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

kingzog
Feb 3 2013 03:51

Hey, I'm not exactly advocating his idea's, I just felt it was necessary to explain to explain it since it is related to David Adam's interpretation of Marx.

That said, remember, according to these guys, the lower stage would not be a "value" economy since labor would, purportedly, be directly social.

David Adam:

Quote:
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.

I read SIC #1 today, for the first time and according to them, labor-time accounting is tied to the law of value. I don't think this has a textual basis in Marx, as Adam explains in this piece, but it could very well be true. But, again, I'm sort of playing devil's advocate here.

EDIT: I don't really have all the answers to your questions, regarding the "withering away," other than that the MHI crowd does not believe in a transitional society. They see the "lower stage" as just a less developed part of the same communism. Goods are sort of rationed by labor-accounting to prevent shortages and education is radically changed to equalize skills..etc,. They interpret marx as suggesting a transitional "state"- the dict-prole, they seem to agree with that.

...At least I think that sums things up. Also, I personally do not believe in a transitional society.

capricorn
Feb 3 2013 13:01

I think Red's point is that it would take a whole generation to educate and train everybody up to a comparable level of skill (so that their labour contribution will be the same), so what do you do in the meantime, i.e for the first 20 to 30 years? The logic of "to each according to his labour" says that there should be inequality of pay during this period, though there is the Mao/Pol Pot alternative of forcing all skilled people to do unskilled work (but that would drastically reduce productivity and postpone even further the coming of abundance).

The whole idea of trying to render everybody's labour contribution equal is nonsense. It's a caricature of communism on a par with how Cabet proposed to achieve in it in his utopian novel Voyage to Icaria by requiring everybody to wear the same clothes.

A lot can be said against the GIK scheme but at least they didn't go down this road.

In fact they say the opposite:

Quote:
Let us now consider the reproduction of labour-power in particular. In our example 600,000,000 Labour-Hours are available for individual consumption. More than this cannot and must not be consumed, because in the industrial establishments only 600,000,000 Labour-Hours in the form of labour certificates has been accounted for. This however bears no relation to how that product is to be distributed amongst the workers. It is, for instance, quite possible that unskilled, skilled and intellectual labour will all be remunerated differently. Distribution could, for instance, be carried out on such a basis that the unskilled receive three-quarters of an hour pro rata for each one hour performed, the skilled exactly one hour and the officials and fore-persons three hours.

Noa Rodman
Feb 3 2013 17:26

Except for the Marx and Engels quotes by Adam, there is another place where Marx speaks of directly social labour, namely in the production of money. Cyril Smith claims this is a translation error, but I think it's not.
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm

"However, through the fact that the natural form of a commodity (linen, in this case) becomes a universal Equivalent-form because all other commodities relate themselves to this natural form as the appearance-form of their own value, hence linen-weaving also turns into a universal form of realization of abstract human labour or into labour of immediately social form. The standard of ‘socialness’ must be borrowed from the nature of those relationships which are proper to each mode of production, and not from conceptions which are foreign to it. Just as we demonstrated earlier that the commodity naturally excludes the immediate form of universal exchange-ability and that the universal Equivalent-form consequently can only develop in a contradictory way, so the same thing holds for the private labours lurking in the commodities. Since they are not-immediately social labour, in the first place the social form is a form which differs from the natural forms of the real, useful labours and is foreign to them and abstract; and in the second place, all kinds of private labour obtain their social character only in a contradictory way, by all being equated to one exclusive kind of private labour (linen-weaving, in this case). This latter thereby becomes the immediate and universal form of appearance of abstract human labour and thereby labour in immediately social form. It manifests itself consequently also in a product which is socially valid and universally exchangeable."

(in German:
http://archive.org/stream/KarlMarxDasKapitalErstausgabe1867/KapitalErsta... )

I think an important line is when Marx writes that "The standard of ‘socialness’ must be borrowed from the nature of those relationships which are proper to each mode of production, and not from conceptions which are foreign to it."

Capitalist commodity production is "not-directly" social labour, but social labour it is (and money is even directly social). I think Proudhon's error is to want to make this capitalist 'socialness' direct in communism (by making all commodities into money).

.

"Hence, the second peculiarity of the equivalent form is, that concrete labour becomes the form under which its opposite, abstract human labour, manifests itself.

But because this concrete labour, tailoring in our case, ranks as, and is directly identified with, undifferentiated human labour, it also ranks as identical with any other sort of labour, and therefore with that embodied in the linen. Consequently, although, like all other commodity-producing labour, it is the labour of private individuals, yet, at the same time, it ranks as labour directly social in its character. This is the reason why it results in a product directly exchangeable with other commodities. We have then a third peculiarity of the equivalent form, namely, that the labour of private individuals takes the form of its opposite, labour directly social in its form. "

kingzog
Feb 4 2013 04:07

Hmm, interesting point capricorn.

I haven't read the GIK, but it looks like their system allows for a great deal of inequality.

capricorn
Feb 4 2013 10:32
Quote:
Distribution could, for instance, be carried out on such a basis that the unskilled receive three-quarters of an hour pro rata for each one hour performed, the skilled exactly one hour and the officials and fore-persons three hours.

I am trying to find the original German version of the pamphlet as this English translation is not the same as the French one, which says:

Quote:
Il serait tout à fait possible qu’un travailleur non qualifié touche l’équivalent de 3/4 d’heure en PRD pour une heure de travail effectivement effectuée, tandis que le qualifié recevrait juste une heure, le fonctionnaire une heure et demie et le directeur d’entreprise trois heures.

That, for each hour worked, the unskilled worker could receive three-quarters, a skilled worker exactly an hour, an official (office worker?) an hour-and-a-half and the factory manager three hours.

I think there were two German versions, but it would be interesting to know where the factory manager went (or how he got demoted to rather well-paid foreman).

To be fair, it is not clear whether this division of the product was meant to be permanent or something imposed by circumstances at the beginning since later they do say that their ideal is that "the social product is equally distributed". In other words, that only time spent at work, irrespective of type of work, would count.

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 15:01
Quote:
Distribution could, for instance, be carried out on such a basis that the unskilled receive three-quarters of an hour pro rata for each one hour performed, the skilled exactly one hour and the officials and fore-persons three hours.

This is absolutely f**king nuts and is a sure ticket to black markets...and revolution. Exactly what makes a person's labor "unskilled"? The effort society puts into that person-- unless of course you buy into the capitalist "meritocracy" baloney. So now, the "unskilled laborer"-- the very class that overthrows capitalism are entitled to "less" than somehow who enjoyed, who absorbed, thesurplus aggrandized from that class of unskilled laborers?

If there ever was a way of making labor vouchers into money, that pro-rata system is it.

If you want to play that game, it, the use of labor vouchers, has to be based on a strict, and formal equality. Marx recognizes this in his critique of the Gotha Program, because after all, the formal equality is materially unequal because of the individual needs.

Any rationing system, and labor vouchers, like money, are essentially that, is a system based on scarcity, and will inevitably reproduce class relations.

I think that a labor voucher be a qualitative "vehicle" and not quantitative. "Yes the comrade has contributed his/her time." That's it. Then, if rationing is required, it is done purely on the basis of need.

Hell, IMO, the Cubans' had a "more socialist" method, during the "special period"-- when a basic ration for all was supplemented by the special allotments for children, pregnant women, those with illnesses requiring specific nutritional elements... etc. More socialist, I mean, than reproducing labor-time as value, under the guise of "skill."

Pardon the rant.

ocelot
Feb 4 2013 15:52

Only online German lang source I've found for the Grunprinzipien is http://www.mxks.de/files/kommunism/gik.html#3

But I wasn't aware there was more than one version, so no idea which this is.

However, I think it would be wiser to quote a little bit more context around that particular quote to show that things are not quite as straightforward as that initial quote, taken in isolation, would suggest. In English followed by the German:

Quote:
Let us now consider the reproduction of labour-power in particular. In our example 600,000,000 Labour-Hours are available for individual consumption. More than this cannot and must not be consumed, because in the industrial establishments only 600,000,000 Labour-Hours in the form of labour certificates has been accounted for. This however bears no relation to how that product is to be distributed amongst the workers. It is, for instance, quite possible that unskilled, skilled and intellectual labour will all be remunerated differently. Distribution could, for instance, be carried out on such a basis that the unskilled receive three-quarters of an hour pro rata for each one hour performed, the skilled exactly one hour and the officials and fore-persons three hours.

The Concept of Value Held by the Socialist Economists

And indeed, their Excellencies the economists do in fact, consider that distribution should be arranged in this way! It never even occurs to them to place an equal value on labour, that is to say, to apportion to each the same share of the social product. This, of course, is the significance of Neurath's "varying standards of living". The social statisticians determine the minimum standard necessary, to which the income of the "unskilled" workers is then made to correspond, whilst others receive a more generous remuneration according to their industriousness, their capabilities and the importance of their labour. A purely capitalist mode of thought!

Quote:
Betrachten wir jetzt die Reproduktion der Arbeitskraft im PRD zum individuellen Konsum zur Verfügung. Mehr kann und darf auch nicht konsumiert werden, weil nur für 600 Millionen Arbeitsstunden an Arbeitsgeld in den Betrieben verausgabt ist. Damit ist aber nicht gesagt, wie das Produkt unter den Arbeitern verteilt worden ist. Es ist z. B. sehr gut möglich, daß ungelernte, gelernte und intellektuelle Arbeit verschieden bezahlt wird. Die Verteilung könnte z.B. Sein, daß der Ungelernte 3 /4 Stunden für eine geleistete Arbeitsstunde ausgezahlt erhält, der Gelernte gerade eine Stunde, der Beamte 1 1 /2 und der Betriebsleiter 3 Stunden.

Der Wertbegriff der sozialistischen Oekonomen.

Tatsächlich stehen die Herren Oekonomen auf diesem Standpunkt. Es fällt ihnen nicht ein, die Arbeit gleich zu werten , also jedem den gleichen Anteil am gesellschaftlichen Produkt zu geben. Das ist denn auch die Bedeutung der Neurath'schen "Lebenslagen". Die "Ernährungsphysiologen" werden ein Existenzminimum feststellen, daß das "Einkommen" der Ungelernten vorstellt, während die anderen nach Verhältnis ihres Fleißes, ihrer Fähigkeiten und der Wichtigkeit ihrer .Arbeit mehr erhalten. Rein kapitalistisch gedacht!

(bold indicates original quote)

So the wider context gives somewhat the opposite impression from the initial quote. However... Further reading reveals there actually is some ambiguity around the question of differential remuneration (imo, somewhat at odds to the slagging they subject Neurath, Kautsky & co for, over this).

Quote:
Nevertheless, in the first stages of a communist society, it may at first be necessary that various intellectual occupations be remuneration at a higher level; that, for instance, 40 hours of labour gives the right to 80 or 120 hours of product. We have already seen that this represents no difficulty for the method of labour-time accounting. At the beginning of the communist form of society this could indeed be a just measure, if for instance the means of higher education were not available to everyone free of charge, because society is not yet sufficiently thoroughly organised on the new basis. As soon, however, as these matters have been ordered, then there can no longer be any question of giving the intellectual professions a larger share in the social product.
...
Vielleicht wird es zunächst notwendig sein, verschiedene intellektuelle Berufe noch höher zu bezahlen, daß z. B. 40 Stunden Arbeit das Anrecht gibt auf 80 oder 120 Stunden Produkt. Wir sahen schon, daß es für die Arbeitszeitrechnung kein Hindernis ist. Im Beginn der kommunistischen Ordnung kann es selbst noch eine gerechte Maßnahme sein, da z. B. Studienmaterial nicht jedermann unentgeltlich zur Verfügung steht, weil die Gesellschaft noch nicht weit genug durchorganisiert ist. Sind aber diese Dinge einmal geordnet, dann kann keine Rede mehr davon sein, den Trägern der intellektuellen Berufe einen größeren Anteil des gesellschaftlichen Produkts zu geben.

ocelot
Feb 4 2013 15:57

Meanwhile I'm still ploughing through the GIK text. As my posts can tend to the tl;dr spectrum, I thought I record my notes on Chapter 7 - specifically the crucial second part on "The Market", thus:

Haiku on GIK, ch 7, "The Market"

resolving demand?
magician's hat lies empty
a rabbit free zone

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 16:48

Thanks Ocelot. Yes, the devil's in the details. And ambiguity, while being perhaps the signature human characteristic, is precisely the veiling of the "veiled relationship" that is the wage.

Why a certain "intellectual labor" should be renumerated at a rate higher than that of others, divorced from the social needs of those performing the labor, sounds all too familiar.

kingzog
Feb 4 2013 17:12

have you guys seen this article? http://libcom.org/library/negative-positive-visions-full-communism-boats

from "Negative and positive visions, full communism, and boats":

Quote:
Claims such as "in Full Communism, we'll all spend all our time partying on boats, drinking strawberry margaritas and eating fruit from the food forests on deck" become a way of pointing out the ridiculousness of making detailed descriptions of exactly how various things will function "after the revolution". These detailed descriptions are about as useful as putting forward a vision where nothing can go wrong and every single want and desire is instantly fulfilled in an over the top fashion. On a boat.

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 17:37

Don't like boats. Don't like water. Was going to be a surfer, but hated being in the water.

No we won't, or I won't spend all our time on boats, drinking magaritas, and eating fruit from forests on deck.

We'll have to spend part of our time designing boats, constructing boats, growing agave, limes, mining salt, producing ice, glasses, tending the fruit trees, making sure there are enough bees around to pollinate the trees, producing blenders in case somebody is crass enough to ask for a frozen margarita....

The point being that "to party" is to produce for the party, so social labor does not disappear.

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 17:38

duplicate deleted

kingzog
Feb 4 2013 17:56
Quote:
The point being that "to party" is to produce for the party

classic quote.

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 18:08

Thank you, thank you.

capricorn
Feb 4 2013 18:09
ocelot wrote:
Only online German lang source I've found for the Grunprinzipien is http://www.mxks.de/files/kommunism/gik.html#3

But I wasn't aware there was more than one version, so no idea which this is.

Thanks.

I got the impression that there were two versions from what is said on the Marxist Internet Archive here:

Quote:
The first working draft was the work of the well-known German proletarian revolutionary and veteran member of the KAPD, Jan Appel, alias Max Hempel. This draft was subsequently revised and completed in Dutch by a collective composed of members of the Group of International Communists of Holland (GIK) and published in German by the Allgemeine Arbeiterunion Deutschlands (General Workers' Union of Germany) in 1930.

I'm sure the version everybody uses will be the German one published by the German union. but the fact that it was written partly in Dutch by a German and then in German might explain its rather convoluted style and perhaps some of its ambiguities.

kingzog
Feb 4 2013 21:18

I have a quote here from Kliman which I think explains clearly what *he* thinks it means for labor to be "directly social" and what he believes to be what Marx meant in the CGP, I think this is relevant.

Kliman wrote:

Quote:
I think Marx is saying, in the CGP, that, in the first phase of communism, an *actual* hour of labor performed will count directly as an hour of *social* labor performed. And the producer who works for an *actual* hour will be entitled to a *socially average* hour’s worth of goods and services (after deductions for the care of those who can’t work, investment, reserves for emergencies, etc.)
Imagine that there are 100 million pairs of shoes, which altogether required 50 million labor-hours to produce. So a socially average hour of shoe-producing labor produces 100/50 = 2 pairs of shoes. (This is known as a “weighted” average. Note that no knowledge of how much labor was needed to produce each particular pair of shoes is needed to compute the weighted average.)
A person who works for an hour would be entitled to withdraw two pairs of shoes … even if s/he worked to produce shoes but only produced 1 pair or 1/2 pair in that hour of work.
This is what it means for labor to be directly social. Every individual hour is deemed by society to be equal to every other one (in this context).

So here you have it. An actual hour of work will count for a socially average hour - after deductions for the common weal- by means of certificates- or perhaps simply an account.

this was taken from the MHI website, here: http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/marx-pr...

S. Artesian
Feb 4 2013 21:33

And I think Kliman is right about what Marx intends in CTGP, and what Marx intends is problematic in its own right.

What Kliman is stating about the average social hour is taken from, and extends upon, what Marx wrote in The Poverty of Philosophy (I think) drawing from the capitalist organization of abstract labor. Now this is from memory, but I think I'm pretty close:

Quote:
Therefore, we should not say that one man’s hour is worth another man’s hour, but rather that one man during an hour is worth just as much as another man during an hour.

Right? "Time is everything. Man is nothing. Or at most, time's carcass" ???

As Amiri put it many posts ago, eliminating scarcity is the way to throttle value.

Noa Rodman
Feb 4 2013 21:52

I think also Moishe Postone in TL&SD (p. 47-48) makes some interesting points about directly social labor (or how it is viewed by traditional Marxism). I think this critique is true for Hilferding (and through him on Rubin), who was influenced by Tönnies. But Kautsky (and Lenin) were aware of the collective nature of labour in capitalism. (it's strange Postone doesn't afaik give that Marx line about historical specificity of 'socialness', though it would be perfect for Postone's case.) On the other hand Postone does seem to bent the stick too much when he claims that directly social labor is solely a capitalist category.

Quote:
Such interpretations imply that overcoming capitalism would involve the supersession of a mediated form of social relations by a direct unmediated form. Labor could then realize its social character directly. This sort of critical analysis is a critique of the individuated, indirectly social character of labor in capitalism from the standpoint of its "true," directly social, and totalizing character. It is, more generally, a critique of mediated social relations from the standpoint of unmediated ("direct") social relations. Contrary to such interpretations, however, Marx's characterization of labor in capitalism as both private and social is not a critique of its private dimension from the standpoint of its social dimension. It refers not to the difference between the true, transhistorical "essence" of labor and its form of appearance in capitalism but, rather, to two moments of labor in capitalism itself
...
His concern is to grasp the specificity of a particular form of social life. Far from treating the opposition of the social and the private as one between what is potentially noncapitalist and what is specific to capitalist society, he treats the opposition itself, and both of its terms, as peculiarly characteristic of labor in capitalism and of capitalist society itself. In other words, the opposition of private and directly social labor is of one-sided terms that complement and depend on each other. This suggests that it is precisely labor in capitalism that has a directly social dimension, and that "directly social labor" exists only within a social framework marked by the existence of "private labor" as well. Contrary to the interpretation outlined above, Marx explicitly asserts that the immediately social character of labor in capitalist society is at the core of that society.
...
We have begun to uncover a remarkable opposition. According to interpretations of value as a market category, labor is directly social in all societies except in capitalism; yet, according to Marx, it is only in capitalism that labor also has a directly social dimension. That which would be realized in overcoming capitalism, according to the traditional approach, is precisely that which should be abolished, according to Marx. A central concern of this work will be to elaborate this basic difference by analyzing Marx's conception of the directly social dimension of labor in capitalism. I shall anticipate that analysis by summarizing it here: Within the framework of Marx's mature critical theory, labor in capitalism is directly social because it acts as a socially mediating activity. This social quality, which is historically unique, distinguishes labor in capitalism from labor in other societies and determines the character of social relations in the capitalist formation. Far from signifying the absence of social mediation (that is, the existence of unmediated social relations), the directly social character of labor constitutes a determinate form of social mediation specific to capitalism. Marx's critique of capitalist society, as noted, should not be understood as a critique of the atomized mode of individual social existence in that society from the standpoint of the collectivity in which people are component parts. Instead, it analyzes capitalist society in terms of an opposition between the isolated individuals and the social collectivity. The critique is of both terms; it maintains that they are structurally related and that they form an opposition specific to capitalism. Marx's critical analysis of this opposition is undertaken from the standpoint of the historical possibility of its overcoming, a standpoint represented by Marx's notion of the social individual. By the same token, we now see that the Marxian critique of labor in capitalism is not one of the private character of labor from the standpoint of directly social labor; rather, it is a critique of private labor and immediately social labor as complementary, as onesided terms of an elemental opposition that characterizes capitalist society.

I share Adam's critique of Postone on abstract labour, but apparently even more important for Postone is the interpretation of (directly) social labor.

kingzog
Feb 4 2013 23:23

I'm going to throw this out there because I want to know what people think,

My understanding is that communization theory has a position sort of like this- but please correct me if I am wrong:

Marx saw labor-time accounting, labor certificates, etc. as incompatible with communism in his early writings, like in the grundrisse, while he was for it in the CGP. Therefore, Marx would be in agreement with communization during his early days before he was against it in his later days (while writing the CGP). Is this a fair assessment of the communization theorists or am interpreting what they say incorrectly?

So, running with that, If that were a correct assesment then what David Adam wrote in this article certainly contradicts it. He states that Marx was only against labor-time accounting and "chits" being applied to a capitalist system, as in the way Gray saw his bank functioning- in a society of commodity production. Adam cites Marx around pg 155 of the Grundrisse to support this position, "It(Gray's Bank) would either be a despotic ruler of production and trustee of distribution, or it would be nothing more than a board which keeps the books and accounts for a society producing in common." Is this Marx saying that Gray's Bank would work, if it were applied to a society producing in common, or am I missing something crucial?

And for the record, I tend to agree with communization theories take on "labor-time accounting," but this seems like an issue. At least from where I am.

capricorn
Feb 5 2013 08:33
kingzog wrote:
Kliman wrote:

Quote:
I think Marx is saying, in the CGP, that, in the first phase of communism, an *actual* hour of labor performed will count directly as an hour of *social* labor performed. And the producer who works for an *actual* hour will be entitled to a *socially average* hour’s worth of goods and services (after deductions for the care of those who can’t work, investment, reserves for emergencies, etc.)
Imagine that there are 100 million pairs of shoes, which altogether required 50 million labor-hours to produce. So a socially average hour of shoe-producing labor produces 100/50 = 2 pairs of shoes. (This is known as a “weighted” average. Note that no knowledge of how much labor was needed to produce each particular pair of shoes is needed to compute the weighted average.)
A person who works for an hour would be entitled to withdraw two pairs of shoes … even if s/he worked to produce shoes but only produced 1 pair or 1/2 pair in that hour of work.
This is what it means for labor to be directly social. Every individual hour is deemed by society to be equal to every other one (in this context).

I think Kliman is basically right about what Marx meant, especially in this oft-quoted passage from Volume 1:

Quote:
. . . 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.

In other words, the distribution system is based on actual labour-time not on any notional or abstract figure, but on the total actual man-hours spent in producing anything, in fact "set aside for consumption". "Average" only comes in for computing the unit price of these. This makes sense in that when you are distributing theatre tickets this is based on the actual number of seats there are.

Marx seems to have envisaged (as in his criticism of Gray's labour-money scheme in the Grundrisse) the "certificates of labour" would be issued by a central "board" which would compute the actual number of man-hours that had been spent in producing what had been set aside for consumption and then ensuring that the number of certificates issued was equal to this. In the particular scheme that Marx mentioned in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, everybody who worked would get a voucher entitling them to claim a portion of the social product set aside for consumption proportional to the amount of hours they had worked (those unable to work would get vouchers on some other, unspecified basis).

This has nothing to do with organising production, but is purely a system for distributing consumer goods and services. In fact, since it might encourage the illusion that if people took more time to make things that would entitle them to more, it could be anti-productive. So it would be independent of what to produce and how was decided. Phrases such as "we shall assume, but only for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities" suggest that this distribution system was not the only one that Marx envisaged as possible. And that therefore the GIK were wrong to criticise Otto Neurath for inferring that "Marx had posed the question in such a way as to suggest that we have a free choice as to how the products are to be distributed". Marx had indeed done this.

Whether or not such a system would have been the best had communism been established in 1875 (and indeed whether it would have worked) is another matter, but it is not a "labour money" system.

The GIK scheme, on the other hand, is. It seeks to fix the "price" of consumer goods not on the actual amount of time taken to produce them but on the socially-necessary amount of time it should or should have taken. Which is not the same and would in fact be less than this. Their "average hour of social labour" is not the actual average but some ideal average calculated by a board of economic specialists. Also, in their scheme, it is not some central board that would issue their "labour-money" but individual industries or workplaces and although this money wouldn't (or wasn't supposed) to circulate amongst individuals it did between the co-operative stores "selling" consumer products and the suppliers of these products. There is no mention of anything like this in the scheme Marx discussed and no logical reason why it should be.

Because, in the GIK scheme, the planning board is trying to calculate directly the equivalent of "socially necessary labour time" to produce goods the scheme is open to the same sort of criticism that Marx made of such schemes in his A Contribution to A Critique of Political Economy and in the Grundrisse. You can't calculate this in advance as it is decided by the operation of market forces. There is also Ocelot's point that Marx didn't think that under capitalism the price of products was equal to their socially necessary labour time value anyway, but to their "price of production" (cost + average rate of profit).

Dauvé’s criticism of the GIK scheme is basically correct.

ocelot
Feb 5 2013 12:31
capricorn wrote:
I think Kliman is basically right about what Marx meant, especially in this oft-quoted passage from Volume 1:

Quote:
. . . 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.

In other words[...]

OK, before we do anything else, can I just take a moment to try and nail this particular stupid footnote. Marx does not know what he's talking about here. Owen's labour money is this stuff:

300x
http://www.unionhistory.info/web/objects/nofdigi/tuc/imagedisplay.php?ir...
(not having any luck embedding that image?)

Which was produced by the National Equitable Labour Exchange scheme set up by Robert Owen and John Gray (in that sense making a distinction between Gray and Owen's labour money is just historically inaccurate) in 1832 - after Owen had returned from the US and the failure of the New Harmony community. In the wake of the failure of New Harmony, Owen basically abandoned the strategy of setting up an exemplar communist community (which would have worked on directly social labour) and opted for a labour money scheme instead (there was a major fight over this in the Co-operative Society congress of 1832 between the 'labour money' faction around Owen and Gray, and the communist faction around William Thompson*, as detailed in Richard Pankhurst's book on the latter) - whereby artisans could exchange their products with each other at labour-time cost, thus (in theory) cutting out the capitalist exploiter and guaranteeing to themselves "the right to the full product of labour" (den vollen Arbeisertrag so dear to Lassale and the GIK). In other words, the aim of the scheme was to use the sphere of circulation to escape from exploitation. Marx here is confusing Owen's earlier (authoritarian & utopian) communist community scheme, with his (Proudhonian) labour money scheme.

Secondly, quite apart from the historical blooper, the "theatre ticket" analogy makes no sense whatsoever. A theatre ticket can be exchanged only for the use value it represents - it is in no way a symbol for a contingent (post-festum) selection amongst commensurated diverse use-values. In that sense it does not at all address any of the commensuration, distribution and allocation problems at issue.

----
* Major influence on Marx in his 1845 Manchester readings - Thompson invented the term "surplus value" for e.g. and his critique of labour money schemes influenced Marx's attack on Proudhon in Poverty of Philosophy.

capricorn
Feb 6 2013 00:06

Not sure that Marx did commit a historical blooper. I would have thought it much more likely that he had in mind the communistic community that Owen established (or tried to establish) in New Harmony, Indinaa, in 1827 which did issue certificates based on hours of work put in which could be used to withdraw from the communal store products that had taken the same time to produce. They seemed to have been called "time money" and time stores". At least this is what seems to be taught in US textbooks. For example:For example:

Quote:
Owen instituted a system of "time money" and "time stores". New Harmony currency was worth the amount of time that a worker had labored, and could be exchanged for commodities worth the equivalent amount of labor.

There's even a reproduction of one of these certificates:

As you say, Owen later took up the idea of "labour bazars" within the rest of the capitalist system. Which didn't work either.

EDIT: Indiana not India of course !

jura
Feb 5 2013 21:46

Ocelot, if you're right, that would be quite surprising. This says the most represented author in Marx's personal library was Owen with 16 titles. I mean, he was wrong on other things (like calling Ferguson a teacher of Smith), but this seems a bit too much.

ocelot
Feb 6 2013 09:29

* cough *. I think you'll find, if you blow that bill up to readable (if smudgy) size, it has Josiah Warren's signature on it.

Warren did spend time at New Harmony and it was the experience of its failure that prompted him to reject "communism" and set up his famous "time store" and the "time dollar". No doubt the arguments he presumably had with Owen (and the rest of the NH cooperators) influenced the Welshman's later reappropriation of those ideas in the NELE - although Gray, independently AFAIK, had already been arguing with Owen (and the Thompsonites) along these lines.

Also any account of Owen that starts with "Born in England in 1771..." is obviously bollocks. I really hope US textbooks are not genuinely that bad.

edit: what is true is that in New Lanark Owen did pay his workers (many of them effectively serfs) in scrip redeemable for victuals at the company store (truck). Although I don't know the details of the developments in New Harmony (other than the famous story of Owen eventually having them build a watchtower and installing a man with a shotgun on it to watch over the vegetable fields), it wouldn't suprise me if he did, at some stage, attempt to introduce the scrip system - probably what inspired Warren to cut out Owen's despotic "price policy" by recourse to "labour-time accounting", similarly to the GIK's response to Stalinism.

capricorn
Feb 6 2013 11:33
ocelot wrote:
the "theatre ticket" analogy makes no sense whatsoever. A theatre ticket can be exchanged only for the use value it represents - it is in no way a symbol for a contingent (post-festum) selection amongst commensurated diverse use-values. In that sense it does not at all address any of the commensuration, distribution and allocation problems at issue.

But isn't this the case with all ration coupons? And wasn't that what Marx was really talking about, i.e that Owen's "labour money" was no more money than a ration coupon? Or maybe a better analogy would be the vouchers that stores issue that can only be used (to acquire anything) in their stores and are then cancelled after use?

In any event, surely the fact that neither theatre tickets nor ration cards are any use in determining what to produce or how shows that the scheme Marx mentioned in 1875 was essentially concerned with how to allocate consumer goods and services and was not meant to be a scheme for a whole economy run on the basis of labour-time accounting and "money", as the GIK and others have assumed.

I agree, though, that Marx didn't really consider the issue of calculating the labour-time "price" of the products which the scheme's labour-time vouchers could be used to acquire. This is a problem for all such schemes and why, should there be shortages at the beginning of communism, the better way to deal with this would be ration cards (though for quantities far higher than the war-time ones people associate with them). But even this would have to be only a temporary measure for any basic products concerned, to be abolished as rapidly as possible. Otherwise black markets would arise, just as they would under the GIK scheme.

In the meantime what to produce and how would be being decided on quite independent principles (for instance the statistical calculations of what people are likely to need that the GIK didn't like and the technical optimum to produce them given the materials available, neither of which would require a general unit of account).

I think the US education system could well be that bad if they have Owen born in England and use one of Warren's "time money" as if it was one used in New Harmony. Looking into it further, I am not sure that labour-time vouchers were actually used in New Harmony rather than just entries in a book. The perception, shared by Marx, seems to be that they were or maybe Marx was thinking of some ideal communist scheme Owen described.

alb
Feb 6 2013 17:57

I know some here have dismissed the debate that has gone on over the years between the SLP of America and the SPGB about labour-time vouchers as uninteresting or unimportant. But it is a historical fact that this has been the main debate native to the English-speaking world, if maybe not at such a high level of intellectual abstraction as the ones in German and French. Anyway, here is a summary in simple terms of the issues, some of which have come up here.

Here's a key passage:

Quote:
If "labour vouchers" circulate, they are money, no different from today and should be called money. Labour vouchers cannot circulate.

If used as originally intended, to account for hours worked, and goods taken, they are not money as meant in the broader capitalist sense. Although for workers the everyday use of labour vouchers would be very similar, labour vouchers could not be used to accumulate the means of producing wealth, which is a very important difference. Their only purpose would be to limit consumption and enforce work. Note that enforcing work was not the initial idea, but has become, to some, an important feature.[emphasis added]

RedHughs
Feb 7 2013 00:34

This

Quote:
[labor time vouchers'] only purpose would be to limit consumption and enforce work. Note that enforcing work was not the initial idea, but has become, to some, an important feature.

seems good. Scratch the advocates of labor time vouchers and enforcing work seems to come out as the primary goal with all the other arguments looking thin and unsupportable. Well, I think the "some people must be forced to work" argument is also unsupportable but this argument resonates so strongly with a certain mentality that will be the last to be given up.

However, the point raised by Kliman and others, that not all work-hours are equivalent, becomes more important when it is made clear that labor vouchers are basically a coercive mechanism. If the labor vouchers are a spur to get people to work, they're a rather crude spur. Aside from skilled versus semi-skilled versus unskilled, there is inherently a difference in intensity to labor - some tasks done at desks are socially necessary, some lifting of heavy things is socially necessary. Hours of one aren't equal to hours of the other. Either you have an elaborate and inevitably permanent system like Parecon to manage all the complexity of the situation or you have transition that is even simpler - ration scarce goods and ask everyone to work - local councils work out the details. Especially, Labor time voucher would require central control and monitoring of labor if they are for the purposes of enforcement (and we've established they are). That is, if the goal is enforce, to make people work, and if there's even a single enterprise that's signing off on fake or low quality work efforts, well all the slackers will go there (assuming that they wouldn't be tied to their workplaces like peasants). Thus a single central authority is going to have to be monitoring total labor expended as well as enforcing the quality of said labor. Between Parecon and full communism, Labor time vouchers seem like a dysfunctional middle-ground, the worst of both aspects.

kingzog
Feb 7 2013 01:08

Red wrote:

Quote:
Either you have an elaborate and inevitably permanent system like Parecon to manage all the complexity of the situation or you have transition that is even simpler - ration scarce goods and ask everyone to work - local councils work out the details. Especially, Labor time voucher would require central control and monitoring of labor if they are for the purposes of enforcement (and we've established they are). That is, if the goal is enforce, to make people work, and if there's even a single enterprise that's signing off on fake or low quality work efforts, well all the slackers will go there (assuming that they wouldn't be tied to their workplaces like peasants). Thus a single central authority is going to have to be monitoring total labor expended as well as enforcing the quality of said labor. Between Parecon and full communism, Labor time vouchers seem like a dysfunctional middle-ground, the worst of both aspects.

Let me highlight this part:
"ration scarce goods and ask everyone to work - local councils work out the details"

let's think through the implications of this; Is there a potential for chaos, despotism and eventually, centralization if we just "ask" everyone to work and "leave the details to the local councils?" Who decides who get's what rations? Someone or some political body would have to make that decision in your plan, Red. Wouldn't there be a great deal of potential for corruption and despotism under such a plan?

RedHughs
Feb 7 2013 01:43

It occurs to me that one could put the problem another way.

The first few chapters of Capital detail how all the mechanisms of capitalist society are needed to make sure that an hour of concrete labor at least tends to be an hour of socially necessary labor. Without these mechanisms, one hour of activity certainly isn't equal to another.

But if the mechanisms of capitalist society were withdrawn all at once, how could one expect hours of concrete labor to keep their tendency to be equal to hours of socially necessary labor? How could you compensate someone for an hour of concrete labor unless you had a mechanism to make sure this concrete hour tended to equal socially necessary labor? While capitalist society as a whole has mechanisms to assure this equalization, it's certainly not the role of the individual worker to make sure that their hours of activity equal the socially necessary hours, just the opposite, resistance to work is widespread and it is the role of managers and markets to constantly watch that each individual expends full labor.

Given this, it seems hard to imagine that anyone who thought about this, especially Marx himself, would expect equal compensation for equal activity to come into being except in the situation where the mechanisms of capitalist management pretty much remained in place - Lenin quotes Engels in State And Revolution: "'the state has taken possession of the means of production in the name of the whole of society', that is, after the socialist revolution". That is, what would change is only the proletariat would capture the state and the state would manage each enterprise more or less as before except gradually equalizing wages and other gradual changes. Thus the state capitalist program of Lenin seems implicit in a labor voucher scheme. And uh, we've seen how well that worked.

RedHughs
Feb 7 2013 02:16
kingzog wrote:
Let me highlight this part:
"ration scarce goods and ask everyone to work - local councils work out the details"

let's think through the implications of this; Is there a potential for chaos, despotism and eventually, centralization if we just "ask" everyone to work and "leave the details to the local councils?" Who decides who get's what rations? Someone or some political body would have to make that decision in your plan, Red. Wouldn't there be a great deal of potential for corruption and despotism under such a plan?

The ideal would be to immediately have "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need". I assume the paranoid could find even more potential for abuse there.

Now, as far as potential for chaos and despotism with local groups rationing scarce goods, well certainly without the historic basis for a given means of production, any scheme you articulate could have abuses. The rationing of scarce good per person, however, does have the small advantage that it's relatively easy to measure the number of people in an area and total supply of goods.

Rationing systems in war time and other times have functioned reasonably well (and have been indeed subject to abuse at times but within a capitalist context, of course). Labor notes have never been tried on a large scale. Corruption is harder to have when you have a society without money. Corruption is harder to have when you don't have individuals authorities.

The thing about your argument is that you are framing it as the measures to prevent abuse I outline are equal to the social relations that would prevail in a short transition period. The unitary power of the working class would be the dominant power and what I'm talking here would ad-hoc measures to deal with temporary shortages and occasional anti-social behavior. I mean, when you have situation where a given anti-social behavior is relatively rare, you can either handle that behavior as it comes up or you can establish a universal surveillance mechanism to make it impossible to happen at all. If the cost of said surveillance method is above the costs to society of these rare deviations, then it is a mistake.