Home > political-economy > Some notes on Marxism and social emancipation

Some notes on Marxism and social emancipation

December 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

Not-labor time as emancipation

One of the most influential things in my thinking was coming across this passage from Marx:

“The creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally and each of its members  this creation of not-labour time appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for a few.”.

In my opinion this passage capture the essence of class society: the effort to deny the mass of society free time away from labor. Capital wants to dominate every waking moment of the workers life and convert each and every minute of the day into surplus value.

The response of the Left to this madness is to declare they have a better way of managing every minute of the worker’s life. Well, fuck you and your ideas for a better way of organizing slavery. This why on the Left there are those who demand emancipation from the state or from capital, but no one who demands emancipation from labor. Everyone on the Left has their own formula for reorganizing slavery and a plan for how it can best be accomplished. Some want labor organized by the party-state, others want it managed by the democratic state, still others as a cooperative, while there are those who conceptualize society as a collections of individual producers, acting autonomously, who only enter into any relation at all through exchange of products.

They oppose these “new” ideas for organizing labor to the capitalist organization of labor and feel good about themselves. Most Leftists act like the typical job held by members of society was vital to the existence of mankind — not mostly answering emails and sitting in team meetings. In fact, at least ninety percent of jobs  in the economy at present produce nothing and serve no purpose in society. Our jobs are useless and our only tie to these jobs is the check we get at the end of the week.

Socially necessary labor time as the precondition for wages and profits

The critical problem ignored by Marxist theorists in the Academy is not the effect of the falling rate of profit in producing crises. Rather, it is the process behind this falling rate of profit: the continuous diminishing of socially necessary labor time in general. The falling rate of profit is only the impact of the general fall of socially necessary labor time reflected in the mass of surplus value. Since socially necessary labor time in general is falling, the portion of labor time that accrues as profits in particular must also fall.

The growth of profits, of surplus socially necessary labor time, must increase despite the general fall in socially necessary labor time. This implies that the wages portion of socially necessary labor time must fall more rapidly than socially necessary labor time in general. In any given period of time the value of social product produced is the socially necessary labor time expended on its production. The decrease in this value of this social product over time is a function of the improvement in the productivity of labor. However the value of this social product includes both the mass of previously expended labor time plus the mass of newly expended labor time. The mass of profits and the mass of wages only involves the latter — newly expended labor time.

Improvement of the productivity of labor is expressed in the continuous reduction of this portion of the value of the total social product. Over time then more of the total value of the social product is the result of previously expended labor time, while less of this total social product is the result of newly added labor time.

If the value of the total social product is 100 hours and previously expended labor time is 50 hours, the value accounted for by newly  added labor time is 50 hours of fifty percent of the value of the commodity. Fifty percent of the value of the social product is previously expended labor time and 50 percent is newly expended labor time. This latter fifty percent accounted for by newly expended labor time is then divided between profits and wages.

If the productivity of labor is improved so that now 60 percent is accounted for by previously expended labor time and 40 percent  is now accounted for by newly expended labor time, profits and wages are now divided among only the 40 percent of new labor time. No matter how this forty percent is divided between wages and profits, the portion of total value to be divided has fallen from 50% to 40%. This is already given by the improvement in the productivity of labor.

There is no way to avoid this reduction since the reduction itself depends solely on the improvement in the productivity of labor and has nothing direct whatsoever to do with the struggle over the division of the social product between wages and profits. Socialists and those on the Left can whine and stamp their feet all they want, the total labor time has been reduced no matter its division; capitalists and those on the Right can do likewise without changing this fact. The improvement in productivity of labor imposes itself on both classes and the whole of society without regards to their petty conflicts.

Productivity and capitalist relations of production

Moreover it is not just that the conflict between the two classes has no direct impact on the result of the increase in the productivity of labor, the conflict between the two classes is itself the very engine driving the continuous improvement of labor productivity. The greater the conflict between the classes, the more improvement in labor productivity reduces the labor time to be divided between them.

The argument against this view, raised by the apologists for both capital and labor alike, is that despite this reduction of socially  necessary labor time embedded in each commodity, the demand for commodities must constantly increase. If capital and labor must make do with 40% of the total social product instead of 50%, the mass of social product increases from 100 to 150. In this case, 50% of 100 hours of labor equals 50 hours of labor time, while 40% of 150 equals 60 hours of labor time. According to this view, while the relative proportion of newly added labor time has fallen, its absolute mass will always increase. This is the logic of Fordist ideology, which proposes socially necessary labor time must increase because needs always increase.

The attention of Marxists and the Left generally, therefore, has been focused on the division between capital and labor of the shrinking social product. In fact, this focus is what defines Marxism and defines the Left — a singular focus on the division between wages and profits. The limitation imposed on the conflict between labor and capital by the improvement of the productivity of labor is only vaguely sensed. This foreboding increases in times of crises when there is a sudden appearance of both surplus capital and surplus labor power. The sudden appearance of both surplus capital and labor power, however, is only the material form given by the increase in productivity  within capitalist relations of production, expressed as the redundancy of both classes.

The secret of this sense however — its reactionary content — can be seen in the fact that Marxism still has not yet grasped that socially necessary labor time itself is anachronistic. The anachronistic nature of socially necessary labor time is expressed in the material form of surplus capital and surplus labor power. There is no lack of means to satisfy social needs, but a lack of socially necessary labor time. Socially necessary labor time itself, value, the general lack of it from the viewpoint of both classes, becomes the need to be satisfied.

In times of crisis it is not labor that is the problem, but the lack of social necessity for labor that is expressed in the crisis. Both classes — each one for its own ends — demands labor be reestablished as an absolute social necessity imposed on society as a whole. And this is because there is a general lack of socially necessary labor time that can be converted into wages and profits.

Excess Capital, the state, and destruction of material wealth

The conflict between the two classes over the division of the social product gives rise to a new round of improvement of productivity. And this improvement itself leads to a decrease in socially necessary labor time: producing another mass of surplus capital and labor power. Out of this increased mass of superfluity of capital and labor, the conflict between the two classes is given greater momentum.

Political relations must express the shrinking necessity for labor and they do: in the form of state intervention to offset the  reduction of socially necessary labor by a demand for superfluous labor and capital. The state becomes critical to absorbing (directly or indirectly) the labor power and capital thrown off by the improvement in productivity. As should be obvious, the state only absorbs the superfluous capital and labor thrown off by society and this absorption does not and  cannot add to the production of value, i.e., to the mass of socially necessary labor time from which both profits and wages are drawn.

For this reason the state’s absorption of the mass of superfluous capital and labor power is not just or even primarily the destruction  of a mass of superfluous value — value which could not become self-expanding value — but above all (from the standpoint of Marx’s  theory) the wholesale destruction of material wealth — deliberate, unconscionable, barbaric. It is material wealth destroyed for none other than the perverse reason that it could not become wages and profit!

In the first place, the destruction of material wealth is a mass of workers employed to do absolutely nothing of material value because reducing hours of work must lead  not only to the fall of profits, but, just as politically significant, wages. But even though the state’s role is necessary for both wages and profits, it must still lead to the fall of wages, since employment is  always dependent on the realization of some given mass of profits. It is only after this that the mass of profit must also fall — leading to a crisis that produces a new mass of surplus capital and labor.

The intervention by the state, therefore, leads only to more intervention by the state and to cries the state is too invasive (the winners) and not yet invasive enough (the losers). The intervention of the state, since it is always driven by the accumulation of surplus capital and surplus labor power, is not  determined autonomously by policy preferences as most economists believe. Once it emerges and has established itself as necessary to the continuing function of the capitalist mode of production, this  intervention is determined by the laws that determine the mode of production as a whole. As it develops this state intervention assumes the character of a force operating independently of political forces and opposed to them.

This calls into question political action itself, since even in a democracy politics has increasingly less impact on how the state functions. The indifference of the state to society is determined first by the fact that an increase in the productivity of labor must lead to an increase in mass of superfluous labor power and capital absorbed by the state. Second, this indifference is determined by the conflict within and between the two classes over division of the social product, which must result in the constant improvement of productivity, and thus to a new fall in the value of labor power. In third place, it is determined by the limits of the socially necessary labor day, which ultimately must equal the value of labor power alone.

The material limits of socially necessary labor

The material limits of the socially necessary labor day cannot extend beyond the limits of the value of the mass of productively employed labor power (of their wages). The fact this truth appears nowhere in present Marxist literature is an expression of the complete and utter bankruptcy of post-war Marxism. But, the intervention of the state in the economy becomes necessary precisely at the point where the profit rate falls to zero — that is, when the mass of value produced equals the value of the wages of the existing workers who produced it — producing beyond this only the permanent formation of a mass of excess capital as well a mass of unemployed labor powers.

This gives rise to the oddest fucking behavior: apologists of the fascist state who, on the one hand, demand ever greater intervention by the state to “stimulate” the employment of labor and capital, yet who, on the other hand deny any possibility of a general reduction in hours of wage slavery. This bizarre behavior can only be explained by the identification of productive human activity in every form with wage slavery itself. Which is to say, for these insane Marxists, the only labor to be considered productive is labor that produces surplus value. Their very conception of human activity is slavery — and they raise slavery to an ideal form of human society. Thus even when they consider society after capitalism, they can only consider this future as labor without the defect of capitalism. These idiots actually believe they have accomplished something when they demand even domestic slavery be considered on par with wage slavery. This is why they spend so much time wondering how fucking Wal-Mart or General Electric will be organized in a post-capitalist society: the only difference between capitalist society and a post-capitalist one is how the checkout at fucking Wal-Mart is managed.

According to Marx a commodity cannot have value without having use value; however, the case is not the opposite. A use value need not have any value at all — the work that produces a use value, is not necessarily labor, i.e., value producing activity. Marx’s criticism of capitalism is that it simultaneously tried to abolish labor (value producing activity), yet rested on labor. Its historical trajectory was, therefore, limited, since it could not actually abolish labor, which is to say it could not actually put an end to value producing activity.

His argument here was not that the creation of use values — material wealth — came to an end, but that this creation was increasingly limited by the need for production to create these use values in the form of values. Capitalism increases the productivity capacity of society, the raw ability of society to produce use values, but, at the same time, confined this increase in productivity solely to the creation of values. His argument implies the abolition of capitalist relations of production does not result in scarcity — a lack of material wealth. Rather it implies the abolition of these relations must lead to an explosion of productive energy, which has, to this point, been confined within increasing restrictive limits.

Was he blowing smoke on this? Was he full of shit? I will let you decide, but my analysis leads me to conclude the economic function of the fascist state is to destroy excess material wealth in order to keep the productivity of labor confined within the limits of capitalist relations of production. The question is not “How will we eat” in the absence of capitalist relations of production; but how will we eat if they continue?

As the productivity of labor increases the need for the state to destroy material wealth increases along with it — this is a problem. It is a problem Marxists don’t even realize exists, except in some very limited fashion and mostly in the form of a demand for more labor. These Marxists demand, in other words, an increase in the very activity that is creating the crisis.

Categories: political-economy
  1. January 6, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Before arguing, let me be clear that I agree with the central point that the contradiction at hand is the contradiction between capital’s massive capacity to produce material wealth and the social form of that wealth as value, that is, in the value form. Further, I think we agree that the present crisis reflects the fact that capital is its own crisis in the case of the value form because the mass of material wealth contains less and less, relies less and less, on labor also subject to the value form, abstract or what i would rather call capitalist labor.

    And yet I don’t see how the state is incapable of valorization. If the state owns a manufacturing facility and that facility sells its output as commodities and the workers are paid a wage, the state acts on behalf of capital just like the capitalist or capitalist corporation. There are certainly things the state does that are not value-producing, but there are also sectors of capital property that are not value-producing.

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