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This is Full Communism.

This is Full Communism.

[Source: Reblooged~?]

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“Wage Slavery” #2

A continuation of my discussion with Amtheomusings, regarding the notion of “wage-slavery” and its theoretical legitimacy or illegitimacy.
Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here

Thank you for keeping this up Bryce, in regard to your earlier question,  I would be hesitant to call myself a Marxist, due primarily to its overly broad connection to Stallin (whom I don’t support), Lenin & Trotsky (whom I am painfully unfamiliar), and Critical Theory (which is too broad to generalize).  Let me simply reply that I would call myself a socialist (of some stripe) and that I am currently infatuated with Marx (particularly as interpreted by Michel Henry).

I believe that I must first clarify my earlier comment which you quoted: “the model of a non-wage based economics is […] the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a ‘wage’ is irrelevant.” To this you respond,

“But that’s exactly what I find ridiculous: that people shouldn’t act in order to produce something that they, or someone else, values. Unless it were valued, it shouldn’t be produced.”

If I might take this quote in reverse order, I must say that I completely agree with your second assertion: viz. it is only the value that should be produced.  What I must question in your response is the notion of value by which you are critiquing this position.  Specifically, what form of value does the “critic” (here, as elswhere, understood as the critic of “wage-slavery”) believe that productivity should be guided.  The answer, I believe, must be real, human value.  That is to say, it is not that production is not completed in respect to value, but merely that it is not completed in respect to abstract monetary value.  The craftsmen (to return to my previous example) produces his product for direct consumption, in order that it might fulfill the actual human need.  This is fully distinct from the motivation fo the industrialized worker who merely produces for a wage.  This is essentially identical to Marx’s distinction between “use-value” and “exchange-value,” if that helps.

In regards to your discussion of Co-op/worker-control models of production, I believe that you predictedmy response quite accurately when you wrote in your addendum:

“*Obviously, one cannot object that this is a wrong end, since isn’t the point of overturning the “wage-based economic/productive system” also supposed to be that it will make us all wealthier? Then there’s nothing wrong with working to make us all wealthier, if a co-op model of production were to do that.”

To this I must simply respond that, yes, I do believe that the “proper end” of production should not be wealth.  For, it is precisely inaccurate to argue that the restructuring of wage-based-labor will “make us wealthier,” if by wealth you mean “exchange value” (i.e. abstract wealth).  As for use-value (i.e. real value), I can only speculate.  As for quality of life (for the workers in particular) I think this is clear.

For now, I will leave “conservative anarcho-capitalism” [Randianism! 😉 ] aside.

J. Leavitt Pearl

Happy Labor Day!

“Wage-Slavery”

Motivated by a post over at Amtheomusings, I wrote the following analysis of “wage-slavery,” and thought I would share it here.  Please visit the original posting here.

If I might offer an alternative perspective, it seems that your critical analysis of this hotly disputed term, “wage slavery,” fails to encompass the specificity of this complex notion. That is to say, it is specifically the *wage-based* economic/productive system, understood as normative, that critics of “wage-labor” intend to overturn. Specifically, at one point you seem to mark the definition of “wage-slavery” as “working for a living amounts to slavery.” In this form, I would tend to agree with you, but I believe that the emphasis must be moved from where I read it in your essay. For, on a separate occasion, you mark the definition of wage-slavery as “they shouldn’t have to work in order to live,” here I must challenge, for it must be recognized that the first and second forms are distinct, precisely as regards wage.

It is not the “work” that is challenged by these critics, but the “for a living.” Advocates of a non-wage based system are not lazy, as naive commentators might lead one to believe, but more specifically are concerned with the “alienation” (to borrow a term from Marx [also, this should not be confused with Hegel’s distinct usage of the term]) of individuals from their work. That is to say, the separation of worker and product. Why, asks the critic, must work be mediated through a irreal system before it might be of value, not economic value, but real, human, everyday value.

In this sense, the model of a non-wage based economics is not the welfare state, the many living off the few, but instead, perhaps, the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a “wage” is irrelevant. The “freeing” of factory workers would not take the form of a burning of the factory, ending production, but on the contrary, a coop model in which the individual factory workers would be shareholders in the company, in which the success or failure of the company would directly (not mediately) relate to the workers.

Marx’s “Theses on Feurerbach” #11

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Marx’s final thesis on Feurerbach constitute one of the most quoted portions of his oeuvre (along with the opening words of the manifest and his, generally misunderstood, “opiate” assertion). In his eleventh, Marx builds upon the distinction laid out in the tenth thesis.  Yet, here his distinction between traditional materialism and his “new” materialism has been broadened; it is no longer merely Feuerbach who is the recipient of his critique, but philosophy in its totality.

But, what is the essence of this critique?  simple quietism?  Is it merely the passivity of philosophy?  Perhaps.  But let us consider the historical situation of Marx.  Having been brought up under the shadow of Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Marx abandoned Hegel for Feuerbach.  Yet, following this detour into “traditional” materialism, Marx became disenfranchized with the couter-idealistic (i.e. post-Hegelian) movement of his contemporaries.  Citing the reification of abstract concepts and similar critiques, Marx similarly abandoned this group, setting out to establish his own “dialectical materialism.”

Yet, contrary to those who misinterpret his rejection of Feuerbach as a return to Hegel, Marx did not fully abandon this post-Hegelian culture. Instead, his critique of philosophy’s tendency to describe–its failure to change reality–may be seen as a direct critique of Hegelian conservativism.

Although leftist readings of Hegel’s philosophy have been popularized since the beginning, an honest reading of Hegel cannot fail to recognize a deep Prussian conservativism.  In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the state is presented as the objectified manifestation of the Absolute Spirit (i.e. God).  Such an assertion smacks of the radically conservative “divine right” political theories of the early enlightenment.

Against this Marx posits a new philosophical possibility: philosophy as a radically progressive movement.  Philosophy must not merely record reality, implicitly condoning its structure, but much seek to rearrange this structure through its own activity.  Philosophy itself must become a force of revolutionary reconstruction.  In this way, Marx completes the work begun in his tenth thesis and fully unites his philosophical and political projects under a single banner of revolutionary, social, living, sensuous, practical, reality.

(Thank you to those who followed me through this short project.  I ♥ my wordpress followers.)

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #10

“The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.”

In his penultimate thesis, Marx offers a resounding hammer-blow against Feuerbach, if not mid-19th-century materialism in toto.  Having mapped out a new materialism, one based upon “sensuous human activity, practice,” one which does not reduce human reality to an abstract “man,” Marx here attempts a clarification of the distinction between his new materialism and that former.

In the “old materialism,” the philosophical foundation remained “civil society,” that is, the political product of human activity and praxis.  Yet, this grounding of materialism in civil society is inescapably a grounding in irreality, in an abstract concept.  For Marx, civil society does not possess true reality, for reality is found only in the practical enactment of human life.

In order to overturn this “old materialism,” Marx seeks a new foundation of philosophy, a grounding in “human society, or social humanity.”  While certainly, at its face, “human society” appears to be a mere repetition of  “civil society,” this thesis must be read in the context of the prior theses.  For Marx, this distinction is essentially a question of source and product.  “Human society” and “civil society” cannot be identical because the latter ideality is grounded in the former reality.  It is true that, for Marx, human reality is essentially social, that is, communal; yet, this sociality is not “civil”: it is not institutionalized.

Grounding his philosophy in the reality of social humanity, Marx is therefore able to bypass institutionalized politics and found a new materialism upon the true essence of human value: sensuous practical activity, human life.  Through this bypassing, Marx is no longer tied to the particularities of an historical civil or political instituition; he is not bound, as Hegel* and Feuerbach before him, to cauterize this political institution into a philosophical necessity.  Rather, radical or revolutionary politics is now a possibility.  In this way, the link between Marx’s philosophical and political thought manifests itself; a link which will be further clarified in his final, 11th thesis.

*(Hegel is notorious for his idealization of the Prussian state, which provided the grounding of the conservative “right Hegelianism”)

Engels and American Socialism

Beard!!

Friedrich Engels, like his mentor, was profoundly interested in the relationship between socialism and the United States.  In a letter to Friedrich A. Sorge unofficially entitled Why There is No Large Labor Movement in America (1893), Engels attempts to examine this complex relationship and to determine the precise social conditions which appear to block the formation of a  European style socialist movement in the United States.

The context of his letter to Sorge (the crisis perpetuating the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890), marks this letter as particular relevant, in light of the ongoing economic crises in the American and European nations.  He writes, prefiguring the frustrated responses to the American bank bailouts:

“The repeal of the silver-purchase law has saved America from a severe money crisis and will promote industrial prosperity.  But I don’t know whether it wouldn’t have been better for the crash to have actually occurred.”

What Engels here expresses is not an economic masochism, but a recognition of the inability of American society st large to recognize the problematic of capitalism without a dramatic, if not destructive, event.  It is perhaps not surprising that the strongest reemergence of socialist principles in a generation has arisen in light of the recent economic downturn.  Yet, as the reduced influence and coverage of such movements as Occupy Wall Street has shown, the transition of these principles into practice is not without its own problems, of which Engels emphasizes two, both of which remain as accurate today as they were one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

“First, the Constitution, based as in England upon a party government, which causes every vote for any candidate not put up by one of the two governing parties to appear to be lost.  And the American, like the Englishman, wants to influence his state; he does not throw his vote away.”

This frustration, deeply felt by anyone who has ever seriously supported a third-party or third-party candidate, remains a serious obstacle in the face of socialist-minded Americans.  Just like the Green and Libertarian parties, the inability to garner sufficient support has locked American socialist parties in a Catch 22.  Without sufficient support, major national coverage is impossible; without major national coverage, sufficient support is not possible.

“Then, and more especially, immigration, which divides the workers into two groups: the native-born and the foreigners… To form a single party out of these requires quite unusually powerful incentives…the bourgeois need only wait passively and the dissimilar elements of the working class fall apart again.”

Here, Engels has identified what may be the most difficult obstacle to American variants of socialism, its diversity.  While the diversity of American culture provides the potential for a rich, vibrant society, the reality is generally much darker.  Racial tensions, the stark division between citizen and non-citizen, and similar problems divide Americans, particularly the most vulnerable citizens, from one another.  It is the (quite relative) homogeneous nature of such nations as Sweden which has allowed for a seemingly smooth transition to democratic-socialism.  This is not to assert, as many critiques of socialism might argue, that the heterogeneity of America eliminates the possibility of political unity as such, but merely to recognize that such unity will necessitate significant work and direct action.

“Third, through the protective tariff system and the steadily growing domestic market the workers must have been exposed to a prosperity no trace of which has been seen here in Europe for years now…”

It is perhaps only this final barrier that has been overcome.  Unfortunately, this latter is only due to the rise in unemployment and the widening gap between the richest and poorest Americans.  Once again, the rise in dissatisfaction with Laissez-faire capitalism, and the seeming increase in the relevance of socialist/democratic-socialist principles may be a direct correlate of this seeming decrease in prosperity.

Even in light of the pessimism of Engels report, socialist-minded Americans must not give up hope.  Instead, these barriers must be seen not as indestructible, but as points of targeted growth.  Unity across ethnic bounds, reformation of the American party system; these are goals that can be directly targeted for reformation.  And perhaps development will be possible.