The Marxist Solution. Episode 1-14

The Marxist Solution

When I talk about Marxism to young people, they often want to know “What is the Marxist solution to the problems of capitalism?”

This episode addresses that question.

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Marxism Today is podcast series designed for beginners and newbies to Marxist theory. The podcast will introduce you to certain topics and ideas central to Marxism and it will show you how Marxist theory can be applied to specific issues in order to understand them.
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7 Responses to The Marxist Solution. Episode 1-14

  1. Mike B) says:

    What will replace the wage system which Marx advocated abolishing.
    http://wobblytimes.blogspot.com/2011/04/wobbly-times-number-112.html
    Beyond the rule of Capital are the social relations of freely associated producers. Common ownership of the collective product of labour will by definition eliminate classes. In the first stage of communism, socially necessary labour time vouchers would be used. You’re turning Marx into a sentimental liberal.

  2. I may have committed the crime of making Marx into a sentimental liberal,but I am unfamiliar with Marx saying that labor time vouchers will be used – and I doubt he wrote anything like this. So while post-capitalist society should involve more than a social safety net (which may be how I’ve made it sound), I think the issue of how to get there is open for debate. I agree that collective ownership of labor power is needed, but exactly how to do that is not something we can say all hold in agreement. This is exactly why we need people to investigate and debate this issue.

  3. Mike B) says:

    What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.
    Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

    Karl Marx from Critique of the Gotha Programme
    “What are the mistakes committed by the piecemeal reformers, who either want to raise wages and in this way to improve the situation of the working class, or regard equality of wages (as Proudhon does) as the goal of social revolution?” WAGE LABOUR AND CAPITAL

    “Indeed, even the equality of wages demanded by Proudhon only transforms the relationship of the present-day worker to his labour into the relationship of all men to labour. Society is then conceived as an abstract capitalist.

    “Wages are a direct consequence of estranged labour, and estranged labour is the direct cause of private property. The downfall of the one aspect must therefore mean the downfall of the other.” Marx ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS

    “One form of wage labour may correct the abuses of another, but no form of wage labour can correct the abuse of wage labour itself.”
    GRUNDRISSE by Karl Marx

    As Marx observes in CAPITAL Volume I, chapter one: “Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself.”

    The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of the first volume of CAPITAL by Karl Marx.

    “Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely 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 proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.”

    from CAPITAL volume I, chapter one

    “Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase “proceeds of labor”, objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

    “What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as
    much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

    “Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

    “Hence, equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.

    “In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

    “But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

    “In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

    from the Critique of the Gotha Programme

    “On the basis of socialised production the scale must be ascertained on which those operations — which withdraw labour-power and means of production for a long time without supplying any product as a useful effect in the interim — can be carried on without injuring branches of production which not only withdraw labour-power and means of production continually, or several times a year, but also supply means of subsistence and of production. Under socialised as well as capitalist production, the labourers in branches of business with shorter working periods will as before withdraw products only for a short time without giving any products in return; while branches of business with long working periods continually withdraw products for a longer time before they return anything. This circumstance, then, arises from the material character of the particular labour-process, not from its social form. In the case of socialised production the money-capital is eliminated. Society distributes labour-power and means of production to the different branches of production. The producers may, for all it matters, receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate.”

    CAPITAL Volume II, chapter 18, page 358

  4. Thanks for the clarification and the quote, but I think the issue is still more complex than the selections you have pasted here. A labor-time voucher is a possible avenue (and the Marx quote above seems to suggest no more than it being one possibility).

    It’s common for many Marxists to say that Marx did not leave a blueprint for how a socialist or communist society would work. Perhaps you would disagree with this? But I still hold that as true. Marx’s writings here are preliminary thoughts – good ones – guided by an understanding of the contradictions of capitalism – but the writings here do not discuss if workers shall buy their healthcare piecemeal from hospitals using their labor vouchers. Should a diabetic person sacrifice more of his labor vouchers for healthcare than another person? Similar situations arise from environmental concerns, and road usage. In short there may be a portion of surplus still created that is consumed in common, an amount of labor done but not granted individually to the single worker, but collectively to all workers. The exact mechanisms for working out these issues and many more like them is not given to us by Marx. I would call his contributions guiding principals. And perhaps I downplayed his contributions too much in this episode. But I think it’s important to downplay these contributions if people are going to debate and discover a new form of society.

    A non-Marxist skeptical person does not want to be told “just do what Karl Marx said and everything will be good” and we should not settle for this either. It’s dreadfully important to study Marx including the passages you have pasted here, but at the same time we shouldn’t settle for just these quotes. We must investigate and think critically if we are going to propose a vision of post-capitalist society that will inspire the modern skeptical worker.

  5. Mike B) says:

    You asked for some back up on labour time vouchers and I gave them. Now, you’re accusing me of being dogmatic. What a pity.

    Overall in the USA, 88% of the wealth created by 90% of the people ends up in the control of 10% of the people. Of course, 10% of the people also have political power over 90% of the people. This state of affairs puts a crimp in the meaning of democracy. These distorted power relations reflect in behaviours of people caught up in the system. Among other onerous jobs, maintenance of the status quo becomes a job for wage-slaves hired in the police, military and prison industries. Not that all wage-slaves don’t contribute to that special social relation of our times, Capital. Like Frank Zappa quipped, “Do you like it? Do you hate it? There it is, the way you made it.” Even if the oft dreamed of ‘justice’ finally arrives in the shape of an equality of classes, with an equality of wages, the political system of dominance and submission remains the order of the day. Roots produce shoots. A constant hacking is demanded from the Idealists. But, it’s a systemic problem, brothers and sisters; the wage system needs uprooting. Not being done, fellow workers. Nope.
    Nowhere.

    “With the seizing of the means of production by society production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer.” Engels

  6. I think that you and I are largely in agreement, so I don’t want to make a mountain of a mole-hill. My main point here was just to say that the exact structure of post-capitalist society is not yet hammered out. We can look to Marx for help in understanding the problems of capitalism and even for a starting point in what we may construct after capitalism. I’m not trying to make a case for you being dogmatic. I was simply trying to underscore my main point.

  7. Mike B) says:

    I think the reason I first commented was that the topic of your talk had to do with understanding what Marx projected as a future socialist society. As many in the world have had the chance to see and experience what has been touted as socialism, I thought I’d stick up for the dead guy and let him speak his piece about the need to abolish the wage system, commodity production and for the establishment of common ownership of the collective product of labour (usually mistaken for ownership by the political State).

    Carry on. ;p

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