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

jura
Jan 28 2013 17:54

Spiky, I realized afterwards that the wording ("impose") was too strong and weird. What I meant was providing "basic" things like running water, food, electricity, shelter, health care, education etc. worldwide (i.e. I didn't mean "ipads for everyone", although I disagree with Bordiga about shampoo). The more I think of it, the more Promethean the task seems.

capricorn
Jan 29 2013 07:15

There is another problem with David Adam's article which nobody has pointed out so far. He makes out a case for Marx contemplating (though not insisting on) the idea of consumption vouchers based on labour-time in the early stages of communism and for envisaging labour-time accounting, but not for him supporting the system outlined by the Dutch Council Communists in their Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution..

Firstly, this title is rather tendentious, not to say pretentious. Marx made it clear that "full" communist production and distribution would be based on the principle of "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs". So this would be the "fundamental" principle. What the Dutch Council Communists were outlining would be only the "Temporary Principles of Communist Production and Distribution of Communist Society As It Emerges from Capitalist Society".

Secondly, the Dutch Council Communists were criticising those they misleadingly labelled "State Communists", under which they included anyone who envisaged any role for a central administration in the early stages of a communist society to decide on what consumption vouchers should be based on or on the "price" of the products they could be used to acquire. Look at their harsh criticisms of the Social Democrats Hilferding, Neurath and Leichter and of the Bolshevik Varga and even of the anarchist Sebastien Faure for envisaging this. The quotes Adam gives suggest that Marx himself favoured “central planning” of the economy as a single unit and so would be a “State Communist” in the eyes of the Dutch Council Communists.

Thirdly, what the Dutch Council Communists were seeking to do was to devise an automatic system for regulating production and distribution instead of central planning. They envisaged this coming about by tying individual consumption strictly to hours worked and tying the prices of the products strictly to their labour-time content, without any possibility of variation in either case (any such variation would be an exercise of arbitrary power by an undesirable central administration). In other words, they were trying to devise an automatic, self-regulating substitute to the market and so were trying to measure the labour-time "value" of products directly. This is why Marx's criticism of similar "labour money" schemes in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy , the Grundrisse and elsewhere does apply to the Dutch Council Communists' scheme (though not necessarily to other schemes for distribution in communist society as it emerges from capitalism).

ocelot
Jan 29 2013 16:05

Having be away from t'interwebz for a few days, apologies if what follows is somewhat retrospective or jumping around.

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.

Unless the measure is in contradiction to the solution.

This is the distinction between a pragmatic critique and a moral one. If the means (wage) is in contradiction to the end (end of capital) the argument is a pragmatic one. If it was not in contradiction, but objected to on other, normative grounds, then the argument would be a moral one. It is vital to distinguish between the two. The usual difficulty with labour-chitters is they effect an inversion of the moral-pragmatic relation and claim that their own position is pragmatic, whereas the communist one is moral. In fact the opposite is the case.

The pareconnies are at least explicit in the moral foundation of their anti-communism. They find the idea of "higher stage" communism objectionable on moral grounds - i.e. that people's right to consume should not be tied to their labour contribution is to them morally unacceptable, in any circumstances.

The ortho "lower stagers" reject this "fair days work for a fair days pay" protestant work ethic... at least in the far off vista of the "higher stage", but in practice their arguments for retaining the wage in the here and now, echo the moralism of the pareconnies, except presented as "pragmatism". Which, of course, is only sustainable if the pragmatic communist critique (which I grant you, you don't hear much of from the "communizers", but that's another story) is ignored in the assumption that the communist critique is a purely ethical-moral one.

But that leaves the orthos stuck in a cleft stick. Gosplan or the NEP? Market socialism or apriori central planning?

It is certainly true that if we remove any semblance of consumer choice from the worker, so that what they receive as consumer goods, in exchange for their labour power, is predetermined according to the plan - removing any necessity for consumption to play a post-hoc role in allocation - then there is no need for a price system, nor is there any possibility of the law of value asserting itself. But then neither is there much role for the chits either, and any pretense of democracy, of "receiving back only in one form what was given in another", i.e. of labour-time accounting actually remaining tied to real values. I grant you the reason for these consequents - why the "democratic Gosplan" is unachievable - need to be demonstrated in detail.

But the other side of the cleft stick is the "I-can't-believe-it's-not-market-socialism" direction. I.e. to allow consumer choice, to allow the exchange system to generate a price system (price being the modification of cost by demand, so as to serve it's allocative function - this is the substance of the Grundrisse's critique of time-chitters), i.e. once again for the unit of account to become money, rather than a record of cost accounting.

The objections that labour certs can neither accumulate nor circulate are nonsense, as any ex-prisoner will tell you. The internal prison economy (at least in Ireland and the UK) functions based on the banning of formal money and all earnings recorded only as individual rights to purchase items of consumption at the prison canteen. Prisoners simply select an item of personal consumption (used to be tobacco, now phone cards) of relatively universal demand, and this becomes the money for circulation, exploitation and accumulation within the prison black economy.

The key here is the commodity relationship. There is mutually-determining relationship between the commodification of labour and the production of goods as commodities. It is no good saying that under the "lower stage" goods will no longer be produced as commodities when the relationship between the worker and their own labour power remains commodified. If my recorded hours of work are put in competition to your recorded hours of work, to see who will gain the greater share of the social product as "compensation", then we are back to the fundamental bellum omnium contra omnes competitive relation that is the foundation of capitalist relations.

The wage is the commodification of labour - the exchange value by which all other exchange values are originated/measured - and whatever are the results of such production, are commodities. And here the paradox of the wage emerges. If I produce the same output in less than half the labour-time, then less for me and more for you - if I am fool enough to declare it. In a market socialist economy I can produce more and accumulate from selling the excess at market rates (based on lower average social productivity). In a centrally-planned economy that route is not open to me (although siphoning some extra product off into the "blat market" as "rejects" is usually possible - but of course blat is not a market economy subject to the law of value either...) but what is possible is the reduction of the portion of my working day that I actually spend any time doing socially productive labour - which was why most workers in so-called "worker's states" actually spent most of their time not working.

jura
Jan 29 2013 19:45

I'm a bit disappointed by this discussion. If we are to go on, I suggest we turn to GIK's text. Frankly, I've only started to read it after reading David's article, and although I haven't finished yet, I can already tell that a lot of critical posts here were written without much regard for the actual content of the text. So if you've all read it, please stick to it if you want to criticize it; if you haven't, or don't remember the details, maybe you should give it a go and then present a really devastating – or at least textually accurate – criticism.

capricorn wrote:
This is why Marx's criticism of similar "labour money" schemes in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy , the Grundrisse and elsewhere does apply to the Dutch Council Communists' scheme (though not necessarily to other schemes for distribution in communist society as it emerges from capitalism).

No, it doesn't. In GIK, the average labor time is measured by the producers themselves, and the total stats are kept by a specific unit (which is part of the sector that's fully "communized" from the start, a "general social use" establishment). Moreover, the target of Marx's critique in were projects which kept commodity production intact – i.e., enterprises would trade and compete. None of that happens in GIK. The only "trade" is the exchange of labor vouchers for means of consumption by individual producers.

However, you are correct in pointing out the GIK's disdain for central authorities. They go to great pains to demarcate their system from central planning and emphasize that everything is in the hands of workers councils and the supreme economic council. Why is that a bad thing?

capricorn wrote:
They envisaged this coming about by tying individual consumption strictly to hours worked and tying the prices of the products strictly to their labour-time content, without any possibility of variation in either case (any such variation would be an exercise of arbitrary power by an undesirable central administration).

What textual basis does this have?

GIK wrote:
The Factor of Individual Consumption (FIC) thus becomes ever smaller in a degree proportional to the growth of communism.

(http://www.marxists.org/subject/left-wing/gik/1930/06.htm)

Moreover, from the very start there's never a perfect corresponedence between the average labor-time expended and the labor-time "consumed" due to the accumulation fund and deductions to the fully communized sector.

You are right, though, to point out the "objective" nature of the system (probably in part motivated by the socialist calculation debate, of which the GIK seem to have viewed Mises as the winner), in the sense that the books are open to everyone, the relationship of the producer to the product is transparent, and everyone knows what's going on. Again, how is that bad thing in itself?

Ocelot, are we still talking about GIK? Because I'm not sure if your criticism (interesting as it is) still relates to that. If you look at their text you will see that they were arguing precisely against a central authority and a priori planning on the one hand (what they call "social-democratic" or "state" communism) and market socialism on the other. There's certainly none of this in GIK: "to allow the exchange system to generate a price system", with "price being the modification of cost by demand, so as to serve it's allocative function". Labor-time is purely a unit of accounting in GIK's text.

I also find your thesis about the "commodification of labor power" somewhat difficult to stomach, given that under capitalism as we analyze it, labor power (i.e., the commodity) is sold for its value (i.e., the SNLT of reproduction), whereas nothing of the sort happens in gikismo. (Also, labor has no value and is no value etc., you must have been in a hurry I guess.)

capricorn
Jan 29 2013 22:39
jura wrote:
You are right, though, to point out the "objective" nature of the system (probably in part motivated by the socialist calculation debate, of which the GIK seem to have viewed Mises as the winner)

Precisely. And that's what's wrong with their whole scheme. Since Mises was wrong in claiming that without some "objective" factor such as prices determined by the market no rational organisation of the production and distribution of wealth was possible, the GIK scheme is unnecessary. It's a proposed solution to a false problem posed by an implacable opponent of communism.

The GIK uncritically accepted that Mises's claim that "central planning" was unworkable, even impossible, and so devised their own self-regulating alternative to Mises's "free" market, i.e. the fixing of pay and prices in accordance with the free (from interference by any "central administration" which in anarchist fashion they equate with "the State") operation of the objectively determined "average social hour of labour".

But why won't "central planning" work? Why was Mises right to claim that Otto Neurath was being utopian in arguing (as quoted in the GIK pamphlet) that:

Quote:
The science of the Socialist economy recognises only one single economic master: society itself, which, without reckoning of profit or loss, without the circulation of any form of money, whether it be precious metals or 'labour money' reflecting an economic plan, organises production without the aid of any unit of accounting control and distributes the means of life according to Socialist principles.

jura wrote:
capricorn wrote:
They envisaged this coming about by tying individual consumption strictly to hours worked and tying the prices of the products strictly to their labour-time content, without any possibility of variation in either case (any such variation would be an exercise of arbitrary power by an undesirable central administration).

What textual basis does this have?

See his criticism in chapter V of Otto Leichter for proposing that workers' "pay" should be based on a statistically-calculated physiological minimum (as opposed to distribution in accordance with contribution to average social labour time):

Quote:
the producers shall have allocated to them products in exchange for their labour-power on the basis of norms which have absolutely nothing to do with any system of labour-time accounting. On the contrary, it is the social statistician and the subsistence physiologist who should determine the quantity and quality of life necessities which the human individual needs for the maintenance of life, and it is they who "fix a definite number of labour-hours which correspond approximately to the minimum necessary for existence" (page 64). It is by this means that the "standard scientifically estimated and balanced ration of life necessities" (page 64) is determined. This minimum ration, reflecting a physiological subsistence norm, then becomes the basis for payment. What possible connection is there between this and the system of labour-time accounting in production?

Later on Leichter is criticised for proposing that "prices" need not correspond to their average labour-time content:

Quote:
Let us now turn our attention to the prices of products as Leichter conceives them. Although we would have expected that in this case at least the social average production time would have been valid as the determinative basis for the prices of products, we find that in fact this is by no means the case.

Eugene Varga is criticised in similar terms for advocating equal distribution:

Quote:
Leichter, however, is not the only one to seek his salvation in a "price policy": Varga also makes this the centre of gravity in a communist system of distribution. He differs only from his colleagues Neurath, Leichter, etc. only insofar as he approves in principle of a system of equal distribution of the social product.

and

Quote:
We have already noted that state communism of the Varga brand knows nothing of any economic scale of measurement determining the distribution of raw materials and means of production. The allocation of materials needed by industry for current production is carried out solely "by order of the relevant authorities" and is in no way determined objectively by the process of production itself. From the point of view of both social and economic policy, industrial production thus leads to a total fiasco. In social policy, because producers end up in a situation of total dependence upon those authorities which allocate the products; in economic policy, because under a system of distribution based upon subjective administrative assessments the needs of reproduction are not guaranteed.

In short, any departure from the strict application of the "average social hour of labour" as a result of a decision of a central administration is denounced as "subjective" and "State communism" and, as Mises claimed, leading to chaos..

Marx's criticism of "labour money" is applicable to the GIK scheme because that scheme claims to be self-regulating way of deciding production and distribution on the basis on an objective "average social hour of labour" that is supposed to correspond to "socially necessary labour-time" under capitalism. But, as Marx pointed out, it is not possible to calculate this "average" in advance because of changing productivity and fuctuating demand.

Jura wrote:
However, you are correct in pointing out the GIK's disdain for central authorities. They go to great pains to demarcate their system from central planning and emphasize that everything is in the hands of workers councils and the supreme economic council. Why is that a bad thing?

What's wrong with a central administration as long as its not a State and is democratically accountable?

alb
Jan 30 2013 10:16
jura wrote:
I'm a bit disappointed by this discussion. If we are to go on, I suggest we turn to GIK's text. Frankly, I've only started to read it after reading David's article,

Fair enough. Good point. People might also like to familiarise themselves with the similar blueprint for a labour-time voucher economy put forward by the SLP of America by reading Daniel De Leon's Fifteen Questions About Socialism. This will allow the blueprint to be judged independently of the general political position of those who advocate it. In other words, bring out that it's not an exclusive Council Communist idea.

ocelot
Jan 30 2013 17:40

Gah! Way to kill a thread. The first time I dipped into the GIK's Fundamentals was over 20 years ago and I only read long enough to realise (disappointedly, as other sources had them down as genuine communists - entirely wrong) that they were time-chitters. A couple of years ago I found this again on libcom and tried to read it properly this time, but couldn't make it past the first chapter (which, imo is already damning enough) and I have just reconfirmed that experience (that the text is as much a giant concoction of wrong as I took it to be over 2 decades ago) through gritted teeth today. But anyway, I shall persevere with the later chapters this time (I just hope there's more slagging off other ortho Marxists, as that's quite fun, and less of the excruciating "right to the full product of labour" bourgeois utopianism - a sort of Industrial Josiah Warrenism - gack!)

jura
Jan 30 2013 22:17

I'm sorry I haven't had more time to think about and post on this thread, I'm too busy with stuff I have to do right now. 20 years ago I was into Mary Poppins so cut me some slack grandpa.

Sander
Feb 1 2013 06:00

My friend Mac Intosh commented on this text:
David Adam frames his text as a refutation of Dauve’s critique of the GIC on the grounds that Pannekoek, the GIC, and the Grundprinzipien, was faithful to Marx. That, however, can’t resolve the question of labor-time accounting as the basis for production and distribution in what Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Program, designated as the lower stage of communism. The problem may, indeed, not be the GIC’s, but Marx’s in 1875. In the CGP, Marx did not portray labor-time accounting as a manifestation of the law of value. In that very restricted sense Adam is correct. Again, however, that doesn’t resolve things. The GIC did not, of course, have access to the bulk of Marx’s manuscripts for his critique of political economy; we do today. So, the question, then becomes, in the light of a reading of those manuscripts, and, in the light of nearly 150 years of capitalist “development” since then, how should communists today see the use of labor vouchers as the basis of communist production and distribution in Marx’s lower stage of communism? Adam acknowledges that labor vouchers will disappear in the higher stage of communism (p. 4), so they are clearly incompatible with a human community beyond capitalism. What, then, is the reason why labor vouchers are preferable to immediately providing many goods and services (for example, transportation, housing, electricity, heat, etc.) based on need, or at worst on some kind of system of rationing? Even Paul Mattick in his introduction to the republication of the Grundprinzipien (1970) raised questions about the need for labor-vouchers, though Adam doesn’t mention that. The real question, though, for me, is that labor-time accounting is yoked to the value-form, that it presupposes the existence of abstract labor, a core category of capitalist social relations of production. Adam claims that labor-time accounting pertains only to the production and distribution of use-values. But as Marx has shown in his manuscripts (The Grundrisse and the 1861-1863 manuscript for Volume I of Capital), use-value yoked to labor time is subjected to the law of value. It’s there, I would argue that the issue has to be addressed, and not over whether the GIC was faithful to Marx’s CGP.

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 09:14

Here is a quote from Marxist-Humanist, Andrew Kliman from an article by him on the MHI website, I think it is particularly relevant to this discussion. Kliman is talking about Marx's CGP, the "lower stage," and about "directly social labor." (in order to have a communist society, labor certainly needs to be "directly social" and "concrete", rather than "abstract," as Marx defines it, I think most people here would agree with that statement.)

Andrew Kliman:

Quote:
Marx did not spell out what must be changed in order for directly social labor to be a sustainable reality. But one thing is certain. Just as the dogma that labor is directly social, and therefore equal, “does not become true because a bank believes in it and conducts its operations [accordingly],” it does not become true because the Central Committee of the Party or the federation of workers’ councils believes in it and conducts its operations accordingly. The equality of labors is not something one can impose by fiat, passing a law, or agreeing to count all labor equally[...] lasting changes in the political realm must be grounded in changes in the mode of production, not the reverse.

So for Kliman, production determines distribution. I believe David Adam (another regular contributor to the MHI website) writes something similar in this article.

Kliman goes on about "directly social labor":

Quote:
[...] if the economic relations are such that different labors aren’t actually equal, counting them as equal will be a principle at loggerheads with practice. For instance, if we “declare” that the labor of a surgeon and a nurse’s aide are equal, it is almost inevitable that a black market for surgical services will quickly emerge. Either that, or “we’ll” have to enforce the equality through military-state power that has no prospect of withering away[...] So the issue is not whether we count different labors equally-politics is not in command, despite what Mao said-but whether the social relations are such that different labors actually count equally. The task is to work out what such social relations are, and what is required to make them real[...]This is one of the most fundamental tasks we face today, I believe.

How does labor becomes "directly social?" Apparently, Kliman does not have the answer, nor do I think Adam does, and they seem to make no bones about it

The most important question, however, is whether or not such a "certificate" or "book-keeping" system, as the type in the GIK or the type touch-on in the CGP, really would be tied to the Law of Value. The answer in the affirmative seems to be because a "type-of" exchange occurs- an exchange which is, supposedly, essentially capitalist. Textually, however, it appears Marx certainly believes the "lower stage" he barely outlined in the CGP would be genuinely communist. This is consistent with his critiques of utopian-socialists, starting with the Grundrisse, up through the CGP.

However, Marx could certainly be wrong on this one and that is what should concern us. That is, what should concern us is whether or not such a system really would give rise to a fully developed communist society rather than back to a capitalist one. I find Marx's, and Adam's, arguments to be quite persuasive, but to be honest, I'm not convinced.

One more thing; In another thread, Joseph Kay reviewed David Graeber's book, "Debt." In this review, Joseph made an interesting argument in favor of not viewing any type of exchange which could occur in a "socialist society" as inherently Capitalist. In this argument:

Quote:
...in taking Marx's Capital as a critique of actually-existing capitalism, we could well be overstating the power of capital[...] There's a tendency to deduce[...] that any time anything exchanges for a price, capitalism will be reproduced[...] Graeber sees it very differently. In the absence of state power, market exchanges tend not to give rise to the inhuman monster of capital (markets, and even wage labour, after all, have existed far longer than capitalism), but rather tend to be re-absorbed into a moral economy of a human society, a society to which Marx's account doesn't apply (e.g. Graeber's example of Islamic 'free markets' discussed above).

The consequence is significant. Rather than seeing every exchange for a price as the seed of a resurgent capitalism, Graeber sees exchange as tending towards being embedded in social relations and a moral economy unless this is actively prevented from happening by state power. So in this sense, something like a 'free market' anarchism wouldn't resemble a commercial market at all, but something closer to a gift economy, with everyone taking what they need on trust then settling up in periodic 'reckonings', with account taken for inability to pay.

Now, this is perhaps another example, albeit coming from quite a different point of view, of the belief that it's the social-relations which matter most when it comes to what kind of society we have, not so much the incidental existence of any sort of exchange as such, even ones which might still have some birthmarks on them. (Insert base-superstructure jokes where applicable)

Oh yes! And here are links to the pieces I cited:

Kliman: http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/what-mu...

Kay: http://libcom.org/blog/thoughts-david-graeber%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98debt-fi...

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 08:48

Sander said:

Quote:
Adam acknowledges that labor vouchers will disappear in the higher stage of communism (p. 4), What, then, is the reason why labor vouchers are preferable to immediately providing many goods and services (for example, transportation, housing, electricity, heat, etc.) based on need, or at worst on some kind of system of rationing?

I think the argument as to why society would not go immediately into "from each, to each" is because of the very real problems of co-ordination. The revolution would have to be world-wide. Most countries are under-developed compared to the west and would need massive assistance. Shortages might occur, even in the west, if people could take too freely. I tend to believe, however, that this is an issue which needs more serious investigating, but by no means is it an entirely unjustifiable concern, the issue of coordination.

Quite the contrary really. In fact, most average people raise such issues constantly when talking with communists about communism. These concerns must certainly be a major factor for why so many people believe there is no alternative to capitalism.

The important question you raised, however, is why not some other system of distribution? Well I don't know, what kind of system do you have in mind? Lottery perhaps? Also, you raise a good point about the type of goods and services. Should some essentials be guaranteed right away? I don't see why not... that wasn't an issue raised until now, though.

jura
Feb 1 2013 10:03

Good posts, kingzog!

capricorn
Feb 1 2013 11:56
kingzog wrote:
Andrew Kliman
Quote:
[...] if the economic relations are such that different labors aren’t actually equal, counting them as equal will be a principle at loggerheads with practice. For instance, if we “declare” that the labor of a surgeon and a nurse’s aide are equal, it is almost inevitable that a black market for surgical services will quickly emerge. Either that, or “we’ll” have to enforce the equality through military-state power that has no prospect of withering away[...] .

This is a very odd argument for a communist to use against an equal distribution of consumption vouchers as it echoes justifications for income inequality under capitalism. It is, however, a logical conclusion if you insist on the distribution of consumption vouchers being linked to an individual's contribution to production in terms of the "average social hour of labour" (not that it is possible to measure an individual's contribution to the collective effort that is production).

The GIK went further than this and insisted that this principle should also be strictly applied to the "prices" of the goods and services consumption vouchers could be used to acquire. And for the same reason: if they didn't reflect their "average social labour time content" this would lead to distortions and ultimately chaos.

Both arguments ultimately reflect Mises's argument against communism and central planning as being economically irrational. That's why the GIK scheme should be rejected as non-communist.

ocelot
Feb 1 2013 15:53

Well, personally I'm still only on ch 6 of the GIK text. Despite grumbling at Jura (* mock shakes angry fist *) for making me read it, I'm actually finding it quite interesting (if no less wrong). I agree that the acceptance of Mises economic calculation critique is one of the sources of the error, I think there is more going on than that. But I'll reserve final assessment until I've read the whole thing.

In the meantime, just for laughs - my current notes on Ch. 5:

------------------
1. Using a slightly circular definition of the wage- i.e. the diminished return to labour of its “cost” of reproduction where the surplus product is being appropriated as surplus value. Such that “the right to the full product of labour” eliminates the wage as such.

“Because of the lack of an exact relationship of the producer to the product, because of a presence of a "price policy", capitalist-type wage relations remain in force.” (Ch 5)

The “exact relationship of the producer to the product” is the key phrase in removing the mediation of value, exchange and the wage. This is the vulgar marxist value theory of assuming that SNLT appears at the time of production in the IPP of the particular locus of production - independently of wider social relations - including that of consumption (implicit Say’s law?).

“With Leichter, the objective relationship of the producer to the product is not determined in the production process itself.” (Ch 5, Leichter)

“The essential point here is that, under a system of labour-time computation, the owner-controllers of the production system, the workers themselves, exercise a complete right of disposal over the increased mass of products produced” (Ch 5, Leichter)

Also there’s a peculiar return to the doctrine of unequal exchange - i.e. that exploitation appears as the deviation of prices from labour-cost - we have returned to the ‘accumulation by force or fraud’ of the Smithian socialists. Leichter’s “price policy” here being the instrument of accumulation qua fraud.

2. Cost/price issue. Labour-time can only be measured as a cost when it is not contested. The fact of making the share of the social product returned to the producer proportionate to the “costed labour-time” actually makes the cost into a price. (this is admitted in Ch 4, re individual factories producing at a surplus or loss relative to the social average).

The wage is the price of labour, exchanged as commodity.

While the critique of the “prices policy” of state socialism is correct, what is not seen is that each individual production unit has the opportunity of operating its own “prices policy” by misreporting its local average labour time. The “price problem” is not simply a top-down issue, but also a horizontal one.

3. Objective/subjective issue. GIK correctly criticises centralised administration of allocation of resources, as per Hilferding/GOSPlan via bureaucratic, statistical CiK means, as leading necessarily to form of bureaucratic class rule. They characterise these relations of distribution (and allocation) as

“a system of distribution based upon subjective administrative assessments” (Ch 5, Varga)

NB, as a system of bureaucratic subjectivity. Whereas the virtue of labour-time accounting is it’s “objective” nature. The obscurantist/transparent dichotomy is associated with this, but the subjective/objective diad is primary.

“With this system, the subjective element is eliminated along with the centralised power of disposal over the production apparatus, because management and administration of both production and distribution lie in the hands of the producers.” (Ch 5 Varga)

4. Market/plan allocation issue.

5. “Toothpaste” issue - implicit assumption that social product is homogeneous and undifferentiated (or always shared in exactly equal proportions) c.f. Keen on impossibility of DSGE aggregate demand curves.

6. “Time is inescapably an element of cost” - yes, but not necessarily restricted to labour-time. Trivially true that all material cost elements, whether c or v, have a time dimension, due to 4-dimensional nature of reality. Hence CO2, water, etc, all accounted for within a given time period.

7. Eliminating the exploiting class (or the structures that make an exploiting class possible) does not end the contradictions of capitalist production, it merely internalises them into the relations between producers themselves. In places this is recognised:

“an antagonistic mode of distribution of the product will always lead to rivalries and quarrels within the working class itself.” (Ch 5, Varga)

But the idea that distribution according to labour-time accounting could itself be an antagonistic mode of distribution, is never properly considered. Mostly because of their assessment that Mises critique of CiK calculation is correct leaves no room for alternatives.

alb
Feb 1 2013 17:30

The technological pessimists here seem to be assuming that when socialism/communism is first established free access to available goods and services will be the exception and rationing (because that's what we're talking about) the norm. That may well have been, or would really have been, the case in 1875, perhaps even in 1931 but, surely, not today. I suggest that today the situation will be the other way round: free access the rule and rationing the exception.

There's nothing wrong with speculating about this but it is rather ridiculous for us now to be trying to draw up a detailed blueprint like the Dutch Council Communists' one for what should be done. That's not only utopian as it doesn't (and can't) take into account the exact conditions that will exist then, but it's also undemocratic in that it's dictating to those around at the time whose decision it will be.

Someone (Jura, I think) suggested earlier that it won't be possible to supply everyone on the planet with an Ipad. Why not? An Ipad is only a glorified mobile phone and so not all that difficult to manufacture in huge quantities. Already mobile phone use is spreading outside "the West", if only because this is cheaper than building an infrastructure of land lines from scratch. I agree that this wouldn't be a priority (increasing food production to eliminate destitution and malnourishment would be), though spreading the use of mobile phones could help in this.

OK, I'm a technological optimist.

batswill
Feb 1 2013 17:55
Quote:
jura wrote:
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.).

You are very accurate and I agree. I have no need to read beyond your explanation.

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 18:59

alb wrote

Quote:
There's nothing wrong with speculating about this but it is rather ridiculous for us now to be trying to draw up a detailed blueprint like the Dutch Council Communists' one for what should be done. That's not only utopian as it doesn't (and can't) take into account the exact conditions that will exist then, but it's also undemocratic in that it's dictating to those around at the time whose decision it will be.

Just talking ("speculating," as you say) about a particular "blueprint" isn't dictating to anyone. Also, this paragraph you wrote above is self-contradictory. At first you say "nothing is wrong with speculating" but then at the end of the paragraph you say, "it's also undemocratic...it's dictating." lol! but who are you to dictate what can and cannot be debated? Why do i ask? Because that is what you seem to be trying to do! Sorry,but your point really makes no sense.

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 19:50

capricorn wrote:

Quote:
This is a very odd argument for a communist to use against an equal distribution of consumption vouchers as it echoes justifications for income inequality under capitalism. It is, however, a logical conclusion if you insist on the distribution of consumption vouchers being linked to an individual's contribution to production in terms of the "average social hour of labour"...

Capricorn,

I think that Kliman is arguing for an an equal distribution of the social product, but with consumption tied to hours worked. One key difference between this and capitalism, as far as "remuneration for work" is concerned, is that everyone's labor would become equal. therefore, there wouldn't be any "unequal income." One persons hour of labor would be equal to any other persons hour.

Neither would there be any need to measure the "exact contribution" of each person...

Capricorn wrote:

Quote:
...(not that it is possible to measure an individual's contribution to the collective effort that is production)

... certainly true, but based on what I argued previously about "equality of labor's"- which is itself based on Kliman's piece, I don't think this concern would apply.

The question that has really yet to be answered, however, is: how does "equality of labor's" become a reality? This cannot be something which is just declared to be true , and then so becomes true. The social relations must be transformed. So how does this happen? These are the questions that Adam's piece leads us to and these are the questions that Kliman asks at the end of his paper that I cited.

capricorn wrote:

Quote:
Both arguments ultimately reflect Mises's argument against communism and central planning as being economically irrational. That's why the GIK scheme should be rejected as non-communist.

this point interests me a lot. I used to read a lot of arguments by austrian-schoolers in support of the "socialist calculation" problem. I don't believe it is insurmountable, but it actually is a real concern.

how would resources be efficiently distributed in society? And I don't just mean the distribution of consumer goods, but goods needed, or consumed, in the production process. For example, what if the bottle makers syndicate decides to cut production because they dislike the work, but the beer brewers simultaneously increases production- for whatever reason? There would be a mismatch which, under capitalism, would have been resolved, rather quickly, through price mechanisms. But without prices resources would be wasted and shortages could even occur. This could be very disruptive to society, and people would eventually lose faith in the system if it happened frequently. Like in the USSR...

the Socialist calculation thing, as Mises put it, might be overblown and fallacious because it assumes a sort of state-communism, but we should not dismiss any claim's or concerns that issue's of coordination could potentially be a problem in the early stages of a communist society that is emerging from a capitalist one.

Cooked
Feb 1 2013 20:28

Other than the finer points discussed above isn't there a much large issue with the whole "withering" theory presented again.

Seems odd not to take this more seriously considering that previous experiments have shown that systems and organisations tends to have serious inertia and that in any system vested interests that work for the continuation of the system develop.

In my view it's a terrible idea to propose that society should go through a massive transformation building a complicated society wide infrastructure (mainly organisational) and to expect years later to transform society again as if no momentum has been lost.

Even a technically "failed" system seems able to chug along on the fumes of culture, habits and organisational structures.

alb
Feb 1 2013 21:16
kingzog wrote:
Just talking ("speculating," as you say) about a particular "blueprint" isn't dictating to anyone. Also, this paragraph you wrote above is self-contradictory. At first you say "nothing is wrong with speculating" but then at the end of the paragraph you say, "it's also undemocratic...it's dictating." lol! but who are you to dictate what can and cannot be debated? Why do i ask? Because that is what you seem to be trying to do! Sorry,but your point really makes no sense.

I don't seem to have been clear enough. I was trying to draw a distinction between "speculation" (ok, nothing wrong with that) and "drawing up a blueprint" (not ok, as laying down what must happen). The Dutch Council Communists' document is very much a blueprint, but it's not the only one. Michael Albert's "Parecon" is one too. If they agreed they were just speculating that would be ok, but the detail into which they enter and insist on being followed shows that they are doing more than this. That's what I was objecting to as undemocratic because of trying to lay down the future, not to discussing their blueprints. I imagine that's what Marx and Engels thought of Fourier's "phalansteries".

RedHughs
Feb 1 2013 21:20

Ocelot's points are good. Mine are perhaps less substantive but here goes.

Kliman-per-Kingzog wrote:
[...] if the economic relations are such that different labors aren’t actually equal, counting them as equal will be a principle at loggerheads with practice. For instance, if we “declare” that the labor of a surgeon and a nurse’s aide are equal, it is almost inevitable that a black market for surgical services will quickly emerge. Either that, or “we’ll” have to enforce the equality through military-state power that has no prospect of withering away[...]

As Capricorn says, this seems like a strange argument. It seems like a strong argument for parecon instead of labor vouchers and but not at all an argument for labor vouchers as such.

Kingzog wrote:
I think the argument as to why society would not go immediately into "from each, to each" is because of the very real problems of co-ordination. The revolution would have to be world-wide. Most countries are under-developed compared to the west and would need massive assistance. Shortages might occur, even in the west, if people could take too freely. I tend to believe, however, that this is an issue which needs more serious investigating, but by no means is it an entirely unjustifiable concern, the issue of coordination.

The implication that labor vouchers might help planning/coordination are a whole issue that I'll otherwise pass over since it's not an argument Marx makes AFAIK but we can still look at the question of labor vouchers and world-scale redistribution.

The thing is, the lack of a developed production system could be an argument against unlimited distribution but it also doesn't seem like an argument for labor vouchers. The alternative is the direct, per-person rationing of scarce goods. This approach, lacking anything like a normal market, would be less subject to black markets. Further, any labor voucher system would require considerably more "controls" and "price-like" behavior than simple rationing and thus it would require more effort to implement, effort that might be expended in simply getting past the scarcity.

I mean, the Kliman point about labor vouchers is strong but in the sense that it shows that labor voucher can serve as leverage for a return to capitalist relations.

Further, the argument that a communist society would involve lots of direct distribution to third world nations should tell you something. The workers in Africa say, would certainly then not be receiving the results of their labor power divided in any fashion but would instead be receiving the results of the ultra-productive laborers of the West, China and East-Asia. Society would be immediately doing "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" on a world scale. So "paying" African workers by their hour would be only an exercise in control/pseudo-fairness since the "real payoff" wouldn't initially be coming out of the results of their labor but in the goods arriving on the docks.

Of course, an important point along with all this is that a communist society wouldn't/shouldn't be aiming to give everyone in the world a Western-style consumption pattern or dividing the Western consumption pattern into fractional parts for the whole world. Rather, the aim will have to be for a production system that more than meets direct physical needs and which meets social needs via a return of community.

I remember the last time the whole labor voucher issue raised it's hoary head, the pro-voucher group talked about the need to ration things like theater tickets and meals in upscale scale restaurants. My assumption is that a communist society would lack celebrities and envy of the elite, would have small-scale communal theatres where local performers entertain their friends and neighbors, would have communal kitchen that produced food with possibly more skill than the dubious quality of even expensive restaurant, would still the Internet, and so-forth. IE, society could meet human needs fairly quickly and with considerably fewer resources than American suburbanite expend today in living miserably.

But hey that just what I think, perhaps the answer is that instead of immediately creating a utopia of simple, socialized abundance, we should spend centuries of education until a society of equal work distributes luxury automobiles, gold Jewelry, Suburban McMassions, iPhones, meetings with celebrities, Dinners at five-star restaurants, Hollywood Movie tickets and seats at Broadway Musicals in a self-managed, according-to-your-labor fashion (though how you'd distribute ins with celebrities equally is quandary).

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 23:14

good post red, i think that the aid to the 3rd world could be one reason why workers, in the west especially, would receive the "diminished proceeds of labor" (see the CGP) rather than the full fruits. u get a portion tied to hours worked, minus some taken for those who cannot work and for the general wealfare.

sorry, all i can write, for now.

kingzog
Feb 1 2013 23:27

Fair enough alb,

but I do not think it's wrong to even come up with "blueprints". Just the act of working out how things might be is not dictating to anyone in the future. Just because albert and hahnel wrote a book called parecon does not dictate anything to anyone. Dictating means just that, giving orders and setting policy. A book that works out possible future alternatives to capitalism is not, in itself, setting any policy. In fact, it can be a very useful exercise and could spare future people the trouble of figuring out important things under pressure.

I think there needs to be a lot more of these kind of discussions and writings. nothing wrong about that.

Alf
Feb 2 2013 00:42

I have been working on an article about the series Mitchell wrote in Bilan in the 1930s on the period of transition, which include a fraternal polemic with the GIK's book (the Bilan articles can be found on the ICC's website, under the heading of International Review 128-132 http://en.internationalism.org/booktree/2145). Dave sent me a copy of his article and although I think many of Mitchell's criticisms of the GIK's schema are correct (particularly their severe underestimation of the political dimension of the transitional period), reading it made me re-think Mitchell's argument that the measurement of production on the basis of labour time necessarily involves the value relation, which I think has been a direct influence in the approach of Dauve and the 'communisation' current. Dave certainly demonstrates that Mitchell's view doesn't really accord with Marx's on this point.
This is a very interesting discussion and I will try to come back to it when I have more time.

capricorn
Feb 2 2013 07:33
kingzog wrote:
I think that Kliman is arguing for an an equal distribution of the social product, but with consumption tied to hours worked. One key difference between this and capitalism, as far as "remuneration for work" is concerned, is that everyone's labor would become equal. therefore, there wouldn't be any "unequal income." One persons hour of labor would be equal to any other persons hour.

I'm sure this will be his position and that he doesn't favour unequal labour-time "pay", but I don't see why a communist society would need to seek to make everybody's labour contribution equal. "From each according to their ability ..." assumes that people's contributions will be different. Kliman's position, as you describe it, seems to be "from each according to their equal labour contribution, to each according to their equal labour contribution". But why, too, should everybody's needs be considered to be equal?

You do say that Kliman (nor anyone else) does not have a solution as to how to make everyone's labour contribution equal, but I imagine it would have to be along the lines of sharing different types of work equally. But while it will be possible for a surgeon to wash patients and empty bed pans I wouldn't want to be operated on by a nurses' aide, though I'm sure that both could, and should, have an equal say in the way a hospital is run.

But, I repeat, why is it necessary to devise schemes for trying to make everyone's labour contribution equal? The real "fundamental" communist principle of production and distribution is "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" ,i.e., "from each according to their different ability, to each according to their different needs". Even if, in the early stages of communist society as it emerges from capitalism, it might not be possible to satisfy everybody's needs fully, production and distribution could be organised on the basis of "from each according to their different ability, to each according to the democratically-decided reasonable needs of people in the same situation" rather than this equal time for equal time business which is only a reflection of what is supposed to happen ideally under capitalism.

kingzog
Feb 2 2013 08:27

Well, Kliman hints that the solution to making labor contributions equal would be massive education and a dispersing of specialized skills. He makes the point that education under capitalism is a lot about making unnecessary specializations. So I think, for him, the transformation from capitalism to communism will entail a radical change in education and in "work" so that...

(Capricorn wrote:)

Quote:
it would have to be along the lines of sharing different types of work equally

As far as why it would be necessary to make all labor's equal: I might be going out on a limb here, but I think, for MHI and/or Kliman, it is to prevent a group or clique of skilled people and others from gaining and holding monopolies on their skills and work and thus using this position to form an exploiting elite.

If you watch, on the MHI site, some of the video's where Kliman talks. I think the one "is an emancipatory communism possible"and the one with a panel including Michael Albert, he makes this exact sort of argument about education and dispersing skills.

Seems like an insurmountable task, no? I have no clear opinion on this yet, honestly.

RedHughs
Feb 2 2013 20:03
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Well, Kliman hints that the solution to making labor contributions equal would be massive education and a dispersing of specialized skills. He makes the point that education under capitalism is a lot about making unnecessary specializations. So I think, for him, the transformation from capitalism to communism will entail a radical change in education and in "work" so that...

Apart from finding effort to unravel anyone's "hints" a little disturbing... I would say that;

This leads back to the problem mentioned by Cooked. The more effort you are going spend on and the more elaboration you add to this "transition" system, the harder it would be for it to wither away. Now you (or Kliman's hints) are committing to an, at least, decade-long program to equalize the social value of each person's labor power in order to compensate them equally in order to make the transition phase more palatable.

Not that education is bad, of course. But the waiting for a perfect world before we get real communism thing has a long, nasty history to it.

kingzog
Feb 2 2013 22:04

well i'm sorry you found it disturbing, red. the last thing i want to do is to "disturb" you, haha. smile

EDIT: Maybe I should have just said, "Kliman states that this must happen..." rather than saying "Kliman hints that," because he really is explicitly saying these things, if my memory serves me well

kingzog
Feb 2 2013 22:05

but in all seriousness, I'm not so sure if his idea of this "communist-education system" would be implemented simply during the transitional (transformational in his terms) period. It seems it would be the situation forever and always.

Education is a life-long, never-ending process, no? And please, think of the children! wink

RedHughs
Feb 3 2013 02:18

It seems like you're dodging the argument I make above.

If we need to achieve equality in labor-value before the end of the transition, then the transition is being planned to last a long time.

And overall, it illustrates how finer the detail with which you look at problem of making sure everyone consumes equal labor time and everyone creates equal increases, the more problem increases in difficulty. As a guide for planning, "from each according to her/his ability, to each according to her/his needs" actually looks better. A planning committee merely has to determine available resources - abilities, and planning goals - needs. Naturally, you need to discover the means to meet the goals/needs most efficiently, which is the challenge of planning. But the problem doesn't have the "tight couplings" that a labor-value economy would have.