books: Ben Reynolds: The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century; Dauvé

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ZJW
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Jan 18 2019 11:30
books: Ben Reynolds: The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century; Dauvé

I have not read this, but:

Ben Reynolds: The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century.

Reading about the book at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Coming-Revolution-Capitalism-21st-Century/dp/17... , and seeing

this enthusiastic reaction to it --

Quote:
An amazing book which carefully and extensively sets out its thesis, from an explanation of value to the current climate catastrophe. It asks the three important questions: can we continue with this capitalist economic system? (No) what is the alternative? and how do we get there?

Where other books just prophesize doom and gloom, The Coming Revolution gives us a guide for how we may start to take control, turn things around and together create another world.

-- made me think of something along the lines of one or more of these authors/conceptions: Rifkin, Mason, Zeitgeist, Fresco, Cleaver. (An SPGB review of the new Cleaver book by the way is [url=https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2019/no-137... ]here[/url].

Here some discussion on the Reynolds' book, including an intervention by the author himself:

A discussant there understood Reynolds' book to mean 'Given all the gee-whiz technology of small-scale automated production (like “3-D printers” for plastic goods) — perhaps people will choose a deliberate reformation of social relations.' [A bit like in Doktorow's porno-communist novel 'Walkaway'?]

But Reynolds says no:

'I [...] do not argue that people will simply choose to abandon capitalism and the wage labor system in favor of distributed production on a communist basis. I instead argue that the communistic tendencies inherent in new forms of production are trapped within the fetters of the old system, much as capitalism’s full flowering required a transformation of the entire society. This is why the recommendation in my book is not for people to buy 3D printers, but to organize for social revolution.'

Unrelated to that, here is the table of contents to (the finally published) Gilles Dauvé: ‘From Crisis to Communisation’:

https://aaaaarg.fail/thing/5b4746ee9ff37c1cad622bd7

ZJW
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Jan 18 2019 11:33

Sorry for that mess. The url for the Cleaver review is this: https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2019/no-137...

ZJW
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Jan 18 2019 11:40

And this is the table of contents for the Reynolds' book:
https://aaaaarg.fail/thing/5b7162c59ff37c1e58622be5

alb
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Feb 2 2019 16:04

Just finished reading his book. Reynolds is an anarchist with a good grasp of Marxian economics and makes the case that technological developments within capitalism are paving the way for

Quote:
"A state of society in which wage labour and the production of value have been abolished. Each person contributes what they can according to their abilities and each person receives goods according to their needs."

He calls this society "communism" and says further of it:

Quote:
"a communist society would not compel its members to work for a wage. It would provide goods to its people for free, allowing them to fulfil their needs without having to worry about artificially produced scarcity. Production would be carried on entirely through voluntary work and would be defined by a cooperative spirit."

Good stuff. The trouble is that, despite aiming to show that because of technological developments (3-D printers and automation where those who lose their jobs won't be able to find employment in some other or new section of the economy as with past automation) production based on labour-value will collapse in the course of this century, he doesn't see such a society as being the immediate aim
.
Instead, disappointingly, he sees what he calls "socialism" as the immediate aim as a transition to a communist society. Defined as "a socio-economic system where the means of production are owned by, controlled by and operated for the benefit of the working class", it turns out to be production for the market organised by workers' cooperatives aiming to cover their costs. As he himself points out:

Quote:
"It still requires forms of money, coercive taxation and meaningful scarcity to function."

Proudhon's "People's Bank" is even to be revived.

Disappointing indeed, but nevertheless a straw in the wind that a genuinely communist society is back on the agenda as an item for discussion amongst critics and opponents of capitalism.

ZJW
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Mar 2 2019 04:43

Cleaver's reply to the review, and SPGB's reply to his reply:

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2019/no-137...

ajjohnstone
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Apr 2 2019 03:45

ALB's full review of Reynolds' book

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2019/no-137...

Quote:
What is encouraging about books such as Reynolds’ is that they represent a return to discussing a society without production for sale, measurement by labour time, and value, as a practical possibility opened up by the continuing development and application of science and technology to production

.

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Apr 2 2019 04:36
alb wrote:
Just finished reading his book. Reynolds is an anarchist with a good grasp of Marxian economics and makes the case that technological developments within capitalism are paving the way for

Quote:
"A state of society in which wage labour and the production of value have been abolished. Each person contributes what they can according to their abilities and each person receives goods according to their needs."

He calls this society "communism"

Wasn't Peter Kropotkin saying something similar a little more than a century ago? Basically, that by the turn of the last century that technological developments within capitalist production had made communism finally realizable, at least in the industrialized countries.

Spikymike
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Apr 2 2019 14:26

Ben Reynold's book and alb's review parallels much that was in Paul Mason's 'Post Capitalism' previously discussed in some detail with useful links here;
https://libcom.org/forums/theory/paul-mason-end-capitalism-has-begun-180...
The tendencies these refer to in relation to increased productivity over the longer term are a result of both capitalist competition and the class struggle between workers and capitalists and whilst these may not lead to the collapse of capitalism they can be considered as a significant factor in exacerbating global tendencies towards economic crisis. The disparity between the potential for abundance of all the basic necessities of a good life whilst increasing the risk of economic and ecological crisis may perhaps become more obvious and a factor in encouraging more opposition to capitalism?

BigFluffyTail
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Apr 2 2019 16:23

ALB's review is pretty good. I've seen that fragment on machines grossly misused to say that communism is full automation and nothing else.

ZJW
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Apr 8 2019 08:11

Re the ALB review, see this curiosity:
https://therealmovement.wordpress.com/2019/04/06/breakdown-was-more-than...

Jehu
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Apr 10 2019 15:09

Yes, that is my response to Adam. If people have questions, I can answer them.

BR
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Apr 14 2019 23:37

Hey there, author here. I'm happy to answer any questions folks on here might have about the book or related topics, whether they've read it or not. For starters, let me clear up something that some reviewers have gotten wrong regarding my arguments about communism and automation:

Quote:
Communization—creating a communist society—requires us to reduce labor hours to zero. However, communism does not require full automation. It simply requires us to produce goods directly for their value as useful objects and to distribute those goods equitably to those who need them. This seemingly far-off goal is already immanent in the technologies that are revolutionizing contemporary production. A powerful trend in distributed production is the tendency for users to share their work freely with one another simply because it is the best possible way to distribute things like texts and software.These technologies show that another world is possible, but these possibilities are trapped within the confines of a capitalist society. After all, the producers of free software somehow have to get money to eat, and pay rent and taxes. A socialist society would strive to remove these fetters and unleash the technological potential of distributed production. First and foremost, we must encourage any form of production based on the voluntary participation of the producers and the free provision of goods. We are already witnessing the first phase of this process with the emergence of solidarity-based economies in places like Detroit, Jackson, Mississippi and Greece... Secondly, we should push radical automation to its limits. As the century continues, it will become possible to substitute machines and software for labor in an increasingly wide number of fields... Again, we should think of this strategy as a progressive process. Over time, more and more basic goods and services will be provided for free. At the same time, necessary labor time will be continuously reduced—freeing us all from the burden of labor. Some people will devote part of their free time to voluntary projects, sewing the seeds for a further reduction of the remaining ghosts of wage labor. Ultimately, labor time will be reduced to zero. The means of production will be commonly held, work will be purely voluntary, and goods and services will be provided for free to all who need them. Doubtlessly, some questions about the distribution of certain particularly scarce goods may remain and we will have to find equitable solutions to those questions. However, meaningful scarcity will cease to exist. Humanity will solve its economic problem.

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spacious
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Apr 15 2019 15:08

edit: I posted a criticism based on Ben's quoted segment on communization, but I'll see if it's valid and repost my thoughts after reading the book as a whole. By what I've read and the table of contents, it looks solid and deserving of a good discussion. Cheers.

Spikymike
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Apr 15 2019 18:11

Bit unclear in the 'Communization' quote above weather the so-called solidarity-base economies referred to could really be considered as any kind of ''first phase'' of communism in so far as they are still tied within the dominant capitalist framework for most of us in terms of both the economy and the politics of the state. Pushing 'radical automation' within that framework only spells hardship for displaced proletarians whatever the potential for the future might be. The quoted text seems to reflect a rather technological determinism.

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Apr 16 2019 04:00
BR wrote:
Hey there, author here. I'm happy to answer any questions folks on here might have about the book or related topics, whether they've read it or not.

What do you make of the argument put forward by Michael Heinrich (extremely convincingly, I might add) that the Fragment on Machines, which much of your thesis seems to rely on, is not the centerpiece of any sort of Marxian theory of collapse, or a prediction of how capitalism will eventually break down under the weight of its own contradictions, but just a restatement of Quesnay's old politico-economic riddle that Marx easily solved a decade later in Capital by introducing the category of relative surplus value?

See The ‘Fragment on Machines’: A Marxian Misconception in the Grundrisse and its Overcoming in Capital or Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s.

(Full disclosure: I have not read your book, so apologies if you already dealt with that objection in it.)

BR
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Apr 17 2019 00:31
Spikymike wrote:
Bit unclear in the 'Communization' quote above weather the so-called solidarity-base economies referred to could really be considered as any kind of ''first phase'' of communism in so far as they are still tied within the dominant capitalist framework for most of us in terms of both the economy and the politics of the state. Pushing 'radical automation' within that framework only spells hardship for displaced proletarians whatever the potential for the future might be. The quoted text seems to reflect a rather technological determinism.

I agree that the solidarity economy remains extremely limited while trapped within the fetters of the capitalist system. The main point is that we should encourage production based on use and need and driven by the working class wherever possible, even now before 'the Revolution.' Regarding automation, I'm not saying that we should push it to its limits under capitalism. At the moment, automation is a powerful tool in the hands of the capitalists. What I argue is that we have to accept the inevitability of automation, place it in the context of capitalism's historical development, and understand how it could be harnessed to our purposes in a communist society.

AnythingForProximity wrote:
What do you make of the argument put forward by Michael Heinrich (extremely convincingly, I might add) that the Fragment on Machines, which much of your thesis seems to rely on, is not the centerpiece of any sort of Marxian theory of collapse, or a prediction of how capitalism will eventually break down under the weight of its own contradictions, but just a restatement of Quesnay's old politico-economic riddle that Marx easily solved a decade later in Capital by introducing the category of relative surplus value?

See The ‘Fragment on Machines’: A Marxian Misconception in the Grundrisse and its Overcoming in Capital or Crisis Theory, the Law of the Tendency of the Profit Rate to Fall, and Marx’s Studies in the 1870s.

(Full disclosure: I have not read your book, so apologies if you already dealt with that objection in it.)

I think it's important that we aim to figure out how capitalism is developing, rather than what Marx 'really thought' or 'really said.' My arguments builds on my reading of Marx in the Fragment, but it is based on an empirical observation: that the first industry to witness the radical reduction of labor-time through automation - American mechanized agriculture - simultaneously witnessed the collapse of production for profit on a market basis. From the agriculture crisis of the late 1920s until the present day, highly-mechanized agriculture has been on permanent life support through subsidies delivered by taxes on profitable industries. This was the remarkable historical fact that led me to agree with that particular reading of the Fragment on Machines.

(Heinrich makes an interesting argument in the essay you cite, but it should be noted that Heinrich actually completely disagrees with Marx's theory on the falling rate of profit due to the rising organic composition of capital, which others have discussed. Like many Marxist theorists who came of age in the 1970s and 80s, Heinrich seems eager to rescue Marx's theory from the historical fact of his own day that capitalism had overcome its last systemic crisis. The idea presented in many of these readings of Capital is that the countervailing influences to the falling rate of profit enable will capitalism to continue adapting endlessly, until the sun burns out. I think this robs Marx's theory of its main point of brilliance: that capitalism is a historical system with a beginning and a coming end. I wrote the book as a counterweight to this line of thought.)

Mike Harman
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Apr 17 2019 01:00

Disclaimer: haven't read the book yet, but wanted to pick up on this bit:

BR wrote:
My arguments builds on my reading of Marx in the Fragment, but it is based on an empirical observation: that the first industry to witness the radical reduction of labor-time through automation - American mechanized agriculture - simultaneously witnessed the collapse of production for profit on a market basis. From the agriculture crisis of the late 1920s until the present day, highly-mechanized agriculture has been on permanent life support through subsidies delivered by taxes on profitable industries. This, to me, was the remarkable historical fact that led me to agree with that particular reading of the Fragment on Machines.

Mechanization might be the case for grains, it's much less so for fruit and vegetables. See the lettuce pickers strike of the late '70s in the US. https://libcom.org/library/review-cesar-chavez-united-farm-workers-quest...

Or the current EU-wide shortage of migrant farm workers due to lowering unemployment in countries like Romania https://www.irishtimes.com/business/agribusiness-and-food/special-worker...

And the first mechanized industry was textiles, which is still highly reliant on low paid labour in places like Bangladesh and Vietnam nearly 250 years since the development of the power loom.

With agriculture, there are multiple ways that productivity (and hence reduction in socially necessary labour time) has been increased apart from automation itself:
- intensive monocrop agriculture which maximises yield per hectare while massively eroding and depleting soil (destruction of hedgerows, lack of rotation)
- vast pesticide use
- vast reliance on fertilisers
- refrigeration, packaging and transport changes in general has enabled crops (and meat) to be shipped thousands of miles, meaning both production can be moved where labour costs are lower, as well as enabling out of season produce to be sold year-round.

In terms of lower profits in agriculture, as well as all the above, there's also the more or less monopoly position of the main supermarket chains which actively push down prices paid to suppliers as they compete within themselves. i.e. individual farmers are tied to specific tracts of land and labour markets, but supermarket purchasers mostly are not. The supermarket therefore is able to purchase produce from a geographically wider area, i.e. a conflict between different factions of capital which results in higher profits for one faction and lower for the other.

On the machine fragment again, Marx specifically addressed how profits arise in agriculture in Chapter III of Capital in the section on ground rent - for example here (it starts before this chapter and continues for a few chapters afterwards). https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch44.htm.

For example this bit:

Marx wrote:
From the standpoint of the capitalist mode of production, a relative increase in the price of products always takes place when these products cannot be secured unless an expenditure or payment not previously made is incurred. For by the replacement of capital consumed in production we mean only the replacement of values represented by certain means of production. Natural elements entering as agents into production, and which cost nothing, no matter what role they play in production, do not enter as components of capital, but as a free gift of Nature to capital, that is, as a free gift of Nature's productive power to labour, which, however, appears as the productiveness of capital, as all other productivity under the capitalist mode of production. Therefore, if such a natural power, which originally costs nothing, takes part in production, it does not enter into the determination of price, so long as the product which it helped to produce suffices to meet the demand. But if in the course of development, a larger output is demanded than that which can be supplied with the help of this natural power, i.e., if this additional output must be created without the help of this natural power, or by assisting it with human labour-power, then a new additional element enters into capital. A relatively larger investment of capital is thus required in order to secure the same output. All other circumstances remaining the same, a rise in the price of production takes place.

So for one example, soil depletion has been combined with the massive increase of land brought under cultivation internationally. Both depleted soil over time and lower-fertility soil generally require more inputs (labour, fertiliser) in order to produce the same quantities of produce.

This isn't to say automation has had no effect, but a materialist investigation would need to look at more than just automation.

Apart from that, if we generally accept that the exchange value of food as a commodity has dropped significantly, and that food has dropped significantly as a percentage of overall household budgets (see for example here: https://www.valuepenguin.com/how-much-we-spend-food) - then this in turn has lowered the cost of reproduction of labour power (at least this aspect of it).

This allows a few things:
- with other variables unchanged, if the cost of labour power reduces, then the unpaid portion of the working day (for all workers) increases.
- Conversely, money that used to be spent on food, is now likely to be spent on rent, maintaining a car or paying for public transport (since the working class has mostly been moved away close proximity to where we work). All of these are essentials for the reproduction of labour, but they also represent new/more lucrative sources of revenue for capitalists.

Mike Harman
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Apr 17 2019 06:36

Also:

BR wrote:
I think it's important that we aim to figure out how capitalism is developing, rather than what Marx 'really thought' or 'really said.'

Marx was aiming to figure out how capitalism was developing, so if Marx says something, then revises or expands on the concept later, then we can assume it's because his understanding of capitalism changed. This doesn't necessarily mean he was right in either case, but that as he was trying to develop theories he would make revisions over time. So if we want to use Marx's understanding of capitalism (and methods of doing so) to inform our own, it's worth reviewing "what Marx actually said/meant" and then whether it was/is correct.

After all mis-applications of Marx's theory began while Marx was still alive: https://libcom.org/library/marx-russian-mir-misconceptions-marxists

That correspondence has relevance here, because especially in the drafts of the letter to Zasulich, Marx shows that he thought technological development had already advanced sufficiently in Western Europe, and that Russia could apply the technology without the need for the accompanying capitalist social relations: post/during-revolution. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/zasulich/index.htm. When looking at automation now, do we think that actual scientific/technological advances that could benefit communism are being made, or are they simply being applied to more and more industries to speed up/displace labour.

This is particularly important with the Machine Fragment, because it's been used to justify a lot of politics which boils down to social democracy, discussed here https://libcom.org/blog/poverty-luxury-communism-05042018, and extensively here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03085147.2017.1397360

BR
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Apr 17 2019 19:35

I appreciate your engagement with my argument. As you say, the change in the nature of agricultural production can't be reduced to mechanization alone. But all of the factors you mention - use of pesticides, fertilizers, engineered monocrops, and the refrigeration revolution - boil down to the increasing application of capital relative to labor. The rising capital requirements to compete as a commodity crop producer, along with the decline value of the sold products, is a textbook example of Marx's thesis on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. And, just as Marx predicted, this created a crisis in the agriculture industry that was only resolved by massive, continuous state intervention.

Your point about monopoly positioning in the market is very important. I argue that a crisis of profitability produced by radical automation (the rise in the organic composition of capital to the point that is no longer profitable to employ additional labor in an industry) can only be resolved by the transfer of profits from sectors that can still operate on the basis of commodity production. Monopoly plays a key role in this process. Industries that are effectively monopolized - like semiconductor production - allow their capitalists to sell their goods above-value and thus effect a transfer of surplus value. Because highly-mechanized agricultural producers are not in the same position for the reasons you outline, the state must intervene to transfer this surplus. This takes the form of direct subsidies, 'crop insurance,' and so on. These two strategies reflect the same fundamental reality: a radically automated sector cannot survive on a capitalist basis without life support from non-radically automated sectors.

Regarding Marx, countervailing tendencies, and the ultimate destiny of capitalism, there's really only one question that we're debating: can capitalism adapt endlessly to overcome its internal contradictions, or does it have an end date? Why does Marx construct a model of a 'pure' capitalism in Capital, showing that the system has a number of serious internal contradictions? Is this an academic exercise, intended to teach us how capitalism functions as we engage in an endless struggle with an insurmountable system? Does Marx believe that capitalism can adapt endlessly unless workers intervene with revolutionary action? Or, following his adaptation of Hegel's dialectics, did he believe that capitalism's internal contradictions would lead ultimately to its replacement by a new system capable of overcoming those contradictions?

Marx is almost explicit on this point in Volume 3:

Quote:
But the main thing about their horror of the falling rate of profit is the feeling that capitalist production meets in the development of its productive forces a barrier which has nothing to do with the production of wealth as such; and this peculiar barrier testifies to the limitations and to the merely historical, transitory character of the capitalist mode of production; testifies that for the production of wealth, it is not an absolute mode, moreover, that at a certain stage it rather conflicts with its further development.

The issue, then, is what Marx argues about the counteracting tendencies. Do they allow a temporary means of overcoming crises, or a potentially endless reservoir of adaptation? Again, Marx has the answer:

Quote:
Capitalist production seeks continually to overcome these immanent barriers, but overcomes them only by means which again place these barriers in its way and on a more formidable scale. [Emphasis mine.]

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself.

After this, Marx describes how capitalism would overcome a crisis of absolute overaccumulation - with the massive devaluation of surplus capital, the decline in wages due to unemployment, etc. But even as he describes the operation of these factors to drive the rate of profit back up, he ends the chapter with this note:

Quote:
...[capitalism] has its barrier, that it is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite limited epoch in the development of the material requirements of production.

This argument is the beating heart of Marx's theory, it is what distinguishes him from bourgeois economists like Ricardo. It follows logically from his exposition of the internal laws of capitalist accumulation. There are counteracting tendencies to be sure. But, when we take the long view, we see the continuing rise in the organic composition of capital on a global scale. The resolution of crises can lengthen the system's lifespan, but it cannot indefinitely prolong it.

With the benefit of today's perspective, there are two logical ways that capitalism could come to an end. The first is the utter devastation of human life on this planet through ecological collapse and general war. The second is the replacement of capitalism with a system that no longer relies on production for profit. There is no legible future where capitalism manages to overcome its internal contradictions (the rising organic composition of capital and the development of means of production that challenge the bourgeiosie's monopoly) and external contradictions (climate change).

Mike Harman
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Apr 18 2019 03:58
BR wrote:
As you say, the change in the nature of agricultural production can't be reduced to mechanization alone. But all of the factors you mention - use of pesticides, fertilizers, engineered monocrops, and the refrigeration revolution - boil down to the increasing application of capital relative to labor.

So this is true but it's a very different proposition to the machine fragment, and to an extent at least it's looking at things at the level of the firm rather than production as a whole.

Pesticide, fertilizer, refrigeration are capital when employed by the farmer, but they're also commodities which employ labour in their production. This is labour in branches of industry which (more or less) didn't exist prior to capitalism at all and have massively expanded alongside capitalism in general.

So they simultaneously represent increased capital relative to labour at the level of the individual firm (farm in this case), but also increased labour at the level of production as a whole.

To argue that labour has been displaced from agriculture as a whole, you'd need to argue that the new labour employed in fertilizer, pesticide, refrigeration and food logistics is less than the labour that it displaces from direct agriculture. That labour includes everything from oil production, to parts for delivery trucks, to everything involved in cargo planes shipping kiwi fruit across the world and etc.

This may or may not be the case, I haven't done the research to find out and it would be hard to do, but it's what would need to be done to make the claim.

However even if we do all that, there's a further issue with people hyper-focused on the machine fragment (not necessarily BR since I haven't read his book, but all the post-capitalism/FALC neo-keynesian lot). Pesticides, and relying on fertiliser to replenish soil instead of rotating land use, means that we're seeing the potential for an extinction-level event with insects (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/10/plummeting-insect-nu...) as well as mineral depletion and erosion of soil that can't be replaced by fertiliser. So the mechanisation of agriculture as it exists, does not represent an increase in the means of production, but is actually destroying it - because the means of production includes land and insects.

There are also plenty of industries where automation/mechanisation has not taken over, mostly care work, education etc.

BR wrote:
Regarding Marx, countervailing tendencies, and the ultimate destiny of capitalism, there's really only one question that we're debating: can capitalism adapt endlessly to overcome its internal contradictions, or does it have an end date?

There's more than that question though. A lot of what I call the 'machine-fragment-ists' - FALC/post-capitalism etc., propose a managed, state-led transition to universal basic income (or universal basic services) and argue that this would not be capitalism as such - despite it leaving property relations (albeit further mediated by the state) intact.

BR wrote:
Does Marx believe that capitalism can adapt endlessly unless workers intervene with revolutionary action? Or, following his adaptation of Hegel's dialectics, did he believe that capitalism's internal contradictions would lead ultimately to its replacement by a new system capable of overcoming those contradictions?

If you read Marx's writings on the US civil war, Paris Commune, Ireland etc., you can see he's quite explicit on the need for working class action to overthrow capitalism.

BR wrote:
With the benefit of today's perspective, there are two logical ways that capitalism could come to an end. The first is the utter devastation of human life on this planet through ecological collapse and general war. The second is the replacement of capitalism with a system that no longer relies on production for profit. There is no legible future where capitalism manages to overcome its internal contradictions (the rising organic composition of capital and the development of means of production that challenge the bourgeiosie's monopoly) and external contradictions (climate change).

Except what does 'the replacement of capitalism with a system that no longer relies on production for profit' mean in practice? Because there are several examples (Inventing the Future, Paul Mason, Bastani) where the vision for this is actually an attempt to 'overcome [capital's] internal contradictions' hidden under a 'communist' veneer.

BR
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Apr 18 2019 23:55
Mike Harman wrote:
Pesticide, fertilizer, refrigeration are capital when employed by the farmer, but they're also commodities which employ labour in their production. This is labour in branches of industry which (more or less) didn't exist prior to capitalism at all and have massively expanded alongside capitalism in general.

So they simultaneously represent increased capital relative to labour at the level of the individual firm (farm in this case), but also increased labour at the level of production as a whole.

This is another excellent point to consider. I'd agree that adding these additional inputs does create labor demand, but that on the whole this additional labor does not fully replace that displaced by the capital employed in the primary industry (see the: "there'll be just as many jobs servicing the machines!" argument). The amount of labor required to produce crops by hand versus mechanized production by the end of the 19th century was:
- Corn: Nine times greater
- Cotton: Eight times greater
- Potatoes: Fifteen times greater
- Hay: Three times greater

I don't have the research on hand, so I can't be certain, but I'm doubtful that mechanized industries like fertilizer production, rail transportation for agriculture, etc. absorbed the entirety of this displaced labor. In the 19th and 20th centuries, I'd argue the labor was largely absorbed by other expanding industrial and service industries like automotive manufacturing.

Mike Harman wrote:
There's more than that question though. A lot of what I call the 'machine-fragment-ists' - FALC/post-capitalism etc., propose a managed, state-led transition to universal basic income (or universal basic services) and argue that this would not be capitalism as such - despite it leaving property relations (albeit further mediated by the state) intact... Except what does 'the replacement of capitalism with a system that no longer relies on production for profit' mean in practice? Because there are several examples (Inventing the Future, Paul Mason, Bastani) where the vision for this is actually an attempt to 'overcome [capital's] internal contradictions' hidden under a 'communist' veneer.

This is actually the second reason that I wrote the book. If one believes that capitalism is becoming increasingly stable and headed toward collapse within the century, the prospects for 21st century social democracy look grim, so much the more for 'capitalism plus UBI.' If profit-driven investment will no longer be able to reliably function, we need a genuinely socialist system. Despite the structuralist arguments of the book, I'm not as much of a teleological theorist as some would suggest. I think we need a revolutionary rupture to bring the means of production into common ownership, place workers in control of their workplaces, and conduct investment along non-profit-driven lines. As you spoke about in your post, this is incredibly important if we hope to be able to overhaul our production system in time to avoid the collapse of the planet's ecological balance and our agricultural system along with it. I wrote the book because I viewed the proposals of the then-contemporary socialist left as being entirely inadequate to this task.

Mike Harman
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Apr 19 2019 11:36
BR wrote:
This is another excellent point to consider. I'd agree that adding these additional inputs does create labor demand, but that on the whole this additional labor does not fully replace that displaced by the capital employed in the primary industry (see the: "there'll be just as many jobs servicing the machines!" argument). The amount of labor required to produce crops by hand versus mechanized production by the end of the 19th century was:
- Corn: Nine times greater
- Cotton: Eight times greater
- Potatoes: Fifteen times greater
- Hay: Three times greater

Not being intentionally annoying (honest), but thought of another 'countervailing tendency' - overproduction/food waste. I do think it's worth thinking through this (at least up to the point of trying to find statistics, which I'm not really up for tbh).

Approximately 1/3rd of food in the US goes to waste. Now some of this is wastage within the production process (i.e. dumped from supermarkets, bakeries, restaurants), but plenty is food going bad at home. For example best before/use by dates mean a lot of food gets chucked away. Also particular kinds of foods, like cut and washed salad leaves, sliced bread are almost designed to go off before they're eaten.

So these are additional factors increasing the labour expended:
- built in obsolescence (sliced batch bread vs. loafs)
- food processing (compared to home preparation) as well as food service.
- food packaging
- waste collection, processing, and landfill

It still might not make up for labour reduction via mechanisation in agriculture but it's a fair bit.

BR
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Apr 22 2019 22:52

You are right that food waste plays a huge role in supporting our production system. There's a bit in the book about the link between climate change and the benefits of waste for capitalism. Food waste has no social benefit whatsoever, but getting rid of it entirely would reduce the total demand for agricultural products by around a third, which is an almost unimaginable decline for an industry that already struggles with overproduction.

I think the overall question is whether capitalists introduce automation and other capital investments that end up raising the overall labor demand in a particular industry. Except in industries where such investments lower the cost of goods to the point that new classes of people can consume them, the additional labor demand shouldn't fully replace that which has been displaced. If you had to employ more people overall supporting robotic arms in car factories, for instance, it would be more expensive to introduce them than to just maintain the existing production system.

Dave B
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Apr 23 2019 17:34

As we are chattering away about this.

It might be useful to provide the relevant section from Grundisse?

Apologies if it has already been done and is buried in a post.

Contradiction between the foundation of bourgeois production (value as measure) and its development. Machines etc.

The exchange of living labour for objectified labour – i.e. the positing of social labour in the form of the contradiction of capital and wage labour – is the ultimate development of the value-relation and of production resting on value. Its presupposition is – and remains – the mass of direct labour time, the quantity of labour employed, as the determinant factor in the production of wealth.

But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production. (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.)

Agriculture, e.g., becomes merely the application of the science of material metabolism, its regulation for the greatest advantage of the entire body of society. Real wealth manifests itself, rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends.

Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself. (What holds for machinery holds likewise for the combination of human activities and the development of human intercourse.) No longer does the worker insert a modified natural thing [Naturgegenstand] as middle link between the object [Objekt] and himself; rather, he inserts the process of nature, transformed into an industrial process, as a means between himself and inorganic nature, mastering it.

He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor. In this transformation, it is neither the direct human labour he himself performs, nor the time during which he works, but rather the appropriation of his own general productive power, his understanding of nature and his mastery over it by virtue of his presence as a social body – it is, in a word, the development of the social individual which appears as the great foundation-stone of production and of wealth. The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. …………..

And so on, it continues somewhat.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch14.htm