Understanding Marxism

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zugzwang
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Mar 23 2019 05:44
Understanding Marxism

http://www.lulu.com/shop/richard-d-wolff/understanding-marxism/paperback...

Anyone actually read this? I'm guessing it's just more propaganda for his d@w project. It's frustrating when literally nothing Wolff says has anything in common with any of Marx's critiques or analyses, yet he insists on attaching Marx's name to his ideas. (I actually wonder if he's even read the first volume of Capital.) I'm a bit surprised to not see more people challenging him, unless they don't think it's worth their time in which case I might agree. I don't understand, for example, how he can describe members of his WSDEs advancing capital and creating commodities for exchange in the market as "socialist". His sourcing of the problem as evil non-worker capitalists making bad decisions, and call for workers to manage their own enterprises instead, also just ignores Marx saying the exact opposite:

Quote:
Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society. To the out-cry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of over-work, it answers: ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the invidiual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.

Mike Harman
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Mar 25 2019 15:02

I haven't read it or really any of his stuff, but I have started to see people push him recently, so it would probably be worth someone doing a critique if they have time.

Similarly I haven't read David Harvey, but https://libcom.org/library/companion-david-harveys-companion-marxs-capit... was useful to understand why he ends up pushing alternative currencies and etc.

zugzwang
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Mar 25 2019 21:50

I'm in the process of writing something up that challenges his understanding of Marx in relation to his WSDE/worker coop ideas (to say nothing about his endorsement of Sanders and fondness of vanguard parties etc.) There was an anarchist response to his Democracy at Work book on Anarchist Writers, all I've really come across as far as critiques on him.

The so-called anarchists and communists I see recommending him is not really an encouraging sign.

Mike Harman
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Mar 26 2019 11:36

The co-ops stuff seems to be getting traction due to co-operation Jackson. https://cooperationjackson.org/

There's a huge difference (for me at least) between people doing co-ops as a response to specific circumstances, and pushing co-ops/mutualism as an ideology.

I've seen something about him pushing the idea that immigration is responsible for low wages too, but did not look into it yet.

zugzwang
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Mar 26 2019 15:39
Mike Harman wrote:
The co-ops stuff seems to be getting traction due to co-operation Jackson. https://cooperationjackson.org/

There's a huge difference (for me at least) between people doing co-ops as a response to specific circumstances, and pushing co-ops/mutualism as an ideology.

I've seen something about him pushing the idea that immigration is responsible for low wages too, but did not look into it yet.

I haven't seen that. Afaik he's said immigration is used as a scapegoat instead of targetting capitalism as the real source of people's problems. Of course what he identifies as the problem always goes back to capitalist workplaces being undemocratic, and the need to democratize them and turn them into "WSDEs". He even uses the words "Communist Organization" in one interview to refer to them, and says that this is what Marx's aim was (his 'understanding' of Marx was OK for the most part up until then, but this just completely ignores all of Marx's analysis of the commodity in the first couple chapters of Capital; he seems to have no problem with his so-called "Communist" organizations/businesses advancing capital and producing commodities for exchange in the market etc.; and how he derives this from his reading Marx is just amazing):

Quote:
So, the conclusion for Marx is revolution. You need to get rid of capitalism in order to replace the capitalist-labor relationship, wage labor in the way I’ve described it, with an altogether different system that is more egalitarian, more democratic, and more just, because the workers in each enterprise would become their own board of directors. That’s actually understood by people even if they’ve never heard of Karl Marx. You can see it in the fact that all over the world today, and true for the last 300 years, there are businesses that have organized themselves not as a capitalist corporation, but as what Marx would’ve called a communist organization. That is, it is a community of workers who set up a business and own and operate it themselves.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/23/a-summary-of-marxist-economics-w...

Mike Harman
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Mar 26 2019 16:41

Video clip on immigration, it may be that the clip is out of context and he has arguments on how border controls contribute to lower wages for immigrants via making them easier to exploit/keeping people undocumented, and how organising all workers impacts on competition, but that bit by itself is not good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW210UyV9g8 I can't sit through long youtube clips so if someone has something in text format that'd be better.

Dave B
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Mar 27 2019 10:54

Prof Wolfes system looks similar to the “economic commune system” proposed by Eugen Karl Dühring ………………

“who was a strong critic of Marxism.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugen_D%C3%BChring

Engels dealt with it throughout his Anti Duhring book.

But ends with;

Anti-Dühring by Frederick Engels 1877
Part III: Socialism
IV. Distribution

….By elevating this law to the basic law of his economic commune and demanding that the commune should execute it in all consciousness, Herr Dühring converts the basic law of existing society into the basic law of his imaginary society. He wants existing society, but without its abuses.

In this he occupies the same position as Proudhon. Like him, he wants to abolish the abuses which have arisen out of the development of commodity production into capitalist production, by giving effect against them to the basic law of commodity production, precisely the law to whose operation these abuses are due. Like him, he wants to abolish the real consequences of the law of value by means of fantastic ones.

Our modern Don Quixote, seated on his noble Rosinante, the “universal principle of justice” {D. C. 282}, and followed by his valiant Sancho Panza, Abraham Enss, sets out proudly on his knight errantry to win Mambrin's helmet, the “value of labour”; but we fear, fear greatly, he will bring home nothing but the old familiar barber’s basin….

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch26.htm

ajjohnstone
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Mar 27 2019 19:01

On my travels around American progressive websites I have found he is quite popular. He makes regular videos of his talks. He talks the talk that resonates with many American leftists.

A while back, I wrote a short item for our blog on him

https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2011/05/sheep-in-wolffs-cl...

And he receives passing mentions on many other blog-posts

Andrew Kliman rebuffs Wolff's approach

Quote:
“ It seems that most people want to see another world, but think it can come about, if at all, by voting it in, or by workers becoming their own bosses...Despite the new priorities, new forms of organization, new forms of ownership, new laws, and the new name... it remains capitalist. It remains capitalist because the economic laws that govern capitalism continue to govern... And they continue to govern your society because new priorities, new forms of organization, new forms of ownership and so forth are not enough––by themselves––to overcome the economic laws of capitalism...[These well-intentioned changes] would merely be capitalism in a different form or they would be unviable and lead back to capitalism. And the reason why they wouldn’t work, Marx argued, is that these supposed alternatives to capitalism all try to get rid of capitalism without getting rid of its mode of production...Marx’s point is firstly, changes in political and legal forms, and changes in consciousness, are not themselves changes in the relations of production. Secondly, if only they are changed, not the relations of production, the changes will not succeed in changing the character of the society.”

http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/video-t...

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Khawaga
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Mar 27 2019 20:13

I saw Wolff give a talk once. I found him to be a very engaging speaker (so I am not surprised that people like listening to his talks), but, as others have pointed out already, his understanding of Marxism is woefully inadequate. Well, he does understand Marx, but he doesn't understand the implications of Marx's analysis. So at this talk, he waxed lyrical about Corbyn because Corbyn would apparently bring in a wave of workers' co-ops, which he more or less believed to be a revolution. He was genuinely naive.

zugzwang
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Mar 28 2019 14:45
Mike Harman wrote:
I've seen something about him pushing the idea that immigration is responsible for low wages too, but did not look into it yet.

Mike Harman wrote:
Video clip on immigration, it may be that the clip is out of context and he has arguments on how border controls contribute to lower wages for immigrants via making them easier to exploit/keeping people undocumented, and how organising all workers impacts on competition, but that bit by itself is not good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hW210UyV9g8 I can't sit through long youtube clips so if someone has something in text format that'd be better.

Here's a Wolff article on immigration
https://www.rdwolff.com/how_capitalism_perpetuates_immigration

Richard Wolff wrote:
Modern times offer more examples. The US repeatedly undermined basic living conditions in its de facto colony, Puerto Rico, driving millions to move to the US mainland. There, they repeatedly encountered all manner of discriminations, abuse and scapegoating. The US economic dominance of Mexico and Central America as informal colonies -- intensified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- produced the same result, but on a much larger scale. US capitalists used Latin American immigrants as means to exert downward pressures on wages and working conditions, with the usual anti-immigrant results. Following the European colonial pattern, some in the corporate and governing US elite congratulate themselves for denouncing scapegoating, intolerance, etc. and castigating those with such attitudes as "deplorables."

I remember Dean Baker, American liberal involved in Center for Economic and Policy Research, also making similar arguments in his Conservative Nanny State book. One of the arguments there was that the US restricts the immigration of professional workers that would "create downward pressure" on white-collar jobs but allows that to happen for blue-collar jobs. The point he argues is this would make such professional-job services cheaper for consumers. Of course it's all bourgeois nonsense. Here's some of that though:

Dean Baker wrote:
Trade is not the only mechanism that nanny state conservatives have used to depress the wages of the bulk of the population. Immigration has also been an important tool to depress the wages of a substantial segment of the workforce. The principle with immigration is exactly the same as with trade. It takes advantage of the billions of workers in developing coutnries who are willing to work at substantially lower wages than workers in the United States to drive down the wages in a wide range of occupations. [...] The difference is that the nanny state conservatives get to bring in immigrants at low wages to meet their needs whereas the doctors and lawyers can count on the nanny state to protect them from competitition with immigrant workers. [...] But trade does not have to depress the wages of less-skilled workers. Trade agreements can also be structured to get us low cost doctors, lawyers, accountants, economists, reporters, and editorial writers.

Mike Harman
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Mar 28 2019 14:57

OK so he is not quite doing an Angela Nagle 'borders are good' argument, but it's reproducing the 'if you concentrated development, people wouldn't migrate' one:

Wolfe wrote:
A real "cure" for the horrific processes of migration lies in a real confrontation of capitalism's uneven development. For example, investment could be directed not to where private profit rates are highest, but rather to areas that need that investment most. The rationale would be that poverty and marginalization pose a threat to peace (and thus to economic development as well), which outweighs private capitalist profitability in terms of social well-being. For another example, full employment -- by state authorities wherever private employment is insufficient -- could become a funded priority everywhere in part as a major counter to emigration.

For yet another example, taxing extreme wealth could provide significant additional resources for investment in poorer areas.

So it ignores the function of border controls themselves as creating a multi-tier working class (and a concrete thing that people have organised against since the early IWW if not earlier, as well as more recently), or really any class struggle at all.

zugzwang
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Mar 29 2019 04:16
ajjohnstone wrote:
On my travels around American progressive websites I have found he is quite popular. He makes regular videos of his talks. He talks the talk that resonates with many American leftists.

A while back, I wrote a short item for our blog on him

https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2011/05/sheep-in-wolffs-cl...

That's a nice piece (might want to correct his name from Robert to Richard though). Might still be worth doing a more up-to-date response to him with all that he's done since 2011 and with the popularity and following he's recently got, maybe one that focuses more on his mis-understanding of Marx in light of his book/essay. He seems to think workers controlling their own surplus value, needed to reproduce themselves as worker-capitalists, means the end of capitalism and is what Marx envisaged, which doesn't really appreciate Capital being a critique of, among other things, surplus value and all the other features of the capitalist mode of production; it wasn't a call for workers to become "capital personified", etc. He doesn't seem to have any conception of a Socialism/Communism (as we see from the "Communist Organization/Business" I mentioned above and which he claims has some basis in Marx) where production is carried out to satisfy people's needs or where money and exchange cease to exist.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 29 2019 02:35

We shouldn't forget about Gar Alperovitz who is pushing for a similar strategy of change as Wolff which he calls the "pluralist commonwealth"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gar_Alperovitz

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Mar 29 2019 13:48
ajjohnstone wrote:
We shouldn't forget about Gar Alperovitz who is pushing for a similar strategy of change as Wolff which he calls the "pluralist commonwealth"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gar_Alperovitz

When I was becoming a leftist, around 2011, I bought his book America Beyond Capitalism. Never finished reading it because it was really boring and I have no interest returning to it. He' s just advocating co-ops and other such schemes.

zugzwang
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May 10 2019 06:34

Here's also Luxemburg, who Wolff cites as an influence, writing against producer coops (really just repeating standard anti-capitalist arguments against workers starting their own enterprises) in Reform or Revolution against Eduard Bernstein and co.:

Luxemburg wrote:

But in capitalist economy exchange dominates production. As a result of competition, the complete domination of the process of production by the interests of capital – that is, pitiless exploitation – becomes a condition for the survival of each enterprise. The domination of capital over the process of production expresses itself in the following ways. Labour is intensified. The work day is lengthened or shortened, according to the situation of the market. And, depending on the requirements of the market, labour is either employed or thrown back into the street. In other words, use is made of all methods that enable an enterprise to stand up against its competitors in the market. The workers forming a co-operative in the field of production are thus faced with the contradictory necessity of governing themselves with the utmost absolutism. They are obliged to take toward themselves the role of capitalist entrepreneur – a contradiction that accounts for the usual failure of production co-operatives which either become pure capitalist enterprises or, if the workers’ interests continue to predominate, end by dissolving.

Bernstein has himself taken note of these facts. But it is evident that he has not understood them. For, together with Mrs. Potter-Webb, he explains the failure of production co-operatives in England by their lack of “discipline.” But what is so superficially and flatly called here “discipline” is nothing else than the natural absolutist regime of capitalism, which it is plain, the workers cannot successfully use against themselves.

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spacious
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May 16 2019 15:08

There's a critique of Professor Wolff's truncated critique of capitalism on the site of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative, here:
https://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/the-na...