray. Those who proposed labor-money sought to eliminate harmful or unjust aspects of capitalism such as economic crises and unequal exchanges (such as the exchange between capital and labor). They imagined that a bank could identify prices with values through the use of labor-money—tokens representing a certain number of labor hours—and that this could do away with the anarchic fluctuation of supply and demand in a capitalist monetary economy. Marx accused them of utopianism: wanting to establish socialism on the basis of commodity production. The labor theory of value was seen by Proudhon, for example, as a sort of program for justice to be realized. 36 Marx’s view was quite different: “I say … that commodity-production is necessarily, at a certain point, turned into ‘capitalist’ commodity-production, and that according to the law of value governing it, ‘surplus value’ is properly due to the capitalist, and not to the labourer.” 37

A key point in Marx’s critique of the labor-money proposals is that while value expresses the social character of labor under capitalism, it can only do so through a market price that is distinct from value. The “time-chitters” erroneously believe, Marx writes, “that by annulling the nominal difference between real value and market value, between exchange value and price—that is, by expressing value in units of labour-time itself instead of in a given objectification of labour time, say gold and silver—that in so doing they also remove the real difference and contradiction between price and value.” 38 Marx holds that this proposed solution does not strike at the root of the contradiction, namely the lack of social control over production.

Darimon and other advocates of labor-money wished to overturn the privileged role of precious metals in circulation and exchange. Marx characterizes Darimon’s aim in the following manner: “Let the pope remain, but make everybody pope. Abolish money by making every commodity money and by equipping it with the specific attributes of money.” 39 Marx argues that commodities cannot directly represent their universal exchangeability in terms of labor-time, but that the labor expended individually on a commodity must be represented as socially uniform labor through the medium of some universal equivalent, or money. If labor-money was used to abolish the special role of money in the economy, the value commanded by labor-money in exchange would necessarily diverge from its nominal value in terms of labor-time, and it could not effect the social equalization of diverse labors while simultaneously representing an equivalent amount of labor-time for individual commodities. When one commodity is produced more efficiently than another of the same type, it commands the same amount of money on the market; however, if labor-money were to exchange in equal quantities for these commodities, it could not at the same time represent a specific amount of labor-time. The sort of organization of social production adequate to a society of commodity producers relies on the competitive dynamic of price movements.

Also relevant in this connection is Marx’s discussion of the Simple Form of value in Capital, Volume I, where he analyzes the relative and equivalent forms, whereby one commodity (in the relative form) expresses its value through the body of another commodity (in the equivalent form). Marx writes that these forms “exclude each other as polar opposites.” 40 This is significant insofar as the private labor expended on a commodity cannot directly represent social labor independently of the exchange relationship, and here only the commodity in the equivalent form, which expresses the value of the other commodity, represents social labor in its material form. The social relations of value production thus necessarily manifest themselves in the relation between two things, as the attribute of a thing, as an intrinsic property. Money is described as a general equivalent, a commodity through which all other commodities express their value.

In Capital, Marx links his analysis of the form of value to his critique of Proudhon and the Ricardian socialists, once again using his pope metaphor: “It is by no means self-evident that the form of direct and universal exchangeability is an antagonistic form, as inseparable from its opposite, the form of non-direct exchangeability, as the positivity of one pole of a magnet is from the negativity of the other pole. This has allowed the illusion to arise that all commodities can simultaneously be imprinted with the stamp of direct exchangeability, in the same way that it might be imagined that all Catholics can be popes.” 41 Not only do the Catholics rely on their pope, but also the pope would not have his position if there were no Catholics. In the same way, the products of mutually indifferent producers cannot be socially distributed without money, and money would not exist if goods were not produced as commodities.

The dual character of the commodity, discussed at the start of Capital, is foundational for Marx’s treatment of money. The commodity is both a use-value and a value because it is produced for exchange, rather than simply as an object of consumption for the producers. For the owner, the commodity represents a claim on a portion of the social product. Its social form as a value is evident in the way we act and the way we speak of commodities and their worth in a developed capitalist society. Only with the expansion of the market and the various branches of industry can the vast majority of goods be produced as commodities. This development of industry and the division of labor develops the social character of the commodity, the necessity for its evaluation against all of the other goods on the market. According to Marx, the commodity as use-value enters into contradiction with its character as an exchangeable value, in which capacity it is related to the whole world of commodities in various proportions. As a use-value, the commodity is not divisible at will into the various proportions in which it might be exchangeable with the diverse commodities necessary for consumption and the maintenance of industry. The necessity of money is the necessity for an independent representation of value as such. Every commodity can thus be expressed as a component part of the total social product without production being determined by the needs of the consumers.

The claim on a portion of the social product represented by the commodity may or may not be realized on the market. Even if nothing but socially necessary labor time is expended on a commodity, it can still turn out that superfluous labor was expended if demand for a particular commodity is insufficient. The seller of the commodity supplies a use-value and demands its exchange-value, but the demand for the commodity is not determined by the value the seller wishes to realize in exchange. The buyer may not desire the quantity of use-value supplied at the offered price. Insofar as supply and demand determine price fluctuations, prices for individual commodities—the monetary value the capitalist hopes to realize in exchange—will naturally diverge from commodity values, determined by socially necessary labor time.

In the section of the Grundrisse dealing with John Gray, Marx develops the contradictions inherent in his ideas about labor-money. Starting out from the assumption of commodity production, and assuming that a central bank issues labor-money, Marx argues that the only way the vicissitudes of the market could be eliminated is if the bank became the “general buyer and seller, but also the general producer.” If private producers actually receive labor-money in proportion to the labor time spent producing their goods, the regulative role of supply and demand would be annulled, leading to economic collapse; whereas, if the bank itself makes determinations of value, it comes to act as the real organizer of production. In other words, the bank would have to impose a despotic plan on an unplanned economy. Gray’s goals can only be achieved in opposition to his premises. Marx also considers the social function of this despotic bank from the point of view of the common ownership of the means of production: “In fact either it would be a despotic ruler of production and trustee of distribution, or it would indeed be nothing more than a board which keeps the books and accounts for a society producing in common.” 42 Naturally, Marx favors the latter alternative.

Marx claims that Gray assumes an economic foundation of private production instead of common, society-wide control, but wishes to do away with the economic consequences of private production. The labor-money system of equal exchange on the basis of commodity production, carried to its logical conclusion of doing away with the evils of the monetary system, necessitates leaving commodity production behind, just as commodity production necessitates the divergence of price from value and other things Gray dislikes. Marx’s discussion of Gray’s system in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy sheds light on the passages from the Grundrisse. Marx writes, “On the one hand, society in the shape of the bank makes the individuals independent of the conditions of private exchange, and, on the other hand, it causes them to continue to produce on the basis of private exchange. Although Gray merely wants ‘to reform’ the money evolved by commodity exchange, he is compelled by the intrinsic logic of the subject-matter to repudiate one condition of bourgeois production after another.” 43

It is this desire to try to solve the problems of capitalism by reforming the money system that Marx singles out as the essence of the labor-money schemes. In the Grundrisse, when Marx is criticizing Darimon, he summarizes the issue in this way: “The general question would be this: Can the existing relations of production and the relations of distribution which correspond to them be revolutionized by a change in the instrument of circulation, in the organization of circulation?” 44 The proponents of the labor-money schemes focused attention on the medium of exchange without understanding the underlying relations of production. As John Gray wrote, “A defective system of exchange is not one amongst many other evils of nearly equal importance: it is the evil—the disease—the stumbling block of the whole society.” 45 Marx believed that the evils of bourgeois society which the advocates of labor-money aimed to cure, such as the rising and falling of prices, are “not to be remedied by ‘transforming’ the banks or by founding a rational ‘money system.’” 46 For Marx, it is utopian to “wish to retain commodities but not money, production based on private exchange without the essential conditions for this type of production . . ..” 47

Marx expressed these ideas in his critique of Gray in the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

Commodities are the direct products of isolated independent individual kinds of labour, and through their alienation in the course of individual exchange they must prove that they are general social labor, in other words, on the basis of commodity production, labour becomes social labour only as a result of the universal alienation of individual kinds of labour. But as Gray presupposes that the labour-time contained in commodities is immediately social labour-time, he presupposes that it is communal labour-time or labour-time of directly associated individuals. In that case, it would indeed be impossible for a specific commodity, such as gold or silver, to confront other commodities as the incarnation of universal labour and exchange-value would not be turned into price; but neither would use-value be turned into exchange-value and the product into a commodity, and thus the very basis of bourgeois production would be abolished. But this is by no means what Gray had—goods are to be produced as commodities but not exchanged as commodities . . .. But it was left to M. Proudhon and his school to declare seriously that the degradation of money and the exaltation of commodities was the essence of socialism and thereby to reduce socialism to an elementary misunderstanding of the inevitable correlation existing between commodities and money. 48

Money is simply a development of the relation between commodity and commodity, hence the “inevitable correlation existing between commodities and money.” Marx believed that Ricardo and classical political economy inadequately understood this connection.

Marx’s discussion of the value-form in Capital, Volume I, referred to above, is a detailed analysis of the connection between commodity and money, an analysis “never even attempted by bourgeois economics.” 49 His thesis is that “the money-form of the commodity is only the further developed shape of the simple value-form, i.e. of the expression of value of a commodity in any other commodity . . ..” 50 That these products of labor are commodities in the first place rests on the premise that they are “products of separate private labours carried on independently of one another.” 51 The social control and accounting undertaken by the associated producers in a communist society abolishes the value-relation, and for this reason abolishes money. Only by ignoring the specificity of Marx’s critique of the labour-money schemes and assuming that it is aimed at any system involving labor-time accounting can Dauvé maintain that it is directly applicable to the ideas of the council communists. As we will see, Marx’s scattered remarks on communist society strongly support this assessment.

Marx on Communism

As we have seen, for Marx, money is not simply a unit of measure, but presupposes private commodity owners confronting each other on the market. Its social function is the mediation of the private labors of commodity producers. Given the premise of directly social labor—and this is the basis for Marx’s first phase of communism—this social function of money is no longer necessary. The labor certificates have a different function, that of facilitating a conscious allocation of goods. Marx makes this distinction in a pertinent digression (in a footnote) on the socialist Robert Owen in Volume I of Capital:

. . . Owen’s ‘labour money,’ for instance, is no more ‘money’ than a theatre ticket is. Owen presupposes directly socialized labour, a form of production diametrically opposed to the production of commodities. The certificate of labour is merely evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour, and of his claim to a certain portion of the common product which has been set aside for consumption. But Owen never made the mistake of presupposing the production of commodities, while, at the same time, by juggling with money, trying to circumvent the necessary conditions of that form of production. 52

We have already seen what Marx had in mind when he refers to “juggling with money.”

In the above passage we see that Marx makes a clear distinction between the idea of a labor certificate functioning within the context of “directly socialized labor,” and the labor-money of his theoretical adversaries. It is on the basis of this distinction that we can confidently say that Marx was not advocating the rule of value in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, nor was he departing from his critique of utopian socialism. Further support for this position is provided by Marx’s discussion in Capital of a self-sufficient, isolated producer: Robinson Crusoe. Marx writes that Robinson Crusoe, “soon begins, like a good Englishman, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a catalogue of the various objects he possesses, of the various operations necessary for their production, and finally, of the labour-time that specific quantities of these products have on average cost him. All the relations between Robinson and these objects that form his self-created wealth are here so simple and transparent that even Mr Sedley Taylor could understand them.” 53 Significant here is the notion of a simplicity and transparency lacking in capitalist relations, where the law of value functions behind the backs of the producers. As Marx put it in Capital, Volume III, the law of value operates as “a blind natural force vis-à-vis the individual agents [of capital].” 54 This is precisely why the law of value would not be operative in the “system of planned use-value production” advocated by the council communists.

What Marx then goes on to do in Capital, Volume I, is imagine production in a communist society as a sort of contrast to capitalism, utilizing the example of Robinson Crusoe. This discussion in particular parallels Marx’s remarks about the first phase of communism in The Critique of the Gotha Programme. Marx writes,

Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labour-power in full self-awareness as one single social labour force. All the characteristics of Robinson’s are repeated here, but with the difference that they are social instead of individual. All Robinson’s products were exclusively the result of his own personal labour and they were therefore directly objects of utility for him personally. The total product of our imagined association is a social product. One part of this product serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another part is consumed by the members of the association as means of subsistence. This part must therefore be divided amongst them. The way this division is made will vary with the particular kind of social organization of production and the corresponding level of social development attained by the producers. We shall assume, but only for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour-time. Labour-time would in that case play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the correct proportion between the different functions of labour and the various needs of the associations. On the other hand, labour-time also serves as a measure of the part taken by each individual in the common labour, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, both towards their labour and the products of their labour, are here transparent in their simplicity, in production as well as in distribution. 55

Here Marx draws a parallel between the transparency of Robinson’s relations with his products and the transparency of the social relations of communism. Marx in no way identifies the idea of labor certificates and labor-time accounting being used in a communist society with the law of value. 56

Far from identifying labor-time accounting with the law of value, Marx argued in the Grundrisse that such “economy of time” increases in importance with the passage to communal production:

On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economization of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to achieve knowledge in proper proportions or in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity. Thus, economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree. However, this is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values (labour or products) by labour time. 57

Marx did not see this “economy of time” as identical with the law of value, because the law of value most definitely does not represent any conscious measuring. This is the fundamental error in Dauvé’s characterization of the GIC as advocating the rule of value.

Conclusion

We have seen why Marx critiqued the labor-money schemes from his own writings, as well as the importance that he placed on labor-time accounting in a communist society. The critique of the communist “management of the economy” is bankrupt, insofar as it relies on Marx’s theory (and Dauvé offers no practical argumentation other than this). This critique pushes people away from seriously considering the question of the economic viability of a socialist society by encouraging glib dismissals of “self-management” as embodying some sort of capitalist program. Furthermore, opposition to self-management obscures the fact that a new relation of the worker to work is in fact essential to socialism. If the critique of self-management was based on any evidence that the council communists advocated independent enterprises that exchanged with each other on the market, there would be some substance to it. As it is, Dauvé’s use of the words “wage labour,” “law of value,” and “capitalism,” is nothing more than an unfortunate rhetorical flourish.

Taken from: http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/marx%E2%80%99s-critique-of-socialist-labor-money-schemes-and-the-myth-of-council-communism%E2%80%99s-proudhonism.html

  • 1. Serge Bricianer, Pannekoek and the Workers’ Councils (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1978) p. 289.
  • 2. See “Bring Out Your Dead,” Endnotes 1. [Available online: http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/8]
  • 3. Jean Barrot and Francois Martin, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement (Detroit: Black & Red, 1974) p. 105.
  • 4. Ibid., p. 123.
  • 5. Ibid., pp. 123-124
  • 6. Paresh Chattopadhyay, “The Economic Content of Socialism: Marx vs. Lenin,” in Review of Radical Political Economics, vol. 24, nos. 3&4, p. 91.
  • 7. Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” in Later Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010) p. 222.
  • 8. Ibid., p. 215.
  • 9. Ibid., p. 213.
  • 10. Ted McGlone and Andrew Kliman, “The Duality of Labour,” in The New Value Controversy and the Foundations of Economics (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004) p. 145.
  • 11. Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme,” p. 213. In the Grundrisse, Marx writes that under communal production there “would not be an exchange of exchange values but [rather an exchange] of activities,” and that “the exchange of products would in no way be the medium by which the participation of the individual in general production is mediated.” Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1993) p. 171. I will leave Engels out of the following discussion, but it is worth taking note of Engels’ description of directly social labor in the context of labor-time accounting: “From the moment when society enters into possession of the means of production and uses them in direct association for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its specifically useful character may be, is immediately and directly social labour. The quantity of social labour contained in a product has then no need to be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. Society can simply calculate how many hours of labour are contained in a steam-engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a certain quality. It could therefore never occur to it still to express the quantity of labour put into the products, which it will then know directly and in its absolute amount in a third product, and moreover in a measure which is only relative, fluctuating, inadequate, though formerly unavoidable for lack of a better, and not in its natural, adequate and absolute measure, time…. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of the famous ‘value.’” Frederick Engels, Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (New York: International Publishers, 1939) p. 345-6.
  • 12. Karl Marx, Capital: Volume I (London: Penguin, 1990) p. 175.
  • 13. Ibid., p. 173.
  • 14. Barrot and Martin, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, p. 104.
  • 15. See “What is Communism,” International Council Correspondence 1, no. 1 (1934), and “Communist Production and Distribution,” Living Marxism 4, no. 4 (1938).
  • 16. http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/index.htm. “Although not formally published until 1930, the Grundprinzipien evolved out of a document Jan Appel had written while imprisoned in Germany during 1923-1925. Through a systematic study of Marx’s writings, Appel sought to investigate the main problems in creating a new socialist society. Appel’s principal concern was with providing a theoretical framework for resolving what he felt were the two key questions arising out of the experiences of the Russian and German revolutions: 1) What economic conditions are necessary for the abolition of exploitation? 2) What are the political and economic conditions that will allow the proletariat to maintain power once it has been won? Following Appel’s arrival in Holland, the manuscript was revised by Canne Meijer and presented to the group for several years of discussion and revision.” John Gerber, Anton Pannekoek and the Socialism of Workers’ Self-Emancipation, 1873-1960 (Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989) p. 166.
  • 17. http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/09.htm. The GIC writes of the calculation of labor-time: “Marx assumes this system of social book-keeping to be in general applicable to a production process in which labour is social; that is to say, it is equally applicable whether communism is still at an early stage of its development, or whether the principle ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’ (the higher stage of communism) has already been achieved. In other words: the organisation of economic life may in the course of the various periods of development move through various stages, but the stable basis for all of them nevertheless remains the unit of average social labour-time.” http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/01.htm#h4
  • 18. One rather strange critique of the GIC is provided by Philippe Bourrinet, who reproaches them for believing that “it would be immediately possible, as soon as the workers’ councils had taken power in a given country, to proceed to an evolved form of communism.” Phillipe Bourrinet, The Dutch and German Communist Left (London: Porcupine Press, 2001) p. 252.
  • 19. The GIC writes that “Communist industrial life,” as they envision it, “knows nothing of the circulation of money and has no market.” http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/13.htm
  • 20. http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/epilogue.htm#h3
  • 21. “Anarchism and the Spanish Revolution,” International Council Correspondence 3, no. 5&6 (1937), 22.
  • 22. http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/04.htm#h3
  • 23. http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/01.htm#h4
  • 24. Barrot and Martin, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, pp. 123-124.
  • 25. Denis Authier and Jean Barrot, La Gauche Communiste en Allemagne, 1918-1921 (Paris: Payot, 1976) p. 227. [See English translation online: http://www.marxists.org/subject/germany-1918-23/dauve-authier/appendix1.htm#h7]
  • 26. “That the quantity of labour embodied in a commodity is the quantity socially necessary for its production—the labour-time being thus necessary labour-time—is a definition which concerns only the magnitude of value. But the labour which constitutes the substance of value is not only uniform, simple, average labour; it is the labour of a private individual represented in a definite product.” Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Book III (Amherst: Prometheus, 2000) p. 135.
  • 27. Barrot and Martin, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, p. 116.
  • 28. Anton Pannekoek, Workers’ Councils (Oakland: AK Press, 2003) pp. 23-27. [Available online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/pannekoe/1947/workers-councils.htm#h7]
  • 29. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Book III, p. 129.
  • 30. Barrot and Martin, Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, p. 104.
  • 31. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (New York: International Publishers, 1970), p. 86.
  • 32. Karl Marx, Early Writings (New York: Vintage, 1975), p. 261.
  • 33. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1992) p. 59.
  • 34. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 160.
  • 35. Karl Marx, “Reflections,” in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 10 (New York: International Publishers, 1978) p. 588.
  • 36. “How many nails is a pair of shoes worth? If we can solve this appalling problem, we shall have the key to [the] social system which humanity has sought for six thousand years.” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007) p. 106.
  • 37. Karl Marx, “‘Notes’ on Adolph Wagner,” in Later Political Writings, p. 255.
  • 38. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 138.
  • 39. Ibid., p. 126.
  • 40. Marx, Capital: Volume I, p. 140.
  • 41. Ibid., p. 161.
  • 42. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 155-6.
  • 43. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 85.
  • 44. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 122.
  • 45. Quoted in Alfredo Saad-Filho, “Labor, Money, and ‘Labour-Money’: A Review of Marx's Critique of John Gray's Monetary Analysis,” in History of Political Economy, vol. 25, no. 1, p. 67.
  • 46. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 134.
  • 47. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, p. 70.
  • 48. Ibid., pp. 85-6.
  • 49. Marx, Capital: Volume I, p. 139.
  • 50. Karl Marx, “The Value-Form,” in Capital & Class, no. 4, p. 141.
  • 51. Ibid., 140.
  • 52. Marx, Capital: Volume I, p. 188-9.
  • 53. Ibid., p. 170.
  • 54. Marx, Capital: Volume III (London: Penguin, 1991) p. 1020.
  • 55. Marx, Capital: Volume I, p. 171-2.
  • 56. In Volume II of Capital, Marx again supports the compatibility of communist production and the use of labor certificates, writing, “With collective production, money capital is completely dispensed with. The society distributes labour-power and means of production between the various branches of industry. There is no reason why the producers should not receive paper tokens permitting them to withdraw an amount corresponding to their labour time from the social consumption stocks. But these tokens are not money; they do not circulate.” Karl Marx, Capital: Volume II (London: Penguin, 1992) p. 434.
  • 57. Marx, Grundrisse, pp. 172-3.
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David Adam- Marx’s critique of socialist labor-money schemes and the myth of council communism’s Proudhonism.pdf567.88 KB

Comments

Ogion
Jan 23 2013 06:30

This article of yours is excellent, dave c -- I've always thought what was written by Dauvé and others on this topic was inadequate and this definitely fills the gap. Thanks for posting it!

Steven.
Jan 23 2013 09:20

Looks really interesting. Just to let you know that footnotes with formatted text in only display properly if you choose the "full HTML" input type which I have now set it to. Thanks for posting

jura
Jan 23 2013 17:31

Dave, if I wanted to tease you, I'd say this is value-form analysis at its best smile. Seriously though, great article. I'd love to translate it (along with your previous piece on the State) when I have time.

On value, what made it go "click" inside my head a few years ago was the realization that in the fetish-section, Marx is contrasting various modes of production where on the one hand both the substance and the measure of value are present (labor/social labor, labor time), but on the other hand the division of labor based on private producers is absent, and hence labor time does not take the form of value and products do not take the form of commodities. Thus, no fetishism, because it is the form of value that is the foundation of the fetish:

Marx wrote:
The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labour time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development. And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.

Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself.

I think the second passage in bold is crucial. All economy, including a communist economy, is economy of time. Labor time playing some part in the economy is a necessity. Whether it appears in the specific form of a property of things is contingent upon the division of labor.

Maybe Dauvé's misguided criticism is some sort of an "anti-positivist" prejudice towards measurement in general ("You can't quantify human creative activity" because a unicorn dies whenever you do that etc.).

ocelot
Jan 23 2013 17:59

A valiant effort, albeit fundamentally wrong.

What is correct, however, is that the Gothakritik and the "lower stage" remains the crucial battle line between not just the paleo- (GIK) and neo- (Dauvé, "Communization-ists") ultras, but more generally between the orthodox Marxist tradition (whether Kautskyist, Leninist, or ultraleft) and the heterodox, communist Marxists - of which the libertarian communists were of course the first.

I'm not going to attempt a fully worked-out response to the above as a forum post - it requires more work and an piece of similar length (plus references, etc). But I can give a sketch of the outline.

Basically there are two critiques, an exterior and an interior one. They are actually linked, but that can only be demonstrated after dealing with each in turn in a full treatment.

The exterior one is the ecological one I have outlined elsewhere in other threads - i.e. that any attempt to manage the economy based purely on an economy of labour-time is guaranteed to continue the same destruction as capitalism of the non-renewable resources it takes no account of, and the environment in general. Again the full demonstration would take more space, but for those people who have already seen me outline it more fully elsewhere it should be relatively straight-forward.

The interior critique then boils down to: is there a contradiction between the analysis of the value form as laid out in Capital, and Marx's (brief) argumentation why labour certificates are not labour money, wages or containing all the contradictions of the law of value? If not, then there's little point trying to continue development of the analysis of the value form along the lines of Ch 1, if we accept that the external critique is a deal-breaker. So the internal critique goes to the heart of the validity of Marxist value theory.

Personally I hold that there is a reading* of the value form critique that allows us to deconstruct the "lower phase" and lay bare its contradictions, and that these are in fact essentially the same contradictions, as the development of the USSR, etc, has demonstrated historically.

The internal critique then is do-able in my opinion, but it relies on certain presuppositions - the first and most obvious being that Marx was human rather than a prophet with access to an unchanging infallible revelation, i.e. that the totality of his writings, taken from 1844 to his death, necessarily contain developments, changes and inconsistencies. In other words, from any sufficiently consistent reading, inconsistencies that contradict that reading must occasionally be accepted as "mistakes". A heretical position for the "true believers", no doubt, but then the delirious self-contradiction of the "true believer's" implicit assumption of Marxian infallibility is simply absurd.

Back to the sketch of the internal critique. First of all, the particular line that Pannekoek quote and the author takes, strikes me as peculiarly Feuerbachian - i.e. that the law of value is a result of alienation and fetishisation that hides the "true nature" of the system, and that it is this "veiled nature" of the law of value that is its primary fault. Such that once socially necessary labour time is calculated out in the open, the veil of mystification will be penetrated and we will all be freed by that very transparency. Frankly I find this idealistic and just somewhat odd as a reading of Marx's critique of the value form (real abstraction, anyone?).

But the main problem with the Gothakritik formula is its over-simplistic and crude separation between form and content. Marx admits that the relation of distribution of the "lower phase" is the same form as that of bourgeois society, but counters this with an assertion that the content is entirely changed, because, due to collective ownership of the m.o.p. and planning, production is, by those facts alone, already directly social. This is wrong. In fact distribution according to deed not need, by means of labour scrip, is in contradiction both to social planning and to directly social labour. What matters here is the contradiction between social production and private appropriation, When the producer receives her labour scrip and goes to claim the SNLT equivalent (clue's in the word folks) of commensurated goods, so long as she is free to choose which goods she wants, then the completion of the production and consumption cycle remains post-festum and unplanned. It is not for nothing that those two libertarian communist students of Marx, Cafiero and Covelli, went on to declare, in the 1876 Florence declaration that "the common ownership of the results of production is the necessary complement to that of the means of production"**. You can no more be half "directly social" than you can be half pregnant - the separation of production and consumption here has led to the error that the distinction between "private labour" and "directly social labour" can be made in the sphere of production considered separately from the sphere of circulation and consumption.

... and there's lots more... but I said I wouldn't get drawn into starting to write the whole article-length response here, so I'll draw a line under this here, in the hopes that the outline of the critique are at least visible.

----
* Since the death of the author (in the historical, rather than pomo sense) prevents us finding out what "Marx really meant", I take it as an axiom that the only interest in Marx's work is the use we can make it via particular readings.

** wording from memory

jura
Jan 23 2013 20:04

I disagree with both of your points (more precisely, I think the first one is unrelated to the article, which is a refutation of Dauvé, not a blueprint), but I'd first like to read dave c's take on them, if he even reads this and decides to respond.

So just this:

ocelot wrote:
then the completion of the production and consumption cycle remains post-festum and unplanned

What makes you think that? That would be the case if the workplaces just produced things randomly and then adjusted to consumption, but neither dave c nor, to my knowledge, the council communists advocated that.

BTW, if you want a perfect 1:1 ratio between production and consumption (i.e., no adjustments ex post), I think mass terror is about the only way to achieve that.

shawnpwilbur
Jan 24 2013 02:32

What exactly do you mean by "proudhonism" in the title. I can't find any evidence that Proudhon was an enthusiast for "labor notes," nor are they key to any of the major mutualist theorists I've encountered, unless you include Josiah Warren in the category. Darimon seems to have struck out on his own by the time he is making "time is money" a key economic principle. That sort of thing doesn't seem to appear in either of Proudhon's bank proposals.

Ogion
Jan 24 2013 03:44
ocelot wrote:
First of all, the particular line that Pannekoek quote and the author takes, strikes me as peculiarly Feuerbachian - i.e. that the law of value is a result of alienation and fetishisation that hides the "true nature" of the system, and that it is this "veiled nature" of the law of value that is its primary fault. Such that once socially necessary labour time is calculated out in the open, the veil of mystification will be penetrated and we will all be freed by that very transparency. Frankly I find this idealistic and just somewhat odd as a reading of Marx's critique of the value form (real abstraction, anyone?).

So I think you're referring to this:

Pannekoek wrote:
Only because they are perpetually before the eyes of every worker the direction of social production by the producers themselves is rendered possible.

I can see how you arrived at that interpretation, but I don’t think it’s correct. Here’s sort of how I read it: the abolition of the capitalist mode of production presupposes that the fetishism (to which the everyday, spontaneous consciousness of worker and capitalist alike succumbs) that attaches itself to the products of labor as commodities would be abolished. The fetish reproduces ideally or in consciousness capitalist social relations which are produced by the agency of people, but once these relations are no longer being reproduced by people, then the fetish, too, is no longer reproduced. If the forms of appearance which conceal the actual relations and which are essential to capitalist commodity production exist, then you cannot have direct, social, consciously controlled production. In a communist society, then, the fetish would not be reproduced, as different social relations would be organized that would lead to different ideas of those relations (ones that no longer succumb to fetishism).

So, I think Pannekoek is simply pointing out that the ideal reproduction in a communist society would possess a very strong material force itself (like in a capitalist society or all societies) and that without “transparency" (i.e. if the fetish and therefore capitalism is still being reproduced), people would not be able to regulate and organize their own social reproduction. It’s not that the “law of value is the result of” fetishism or that the transparency results in its abolition, which is something I think Pannekoek and dave c would strongly disagree with as well.

ocelot
Jan 24 2013 15:17
jura wrote:
I disagree with both of your points (more precisely, I think the first one is unrelated to the article, which is a refutation of Dauvé, not a blueprint),

It's not just a refutation of Dauvé, it's a defence of the GIK's "Fundamental Principles..." specifically and the advocacy of (*deep breath*) the lower-stage transitional period based on distribution mediated by labour contributed assessed by SNLT equivalence (*phew*), in general. And not just at the theoretical level of whether the latter project contains within it the dynamics of the 'law of value', but whether it is a practical project for a post-capitalist society, Hence the external critique (that is, external to value form analysis) is relevant. If the GIK's project for a post-capitalist society is not going to solve one of the fundamental contradictions of capital (environmental destruction - understood as a product of the alienated relation between labour and the means of production, in the broadest sense), then that is a relevant critique to the author's attempt to defend it as a viable project/strategy for a post-capitalist society.

jura wrote:
So just this:
ocelot wrote:
then the completion of the production and consumption cycle remains post-festum and unplanned

What makes you think that? That would be the case if the workplaces just produced things randomly and then adjusted to consumption, but neither dave c nor, to my knowledge, the council communists advocated that.

They may not have explicitly advocated it, but the fact they are carrying over an existing part of the relations of production (and Marx explicitly stated that the relations of distribution are part of the relations of production, n.b.) means they are assuming that it can be separated from its existing functional implications - in my opinion this assumption is wrong. So no matter how much they assert that their labour certs system is a “system of planned use-value production”, it doesn't make it necessarily so.

To say that the remuneration in proportion to labour supplied (aka "the wage" in simple terms, albeit I accept that this term is specifically rejected by "lower-stagers") does not have the post-festum allocative function that it has in generalised commodity production, is to beg the question of what it's there for in the first place.

The problem, immanent to the Gothakritik itself, is that the motivation for the labour certs system is in contradiction with its justification. Its justification is that it has no allocative function, because the economy as a whole is socially planned. Yet its motivation is the incentivisation of production by unequal shares of private consumption. Given that, the number of labour certs our hypothetical worker ends up with at the end of the period, regardless of the plan at the outset, is often contingently higher or lower than forseen at the planning stage (possibly lower due to unplanned interruptions to work due to illness, family crises, externally-caused stoppages, or higher due to overtime worked to make up for undersupply in other quarters, etc). Given that, she then has to rearrange her demand schedule (i.e. what actual goods she takes from the general store) accordingly. That's the marginal case. But even the general case - i.e. when actual labour certs matches anticipated ones, the question turns on whether she is free to "spend" her wages as she chooses at the moment of purchase, or has to hand them over for the basket of goods that was determined at the planning stage. In the latter case, why bother with the charade of the certs in the first place, what function do they then have?*

Other than the "moral" category of incentivising the provision of labour by the consuming individual (which in fact transforms her labour power into a commodity, to be used in the competition with other workers for the greatest share of the social product, or as the article states: "For the owner, the commodity [i.e. labour power] represents a claim on a portion of the social product."), the most commonly cited motive for labour certs, is the efficient continued development of the forces of production. In summary this implies the continued existence of the law of value whose principle effect (amongst others) is the expulsion of labour from the process of production, or the drive to increase labour productivity (or the TCC...).

jura wrote:
BTW, if you want a perfect 1:1 ratio between production and consumption (i.e., no adjustments ex post), I think mass terror is about the only way to achieve that.

Ah yes, the old "all you libertarian communists are secretly wannbe dicators/Pol Pot" gambit. Not exactly original... roll eyes

I'm not arguing for an entirely pre-planned economy (I leave that to the pareconnies, and possibly Cockshott?), I'm arguing for egalitarian distribution not linked to labour-time supplied. Given egalitarian distribution, it is perfectly easy to allocate production resources to needs anticipated by statistical means, rather than individual foresight demand (no-one plans to break their leg in the next week, nonetheless we can statistically estimate how many people are going to need crutches next week, based on past figures). Distribution on a first come, first-served, round-robin, or other egalitari method. The problem of anticipation and interative feeback responses to post-hoc consumption choices is not insoluable. But then I'm not arguing for planning as a magical device that transforms the totality of economic relations...

edit: * and this by the way, is the reason Marx's footnote on Owen's "theatre tickets" is a false analogy. (Quite apart from the fact that historically Owen's National Equitable Labour Exchange was an implementation of the very labour money schemes of Warren and Gray Marx criticises in the Grundrisse, as quoted in the article.)

Spikymike
Jan 24 2013 15:33

David Adam's text makes a sound argument that:

1. Marx's proposal for labour-time accounting and certificates was in no way any advocacy of extending the value form into the lower phase of communism
2. That the fuller proposals put forward by the GIC, Pannekoek and other Council Communists were consistent with Marx's similar proposals.
3. That Marx's and the Council communists proposals were in opposition to those of Proudhonist's and various other anarchist mutualists
4. That the various 'money reformers' of today (as in much of the USA/UK 'Occupy' movement) as of yesterday are seriously misplaced.

But...

None of that necessarily demonstrates either the practicallity or adequacy of such proposals as a transition to full communism either in the past and more especially today.
Some of what might be seen as their inadequacy as alluded to by ocelot have been the subject of alternative theoretical schemes put forward by such as the Pareconists and the advocates of 'Inclusive Democracy' but both are put forward in opposition to the communist project which should make us wonder a bit about their usefulness.
Such theoretical models seem also to neglect the way in which capitalist mode of production and social relations become embedded in the actual material, and indeed physical world' we inhabit such that a system of essentially economic regulation based on labout-time and self-management of the 'economy' would be inadequate to the task of dismantelling.
Beyond all that there is a more fundamental question about the nature of such a 'stages theory' of revolutionary change in which various 'communisation' theorists such as Dauve are perhaps on sounder ground?

jura
Jan 24 2013 16:07

Ocelot, I think you are reading way too much into the text. If it is a defense of anything, then a defense against Dauvé's arguments concerning the "law of value" and such, which I think are pretty persuasively shown to be incorrect. This does not preclude other possible criticisms of the GIK. In any case, in my view a more interesting analysis of council communism than the one put forward by Dauvé is Baldi's Theses on the Mass Worker and Social Capital.

ocelot wrote:
In summary this implies the continued existence of the law of value whose principle effect (amongst others) is the expulsion of labour from the process of production, or the drive to increase labour productivity (or the TCC...).

hand You are making a pretty big leap here from the consequent to the antecedent. You could just as well say, "This implies the continued existence of the law of value, whose principle effect (amongst others) is that people produce use-values." By the way, how are we going to reduce necessary labor without the "expulsion of labor from the process of production"?

ocelot wrote:
I'm not arguing for an entirely pre-planned economy (I leave that to the pareconnies, and possibly Cockshott?), I'm arguing for egalitarian distribution not linked to labour-time supplied.

I.e., the whole "post festum" argument was a straw man because your statistics-based planning will necessarily entail adjustments based on actual consumption. Hence, "post festum" is in no way evidence of the operation of the law of value.

Anyway, there's obviously a deeper disagreement here. I think the obligation to work for those who are able to work will be necessary to some point, and although certificates may not be the best way to handle it, it will be necessary to handle it somehow. I suspect you would disagree with necessity itself.

MT
Jan 24 2013 16:39
shawnpwilbur wrote:
What exactly do you mean by "proudhonism" in the title. I can't find any evidence that Proudhon was an enthusiast for "labor notes," nor are they key to any of the major mutualist theorists I've encountered, unless you include Josiah Warren in the category. Darimon seems to have struck out on his own by the time he is making "time is money" a key economic principle. That sort of thing doesn't seem to appear in either of Proudhon's bank proposals.

i have no direct link, but i read this as a rejection of collectivism including proudhon's and bakunin's economic ideas (at least as far as the labor notes are concerned)
http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/kropotkin-peter/1920/wage.htm

ocelot
Jan 24 2013 17:06
jura wrote:
Ocelot, I think you are reading way too much into the text. If it is a defense of anything, then a defense against Dauvé's arguments concerning the "law of value" and such, which I think are pretty persuasively shown to be incorrect.

No time to reply to the rest of your post right now, but on this point, the opening of the piece states:

Quote:
Some left theorists have claimed that the council communist tradition actually advocated a self-managed capitalist economy, rather than a truly communist one. This essay aims to expose and dismantle that myth

Which I read as a defence of the "lower stage" as a "truly communist" economy.

jura
Jan 24 2013 17:07

...against the arguments of "some left theorists" based on the idea that the council-communists viewed the lower stage as regulated by value etc.

shawnpwilbur
Jan 24 2013 18:02
MT wrote:
i have no direct link, but i read this as a rejection of collectivism including proudhon's and bakunin's economic ideas (at least as far as the labor notes are concerned)
http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/kropotkin-peter/1920/wage.htm

Thanks. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any more evidence in Proudhon's writings for Kropotkin's critique than for Marx's, where "labor notes" are concerned.

Darimon was one of those figures that the more orthodox "proudhonists" considered something of a renegade. It's still unclear to me what the "proudhonism" attributed to the council communists was supposed to consist of.

ocelot
Jan 25 2013 09:50
jura wrote:
ocelot wrote:
In summary this implies the continued existence of the law of value whose principle effect (amongst others) is the expulsion of labour from the process of production, or the drive to increase labour productivity (or the TCC...).

hand You are making a pretty big leap here from the consequent to the antecedent. You could just as well say, "This implies the continued existence of the law of value, whose principle effect (amongst others) is that people produce use-values." By the way, how are we going to reduce necessary labor without the "expulsion of labor from the process of production"?

The prefix "In summary..." is a signal that what follows is not an argument but the synopsis of the conclusions - the argumentation for which is left, in the interim, to those readers who are already on the same wavelength, or to the properly elaborated response which I signalled at the outset that this article is worth, but am not going to attempt here, in forum post snippets.

In answer to your final question, with the severance of the link between accredited labour supplied and distribution, there is no longer any need to "expell" (the relation of force and crucial conflict of interest between individual and society is signalled in that word) labour from the production process - people will voluntarily reduce the amount of time they spend on a given production order if they have nothing (i.e. income) to lose by doing so, and everything to gain (time free for other pursuits, including productive ones) by doing so. That's the real development of the productive forces for you - transcending the contradiction between incentive and disincentive to productivity contained within the wage, that necessitates class struggle (who expells who) to advance productivity.

jura wrote:
ocelot wrote:
I'm not arguing for an entirely pre-planned economy (I leave that to the pareconnies, and possibly Cockshott?), I'm arguing for egalitarian distribution not linked to labour-time supplied.

I.e., the whole "post festum" argument was a straw man because your statistics-based planning will necessarily entail adjustments based on actual consumption. Hence, "post festum" is in no way evidence of the operation of the law of value.

You have it upside down. The point is that saying the bourgeois-form relations of the lower stage are transformed by dint of production now being "directly social". Or as it is put in the above text

Quote:
Given the premise of directly social labor—and this is the basis for Marx’s first phase of communism

Which is a classic case of presupposing the desired consequent - "directly social production" - as a premiss - a logically fallacy that Marx, quite rightly, castigates myriad political economists for. The point being that one of the two props put forward for justifying the premiss is the "planning versus post-festum planning" trope. I am simply knocking away the prop and pointing to (amongst other serious problems) the circularity of the argument for the "lower phase" being communist.

jura wrote:
Anyway, there's obviously a deeper disagreement here. I think the obligation to work for those who are able to work will be necessary to some point, and although certificates may not be the best way to handle it, it will be necessary to handle it somehow. I suspect you would disagree with necessity itself.

Your suspicions do you disservice, considering that they show you've missed the most obvious point about the external critique - i.e. that it is all about necessity. I think you may be confusing my critique for an ethical one, but based on what grounds, I have no idea.

jura
Jan 25 2013 18:17

I'm sorry, by leaving out the definite article I probably came across as questioning your views towards "necessity" in general. What I meant was specifically the necessity of the "obligation to work for those who are able to work" in the early phases of communism.

alb
Jan 26 2013 15:54

David Adam's article is very disappointing. It brings nothing new to the debate (which has in fact been going on much longer than 1969). By reproducing a series of quotes from Marx, he seems to be implying that, because Marx said it it can't be wrong or at least that the productive forces are still at the (much lower) stage of development that they were in Marx's day (given that Marx was arguing, in 1875, that the productive forces were not then sufficienty developed to go over for some years to the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs").

Writing from the US he must know that the Socialist Labor Party of America (founded 1876) has always advocated "labour-time vouchers". Interestingly, they inherited this from the German Social Democrat immigrants into the US in the 19th century who played a prominent role in its foundation and who brought this idea with them. In fact it was probably because he knew that this idea was popular amongst members of the newly united German Social Democratic party that Marx discussed this particular voucher scheme (as opposed to alternative ways of dealing with shortages of some products in the early days of socialism/communism: there is no necessity to link consumption vouchers to hours worked).

What he might not be aware of is the criticism that over the years, way back before 1969, the SPGB and its companion party in the US, the World Socialist Party, made of this proposal, despite its mention by Marx.

This article sums up the SPGB position while this extract from a 1969 pamphlet by dissident SLPers brings in the question of "value".

At the same time as Dauve was accusing the Council Communists of advocating a "self-managed market system" that was tantamount to "self-managed exploitation", the SPGB was making the same criticism of the old Solidarity group for the same thing, in the same terms, as in this article from February 1969:

Quote:
The most crucial error in Cardan's analysis is his belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be guided by "workers' management" towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and' imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Cardan that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. (...) Workers collectively administering their own exploitation is not a state of affairs which Socialists aim for.
Android
Jan 26 2013 17:19
alb wrote:
Writing from the US he must know that the Socialist Labor Party of America (founded 1876) has always advocated "labour-time vouchers"

I don't know if dave c knows that. But I don't see why there is any reason why being from the USA means someone must know that the SLP held that view.

Not everyone takes the specialist like interest in it that SPGB do. The focus on it is probably to do with the fact that SPGB write polemics/propaganda material on vouchers vs free access as it relates to the SPGB's unique selling point (socialism as a stateless, classless, moneyless society) and strategy (a propaganda campaign for socialism!)

Derail over. I hope the discussion picks up again because I thought it had some potential, and was enjoying the discussion. Liked the article too.

Paul Cockshott
Jan 26 2013 22:04

I think that article was a really clear exposition of the difference between the critique of Proudhon and Marx's own ideas on labour time accounting.

Amiri Barksdale
Jan 26 2013 22:59

If this is a fair summary:

1. Council communism (GIK) is not self-managed capitalism.
2. Social labor time accounting is not value accounting.
3. Communizers and Dauve reject labor accounting, and reject the transitional period.
4. Dauve says Marx rejected labor time accounting.
5. But Marx proposed labor time accounting in the Gothakritik.
6. Labor time accounting and certificates is not labor money.
7. And it is not Marx saying that the law of value continues in communism.

The argument is against Dauve holding that any measurement of average labor time means the value relation is still in effect. David says it is not.

In the first phase of communism, labor certificates do not circulate, are not money, and no commodities are being produced.

A labor certificate is "a receipt that he has contributed such and such an amount of labour," and the worker "withdraws an equal amount costed in labour terms."

"Costed in labor terms" requires measuring socially necessary labor time per product or service, and comparing X concrete labor to make the product to Y concrete labor to make the product. This comparison must also be made across products somehow, probably just by political decisions about what's more important. Some labor time is therefore still worth more than others. This is still reckoning goods according to value, though not in capitalist social relations. The measure of value has had its clothing in exchange value, its money price, removed, and now it is just a number, but this is still value we're talking about, even if it is directly controlled by the dictatorship of the proletariat.

And this value is still the "third," still the aqua regia, still that which allows comparing any good to any other good, but in this case, that third has no "independent" representation. It is in the hands of the associated producers in whatever councils or soviets, etc.

The goods are not commodities, but the good still has two sides, and is not directly and only use value. A universal "worth" is still in effect, though it is administered by the councils. The good remains something other than itself. The second side of the good no longer confronts society only in circulation, putting its best exchange-value forward; it confronts society as an administrative problem, presenting its value directly to the associated producers. This is still in the realm of necessity, life and death for segments of the earth's population, still split from one another by uneven levels of development.

It is true that this administration of production via labor certificates is no longer the mediation of man engaged in exchange---but it is still the mediation of man engaged in a previously impoverishing and alienated production process of which the species has just taken control. That process has left most of humanity without sufficient means of subsistence, so we are not starting at zero. We're starting negative, with vastly different labors and enormous "spreads" in the values of concrete labor times.

Is this "the law of value" remaining? No. Only because the soviets directly manage the production process---but still according to value considerations.

At this point value has been stripped naked, chained to the floor, and grabbed by the throat. To kill it, the dictatorship of the proletariat has to produce abundance, and quick. It's not over until we don't need to fiddle with labor time for means of subsistence.

Amiri

alb
Jan 27 2013 10:28
Android wrote:
(socialism as a stateless, classless, moneyless society)

Well, isn't it? I thought that this was the starting point of everyone here and that the whole point of David Adam's article was to refute the charge that what the Council Communists advocated (in the 1930s) was not a "moneyless society" because labour-time vouchers would not be "money".

I don't know why you dismiss discussions with the SLP of America as irrelevant or uninteresting. After all, they were perhaps the largest griup advocating labour-time vouchers, not just in the English-speaking world but in the whole world.

Anyway, here is an extract from a letter published in July 1986 in the Discussion Bulletin that was brought out by an ex-member of the SLP in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which deals with the practical problems of the system. It is easy enough to argue on theoretical grounds that labour-time vouchers would not be money and that the goods (priced in labour-time) would not be commodities, but what would tend to happen in practice?

Quote:
It is easy enough to work out how many labour vouchers should be issued to each producer: you simply record how long they have worked (and then scale this down, as above, to take account of the production of producer goods and social services).

But this is only one side of the equation. The labour-time "price" of the consumer goods and services in the stores must also be calculated and here a very real problem arises: will this "price" (from here on I'm dropping the inverted commas since it will soon emerge that we are talking about a real price system even if one expressed in labour-money rather than existing money), will this price then, be calculated according to the actual amount of time taken to produce a good (in which case the same good produced in different factories would, because of differences in productivity, have a different price depending on where it was produced) or on an average? Clearly, the second solution has to be adopted but, in this case, what average is to be used since a number are possible?

The average of the actual amount of labour time used in the various factories producing a particular good would be the simplest solution as it would preserve the equation "total labour vouchers = total face value of goods available", but this would not correspond, as Frank Girard seems to suggest, to the situation under capitalism, where a different average is used —that of what labour time is "socially necessary" to produce a good. This is an average that can only be established by the market after the goods have been thrown on to it and it has been established whether or not they corresponded to a market demand for them. In practice this average is biased in favour of the more productive factories acting as a pressure on other factories to improve their productivity. If it could be calculated under the labour voucher system (which it couldn't be, unless it were proposed to allow the prices of goods, even though nominally expressed in units of labour-time, to fluctuate in accordance with labour-voucher demand for them; which-presumably advocates of the system would rule out —or would they? I'd be interested in hearing their views on this) then the total face value of the goods would become less than the total number of vouchers issued. So, another reduction, as compared with the actual number of hours worked, would need to be operated, but at whose expense? That of all workers or just of those in the less productive factories? Plenty of arguments in prospect here for those such as Don Fitz and Richard Laubach concerned about "freeloaders" to take part in!

Another problem in connexion with productivity is that, as this would tend to improve over time, labour-time prices would tend to fall so that vouchers issued in one year would be worth less in terms of labour-time purchasing power than vouchers issued in previous years. If nothing was done to counteract this, then an imbalance would develop between goods and vouchers. One technical solution would be to require the vouchers to be used within a given period on penalty of becoming worthless but this introduces yet another complication taking us away from the original simple idea of allocating consumer goods strictly according to time worked.

In fact, the whole system involving, as it would have to, recording working hours, calculating average labour-time costs so as to fix prices, printing and cancelling vouchers, etc would require an enormous waste of resources in paperwork and bureaucracy comparable to that involved in the present money system.

A further objection to the labour voucher system is the problem mentioned by Richard Laubach of people accumulating vouchers and using them to pay others to work for them. Other likely abuses spring to mind: people lending vouchers to others for interest, people hoarding vouchers to take advantage of falling prices, people forging and stealing them and even organising raids on issuing offices to obtain them. How are these abuses to be eliminated if not by the construction of some law-enforcement system (re-enter the State!)?

Or perhaps they are not abuses at all, but the natural outcome of a system of "paying" people vouchers with which to "buy" the things they need and so practices which would be bound to develop and which would in the end become unsuppressible. This would be my view and would be why I would say Frank Girard is wrong when he claims that the labour voucher system would merely be an "accounting device" to calculate a person's entitlement to consumer goods. I'm afraid it would be much more than this and would in fact amount to a system where people would be effectively selling their labour power for vouchers which they would use to buy the consumer goods they needed to create their labour power to sell for vouchers to buy the goods and so on, just as today. The labour voucher system would be tantamount to retaining the wage; system (....)

jura
Jan 27 2013 12:25
alb wrote:
or at least that the productive forces are still at the (much lower) stage of development that they were in Marx's day (given that Marx was arguing, in 1875, that the productive forces were not then sufficienty developed to go over for some years to the principle "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs").

This is not a particularly persuasive argument, since the extent of needs has grown tremendously since Marx's time. One would expect that the post-revolutionary period will be able to impose a Western standard of living worldwide (within ecological limits and probably with some scaling down in Europe, in terms of cars etc.). I don't think that could happen immediately and without a determined effort to develop productive forces (infrastructure, for starters).

alb
Jan 27 2013 13:58

Ok, supposing that it is the case that it wouldn't be possible to go over to the full application of the principle of "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" straightaway, it would not follow that a labour-time voucher economy would be the best or a workable or viable solution.

A labour-time voucher is in effect an all-purpose consumption voucher that can be used to acquire any good that has been made available for consumption. But consumption vouchers don't have be based on hours worked. Nor do they have to be all-purpose. Why not just issue vouchers for particular amounts of the particular goods that might be in short supply (which would avoid the need to attach a labour-time price tage to them)?

Why in fact link consumption vouchers to amount of hours worked? Why not link them to needs, as would have to be the case anyway even in a full labour-time voucher economy for the young, the retired, the sick and those unable to work (or do a full day's work or to work regularly)? Or even distribute them equally to everyone?

I wouldn't have thought it would be necessary to build a full labour-time voucher economy to deal with any initial shortages, especially as a wide range of goods and services would be able to be made freely available from the start.

jura
Jan 27 2013 14:15

I agree these are all valid questions and valid attempts at answers. I disagree when you view them as criticisms of the text above, which does not contain any argument about why vouchers are necessary; it only defends the views of those who thought they were necessary from unfair criticisms. You know, Dauvé's critique would have been much more impressive had he demonstrated that for one reason or another vouchers were completely unnecessary and topped that with a description of the communist economy similar in length to the one by GIK. Instead, he just slapped a big fat label saying "LAW OF VALUE!!!" on GIK, hence bringing David Adam's wrath upon himself. (BTW, somehow Dauvé's critique of GIK reminds me of Paul Mattick Sr.'s views of the Soviet economy; both use "law of value" in a confused way.)

Anyway, another problem which I imagine a post-revolutionary society would have to deal with is people who've never really worked, i.e. people able to work but used to living off the labor of others, some of whom will presumably be hostile to the new society. This includes people who formally earn a wage today, like politicians or priests, for example. I say universal obligation to work for those who are able to work seems as a reasonable solution, and the link between consumption and labor-time a reasonable measure to enforce it.

S. Artesian
Jan 27 2013 16:26
Quote:
At this point value has been stripped naked, chained to the floor, and grabbed by the throat. To kill it, the dictatorship of the proletariat has to produce abundance, and quick. It's not over until we don't need to fiddle with labor time for means of subsistence.

Amiri

Word. To do that, of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat has to be doing away with itself as a dictatorship, and a proletariat.

alb
Jan 27 2013 21:55
jura wrote:
Anyway, another problem which I imagine a post-revolutionary society would have to deal with is people who've never really worked, i.e. people able to work but used to living off the labor of others, some of whom will presumably be hostile to the new society. This includes people who formally earn a wage today, like politicians or priests, for example. I say universal obligation to work for those who are able to work seems as a reasonable solution, and the link between consumption and labor-time a reasonable measure to enforce it.

I suspect that many of those who want to retain this link, such as the GIK in the 1930s and Parecon today, want to put economic pressure on a lot more people to work than those you mention, in fact on every able-bodied person. And more, they build into their blueprints mechanisms to pressurise people to work as hard as possible so as to increase productivity.

Which of course is one of the objections Dauvé and others raised against them.They are in effect blueprints for a self-managed "economy", i.e. the self-management of the same scarcity that bourgeois economists posit.(limited resources in relation to greater wants)..

jura
Jan 27 2013 23:49

Alb, sure, but that's the obvious criticism that I guess everyone shares. Of course as communists we ultimately want "according to their needs". But putting forward this criticism is a bit like saying "No empirical knowledge is absolute" and using that to counter all empirical arguments. Strictly speaking, it always works, but it's also pretty much useless. The real question is, how do we get to "according to their needs"? And I think there are reasons that would prevent us from going there directly. (Also, we shouldn't forget that the GIK counted with a large sector not regulated by labor-time from the start – health care, education etc. – and with a gradual shrinking of the other sector.)

jura
Jan 28 2013 00:17
alb wrote:
I suspect that many of those who want to retain this link, such as the GIK in the 1930s and Parecon today, want to put economic pressure on a lot more people to work than those you mention, in fact on every able-bodied person.

Well, obviously, if a mechanism linking labor to consumption was put in practice, it would have to apply to everyone. I don't see how anything else (i.e., "special treatment" for politicians and clergy) could be justified in a society that is supposed to be more humane than capitalism.

alb
Jan 28 2013 08:55

I agree that it is reasonable that every able-bodied person should be expected to contribute to producing what society needs (after all, that's what "from each according to their abilities" means). The objection is to putting individuals under the same sort of economic pressure that most are under capitalism, ie if you don't work you don't eat and the less hard you work the less you will eat (and if the place where you work doesn't balance its books, it will be closed down). Surely, in the course and immediately after the socialist revolution those who have carried it out will be motivated to work and make it work by quite other considerations? In fact I would even say that needing to force people to work would only arise in the case of a revolution carried out by a minority of revolutionaries.

I'm a bit surprised that others here haven't made this objection to the GIK and Parecon blueprints as I would have thought that this was the standard "libertarian communist" objection.

Spikymike
Jan 28 2013 12:34

Just to add that I wondered a bit about jura's reference earlier to ''imposing a western standard of living worldwide'' which despite a few qualifications seemed to neglect the hopefully very different self-determined needs, of a self-managed revolutionary process, emmerging in opposition to the socially conditioned 'needs' of people in capitalist society. Add to that a question about the need to rapidly introduce a system of production geared to 'abundance', which I do not deny, but an abundance of what and by whom under what conditions? Beyond certain basics required for survival, ( which of course many do not have at present and which must be a priority to produce), much of our other needs (and not just the physical) are socially determined and also variable according to biological, climate and cultural differences amongst others. There is also the human need to be socially active (to 'work' but only if we understand by that something other than compulsory labour).