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A Short Course in Marxism

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You ARE what you DO

 

Kant's famous advice to the world on how best to live was to always treat human beings, including yourself, as an end and never a means to an end. That means never to exploit other people as a way to get money or fame or whatever, and, indeed, never to exploit yourself either. Of course, Jesus had also said: treat others as you would have others treat you. (Which is fine as long as your not a Sado-Masochist.)

 

Hegel and Marx pointed out that the human individual is what he or she does. The person\subject is not inside the human being, ready made and always the same no matter what that human being does. No, the person is always in the process of being created - by his or her actions. By their labour (and labour simply means any human activity, including thinking.)

 

So, is it not true that if you sell your labour as a means to an end (to get wages), that you are selling yourself, and treating yourself as a means to an end? After all, you spend most of your waking day getting ready to go to work, going to work, working, coming home from work, and then being too exhausted to do anything else after work.

 

If work is to be regarded as a means to an end, i.e. wages, then the people who do that work are also a means to an end.

 

And this holds for all types of human labour\activity. If we are not in the process of self actualisation in our everyday lives, then we are becoming alienated from ourselves, and becoming a pawn in someone else's game.

 

And that is the simple reason why capitalism must fail as people become more and more self aware, and demand that they be treated as an end in themselves - not a means to the capitalists enrichment and their own daily survival.

 

Communism is the word for that form of society in which human beings treat themselves and others, in the words of Kant, as ends in themselves, and not means to an end.

 

And what is that end that the person must be? What is it to treat yourself as an end and not a means to an end? Hegel points out that:

 

"Mind is only what it does, and its act is to make itself the object of its own consciousness."

 

This sounds complicated but really it not. In the old days a carpenter made a table. He put his heart and soul into that work, like an artist, and he made a table that was an expression of himself. When he looked at that table he could see before him a physical manifestation of his own mind. As Hegel put it; the table had become, for that moment, the mind of the carpenter physically before him as he consciously regarded and appreciated it.

 

How different for the tens of millions who slave away for wages, making things that could never be regarded as an expression of themselves. What about the poor worker who makes police batons, decides to go on strike, and then has his head split by one of the very police batons he himself made. Thats what you call the alienation of labour.

 

Unfortunately, in the USSR and other states who aspired to Communism, the worker was very often also alienated from his labour. His labour was not an expression of himself, but, as in the capitalist system, was turned against him. The Workers State became the end to which the worker was a means to. Clearly this was not what Marx had in mind.

 

What todays Communists must do is create work practices and methods of production that put the productive forces in the hands and the minds of the workers themselves - so that our work becomes the physical manifestation of ourselves, and so that we work to see ourselves in our work. That is the great challenge which Capitalism must always shrink away in guilt from, and which Communism must happily make reality.

 

 

REIFICATION

 

This is a very important concept for Marx. Its the tendency people have to express concepts as things, or processes as things. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus had noticed this effect and said that we can never step in the same river twice. What he meant by this is that a river is really a process rather than a thing. Its the movement of water through a channel towards the sea. It changes every second and can never be the same again. So reification is very common and we all do it. We cannot possibly think of all the changes and processes that go into making a river, so we just think of it as an unchanging thing. We say "the Shannon" as if it were always the same thing.

 

Marx used this concept to talk about the way people speak about labour and capital as if they were things. Unlike other reifications, such as the river, Marx saw that this was a very harmful thing to do, since to make our labour a thing is to make ourselves a thing. We talk about selling our labour as if we were selling just another thing at the going rate. But we are not selling just another thing. We are selling what makes us human - our human activity, our labour.

 

The same goes for capital. We talk about it as if it were a thing that is measured in pounds and euros. But capital is not a thing. Its a human relationship. Capital can only come into existance when one person has land and the other person has no land and must sell his labour to the person with land. There is lots of land on Mars, but it is not capital, as no human labour can be put to work on it. Capital then is the human relationship between those who own the land and those who are landless workers. It is not a thing. To describe capital as a thing is to hide the human relationship between exploiter and exploited, as if it didnt exist. It is always an oppression to deny to a victim that he or she is a victim. It is a crime to do so.

 

 

Just another point on reification. Science, by its nature reifies all processes. It does this because it needs to measure. You cannot measure a process, but you can measure a thing. For example, we have no idea what energy actually is. If you look at any dictionary, you will not find a definition that tells you what energy actually is, but only what it does. Science calls it a thing, and uses the metaphor of water to describe it. So we say that energy flows, or that energy builds up, or is absorbed. And we measure energy like we measure the flow of water. The same is true of Force. We have no idea what force actually is, but we call it a thing, and we measure it like we measure water. So science really has nothing to say on the quality of anything, you cannot measure quality. Science only talks in terms of quantity.

 

Stephen Jay Gould, the famous evolutionist, has written on how science measures human intelligence as if it was a thing, when, in reality it is a moving process. He shows how IQ tests are used to oppress the children of poor families and give privilege to the children of the rich and middle classes - based on the lie that rich children seem to be more intelligent and deserve more attention and resources. He points out how the IQ tests are set up to really measure how middle class the children are - not how intelligent they are. Indeed, intelligence is no more a measurable thing than a river is.

 

The same is true of economics, which considers itself a science. Economics is not interested in quality, but only in quantity. But this is bad news for human beings, because we instinctively understand our lives in terms of quality. We appreciate the quality of a beautiful singing voice. But science can only measure that voice as a quantity, not a quality. In terms of its pitch, for example, or, in economic terms, how much money people will pay to hear it. The actual quality of the voice is of no interest to science, and science can say nothing about it.

 

We, as real human beings, value relationships in terms of their quality. Is it a good relationship or a bad one, or and exploitative relationship or a nurturing relationship. But science has nothing to say on such qualities. It can only measure relationships in terms that can be expressed as numerical quantities, i.e. as numbers. In that sense, the relationship between the landless worker and the landed capitalist is not expressed by science as a moral relationship, a relationship of which questions of right or wrong can be asked, but science will only measure that relationship in terms of money, i.e. in terms of numbers. So if a piece of land in one place is worth 20,000 euros and a piece of land, of the same size, in another place is worth 40,000 euros, science is measuring the relationship between landless workers and landed capitalists only in numerical terms, i.e. what science is expressing is that the productivity of the landless workers in the second place is about twice what it is in the first place, and that a capitalist will make twice as much money off the workers in the second place as the first. (Probably due to better technology being used in the second place. The productivity, i.e. the value produced by each worker per hour, of the workers in Intel in Kildare is obviously much greater than the productivity of rural workers in Leitrim, so land is much more expensive in Kildare.) But, of course, science is not making any direct admission that it is measuring a relationship, but only that it is measuring the value of pieces of land.

 

In this way, capital is being treated by science \ economics as if it were a thing, not a relationship, and this thing then seems to take on a life of its own. We will discuss this when we get to the concept of fetishim.

 

 

The Commodification of Labour

 

Marx started his great work Das kapital with an analysis of the commodity. This was no accident. He spent a very long time thinking about what was the starting point of the capitalist system. Ultimately, capitalism begins with the commodity. We might think that a commodity is any exchangable item. But this would not be correct. We can exchange a horse for two cows, for example, but neither horses nor cows are commodities in themselves. The commodity really only comes into existence when we have items being produced specifically for exchange. Take for example a primitive village, maybe a thousand years ago. It produced milk for its own consumption. But after a while, the village elders realise that if it produced more milk than it needed for itself, it could exchange this milk for some other items with a different village. At this point, and only at this point, is milk being produced by the village as a commodity. Also at this point a fundamental change will have taken place in the village. From now on some of the villagers will be working not to produce milk that the village needs, but will be working to produce milk for exchange. In other words, their work is no longer necessary work for the sustenance of the village, but for the profit of the village. Needless to say, this profit will soon be appropriated by the strong men of the village and will not be shared.

 

So, we see that the commodity only comes into being when goods are being produced only for exchange.

 

If we continue with our village example, we will see that a situation has now developed where people no longer work just long enough to produce what they need, and spend the rest of the time in conducting religious and seasonal festivals, composing songs and singing them, playing games, and other cultural activities - or just taking it easy in the winter season. No, their whole life has changed. They now work beyond the time necessary to produce enough for the village. They now work without limit to produce goods for exchange and profit. Time has become money. So we now have some of the villagers who are working all the hours that God sends - not for the need of the village, but for the profit of the village.

 

At the point when time, or labour time, becomes money, then labour time is measureable and thus exchangable. Labour has now also become a commodity. Even in the slave societies, slave owners would rent out their slaves to other landowners (at harvest time for example) and charge by the day or by the week. This was a pure example of labour being a commodity. But when we sell our labour to the highest bidder, we commodify our labour no less than the slave owner did with the labour of his slaves.

 

At this point we must think of what we said about reification. In the old days slave owners had no fear to blandly state that they were selling the labour of their slaves for their own private profit. But today, even capitalists do not want to talk in such terms. So, the answer is to pretend that labour is a thing. Labour is reified. Capitalist economists say that labour is a thing that can be measured in pounds per hour, and sold at that rate - like any other commodity.

 

So, going back to the first essay in this thread "You are what you do," we see that the process of reification and commodification has turned our human activity, what makes us human beings and not just things, into a thing which can be exchanged at measurable rates of exchange. And as we showed in the first essay, if our activity is a thing, then we too are things. This can come as a surprise to nobody who has lived in the capitalist system. We see how capitalist politicians now nearly all refuse to call us citizens, but insist on calling us consumers. We are not to be considered active, thinking, citizens, but mindless mushrooms, just consuming the shit the state and corporations feed us - both mentally and physically.

 

 

On the subject of decommodified labour, its good to remember that it can and does exist even in the capitalist world. Real art is never commodified labour, because the genuine artist never works for a market. He\she does not say to themselves - well purple is in this year, if I add a bit of purple here, this will fetch a higher price, or sell faster. Of course, the artist does need to make some money to live, like anyone else, but money is not a factor in the work of the genuine artist. The artist will work on his\her art even if he\she knows that nobody will ever buy it, and will not count the hours taken to complete a work. Vincent van Gogh is a classic example.

 

But art is not just great masterpieces of sculpture and painting. Art is any human activity that is carried out with love, passion and discipline. I remember the writer Francis Stewart saying that he and his comrades on the Republican side in the civil war had fought to make Ireland a land fit for poets. This is not anything like as idealistic as it might sound. Its entirely practical. Because there are only two choices - life lived according to art, or life lived according to gombeenism.

 

In short, anytime we work for love of our work, we are engaged in art not commodified labour. This is not easy in the capitalist system, where most of us are up to our necks in debt and where we and our families can be thrown out on the street if we do not come up with the money for our masters. Its not easy, but its not entirely impossible either.

 

A few more observations on the subject of reification:

 

George Lukacs described journalism as being a prostitution of experiances and beliefs. He regarded this as a prime example of what he called social reification. What he means by this is a tendency among journalists (and others) to feign certain feelings for opportunistic reasons. How many times have we seen journalists and politicians pretending to be livid with outrage over some event? Very often they couldnt care less about that event or its victims, but it makes for good copy or is handy to bury a rival. We can hardly fail to notice examples of this with the latest child sex abuse revelations. Its pretty clear that a lot of the outrage is well less than deeply felt - but comes in very handy as a stick to beat certain people. The really interesting thing is that they will often eventually convince themselves that they really do feel what they say they feel. It starts out as an act, or a show, put on for financial or other material gain - and ends up being part of the personality of the actor. Very much as the young mistresses of wealthy old men often manage to convince themselves that they really are in love with these fat, bald, old guys (who buy them everything they want.) So we see that private human feelings become things, which can then be manipulated for material gain, which can be commodified. The Beatles were not entirely correct when they said money can't buy love - very often it can. Love becomes just one more sellable thing - and to give love without material gain becomes a foolish loss.

 

And this is the point Marx and Engels refered to in the Communist Manifesto. In the capitalist system, all relationships become commodified. The smart, up and coming, man or woman, looks at all entities in their environment only as career oportunities - including, or particularly, other human beings. If you cant help me claw my way to the top - then you are nothing to me. If you can, I will kiss your ass and love every minute of it. All people, all relationships become things - things to be manipulated, commodified, and sold for material gain. All elements in such a person's world are judged solely in terms of the utility they might have for their egotistic calculations. The whole world has become a world of reified things - as Lukacs said, even secret, internal feelings do not escape, they are reified, commodified, and sold for a price. We often hear people telling others that they have started a course on some subject - and the response they will often get is simply: Is there money in that? It doesnt even occur to these people that somebody in the world might do something just for the love of it - without expectation of financial gain. Even parents will force talented young people to betray their talent - and do something "practical," i.e. something that is sure to make them more money. I can hardly think of a worse betrayal of a child than this, but millions of parents do it all the time. And whats worse, they actually think they are doing it out of love. These people are truely hopeless cases, thats for sure, and perhaps extreme cases, but, tragically, these are exactly the people who rule the capitalist world, and own nearly everything. That being the case, we can hardly dismiss them. They mess up the world for everyone else.

 

The philosopher John Dewey illustrated the process of refied thought very nicely with his example of two ways of saying what most people would think of as being the same thing:

 

1/ Man is mortal.

2/ Men die.

 

But we see that these two sentences are far from being the same. In the first, mankind is spoken about as a thing, like any other thing. The tone is the tone of "objective science." Dispassionate, disinterested. You might as well be saying "momentum equals mass multiplied by acceleration," or "six million Jews were killed in the Nazi consentration camps." Man is simply a measurable thing like any other measurable thing. His life calculated in hours, minutes and seconds.

 

The second sentance articulates a care for the fact that we must face death. That real human beings, with loved ones, come to the end of their own personal lives, very often long before their time. The word "men" signifies the collection of different man and women, all with their own hopes and dreams. They are not measurable things.

 

To return to Lukacs, he felt that this reified way of thinking and speaking comes about mainly through habit. We get into the habit of treating everybody around us as if they were things - not humans we need to care for. Its clear that the "man" of sentence 1\ does not really exist. There is no thing which equals the sum total of humanity. Such a thing would have no particular characteristics at all. In reality, only men exist, not man. But, of course, "man," with no characteristics at all, is exactly what the bourgeoisie want. They want a fictional "man" that they can shape into the form of their own desire. "Man" who is obedient, does not join trade unions, works hard for low wages, believes the garbage he reads in the media, and votes for the parties the bourgeoisie want him to vote for.

 

Commodity Fetishism

 

So far, we have looked at two stages in the transformation of human beings into sellable "things" in the capitalist system:

 

The first stage was reification, where processes, concepts, relationships and labour were regarded as "things."

 

The second stage was commodification, where these "things" were measured in hours and given a price per hour. They thus became exchangable.

 

The next stage is what Marx called Commodity Fetishism, and this is an extremely interesting subject, not least because it is so fantastic:

 

 

 

A "fetish" is an object that is supposed to mystically contain the power of something else. For example, a statue may be supposed to contain some of the power of the god it represents, or, in sexual fetishism, an object like a shoe may be held by certain individuals to hold the power of the penis (the penis the little boy assumes his mother has).

 

 

If I walk into Dunnes Stores I will see all sorts of household goods, cloths etc. If I then walk into Brown Thomas, I will also see lots of household goods, cloths etc. However, I will immediately be struck by the impression that the Brown Thomas goods have a certain magical power that the Dunnes Stores goods do not. There is a certain feeling of being "transformed" by putting on the Brown Thomas suit which is lacking in the Dunnes Stores suit. Naturally, the material is better and the cut finer, but is this the source of our feeling of being transformed? Certainly not. Marx noted that we actually look at goods as possessing power in themselves. So if we go into Brown Thomas and cover our bodies in designer cloths and beautiful suits, its as if the power of these goods flows into us. We may even find ourselves walking, talking and generally acting in a different way when we put them on - if even only for a moment. We may feel that power that distinguishes the Brown Thomas goods from the Dunnes Stores goods has flowed into us, and distinguised us from the people who wear Dunnes Stores in the same way. So we see that a real social relation between the well off and the working class has been projected into a fetishistic relation between goods. Its as if it were the goods themselves which differentiated one class of people from another, and not the actual power difference beween them. In this way, the fantasy of "democracy" can be maintained, were people are all considered to be equal, but goods are not. The social relation has been shifted from the human field to the field of commodities. People no longer consider themselves in struggle with other people (of a different class) but simply involved in a private struggle to aquire more commodities. Its no accident that western governments talk about "consumers" rather than "citizens."

 

 

(Ironically, and to emphasise the imaginary nature of commodity fetishism, it may not be noticed that many of the designer cloths found in Brown Thomas could well have been manufactured in exactly the same Asian sweatshop as the Dunnes Stores brand, with the workers being paid exacly the same subsistance wage for producing both items. Even if it is noticed, the magical power of the fetish (once a designer label is stuck on it) will not be diminished.

 

So we see that things take on the attributes of humans in the capitalist system, and humans take on the attributes of things. This is made more clear when we consider the case of labour. In the capitalist system, labour is not considered the manifestation of our subjectivity, but a measurable and sellable "thing." But here is were the "magic" the "fetishism" comes in. If labour is a thing, then it does not have any rights, obligations or entitlements. But the capitalist system says that labour has the "right" to wages. The same goes for capital. We saw that capital is actually a relationship between the landed and the landless. But it is reified into a "thing" in the capitalist system - but a thing with rights and entitlements. Capital is said to be entitled to interest. And finally land, which actually is a thing, is said to be entitled to rent.

 

So we see that human beings are entitled to nothing, but things are entitled wages, interest and rent.

 

 

At this point in time, we have looked at the three stages in the creation of the capitalist order, the three stages in the changing of human activity into a sellable thing that has magical powers of it own:

 

1/ Reification

2/ Commodification

3/ Commodity Fetishism

 

At this point we need to look at one of the most misunderstood of all of Marx's concepts, generally known as the Labour Theory of Value. Marx did not invent the labour theory of value. Early liberal economists like Ricardo and Adam Smith also put forward a labour theory of value. When Capitalist economists today criticise Marx's labour theory of value, it is actually Ricardo's and Smith's theory that they are criticising. Ricardo and Smith regarded the price of commodities as being determined by the cost of labour. They were well aware that shortages of a particular commodity would cause increased prices (supply and demand), but, they reasoned that, in the long term, such fluxuations in supply and demand did not matter. Over a long period of time it would be the cost of labour that would determine the price. Today, capitalist economists will object: but gold is always more expensive than bread, because gold is more scarse, not because it costs more to produce. But this ignores much of the human activity that goes into the production of gold as a valuable object. Not only does it have to be searched for and mined, but a whole world economic system must exist before it has any great value. We must remember that most of the world's gold is sitting in sealed vaults - in the form of gold bullion. Nobody is making anything beautiful from it, and not many people will ever even see it. It's value comes from the fact that other people will except it as an exchangable commodity. Its a commodity that has no real use value, but only exchange value. so it's value comes from the fact that the whole world capitalist economy exists - not from the fact that it is rare. There are many things that are much more rare, but they are not considered valuable.

 

The basic point is that Ricardo and Smith were right - it takes a huge amount of human creative effort to make gold as valuable as it is - much more effort than it takes to make bread - it takes the creation of the whole capitalist system to make gold valuable.

 

So, this brings us to Marx. If capitalist economists are criticising him in the wrong, why are they wrong? Simply because Marx was not interested in price. He fully realised that price in money was a symptom of the capitalist system. He fully realised that price was the method of measuring the exchange value of commodities. He had no great interest in spending time helping capitalists to work out their prices. Marx was not greatly interested in quantity (prices) but in quality. The quality of human life.

 

The question Marx asked was:

How is human working activity regulated in a capitalist economy?

 

And the answer Marx gave was:

Human working activity is alienated by one class, appropriated by another class, congealed in commodities, and sold on the market in the form of exchange value.

 

 

At this point, we need to talk a little about the difference between "use value" and "exchange value." Use value is simply the use I can get from something. I can use a loaf of bread if Im hungry, I can use a car to get from one place to another, or I can use a computer to send an e-mail, for example. We cannot measure use value. We can say something is useful, or very useful, or useless, but we cant give any object an accurate measure of use value. For example, if Im lost in the desert, a cup of water is very useful, but if Im standing beside a tap I'll consider it much less useful. What we are talking about is a quality, not a quantity. Something helps me or it doesnt.

 

Exchange value is very different. This is a measureable quantity. The unit of measure is pounds and pense. Exchange value is totally a quantity. Quality does not matter at all. I mentioned above that most gold is never going to be used for anything. But we can measure its exchange value to the nearest penny. An example of this is if I go into a car show room and buy a brand new car. It will have a certain use value. I can use it to travel or just to enjoy myself driving about. It also has an exchange value. This excange value will be given in pounds or euro. The minute I sign on the dotted line and buy the car, it will immediately loose up to 30% of its exchange value. It is now a second hand car. Its use value has not changed one jot. Not a single extra mile has gone on the milage - but it has lost a good deal of exchange value. This is particularly striking, given that the show room staff have probably been driving the car around quite a bit before you bought it.

 

So we see that use value and exchange value are completely diffierent concepts.

 

Use value deals with the quality of usefullness.

 

Exchange value deals with the quantity, in money, for which the commodity can be exchanged.

 

 

So, Marx was interested in quality not quantity. Many trade unionists, who may even think they are Marxists, spend their whole life struggling for more money for the workers. They see the struggle in terms of quantity. As if giving workers more money, a bigger slice of the capitalist cake, would solve the problem. This could not be further from the vision of Marx. Marx realised that the more wages a worker gets for his labour, the more, not the less, he is alienated from his work, from his life, from his own subjectivity.

 

In his "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts" of 1844, Marx wrote:

 

"The less you are, the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life, the more you have, the greater is the store of your estranged being. Everything which the political economist takes from you in life and in humanity, he replaces for you in money and in wealth."

 

Many workers in the capitalist system are making huge wages - they work very long hours, if they have time to have a family, they rarely see them, and when they do, they are too exausted to enjoy them or give them anything - except money. This worker really is a stranger to himself, his work alienates him from himself or herself. His work is not an expression of his subjectivity - just the opposite. He sells his life, and he gets things in return, things he has no time to enjoy anyway.

 

So, it is the quality of a workers life and work that Marx is interested in - not how much of the capitalist cake he gets in exchange for his life.

 

 

So, to recap on the Labour Theory of Value. We saw that Smith and Ricardo considered labour to be that input which, over time, determined price. We also saw that Marx was not particularly interested in price. What he was interested in is quality of life. So, from that point of view, we must accept that it is human activity that brings any commodity into existance at all. A stone found on a beach may be useful for certain things, but it is not a commodity. And, if it does become a commodity, it is only because some human being has chosen it from all the other stones on the beach, picked it up, and brought it to market, i.e. has added labour to it. Bringing the stone to market has effected the quality of life of the person who did it in some way - for good or for bad.

 

And this brings us to what is probably Marx's most famous concept:

 

Surplus Value:

 

Again, capitalist economists have a great time setting up strawmen for themselves and then knocking them down - and then claiming that they have demolished Marx's theory of surplus value - when, in reality, they have not even mentioned it.

 

So lets begin with the strawman - which is, unfortunately, the version that most people who have suffered a capitalist "education" know about. According to the strawman version, the theory runs as follows:

 

Lets say five workers are hired by a capitalist to do a job. The raw materials and equipment cost the capitalist £100. Each worker also costs the capitalist £100. So the total cost of the job is £600. Now the capitalist charges £1,000. So the profit is £400. According to the strawman version, the surplus value that the workers have added is £400. And the capitalist steals this £400 for himself rather than sharing it with the workers.

 

Now we can see how the capitalist economists have made things very easy for themselves. They can now rush forward as the heroes who "demolish Marx." They will point out that the capitalist himself has added valuable work by getting the job in the first place, and by organising the labourers and the equipment, etc. etc. And they are not wrong in this. On the other hand, its certain that the capitalist could have paid the workers a little more and still have had enough for himself. He hardly did four times the work of the labourers who actually did the job. That might be true, but that is not at all what Marx is saying.

 

So what is Marx's theory of Surplus Value?

 

In short, Marx is not saying that the capitalist takes some of labourers work (as profit). Marx is saying that the capitalist takes ALL of the labourer's work.

 

How so?

 

As we said at the start of this thread, human activity is subjective activity. It is human beings shaping the world they live in according to their own creative genius - it is shaping the world in their own image. But when labour is reified and commodified, it ceases to be subjective activity. It is no longer an end, but a means to an end. It is no longer the way man sees his own subjectivity in the world (as in the case of the carpenter with the table he made), but is simply the way he manages to survive. The end becomes survival (or even keeping up with the Joneses), and labour \ human activity becomes merely the means to that end.

 

So the worker gives his creative power completely to the capitalist, and, in return, he is given things \ commodities. The worker has completely sold his power to change or create the world he lives in (he had sold his democratic power), and in return for giving up any creative input into his world, he is paid in already made things.

 

So, we see that the capitalist economists have not even mentioned the problem. They see it only in terms of a worker wanting more money for his labour. Marx did not see this as the problem. Marx saw the problem as giving up human activity at all in return for money. Again, its a question of quality Vs quantity. The worker gives up the quality of being able to create his own world, and he is paid for this complete sacrifice of his democratic rights in a quantity of money or commodities.

 

So, the question might be asked: Why did Marx even call it a theory of Surplus Value? Would it not have been better to call it something like "the destruction of creative power?"

 

Well, the reason he used this term was that it was already the accepted term in classical economics for the process of capitalist appropriation. Economists like Smith and Ricardo had put forward their own theories of Surplus Value long before Marx (it is really their theory that today's capitalist economists "demolish" and think they are attacking Marx.) Marx felt he needed to reframe a theory that was already known by all students of political economy, i.e. surplus value. He needed to point out to people that what the capitalist takes is not just a surplus (the cream off the labourer's work), but that the capitalist takes all of the labourers real creative power. In today's capitalist world, the vast majority of people have no right to decide on what products will exist in the world or what form they will take (at most, the individual can decide to buy something or not buy it - and even this is a rather forced decision), they have no right to make a democratic decision on how the world's resources will be used. (For example, its certain that most people would vote to invest resources in AIDS research rather than on weapons research - but they do not have that choice.) Choices in the actual shape or form of the world we live in are completely given to a small number of capitalists. The capitalist economists do not try to hide this fact. The Nobel Prize winning US economist, Paul Samuelson, who wrote the basic text book "Economics" read by millions of students all over the world (I read it myself, and it is very good in as far as it goes), and translated into 42 different languages, says:

 

"Through profits, society is giving the command over new ventures to those who have piled up a record of success."

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Thanks for this. I was myself educated on surplus value by the SWP, who do get it as wrong as the trade union leaders, you'd wonder why. They actually despise the workers thinking a few more quid is all we want. It probably says loads about whoever is preaching it than about the actual workers.

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yeh i got the same. It seems they're too afraid to talk about anything that might scare bourgeoisie. The only good thing was the lit they sold, that explained it perfectly. Makes you wonder though, if they can't explain it - do they understand it?

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Marx started his great work Das kapital with an analysis of the commodity. This was no accident. He spent a very long time thinking about what was the starting point of the capitalist system. Ultimately, capitalism begins with the commodity. We might think that a commodity is any exchangable item. But this would not be correct. We can exchange a horse for two cows, for example, but neither horses nor cows are commodities in themselves. The commodity really only comes into existence when we have items being produced specifically for exchange. Take for example a primitive village, maybe a thousand years ago. It produced milk for its own consumption. But after a while, the village elders realise that if it produced more milk than it needed for itself, it could exchange this milk for some other items with a different village. At this point, and only at this point, is milk being produced by the village as a commodity. Also at this point a fundamental change will have taken place in the village. From now on some of the villagers will be working not to produce milk that the village needs, but will be working to produce milk for exchange. In other words, their work is no longer necessary work for the sustenance of the village, but for the profit of the village. Needless to say, this profit will soon be appropriated by the strong men of the village and will not be shared.

 

So, we see that the commodity only comes into being when goods are being produced only for exchange.

 

Given the increased interdependence in modern economies, we have to examine this question slightly differently. Of course we are going to be producing things that are not needed by our immediate neighbours and relatives. The question therefore becomes, "what/who is our village/community?"

 

If for example the suprlus milk (to take a primitive example) is being produced for people in the next village (or those in a village further away, depending on the perishability of the product) it is not necessarily becoming a commodity. It certainly becomes much more easy to commodify, but it only becomes a commodity when the end user is not in an intrinsic direct political relationship with the producer. A product provided in solidarity with another community is not a commodity. Essentially, where the end user is considered to be within the same community, and has some input into the production, the product is not a commodity. Similarly, in such a system, a product is not alienated from the producer, because it has been produced for the community as a whole, and not for export to an external unit.

 

Communal land ownership is one means (I am sure there are other ones, but I haven't given it much thought) of how this production is socialised and therefeore not subject to alienation and commodification. In such a system the land is owned communally, and there is an understanding that production is only possible with human co-operation and solidarity, and that therefore the fruits of production are not solely for the producers themselves.

 

Of course, such a system involves a very well defined relationship between production and ownership, and if the official system does not match the expectations of the producers, then they will soon feel, and become, alienated from their products. This would be socialised alienation, and may indeed be necessary, depending on how much time you have for centralised state power. But the relationship between the local and the national (or international) system is key.

 

In the capitalist system, there is no direct political link between the producer and the end user, other than price. The trick against commodification is to build such social and political links that have the capacity to overcome price as an indicator of value.

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Yes, I agree, a chara. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels say that Capitalism reduces all human relations to relations of money. If that is correct, then it stands to reason that the main means of replacing capitalism is by replacing this relation of money with a relation of comradeship, in effect, by the relation of the Holy Spirit, i.e. the Spirit of the Revolutionary Proletariat.

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"Many workers in the capitalist system are making huge wages - they work very long hours, if they have time to have a family, they rarely see them, and when they do, they are too exausted to enjoy them or give them anything - except money. This worker really is a stranger to himself, his work alienates him from himself or herself. His work is not an expression of his subjectivity - just the opposite. He sells his life, and he gets things in return, things he has no time to enjoy anyway."

 

Sounds like my life...all except for the huge wages lol!

 

Very interesting read.

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