Communist earthquake: What is the game about?

 Why and how are these working people central to a communist revolution? Is it because they are able to stop production? Or because they have nothing to lose, and therefore the potential to be the driving force in history's most radical act? (Photo by Sebastião Salgado)

When Karl Marx thinks about 'the game" he is thinking about ground-shaking global upheavals:

"But if the final goal of the League is the overthrowing of the social order, the method by which this is to be achieved is necessarily that of political revolution and this entails the overthrow of the Prussian state,  just as an earthquake entails the overthrow of a chicken-house. ... "

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"Is the exploitation of labor really 'what this game is about' as Keith says? In the U.S., clearly a socialist revolution (here as everywhere) involves the emancipation of wage labor through the creation of new socialist economic relations... But from the beginning of the U.S., “the game” has also been about the liberation of African American people from vicious oppression as a people. Throughout the world, “the game” is also about ending (forever! finally!) the ancient subordination of the female sex to men, and to state and church enforcing patriarchy."

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" To put our goals (or our view of the game) in  one place, the Four Alls are:

1) the abolition of class distinctions generally, 2) the abolition of all the relations of production on which they rest, 3) the abolition of all the social relations that correspond to these relations of production, and 4) the revolutionising of all the ideas that result from these social relations.

"This is quite a sweeping (even breath taking) vision of what we communists are seeking to accomplish globally in this epoch."

by Mike Ely

Many issues have been raised in our discussion "The working class in revolution: Assumptions & expectations."

Let me start with just one: what is the relationship between class and the goals of the communist movement. What is the revolution for, what is it about? What are our goals?

Keither writes: So the core of our work (in this view) is to make workers aware of their own exploitation and status as workers (i.e. that they produce far more than they receive, and the surplus goes to the owner of the factory, they are therefore ripped off individually and collectively) so that in their fight over that surplus they become conscious of the need for socialism (taking the whole of the surplus).

By contrast, i think we should view the communist movement as the historic struggle to overthrow and end all oppression -- including the very existence of classes and class distinctions generally, the brutalization and impoverishment of the poor and propertyless, the human-eating horrors of the state with repressions and wars, the universal oppression of women as a sex, the domination of nations by empires and corporations, and all the ways humanity suffers (not just from capitalism but from class society generally).

The most moving and communist line in the film Salt of the Earth is when Mexican actress Rosuara Revueltas says "I want to rise up, and take everything up with me."

And our key political work as communists is to raise the consciousness of a core revolutionary people to those sweeping concerns (as a "tribune of the people") to develop a material force that (in a partisan way) takes up the task of ruling society -- in ways that rupture with the all social relations, ideas and class relations of the past (not just get itself a larger share of the wealth, or free itself from the insulting abuses of mindless bosses and ruthless corporations).

The oppression of women or the liberation of dominated peoples is not somehow secondary to the concern of employed workers with their direct exploitation.

The argument that we should somehow focus politically on  "exploitation" (especially in the workplaces) rather than diverse society-wide "oppressions" has been  at the very core of the political arguments that communists have called "economism."

It is the idea that the ongoing working class struggle for a larger share of the wealth and over the conditions of its productive work  is the arena most fruitful for the development of political consciousness. Further, economism involves a view of socialism which seems to assume that  our struggle boils down to "share the wealth" (or take back the wealth) -- at its core. And it involves a view of the self-presentation of the revolutionary movement that is captured by the term "workerism" (i.e. the identity politics of workers).

It is also (to use previous communist terminology) a process that sees revolution as an event in the base, not a sweeping remaking of both superstructure and base (which is fundamentally fought out in the superstructure of ideas, political power and military affairs, and then carried into the base after key victories).

The Communist Revolution: A sweeping historic conflict over the very existence of class & oppression

Let me restart at another different place to describe what I think "the game" is:

Human beings have fought against class society and its horrors from the moment slaves, women and conquered tribes were dominated by early kings and patriarchs.

Socialism is (in one sense) be the negation of capitalism, but communism is (in its largest sense) the negation of class society itself.

What is key to the modern working class (or at least to those sections of the working class that are not bourgeoisified)?

It is that it can only emancipate itself by emancipating all of humanity. It can only end its state of suffering by taking up and pushing through the world-historic fight against all oppressions.

Yes, the communist revolution means the end of wage slavery and exploitation. Yes, it means an end to poverty at one pole in society, and the accumulation of wealth at another.

But in our world, the revolution is entwined with the overthrow of many forms of oppression (that torment and mobilize the people) -- some quite ancient, others more recently invented, all now bound up with capitalism by a thousand connections.

Lets be drill into this:

People often emphasize that "the working class can only emancipate itself" -- which is an important point (and is the basis for the Maoist mass line). (It is also a popular point among radicals who haven't gotten very far out of bourgeois democratic frameworks.)

It is true: Things can't be mainly done by a small minority acting 'in the name of the people" -- because the process of liberation actually involves more than some popular or demagogic coup.

The multi-dimensional changes involved in communist revolution require active people (a "subject") who are conscious and engaged in all aspects of society (revolutionizing them there and engaged with cardinal affairs of state). Meaning that they both wield power in specific, and hold power in general.

Being able to play this role is a condition Marx calls "becoming fit to rule" -- and the broad masses of people are far from generally fit to rule at most points in history. this requires a historically specific and concrete process of "forging a revolutionary people" -- where an organized section of oppressed people in a country actually become partisan, self-aware, conscious advocates of revolutionary change.

Here is Marx's own phrase:

This formulation is drawn from a statement by Marx, but (again to avoid quote worship), its value is not somehow its lineage to Marx, but that it emerged as a powerful way of describing our endgoals in the course of the fight against capitalist restoration in China. (And after all, in these storms of fighting the capitalist road, a sharp and powerful expression of "what is the game, after all?" stands center stage.)

Zhang Chunquao on trial for his life, 1980 in China. He was utterly defiant throughout that counterrevolutionary farce.

In one of the most important essays to emerge from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, (“On Exercising All-Round Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie.” Peking Review, April 4, 1975), Zhang Chunqiao writes:

First, we are fighting for a better world -- in which oppression has been ended globally, in profound, historic and very radical ways.

Second, there is nothing "nebulous" about that (and, in fact, it is not more nebulous that the term "end of labor exploitation," which can and does mean different things to different people).

Third, the working people are not important because they are the ones most closely affected by "labor exploitation" -- but because those most outlaw and alienated by this capitalist society can (for the first time in history) take on the task of ending all class distinctions, and the ending of all oppression (not just their own).

And what is most historically distinctive about the working class is not mainly that it is somehow strategic to production, but that it is without property and interests in the dominant order and yet (unlike peasants) it can be imagined as the spearhead and core of a new social order.

What will become most important about working people in the revolution is their ability to seize power (not stop production -- which is a very passive and easily defeated view of class struggle). And what will become most important about working people after the revolution is that (as a class) we believe they have no historic interest in stopping half-way, in establishing a new oppressive order, but that they have the potential of pushing the communist revolution through to the abolition of the 4 alls.

[A sidenote on morality: The dominant ideas of each epoch flow from the nature of the dominant social relations, and from the articulations of its ruling classes. Our movement will, of necessity, be part of the organic emergence of a new culture, and with it new views of morality. It is not possible to create socialist or communist society without a radically new view of morality and behavior. I doubt anyone can doubt that there is feudal morality, or bourgeois morality -- and that we reject them. Reject them based on what? Based on what is coming into being. And I don't think such a new social morality is something we invent in our closet whispering to ourselves about "which form of sex is ok?" It is something that emerges through general social struggle and creativity -- in how lives are lived and viewed under new conditions involving both the struggle for liberation and then liberatoin itself.]

Someone asked earlier on this site what is the difference between calling yourself a socialist or a communist? In my view, it is really what we put forward as our goals. (Are we about creating a nanny state of welfare bennies, or abolishing the state? An "extension of democracy" to economics within a structural nip-tuck in current society, or seizing a historic opportunity to end the whole chain of relations and ideas that have enslaved humanity for thousands of years.)

The transition from hunter-gatherer to class society was a massive (unprecedented) leap for humanity (with brought with it the invention of armies, the patriarch dominated family, taxes, aristorcrisy, money, wealth, etc.)

We are envisioning a comparable, unprecedented leap -- and when we express what we are against (i.e. the 4 alls), we can start to envision and describe what we are for.

People in this conversation

  • <b>On a separate philosophical note:</b>

    I want to point out that i disagree with a certain kind of analysis (an "essentialist" view) that finds a main "defining" characteristic (among many), then declares it is the "essence" of a process, and then (by reductionism), announces it is the main (and virtually only) thing worth talking about. Each of these leaps is (also) full of assumptions that I don't make. And (in my view) it starts by seeming to make a dialectical analysis of conflicting and dynamic features of complex phenomenon, but the whole drive is (in a reductionist way) to arrive at a point where it is simplified into one thing, one main thing, one essence, one problem. Overall, this drive to invent a defining "essence" to things is a way of starting with dialectics (one becomes two), and ending with metaphysics (two boil down to one.)

    For example, Keith says my arguments are:

    " asking what role did chattel slaves play in the U.S. Civil War. And what was that war about?"

    And, Keith seems to imply that the U.S. civil war was "about" one single thing, and that this thing is obvious. And that it is almost ridiculous to ask "what was that war about?" -- even though (if you study the actual history) it was about many things, and "what it is about" changed several times.

    But here too, Keith displays the essentialism I'm criticizing.

    On the side of the Northern federals the war involved a grand coalition between forces who wanted to expand and consolidate a great modern nation state (manifest destiny, infrastructure, modern industry), those who wanted to protect "free labor" (and its modern fluid movement) from the downpressing expansion of slave labor, and those who wanted to abolish chattel slavery.

    And there were great gradations, struggles and shifts between those rather starkly different (yet historically entertwined) goals. (Not just in the civil war, but also in the struggle over Reconstruction and its betrayal).

    Put another way: the Northern Unionists found that they couldn't preserve and expand their modern increasingly-capitalist nation state without (ultimately) emancipating slaves -- and so they did so by force of arms and law.

    (By loose and perhaps dangerous analogy, I am arguing that the most oppressed and propertyless laborers of this planet cannot ultimately transform their horrifying conditions without (ultimately) taking up the liberation of women (globally in radical ways), without overturning the power of capital at the very heights, without bringing about a new culture etc. The historic "tasks" are entwined -- in ways very different from the U.S. bourgeois revolution, and without a new oppressive ruling class at the helm.)

    Further more, the Civil War was not just about things in the economic base (property relations), but also about ideas and culture (a way of life) build on that base. there was (for example) a debate over "what is freedom?" -- whose terms still shape the debate within modern bourgeois politics. (The confederacy argued they were the ones fighting for freedom and self-determination -- in quite passionate and obviously remarkably hypocritical ways).

    Once you ask what a complex thing "about" -- once you explore it in depth, dialectically -- you don't come up with one phrase answers. And quite apart from our disagreement over "the essence" of the revolutionary process, I think there is a difference over the whole reductionist way of using analysis to identify "essense" (in a way that posits a Oneness at the core of events, not unruly contradictions and untamed oppositional currents.)

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    "The oppression of women or the liberation of dominated peoples is not somehow secondary to the concern of employed workers with their direct exploitation."

    When you say this kind of stuff in the abstract of class you reveal your real politics, which are firmly within the realm of capital, not outside of it.

    Is Hilary Clinton "oppressed"? How about Gloria Macapagal Arroyo? How about Obama? Is he a "dominated peoples"?

    No, workers are exploited, and as a part of that and an element of the system that it relies on and originated in, you have things like the oppression of black and women workers.

    Even the Black Panther Party that you worship said so. Beware of the black capitalist they said!

    This is identity politics plain and simple, sadly what Maoism has been reduced too in the rich countries since it's real program belongs to peasant hinterlands of the past century.

    - KB from the Philippines

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    "Put another way: the Northern Unionists found that they couldn’t preserve and expand their modern increasingly-capitalist nation state without (ultimately) emancipating slaves — and so they did so by force of arms and law."

    EXACTLY RIGHT! In other words, the northern bourgeoisie was acting in it's OWN CLASS INTERESTS! No out of a moral want to "Free enslaved people," but because that's what they needed to move forward.

    It's the same that workers need to unite along class lines, over color, caste, language and national lines, in order to move forward. They'll do so because they need to in order to move forward, not because some college kid with a Mao shirt convinced them that "racism is wrong" and they should "serve the people".

    How do you say this and not recognize what it means?

  • Guest - lycophidion

    I don't think the issue is so much that workers are exploited at the point of production that lends that site and relationship a strategic importance, but rather that relationship and site is the ultimate source of capitalist power. But, this is a somewhat different question from the dynamic and content of a social revolution. Hopefully, I can elaborate more, later. Off to (contingent ;-)) work...

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    I am in agreement with Mike here. There are a few additional points that I think need to be made about this distinction between "oppression" and "exploitation" and the implications of the idea that we as communists should speak primarily to the exploitation of labor.

    The first point is that while workers are exploited under capitalism they are not the only people who are exploited. The ability of capital to exploit wage labor depends on the reproduction of labor. Some of this is accomplished through wages which pay for food and other necessities of life. But much of it is accomplished through the unpaid work of other members of the wage workers household. In much of the world still wage workers belong to households where other members work a plot of land, or pick through garbage, or sell gum or whatever to also contribute to the survival of the household and therefore the reproduction of the wage worker. And even in the most industrialized parts of the world households depend on unwaged housework, typically still performed primarily by women. Who does what work is commonly determined by gender, race, ethnicity and nationality. As is who has access to waged work and who is relegated to the reserve army of labor. Inequality in the household is not simply a matter of oppression, it is also a matter of exploitation. Women who are virtual slaves in their homes to men who are wage workers are not just oppressed, they are exploited even if their is no extraction of surplus value.

    Not unrelated to the question of reproductive labor is that of accumulation by dispossession. Presently, for example, millions of Adivasi peoples in India are being pushed off their lands to make way for various forms of mineral exploitation. This is not a minor source of value. Such dispossessions have historically proven critical in rescuing capital from its episodic crises.

    The second point is that within this overall panorama of exploitation and oppression waged workers are frequently neither the most oppressed nor even the most exploited. If their location in the process of producing surplus value gives them unique strategic leverage in relation to capital that leverage is also a source of their power vis a vis unwaged worker in the household.

    A third point is that the rate of exploitation of different sections of waged workers is variable and this variability informs perceptions of class interests and solidarity within the working class in ways that have historically proven subject to political manipulation through the creation of racial and other privileges which have repreatedly blunted the development of revolutionary class consciousness.

    What makes the proletariat a revolutionary class able to bring about communism is precisely that its emancipation can not be achieved except through the emancipation of all of oppressed humanity. Only the working class can emancipate the working class, but it can not do so by setting its sites simply on the emancipation of the working class. When it does that, the result is economism and the self-limitation of the working class movement.

  • Is Hilary Clinton oppressed as a woman? Of course she is, even if obviously many women have been more oppressed. Even at the height of her power she has had to contend with all sorts of ridiculous sexist bullshit. That doesn't mean that on balance she isn't overwhelmingly in the corner of the oppressors and exploiters of the world. It just means that the workings of this system are complex and contradictory from top to bottom. The same is true of Obama. Clinton and Obama are our enemies. We should have no illusions to the contrary. But that does not mean that they haven't experienced and been shaped in important ways by the oppression of women or of Black people. If we can not hold those contradictory facts in our minds it is an indication of the impoverishment of our thinking.

  • Guest - Aaron Aarons

    If, because of the enormous global inequality of workers' wages, a specific worker in the U.S. can, with the net proceeds of 40 hours of labor, buy material goods manufactured elsewhere that incorporate 100 hours of socially necessary labor, is that U.S. worker exploited at all?

  • Interesting tidbit: Rosuara Revueltas's brother, Jose Revueltas, led a split from the Mexican Communist Party (PCM) that contributed to eventual emergence of a distinct Maoist tendency in Mexico. He authored an important essay, Ensayo de un proletariado sin cabeza (Essay on a headless proletariat) that sought to explain the PCM's failure to consolidate as a revolutionary party and was imprisoned after the 1968 massacre of students at Tlatelolco.

  • Aaron, the answer is yes. Marx distinguishes between simple and complex labor to deal with the fact that there are (often considerable) differences in the productivity of different laborers as a result of the prior labor invested in their training and education as well as differences in the organic composition of capital. Highly skilled labor using the most advanced technologies produces more value (and therefore more potential surplus value) than less skilled labor using simple tools. In the period of the transition from the hand loom to the power loom, for example, workers in industrial textile mills produced several times the value produced by hand loom operators and were better compensated for it. The industrial workers were nonetheless exploited. Indeed even though their wages were higher they were exploited at a higher rate because the difference in wages didn't match the differences in the productivity of their labor. This is part of why putting exploitation at the center of everything can lead one astray. A US worker assembling airplanes for Boeing can be exploited at a much higher rate than a Colombian coffee-picker, but that fact is hardly a guarantee that the Boeing worker will be the more class conscious of the two. Indeed, coffee pickers have been far more revolutionary over the past century than Boeing workers. And it isn't simply a matter of the Boeing worker not being aware. In addition to being exploited at a very high rate because his labor is so productive, the Boeing worker is a beneficiary of the highly unequal development of capitalism and from a purely material standard of living perspective has something to lose in a revolution that declares its intention to correct that uneven development.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    Some of this can obscure the more essential points. Think of it more like this:

    Would the average Colombian coffee-picker welcome the rise to power of someone similar to Hugo Chavez in Colombia?

    It's very probable that they would.

    Would the average Colombian coffee-picker welcome an effort to merge Colombia into a trading bloc similar to BRIC, which Brazil, Russia, India &amp; China have attempted to form?

    It's very probable that they would.

    Would the average Colombian coffee-picker welcome attempts to further extend such a trading bloc by including Iran &amp; Syria in it?

    It's very probable that they would.

    Are a majority of Colombian coffee-pickers really going to want to support an attempt at a Maoist (or Trotskyist or Hoxhaist or whatever your thing is) revolution which draws Colombia into being another Vietnam?

    That is very unlikely, and this is a big reason why the sputtering guerilla war there has not turned into any "people's revolution" yet.

    A reality check: If you really want to win a majority of Colombian coffee-pickers over to supporting something which goes radically beyond the first 3 possibilities listed above then you're going to have to start by getting those Boeing workers to see their class interest in a proletarian revolution. Until that's happened you can pretty well count people like Chavez &amp; Lula as representing the far edge of any Latin American Left. If you want something more over there, then you're going to have to supply it here first. That's just a central fact about the 21st century.

  • Guest - Keith

    TNL's analysis of the exploitation labour is exactly right. The rate of exploitation rises with the increasing development of the productive forces. Indeed, the rate of exploitation -- the relation of necessary to surplus labour-- is an expression of the level of development of the productive forces.

    But, TNL flees from the science. Instead of thinking through the consequences of what the science teaches us he goes back into the cave of opinion and common sense.

    If things were as they appear then science would not be necessary. It appears that revolutionary potential should track with the most dire oppression but it does not it tracks with the most ruthless exploitation but that does not appear in the expected way.

    A revolution that intends to equalize uneven development by retarding the more developed to favour the undeveloped will fail-- (or more accurately will not start as Patrick explained in #10) Revolution, socialism, communism is the outcome of capitalist development.

  • Guest - Otto

    I see a real problem when the working class divide and turn on each other, when some people realize the union workers, or certain other workers have it better than them.
    Rather than turn to the "job creators" the 1% who get way more than these workers for doing far less, these workers seem unable to make a connection between their oppressors and those workers who have fought for their rights as laborers. It's a kind of blame the victim mentality. There's also this "if I don't have it, why should you," attitude among the working class.
    This is a serious problem that Marxists in this country are going to have to deal with. I don't think there is a simple solution but there must be a way we can address this.
    I remember hearing such worker's comments on NPR, during the Walker election.

  • Guest - Aaron Aarons

    Is the difference between factory workers' wages in the U.S. and in China mainly due to a difference in productivity? I don't think so! Is there any doubt that, if a company like Apple were forced to do all its manufacturing in the U.S. and pay average U.S. wages for each kind of work, their costs of production would increase several-fold? My argument is that, if you regard the value of a commodity as the amount of socially necessary labor needed to produce it, including the labor of training workers, of producing machines, etc., then large numbers of workers in the U.S. and other imperialist countries consume more value than they produce. To put it another way, many waged and salaried workers in the U.S., etc., whether they are productive workers or not, consume the output of more hours of socially necessary labor than they must put into being able to buy those consumables. In other words, they are consumers of, not producers of, surplus value.

  • Guest - Ka Bakaw

    American workers are the most productive in the world. They also have a long history of struggle that won them some advances (which have been eroded steadily for the last three decades). There are a whole host of things which go into it.

    Are American workers exploited? Yes. Why? They receive less in the form of wages than the value of the product they produce.

    If a gold miner made $900,000 a year, he would still be exploited if he dug $2,000,000 of gold out of the mine each year for its owner.

    - KB from the Philippines

  • Guest - Keith

    Aaron you are making the same mistake as TNL. You are allowing your idea of what exploitation "looks like" or how you imagine it to look like to undermine your understanding of how capitalist exploitation works. The difference is you are denying the science directly. TNL acknowledges the science but then ignores its findings.

    If a worker got back in wages more value then they produced then they would be fired or the enterprise would go bankrupt.

    Chinese workers in an apple factory are producing a tremendous amount of surplus value which is the basis of Apple's profit and it sustains a whole bunch of non-productive work (work that does not produce surplus value) that goes into marketing and branding. And even if their labour costs would be higher in the U.S. if they were somehow forced to move manufacturing into the U.S that doesn't mean that U.S. workers wages are derived from the exploitation of other workers. It just means labour costs are higher in the U.S. it costs more to reproduce labour power in the U.S. This isn't that weird. It costs much more to reproduce labour power in New York City then it does in, say, Kentucky.

    It is true that there are not very many productive Apple workers in the U.S. And in an advanced capitalist country the rising level of productive force means that less and less of the workforce will be engaged in productive labour. But that is the recipe of capitalist crisis.

    The idea that the wages of productive workers in advanced capitalist countries are derived from the surplus value produced by the labour of productive workers in less developed countries is a mistake that comes from confusion caused by theories of imperialism that unwittingly displace Marx's value theory.

    The mistakes of Lenin's theory of imperialism were discussed previously on Kasama here:

    A worker in a capital intensive sector is exploited at a higher rate because the necessary portion of the working day is very small because of the increased output allowed by tools/machinery/technology.

    I work on occasion as a house painter. About ten years ago my boss at the time bought an 18 inch roller. A standard roller is nine inches. A nine inch roller is what a homeowner would buy at home depot. An 18 inch roller is a little harder to handle and takes some getting used to (it is not rocket science but it is what it is). Anyway, I can paint a room much faster with an 18 inch roller. In about 2/3's of the time it would take me with a 9 inch roller. My wages stayed the same after we got the new roller but my output increased. My rate of exploitation rose. It took a smaller portion of the working day to produce the value that I would get back in wages.

    The construction industry was revolutionized in the late 80's with the introduction of the pneumatic nail gun. A skilled worker with a hammer could put up a stud with two to three hammer swings per nail and it takes three nails to four nails to hold a stud in place at the top and at the bottom. A nail gun allows a nail to be driven into the stud by pulling the trigger. Three nails can be put into a stud faster than you can get a hammer out of a tool belt. That is a massive increase in labour productivity and it creates more surplus value. Houses are framed in a matter of days instead of weeks. The wages of those workers are derived from the value they produce not from the value produced by some other workers.

    The distinction between productive and unproductive labour is important here. Here is the best summary of Marx's view that I am aware of:

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    There's no question that companies like Apple have moved production to places like China with the aim of artificially lowering labor costs while workers in the USA of all types still have it a bit better. What is more pertinent is to ask how much of this represents a stable privilege for US workers which they can reliably count on being maintained for the next 88 years until the end of the century. If capitalism is really capable of sustaining profitability for all of that time while also keeping the living standards of the US labor force up to what it has been then any talk of socialist revolution anywhere in the globe is just a chimera, an illusion.

    If there was ever a time when it could have seemed like a serious possibility for socialist revolution to begin in underdeveloped countries and then spread outward across the globe it was a century ago when Leon Trotsky formulated Permanent Revolution. It really might have all happened differently if some things had worked out just a little bit in the other direction. But obsessing with imaginary alternate histories can only be useful up to a point.

    So if someone wants to envision the whole US labor force as being really small-time capitalists who are attached to part of the exploiting class then that's fine up to a point. But that still does not answer whether all of these small-time capitalists who make up US labor really have a stable future under the current prospects of where capitalism as a system is going in the coming decades. If they really do have a guaranteed prosperity given to them by 21st century capitalism, then you can just accept Chavez, Lula, even Ahmadinejad, as representative of about all that you're going to see. No Maoist armies are going to sweep across Latin America. If that was going to happen at all, it would have occurred by the 1970s. That was the peak of an era when such could have seemed plausible.

    But capitalism is not a stable system and so revolution is truly a possibility in the 21st century. Just think of those US Boeing workers as the seeds of the proletarian vanguard. We may need to see several more really big depressions before those seeds begin to grow into some fruit. But the time when the Colombian coffee-pickers were likely to play the initiating role as the revolutionary vanguard was more than 5 decades ago. That's the bitter truth about the world, whether one likes it or not.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Aaron writes:

    "My argument is that, if you regard the value of a commodity as the amount of socially necessary labor needed to produce it, including the labor of training workers, of producing machines, etc., then large numbers of workers in the U.S. and other imperialist countries consume more value than they produce."

    If this were true, those workers would be unemployed. Capitalists only hire people who consume more value than they produce under particular circumstances: the specific workers have a rare skill, or are necessary for the valorization of surplus value (for example, sales clerks produce no value, but the surplus value in the commodities could not be realized without them ... until very recently).

    In fact, as studies have shown, productivity in the United States has exploded over the past thirty years, rising almost 40%, while real wages fell 10% in the same period (there was a brief rise in the late 90s, which was completely reversed by the 9/11 recession), and wages for the majority have fallen an additional 8% in the last four years, while profits have sky rocketed.

    "a specific worker in the U.S. can, with the net proceeds of 40 hours of labor, buy material goods manufactured elsewhere that incorporate 100 hours of socially necessary labor"

    An autoworker can, with one hour's work, buy commodities that incorporate three hours work of another laborer, if that laborer is a fast food worker. Labor, like all commodities, has different values, depending on the skill, the labor embodied in creating that labor. In addition, the combativity of the working class has a say in how much or how little a worker may be exploited. <i>One</i> of the reasons American workers are relatively well compensated vis-à-vis workers in imperialist countries is because our parents and grandparents fought like hell and won. And it's why European workers are even better compensated, because some of them won a revolution.

    It should be also kept in mind that the cost of things is very different from country to country, and that sixty dollar shirt in the U.S. is $5 in Mexico.

  • Guest - eddy laing

    It appears that this thread is confusing two categories of social activity, where 'exploitation' ought to refer to the extraction of use values (and surplus) and 'oppression' ought to refer to socio-political conditions of life. While 'exploitation' certainly takes place in sets of social relationships it is not the exclusive set - although it is arguably foundational to others inasmuch as every society is predicated on its own reproduction.

    along that line, this discussion is also off track regarding the creation of surplus value and whether the amount created is somehow indicated by the level of wages paid out to workers. simply put, it is not, and I recommend readers refer to Marx to this matter (Wages, Price and Profit is a good exposition, if not the first several chapters of Capital vol. 1).

    (On the topical example, if you are looking for indices of 'productivity' I would suggest that the very high profitability of Apple points to higher productivity of 'its' labor force -- or more accurately, Foxcon -- rather than the inverse. Wall Street would concur given the current stock price.)

    But what is the object of liberation, folks? to 'add a kopek to a ruble'? or to storm the heavens? or as the Tubes once sang, 'what do you want from life?'

  • Guest - Otto

    Keith said:

    "The construction industry was revolutionized in the late 80′s with the introduction of the pneumatic nail gun. A skilled worker with a hammer could put up a stud with two to three hammer swings per nail and it takes three nails to four nails to hold a stud in place at the top and at the bottom. A nail gun allows a nail to be driven into the stud by pulling the trigger. Three nails can be put into a stud faster than you can get a hammer out of a tool belt. That is a massive increase in labour productivity and it creates more surplus value. Houses are framed in a matter of days instead of weeks. The wages of those workers are derived from the value they produce not from the value produced by some other workers."

    Aa past low-wage earner I disagree. If a man gets a machine to pound nails in twice as fast, the company gains a profit from the productivity, but that is rarely given back to the worker. My experience is that wages are set just high enough to keep low wager earners from going completely broke, such as not having a car, but low enough to keep them dependent on the job. The idea is that it is hard to relocate and move or get another job, because that would cost a person in lost benefits, possible waiting for the first check or moving expenses. It creates a dependency on these low-wage workers, the non-skilled jobs such as housekeeping. Then there are the more professional jobs that are based on skill and they are higher. Then there are the "good o'l boy clubs" the top management that get ridiculously high wages to keep them in that "good o'l boy club" and create a glass ceiling that separates the high money workers from the “dregs at the bottom.”

    As for a US vs. China worker, chegitz guevara, pointed out that "It should be also kept in mind that the cost of things is very different from country to country, and that sixty dollar shirt in the U.S. is $5 in Mexico." The lower prices, combined with the fact that many people may not have running water and electricity, which they are used to, allows an American employer to move his factory where he can charge less than the US Low-wage-earner needs. It seems simple to me. People need less or are used to getting less in certain undeveloped countries or parts of certain countries are exploited to maximize profits.

    As for US workers making more money than their surplus value, making them
    part of the ruling class, there may have been some truth to that in the '60s and '70s. The US middle class was always intended as a buffer between ruling classes and those at the bottom. But recently, it seems the ruling class has decided that buffer is no longer necessary and they are financing election candidates who will let them do exactly what they want at the expense of workers they no feel will no longer go against them.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "that buffer is no longer necessary"

    I'd phrase it as "no longer affordable." The overripe character of capitalism today means that many social measures which could be reconciled with an outlook of long term profits in the 1960s are now an intolerable cost. That is not just a reflection of a temporary dip in the market which has to be waited out while we all keep our eyes peeled and watch for a rise in stock prices. Capital is going into long-term decline.

    Think of the 19th century as the time of youth when someone like Fred Astaire can indulge in unhealthy habits like chain-smoking on and on while still dancing wildly with youthful fitness. That was capitalism in the 1800s. Now picture someone reaching a midlife crisis where their physician tells them that they have to cut out all sorts of bad habits and shift to a more regimented life-style with correct dietary and exercise habits. The person does it and suddenly they again seem really fit and healthy, full of stamina. That was capitalism in the 20th century. Now go to the later stages of life where every time the doctors try to pump blood into the patient it seems like another blood vessel bursts somewhere else in the veins. That is where capitalism in the 21st century is going.

    So whatever might be theoretically necessary, capitalist profits can not afford it any longer. That fact will become steadily more visible with every new decade of this century. From that there is the source of revolution.

  • Guest - Keith

    I don't think we disagree. As I mentioned, the introduction of the 18 inch roller into the production process did not result in a higher wage, but in more profit. Likewise, the nail gun can actually result in lower wages because that kind of mechanization is a deskilling process. It is easier to learn how to frame with a nail gun. To be a skilled framer swinging a hammer takes quite a bit of practice (skill level is determined by how much time it takes to learn the job). But often, a capital intensive sector will fewer well paid highly productive workers. You definitely have to look at it case by case, but the wages of workers in the advanced countries are not derived from the exploitation of workers in the less developed countries. That it just confusion.

    Eddy, your comments are not clear.

    in comment #9 TNL explained the way that the rate of exploitation is derived by Marx. His explanation is clear and straight forward. He just doesn't like the result that he comes up with. people should by all means consult Marx's texts. But TNL explained it fine for the purpose of this discussion.

    The question at hand is what role does labour exploitation play in the historical process? In the revolutionary process? I argued it is the essence of both processes. Mike disagreed, for a bunch of reasons. (See the post of which this is a comment)

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    "But what is the object of liberation, folks?"

    Though it's already been mentioned, it deserves repeating: To end the exploitation of labor.

  • Guest - ish

    I just wanted to say how much I liked Eddy Laing's comment:

    <i>But what is the object of liberation, folks? to ‘add a kopek to a ruble’? or to storm the heavens? or as the Tubes once sang, ‘what do you want from life?’</i>

    Not to disparage theory, but the revolution is made from the heart and spirit soaring against injustice.

  • Guest - chegitz guevara

    Actually, the object of fighting for liberation is is to <i>be</i> liberated. Abolishing the exploitation of labor is the means by which we achieve liberation. Abolishing the centralization of the means of production in the hands of the few abolishes their power over us.

  • Guest - Aaron Aarons

    It's true, as some point out, that it takes more money to provide a given standard of living in the U.S. than in, say, Mexico, the difference isn't between $60 in the U.S. and $5 in Mexico for the same item. Even for items produced in Mexico, it's probably less than a two-to-one ratio (rather than 12 to 1), while ratios of wages for various types of labor are generally well over 5 to 1. At least that was true when I lived in Mexico on-and-off during the 1990's. And Mexicans buy much of what they consume, even some food and clothing, on the same world market that we in the U.S. buy on. (Mexico is not a very useful example anyway, since it has a peculiar relation to the U.S., consisting mostly of supplying cheap labor -- directly, rather than through labor's embodiment in commodities -- and criminalized drugs.)

    However, I didn't base my brief argument on the money various workers are paid, but rather on the value they receive for their labor. And one reason workers in places like China and Bangladesh can consume even as much value as they do is that they can 'benefit' from the even greater exploitation, whether via wages or via petty commodity production, of those in their countries who provide their food and other necessities. In other words, the surplus value consumed by workers and others in the imperialist countries is produced not only by the workers who produce the products we consume, but by, e.g., the woman who provides those workers with a cheap lunch off of a pushcart.

  • Guest - Aaron Aarons

    Keith writes:
    "[...] the wages of workers in the advanced countries are not derived from the exploitation of workers in the less developed countries. That it just confusion."

    Maybe the WAGES aren't, but the PURCHASING POWER of those wages IS. Calling it 'confusion' doesn't change that reality.

  • Guest - Aaron Aarons

    Keith: "[...] the introduction of the 18 inch roller into the production process did not result in a higher wage, but in more profit. Likewise, the nail gun can actually result in lower wages because that kind of mechanization is a deskilling process."

    But those technological innovations decrease the (exchange, not use) value embodied in the product, and thus, in a competitive industry, the price of the product. So any increase in profit should be very short-lived. But this is not relevant to the argument over where surplus value is produced, since (1) such technological innovations quickly spread around the world, and (2) construction work of this kind is generally done in place and does not create exportable commodities.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    Phrases about "liberation" are generic and go back as far as the American Revolution. One can say that the Boston Tea Party stormed the heavens, and it's true in a vague kind of way. The point of highlighting labor exploitation is to better specify concrete tasks which are at hand.

  • Chegitz writes:

    <blockquote>"Actually, the object of fighting for liberation is to <em>be</em> liberated. Abolishing the exploitation of labor is the means by which we achieve liberation. Abolishing the centralization of the means of production in the hands of the few abolishes their power over us."</blockquote>

    As is often true, I think we may not have a common language, and I suspect I may not understand what is being said here.

    So let me drill down and ask a few sincere questions:

    Let's take the issue of the liberation of women. Say in a country, a third of women are raped in their lives, and a fifth of women are beaten by their boyfriends/husbands. Say that domestic work remains overwhelmingly the burden of women. Say that women who become divorced (and become single mothers) often plunge into poverty, Say the country is an end destination of a global sex trade, where a section of women arrive (from eastern Europe, southeast Asia, Latin America, etc.) to be exploited as prostitutes. And so on.

    I assume we agree here that one of goals of a communist revolution in that country is to eliminate these things.

    And I assume we agree that the creation of revolutionary state power and a new socialist economy, provides positive conditions for abolishing these things (the inequality of women, the special exploitations of poorer women etc.)

    But I don't understnad how " Abolishing the exploitation of labor is the means by which we achieve liberation."

    Its not as if we abolish private ownership of industry and transportation and media, and <em>that</em> (alone or automatically) means that women are not beaten by their husbands. Or that girls aren't date raped.

    There needs to be an ongoing, conscious, and distinctive struggle <em>for the liberation of women</em> both before and after a socialist revolution.

    And you can have socialist economics while the status of women is liberated, but you can also have periods where the status of women goes backward (or where, as in 1930s russia) patriarchy comes back into fashion.

    How is the socialization of the economy <em>the means</em> by which women are liberated? is struggle (class struggle) by women, by communist cores, by enlightened people, the means by which women are liberated?

    * * * * * * * *

    I could, as you can imagine, make a similar list of questions around many specific cutting edge matters involved in liberation.

    Ecological sustainability is another example. I believe that destroying capitalism, and creating a socialist economy <em>makes it possible</em> to reorganize both production and consumption in ways that will make human society less destructive (and still meet the real needs of people for goods, energy, transport etc.)

    How will the U.S. get over fossil fuels and have cheap, fast, efficient, short-and-long-distance mass transport? Some innovations may happen under capitalism -- but for the time being, in the U.S. (see the 'infrastructure debate') no major political forces even <em>target</em> car culture and waste (they barely raise "fuel efficiency").

    So again, socialism provides a basis for solving some key problems. But even once you have socialism, society <em>may not go there</em>. Society might still (faced with shortages, blockades, disruption, hunger, etc.) go for highly destructive ecological patterns.

    The ending of ecologically destructive methods is not just done "by the means" of socializaiton. it requires a distinctive arc of vision, mobilization, struggle, transformation against forces and arguments that will remain formidable under socialism.

    Again, I would say that socialist revolution may (may!) provide a basis for a new socialist sustainability. But the means will be ongoing political struggle -- nitty gritty struggle over policy, production methods, pricing, planning, world outlook, etc.

    It isn't as if the abolition of wage labor <em>solves</em> ecological problems.... in previous socialist societies, the eager growth of socialist industry actually created new ecological problems (that the society had not previously had). And it proved quite possible to have advanced socialist ideas on many things, but have a powerful paleo-backwardness toward nature and its destruction (and the industrial poisoning of people and water etc.).


  • Guest - Keith

    Aaron as you hint at in comment #27 purchasing power is determined by relative surplus value production and the value of labour power.

    Marx argued in Das Kapital that the value of labour power is determined in the same way as any other commodity: by its cost of production (and reproduction -- the costs of rearing the next generation of workers is included in the wage thus housework is not "unpaid" it is paid for in the wage. If it were not then all family members not earning a wage would be die for lack of food, clothing and shelter). Bourgeois economics measures this cost in the consumer price index.

    Marx explained that competition spurs individual capitals towards technological and organizational innovation which provides a momentary competitive advantage. But soon enough the new techniques (as Aaron pointed out in #27) spread throughout the entire sector and often throughout the entire society,. The result is the increasing de-valuing or cheapening of value of labour power because the commodities required by the worker and their family cost less (because they cost less to produce). The cheapening of products on the consumer price index is not a benefit to labour, it is a benefit to capital.

    In other words, to directly respond to Aaron's point, cheap commodities from China sold in wal-marts in the United States are not a boon to U.S. workers. It is benefit for capital because it decreases the value of labour power and hence the wage.

  • Guest - Keith

    prostitution is a form of labour exploitation. Maybe the oldest and certainly on of the most unpleasant.

    The global sex trade is also a part of labour exploitation.

    Housework is a form of labour exploitation. Labour is exploited when the process, and the product are controlled by another. A woman who, say, cooks a dinner for a family of four creates a surplus. The difference between her food and the food of the other members of the family is the surplus. Her labour is not exploited if she is in control of it and can freely withhold it. Domestic violence is certainly not unrelated to the exploitation of labour and domestic violence is less of a problem when women have the possibility of economic independence.

    Rape is a heinous crime. Humans can be violent. So ending labour exploitation may not solve every problem but it will solve a lot of them.

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    One should distinguish between tasks that are distinctively "socialist" versus tasks which are a continuation of a longer running process. Capitalism itself has done and is still currently actively doing more than any other system yet seen on the planet to change women's traditional roles. The concept of the woman in a subordinate position is a pre-capitalist feature of society which has had many inroads made against it in the most developed capitalist states, but which still exists and is particularly notable in those states which still have many residues of feudalism. If this entire century passes without a single hint of proletarian revolution occurring anywhere, you can still be certain that women's roles will have altered dramatically by the year 2100. Because that in itself is just capitalism in motion.

    Now that does not mean that if a revolutionary socialist party suddenly came to power tomorrow that it would seek to halt such changes just because they are already in motion as part of the process of capitalist development. One expects that a real socialist party would seek to accelerate certain processes which have already been progressing under capitalism. For example, I would expect a revolutionary socialist party which came to power in Britain to immediately abolish the monarchy. A socialist revolution in Britain would mean nothing if it didn't promptly abolish the monarchy on the first day.

    Even in the most industrially advanced nations it can be expected that such a socialist government will have to determine policies upon many issues which are in essence pre-capitalist problems on which much progress had already been made under capitalism, but without the issue having been completely resolved yet. But that is not what will or can centrally characterize a socialist revolution as a world historic event. If that were all, or even most, of what is to be done then a valid argument could be made to just keep plugging away with capitalism. A revolution to overthrow capitalism centers around those problems which are not and can not be approached towards resolution under capitalism, and from there it also reaches out to a variety of issues which in fact have been addressed already under capitalism but have still not reached a stage a full resolution.

    The exploitation of labor is the only real issue for which a resolution can not be broached under capitalism. With all other issues one can find some specific historical trends already occurring under capitalism which have been addressing the issue. You may not believe that such trends have had a good enough effect so far to be satisfied with, and that is often true. But that is not enough to define a revolution.

  • Guest - Ghan Buri Ghan

    On the subject of women's liberation, I think an important, more recent example is the Black Panther Party, which began as a formally feminist organization that was male-supremacist in content; (Mostly male) party cadre talked about equality of the sexes but also ran ads for "jive sisters" to be typists for the Party and encouraged young women to use "pussy power" to sexually deny young men who did not want to join the Party. The BPP only became a feminist organization in content through a political struggle waged BY black women, that gained them more influence over the direction of the Party and allowed them to climb the ranks of the Party.

    As Elaine Brown describes it:

    "I had introduced a number of women in the Party's administration. There were too many women in command of the affairs of the Black Panther Party, numerous men were grumbling. 'I hear we can't call them bitches no more,' one brother actually stated to me in the middle of an extraordinarily hectic day. 'No, motherfucker,' I responded unendearingly, 'You may not call them bitches 'no more.'" I turned brusquely to Bill, my bodyguard, and told him to make note for Larry to deal with 'my brother here.'"

    In other words the Party fought for the rights of women because women fought for leadership within the Party.

    This reminds me of the words of Bob Avakian, which immediately upon readng, I felt were profoundly pig-headed and wrong: "somebody asked the question of did I think that as a white male I could actually lead the revolution. Well, the answer is no, not as a white male—but I think I could play a leading role in it as a communist...what you follow is not people based on what nationality they are, or what gender they are, and so on, but whether they really represent the way forward out of all this and whether they have a plan and a program for actually leading people in that way"

    In other words it is OK for a privileged white man to be the autocratic, charismatic leader of a revolutionary org because he is a "communist", who has a correct "plan and program".

    I think these contrastic examples highlight - on the one hand - the importance of asserting the political leadership of the proletariat (or of any other oppressed group) as a real material need for actually resolving and abolishing its own exploitation and oppression - and on the other hand - the dangers of negating the importance of objective material interests as a factor in political struggle. While it is true that the mass of workers don't come prepackaged with correct analysis, and that principled communists do not always come from working-class backgrounds, this does not in some way negate the goal of establishing an actual dictatorship of the actual toiling majority of workers, over our global human society. That is to say that a feminist organization with a petit-bourgeois female leadership tends to fight for the political class interests of the female petit-bourgeoisie, similarly a Black Power organization lead by the Black national-bourgeoisie tends to fight for the political class interests of the Black national-bourgeoisie. Similarly a "worker's organization" lead by white male workers will perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy.

    Take the issue of ecology. It is the proletariat (and other oppressed classes such as the peasantry, lumpen, etc.) who face the brunt of ecological destruction. Subjectively, a petit-bourgeois person may feel passionately about ecology but a petit-bourgeois subjectivity will percieve this issue in certain ways - nostalgic remourse over the loss of idyllic wilderness, anger over the destruction of wild habitats as a source of leisure, sadness over the novelty of unique and asethetically pleasing species being hunted to extinction - and will propose certain solutions; ones that fetishize the consumer choices of the leisure class, romanticize petty producers while ignoring the plight of the workers they exploit, blame the mass of powerless and oppressed people for ecological destruction, cut off their means of subsistence as an effort to reduce consumption, that will seek to control the masses' means of reproduction under the banner of population control, mimic the cultural superstructures of pre-capitalist patriarchies, ban the masses from visiting wild habitats and keep them ignorant of science so that ecological management remains the charge of an elite minority of technocratic professionals, etc. Individually and collectively the positive transformation of a petit-bourgeois subjectivity in regards to ecology must come about throug immersion of said progressive petit-bourgeois elements into the day-to-day experiences and struggles of the "deepest and lowest" class. There is no pussy-footing around this; it's not simply about middle-class people being dissatisfied by capitalism for certain objective (and mostly correct) reasons such as sexual repression, ecological degredation, socio-political subordination, (to family, teachers, etc.) economic downward mobility, and most importantly experiences of gendered and national oppression. It's also a question of what political choices they make, what they choose DO with that dissatisfaction. Avakian, for example, would be a much more genuine and legitimate leader if he submitted to the leadership of others...

  • Guest - kalitramplesshiva

    To further illustrate the point in regards to ecology and the petit-bourgeoisie; how to we look at someone like Chrstopher McCandless, a straight white male from a petit-bourgeois home who ran away from an abusive family, burned his money, and traveled around the US working shitty working-class jobs and befriending working-class people before committing suicide in the wildnerness of Alaska by destroying his emergency supplies and eating sweetvetch?

    On the one hand we have a young man whose petit-bourgeois class-upbringing allowed him to romanticize nature (per Thoreau and Jack London) in a way that, say, a peasant-farmer or timber-worker typically does not have the luxury to do. On the other hand we saw an earnest almost instinctual attempt to commit class-suicide as a precursor to his literal, physical suicide. (He also abstained from sex and refused to have non-platonic relationships with women)

    Are we really going to suggest that Chrstopher McCandless is the same person, has the same personal political struggles, as someone who is born into a slum built on a toxic waste dump? Or as the mother of that person who has to living with toxins in her childrens' breastmilk? That their political education and integration into a larger, revolutionary movemet - will take the same route?

  • We have discussed a number of these questions before (and will need to discuss them in an ongoing way in the future). But I would like to share (rather than reinvent) some things I said previously:

    From the essay <a href="/" rel="nofollow">"Conceiving the Working Class: Unitary or Contradictory?"</a>

    <a href="/">" rel="nofollow"><img class="size-full wp-image-21143 " title="street life" src="/">" alt="" width="350" /></a>

    <strong>by Mike Ely</strong>

    Steve Swede writes (in a <a href="/" rel="nofollow">thoughtful response </a>within a larger discussion):
    <blockquote>"The working class party must represent the whole class but hopefully will organize the most conscious elements and cannot do so without uniting lots of people in different revolutionary movements… "</blockquote>
    <h2>Five questions on this:</h2>
    <strong>1) Does the "whole class" in an imperialist country have uniform interests in such a way that one party can represent the whole?</strong>

    The notion that we communists can represent "the whole class" assumes, on some level, that this whole class has a uniform (or common) set of interests that can therefore be represented. Are there sections of this stratified class that are "bribed" or "privileged"enough by imperialism so that their interests no longer correspond with the international class of propertyless laborers desperately needing revolution?

    <!--more-->Isn't it the case that communists have historically  seen the existence of <em>two </em>working class parties in Europe (in the 1920s and 30s) as being rooted in (precisely!) different interests <em>separating</em> the various strata of the working class? And haven't such differences and such stratification only increased in the hundred years since (especially if we are thinking of our class as a <em>global</em> entity?)

    <strong>2) When we communists talk about the "whole class" -- shouldn't we be referring to the international propertyless class <em>around the world</em>-- rather than "all the strata of working people in our own country"? </strong>

    Doesn't that mean that what we are representing (in the largest sense) is the people under shantytown and sweatshop conditions around the world -- not mainly the employed and stable workers of imperialist countries? We may mainly be <em>speaking</em> to working people under First World conditions, but aren't we as communists "representing the whole within the part," "the future within the present," and "the world within the local"?

    <strong>3) Doesn't our communist movement represent the interests of larger humanity, not just the interests of the working class?</strong>

    Even while communists have historically emerged as a working class party, isn't the key thing that "by liberating itself it must liberate all of humanity"? And that therefore a movement with its roots within one set of social strata represents something historically larger and more universal?

    <strong>4) How do we see the interplay between short-term and localized interests (of members of a class) and the larger "historic interests" that we can (using historical abstraction) consider <em>characteristic</em> of that class as a historical force?</strong>

    Steve writes:
    <blockquote>"Working class: negative – lacks means of production; positive – produces surplus value based on use value [whether material(commodity) or/and immaterial(service)] There’s no question of class without both these aspects …"</blockquote>
    <strong>5) Don't significant sections of the working class NOT produce surplus value?</strong>

    Is it really true that: "There’s no question of class without both these aspects …""

    The working class is not just those who work, and isn't it therefore not defined by (or limited to) those who create surplus labor. It is a sociological class (in a way that Steve doesn't yet include in his analysis/definition), and it has sections that are not employed:

    * Proletarian youth are part of the class, even if they are not working.

    * Women (who in many countries still maintain the household) are a crucial part of the working class (even when millions of them don't work and don't produce surplus value.)

    * When I was a coal miner, a significant part of the working class community (and our organized movement) were widows, disabled miners, and the retired miners -- none of whom produced surplus value, all of whom were important to the working class and its movement.

    * And finally, because of the concrete development of capitalism in the U.S. (and elsewhere) there are often sections of the working class reduced to "permanent unemployment" -- and who remain proletarian in their class position but often do not work, don't know anyone who works, and are unlikely themselves to ever work. These sections do not produce surplus value (they are actually a sink of social surplus for the capitalists). And if we zoom back and view the international working class (on a world scale) this phenomenon of "surplus population" and "permanently unemployed" is even more pervasive than in U.S. ghettos (where it is already politically important).

    All of these sections (youth, women working in the home, permanently unemployed) are crucial sections of the working class that do not produce surplus value (and may never produce surplus value in their lives) Are they to be written out of the working class?

    So is it really true that "There’s no question of class without both these aspects …"?

    Are we to have a class analysis that (somehow, for some reason) envisions the <em>regularly employed</em> workers as being the "real" working class, and the others as invisible, or politically less important? What are the implications of that? And aren't they (by their nature) economist and conservative?

    <strong>What We Call Our Class: The Working Class? The Proletariat? The Oppressed and Dispossessed? The Poor?

    In the U.S., parts of the communist movement have tended <em>not</em> to speak about "the working class" when describing the revolutionary social base for communist revolution -- precisely because many of the most important sections of "the proletariat' don't work. (the Panthers certainly did not, and the RCP did not after 1980.)

    And if you go out into many ghettos and housing projects to talk about "the working class" -- often these very-proletarian people would misunderstand, and assume you are talking about <em>someone else</em> -- since many of them don't work or don't know many people who have steady jobs. There are (of course) millions and millions of employed African American people (no one is arguing that unemployment is a <em>generalized</em> characteristic of the Black nation). But it is obvious and well documented that long-term (or permanent) unemployment is terribly concentrated among young Black men -- who are such an important and strategic part of any revolutionary movement.

    That is why (in Kasama's literature for example) we don't generally refer to the potential communist social base, or the leading class in the communist revolution, as "the working class" (the way European labor party activists have been trained to do) -- but use more descriptive terms including "the dispossessed and oppressed," which (in fact) captures the heart of what characterizes the international proletariat and makes it have its powerful potential historical role.

    <strong>Post Script: A Century of <em>Communist</em> Theory on the Split in a Disunited Class

    Steve writes:
    <blockquote>"It seems many interesting ideas lack an elementary theoretical basis."</blockquote>
    He is saying that our ideas may be "interesting" but they are somehow far removed from what should be "elementary" to communist theory. And he makes it sound as if it is even a bit tiresome to have to correct opposing ideas.

    But while Steve's view may be rooted in his own doctrinal assumptions (and a great deal of Euro-socialist tradition) -- this should not be confused with a living communist analysis.

    I don't believe that the views of Jerry and Steve on "the working class" have a tenuous and questionable connection to communist theory (despite their impatient pose of irritated orthodoxy).

    Lenin's work <a href="/" rel="nofollow">Collapse of the Second International</a> marks a major leap in Marxist analysis of the contradictions -- of interest and status -- within the European working class, and it stands as powerful early <em>communist</em> critique of the kind of thinking that assumes "one class, one interest, one party." And one of the changes that happened, with the conservatization of the Comintern was the emerging assumption that the "<a href="/" rel="nofollow">healing of the split</a>" in the working class was the center of our tactics, without acknowledging the material basis of such splits and the full implications of having non-revolutionary strata within the working class.

    Here is a passage from Lenin that is worth revisiting in depth (from "<a href="/" rel="nofollow">Imperialism and the Split in Socialism</a>"):
    <p style="padding-left:30px;"><a>"Engels</a> draws a distinction between the 'bourgeois labor party' of the <em>old</em> trade unions—the privileged minority—and the “<em>lowest mass</em>”, the real majority, and appeals to the latter, who are not infected by “bourgeois respectability”. This is the essence of Marxist tactics!</p>
    <p style="padding-left:30px;"><a>"Neither</a> we nor anyone else can calculate precisely what portion of the proletariat is following and will follow the social-chauvinists and opportunists. This will be revealed only by the struggle, it will be definitely decided only by the socialist revolution. But we know for certain that the “defenders of the fatherland” in the imperialist war <em>represent</em> only a minority. And it is therefore our duty, if we wish to remain socialists to go down <em>lower and deeper</em>, to the real masses; this is the whole meaning and the whole purport of the struggle against opportunism. By exposing the fact that the opportunists and social-chauvinists are in reality betraying and selling the interests of the masses, that they are defending the temporary privileges of a minority of the workers, that they are the vehicles of bourgeois ideas and influences, that they are really allies and agents of the bourgeoisie, we teach the masses to appreciate their true political interests, to fight for socialism and for the revolution through all the long and painful vicissitudes of imperialist wars and imperialist armistices."</p>

  • Guest - Keith

    Mike, although on the surface you are critical of "orthodox" thinking you repeat the worst kind of orthodox thinking. The dogmatic kind. The kind that makes an assertion without any ability to support it other than gestures to tradition and unspoken assumptions.

    Mike writes:

    "The notion that we communists can represent “the whole class” assumes, on some level, that this whole class has a uniform (or common) set of interests that can therefore be represented. Are there sections of this stratified class that are “bribed” or “privileged”enough by imperialism so that their interests no longer correspond with the international class of propertyless laborers desperately needing revolution."

    By what specific mechanisms are workers "bribed" or "privileged" by "imperialism"?

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    Questions about whether sections of the working class are bribed in some sense should never be debated in some static context. Of course most workers in the USA are bribed, more or less. Most black workers are bribed. Most white workers are bribed. Most women workers are bribed. Most men workers are bribed. Most gay workers are bribed. Most straight workers are bribed. Most Asian workers are bribed. Has anyone ever had a conversation with a Vietnamese immigrant telling them how it's a shame that the USA didn't win? Someone might need to get out more to hear these things from real people.

    Now if we assume a model of capitalist development according to which all of the conditions which we see around us right now represent a static equilibrium that is going to last for the rest of this century then there is only possible conclusion: Capitalism is here to stay and the most responsible thing for us all to do is to just concentrate on finding ways to make the market be more responsive to real people's real needs. Lots of former Leftists from the 1930s and '60s did go through a route where they reached this conclusion. They weren't all just vile opportunists either.

    A central component of any analysis which can rightly be traced back to Karl Marx is that these conditions are not in a stable equilibrium but are constantly perturbed by the tendencies towards overproduction and declining rates of profit as living labor is increasingly displaced by dead labor. From that starting point one projects a punctured equilibrium which can make possible revolutions which appear impossible to see today. But only from there does revolution appear on the horizon.

    Many debates on the Left are often a hangover from the 1950s and '60s. In the era of 1914-45 it really did seem like world revolution was raising its head across the globe. Part of the fascination in reading many of Leon Trotsky's writings is that he captures that mood in the air very well. But one must be careful of avoiding the trap which groups like the Spartacist League fall into where one becomes so immersed in Trotsky's writings that one fails to see that the era of crisis which he is describing ended in 1945.

    Because of the way that capitalism rejuvenated itself frim 1945 and onwards, many Leftists of that era found themselves fashioning a new set of theories which were basically intended to explain how the revolution will be made without a revolutionary proletariat. A great deal of energy went into theorizing about how, with a straight white male working class bought up by the system, there could still be a revolution. It's easier to appreciate the sentiment which motivated some of these arguments than it is defend the broad conclusions.

  • Guest - eddy laing

    'citizen Keith' found my last comment unlcear, so let me try to clarify it a bit.

    Exploitation does not necessarily refer to an 'unjust' social relationship - and indeed the concept of justice is historical, not timeless. The first meaning of exploitation is "to derive benefit or use" and humanity has been exploiting its ability to manipulate nature and its own cognitive development for tens of thousands of years. As I pointed out earlier, it is foundational to societies that they reproduce themselves, regardless of other structural qualities.*

    A fundmental inequality of capitalism is that the product of that 'exploitation' -- social surplus -- is privately expropriated by a minority ruling class of capitalists who use it for their private interests and not in the interests of the whole of society. 'Society' here should NOT be read as one country or another, but as the whole of the human world -- the proletarians have no 'country', country is a temporal construct. Political oppression is exercised with armed force to ensure that expropriation may continue.

    So, my question regarding the object of liberation challenges both the narrow 'economic' framework that some seem to fixate upon ('adding a kopek to a ruble' - 'what's in it for me?') and the social chauvinist framework of an 'American' perspective of 'exploitation'.

    The latter was piqued by the assertion above that American workers were more productive than other workers. This assertion was explained by or somehow correlated to the relatively higher wages paid to American workers.

    I question that assertion on several counts (e.g. wages are high; workers are more productive), but my simple refuting example is of the industrial proletarians who create Apple electronics in China through the subcontractor Foxconn Technology Group. Unquestionably, those proletarians are paid very low wages (a fraction of the USA minimum wage), work ten and twelve hour days, six and seven days every week (again, much longer hours than are typical in the USA), under otherwise hellish conditions, and are undoubtedly more productive than electronics workers in the continental USA (which is why Apple 'out-sources' production to China and Thailand, etc.) That productivity is demonstrated by the high profits reported by Apple and the high price at which its stock trades on NASDAQ. It is one of the two 'most valuable' capitalized corporations in the world (Exxon-Mobil being the other), worth hundreds (~577Bn) of billions.

    The same can be said about the productivity of oil workers in Nigeria or garment workers in Guatamala or Haiti, for other examples.

    The transnational corporations who employ these proletarians directly or through sub-contractors -- who purchase their labor-power in the global labor market -- are headquartered with design, engineering, financial, and other employees in the USA, traded on the NYSE or NASDAQ.

    Note that these capitalists pay wage bills in America from surplus extracted from off shore operations. Oh yes, they do.

    And, I cited Karl Marx and specifically <a href="/" rel="nofollow"><i>Wages, Price and Profit</i></a> because he provides a concise explanation to this problem in a presentation (to a meeting of the First International) that is relatvely brief, unarguably 'marxist' and dialectical in its analysis. It is many times preferable to someone's mis-reading of <i>Capital</i>.

    That is not to suggest that anyone NOT read Capital. Quite the opposite, <i>Capital</i> is much richer and deeper an exposition and will reward the repeat reader many times over. But it is not a cookbook.

    as for The Tubes, anyone interested can find some lyics <a href="/" rel="nofollow">here</a>

    * In <i>Wages, Price &amp; Profit</i>, for example, Marx describes the rate of profit as the 'ratio between paid and unpaid labour, the real degree of the exploitation (you must allow me this French word) of labour.' But obviously, as long as humans are creative, there will always be a delta factor between the amount of work required for simple reproduction of resources and work that creates surplus.

  • Guest - Keith

    wages do not determine the rate of exploitation. The capital to labour ratio determines the rate of exploitation.

    You misunderstood the discussion, hence the lack of clarity in your original comment.

    Evidence. When you write,

    "The latter was piqued by the assertion above that American workers were more productive than other workers. This assertion was explained by or somehow correlated to the relatively higher wages paid to American workers."

    The assertion that US workers are more productive was not explained by their wages. It was explained by the capital to labour ratio. In general, a worker is more productive the more machinery is employed in the production process. Tools and technology shorten the necessary portion of the working day and lengthen the surplus portion. There are very productive workers in China, in Nigeria and in most of the world. The focus on nations instead of classes is part of the hangover from Lenin's theory of imperialism.

    No one is making an economist argument based on the rate of exploitation.

    Some people, who think that the rate of exploitation is unimportant claim that high wages is evidence against a high rate of exploitation or it is evidence of bribes delivered mysteriously by the mysterious force of imperialism. It is neither. Higher wages come from a higher level of productivity. They are not proof of a higher level of productivity. And low wages do not necessarily indicate a low level of productivity. It is just a fact that higher wages do not require theft from another to be delivered.

    The argument is simple. Is the ending the exploitation of labour the fundamental question of communist revolution. No one is arguing that the question is winning higher wages and more benefits.

    Generally speaking Mike and a few others have denied the centrality of labour exploitation and want to focus on "oppression" and privilege.

    Oppression is a moral category and not a category of political economy. It cannot be quantified, that is why it is a moral category. To use the category of oppression as primary rather than exploitation is simply to shift from scientific socialism to utopian socialism.

    TNL, in comment #9, explicitly explains why he and Mike prefer to focus on oppression rather than exploitation. They have an a priori belief that workers exploited at a higher rate and who receive a better wage as a result are less revolutionary. Mike backed up this belief with quotes from Engels and Lenin.

    I know you are eager to argue Eddy. I am happy to oblige but try to keep up with the conversation. .

  • Guest - Tell No Lies

    Eddy raises a more important point than Keith is acknowledging. There is a small but growing fraction of Chinese workers (such as those at Foxconn) who are in fact working with some of the most advanced production processes on the planet and this is significant. Foxconn workers are among the better paid workers in China but it is true that they presently receive a fraction of what many US workers get including presumably many workers whose labor produces less value. This a complex thing to untangle. The wages of individual workers are not tied in a neatly linear way to their productivity. There are significant temporal lags where capitalists exploit the fact that the prevailing wage structure in a particular country or region undervalues labor there, and indeed such considerations have much to do with the logic of outsourcing that drives the process of proletarianization on a planetary scale in the first place. In the short run relocating production to China will raise the rate of profit, but in the long Foxconn workers are going to be paid more and indeed are already winning better wages.

    The division of surplus value between different sectors and the state create all sorts of circumstances in which labor is relatively under or over-valued that underpins the very real systems of privileges that divide workers around the world. One very important mechanism involved here is the status of the US dollar as the international reserve currency. This fact alone produces a transfer of value from the rest of the world to the US that directly benefits US workers who are paid in dollars.

    At the same time, on balance, US workers presently remain much more productive than Chinese workers for the reasons spelled out by Keith (and Marx), namely the organic composition of capital. A coffee picker produces less value in an hour than a textile worker who in turn produces less value than a Foxconn worker who in turn produces less value than someone who installs computer systems on airliners for Boeing. While it is possible that the labor of some well-paid workers is so overvalued that individually they are not actually producing any surplus value at all, such circumstances are not necessary for relative privileges to fulfill their chief political function of dividing the class and encouraging particular sections of the working class to identify their interests with those of the capitalists. Finally I want to take issue with the idea that exploitation is measurable where oppression is not. In theory the rate of surplus value extraction is measurable. In practice we are lucky to get a decent picture of the rate of profit. There is this idea that if we could just establish unequivocally who is exploited and who isn't that we would then know who the base for the revolution would be. I submit that interests are always mediated by ideology, no less when that ideology is a positivist faith in the measurement of exploitation.

  • Guest - kalitramplesshiva

    Mike - I think you are using a strawman to dodge the issues I raised, pretaining to the objective and material political interests and political power of classes in our society.

    Take for example the position raised by Carl Davidson, in a previous chapter of this discussion; a position that foremen and managers are members of the working-class who have the same political interests of the rest of the working-class. Marx himself makes it very clear in Capital (vol. 1 chapter 13, vol. 3 chapter 23) that supervisors have an antagonistic political role in relationship to labor, and that this relationship is crucial to the operation of capital. This political relationship (worker vs. supervisor, that is, an antagonism between two productive classes in which one class has politico-economic power over the other) is very similar to that of a cop, probation officer, or military official (all of whom Carl would also probably claim as members of the global revolutionary leadership) and as Marx points out, this relationship of naked political domination is rooted in pre-capitalist modes of production. (An obvious example being the evolution of modern police forces in the US from slave patrols)

    Obviously Carl is distorting Marx here - what's important though is that Carl is distorting Marx to fit Marx within the parameters of a specific politiical class-interest. Carl has stated unequivocably on numerous occasions that small production has an important and cherished role to play in a hypothetical socialist society, (he has said that there is nothing antagonistic towards small business owners and other small producers under socialism and in fact socialism represents their interests) and he has also lavished with praise historical figures (such as Deng Xiaopeng and Raul Castro) who have placed socialist states on the fast-track to the capitalist road by giving breathing room to the small-producer class. This goes against (while simultaneously claiming to uphold) the positions of Lenin and Mao. Lenin made it very clear that the suprassing of the conscious proletariat by the "petit-bourgeois wave" was one of the primary obstacles to construction of socialism in Russia; small-production and its role in the persistance of capitalist exploitation was the issue of the day in post-revolutionary USSR. The entire g.p.c.r. was centered around the issue of bourgeois right and the question of securing socialism and moving towards communism in the face of persistance of bourgeois customs. The point I am getting at is that when Carl Davidson speaks gleamingly of the small producer class and its non-antagonistic relationship to capitalism, it is not just a matter of his personal subjectivity but the objective political interests of a class.

    Similarly, a member of Kasama has recently gotten a lot of flak for expressing his opinion that the proletariat does not exist as an objective economic clategory but only as a theoretical political subject. This sort of knee-jerk anti-economism is IMHO very inherited from the RCP-USA. (If you notice, the RCP-USA goes at length to avoid discussing strikes or workplace issues in its quioxitc "ideological struggle" against "economism") Due to the dialectical relationship between politics and economics, this position of ultra-anti-economism actually compliments economism and betrays the interests of the proletariat not just as a crude reductionist economic category but as a political class that encompasses the "disposessed and oppressed".

    Your examples; of housewives, of physically disabled people in mining communities, of urban Black male youth who are expelled from the work-force...Keith's brief analysis in this conversation, of reproductive unwaged gendered house-labor, despite being dogmatically marxologist, (back-to-Marx-ist) inadvertantly succeeds at being far more avant-garde than the presented alternative; to view women and their oppression as some sort of ideal and classless issue pretaining in some vague way to "opression and disposession". In the context of male-chauvinist "class-analysis" it is easy to miss the forest through the trees; what is the proletariat if not a gendered class? The majority of commodities in our society are produced by women and children, the majority of surplus-value in our economy is generated by the labor of women and children. The view of woman as some non-producing agent confined to the home is actually tainted with 1950s suburban mythology that has never had any relationship to economic reality. If the oppression of women has its roots in ancient, Stone Age oppression; so much so that every corner of our society to the highest-ranking classes and the elite chambers of the bourgeoisie is haunted by brutal gendered oppression (to which even bourgeois women are raped and wear high heels) it is only a testament to how deeply and concretely and concretely capitalism is rooted and founded in pre-capitalist modes of production such as patriarchy.

    To suggest that unwaged domestic housework of women (which for proletarian women has always -not just recently since women's lib - been an added burden ontop of wage labor- "Women at Work" is a good marxist history of female wage labor in early colonial New England; we need to understand that during the dawn of the US, women "voulentarily" migrated in droves from comfortable, middle-class family farms into the urban textile plants; in the face of such an inhuman choice they chose wage slavery over being a farmer's daughter) does not play its role in the generation of surplus value is to put it bluntly very crude and primitive. Volumes have been written on this. There is a reason that Fortunati's "The Arcane of Reproduction" is a modern communist classic; it is a text that holds up to scientific scrutiny, that builds on Marx's critique of political economy that fleshes out the concrete role that housework and sexwork play in said political economy.

    Same goes for the race question here in the USA; the fact that race so profoundly burns class in the USA is not some special negation of the proletariat as a political subject; (as if talking about the proletariat was somehow hyper-insensitive and not PC) we only need to accept the fact that US capitalism is rooted in a semi-fedual colonial caste system. I would not even say that the capitalist class system is deformed by the question of race in the US; if anything is deformed, it is the consciousness of the "socialist" who pictures a white man in denim overalls when he pictures the proletariat. (Only 10% of the global population is "white". In the US, 13% of the white population lives below the official poverty line compared to 36% of the Black population and 35% of the Latino population...what does that tell us about the racial character of the global proletariat, of the proletariat as a real class rooted in racism and colonialism and in the global mass of "wretched of the Earth"?) The fact that a 13-year-old kid living in an inner-city ghetto might get confused if you go up to him and start ranting about the proletariat is beside the point, again no one is disputing that the mass of the proletariat does not come pre-packaged with correct theory and analysis. Do you think those unemployed kids in the ghetto don't know what work is? Ask them. They've worked every damn job there is; manufacturing, construction, factory farming, distribution, telemarketing, retail and customer service. Offer them a job and they'll take it. They've probably worked harder beyond their years than we have....and they also know what it's like to go months and years without employment. (Remember official unemployment statistics aren't even talking about those who are chronically employed, they are talking about those who work but cannot currently find labor) When they don't have a job, they get up in the morning and bust their asses around town picking up and filling out applicationss. Are you saying the "reserve economy" is not a very real part of how the capitalist labor market operates, that it is not crucial to the functioning of our economy, that the unemployed youth are truly just sinkholes for surplus-labor? You know better than that...

    Or the old, physically infirm people in the Applacian did they get old and physically infirm in the first place? It wasn't just the natural old "circle of life", we're not talking about an elephant graveyard here, we're talking about real human beings who live under the capitalist system. Capitalism drained them and left them crippled and worn out. Go to any trailer park and you will meet old people who have worked in manufacturing for decades only to be left by the curb to die by capitalism once they've been horribly maimed and disfigured by the production process. Even those who do not lose a hand to a factory machine or a lung to blacklung may lose their ankles to standing for 12-hour shifts or lose their writsts to typing behind a secretary's desk. These people are not just "an important part of the working-class" in some quaint, sociological sense, but in a very real economic sense; Capitalism treats humans like machines, it throws them in the landfill when they've been worn out. But they're not machines, they're human beings with needs and desires and a lifetime of lessons and experience to share.

    Much has been written on the "bribed" consciousness of workers in imperialist countries, but not enough is written on the degree to which large segments of the "deepest and lowest class" in the imperialist countries share a lived political experience with those in the colonized world. Colonizer and colonized does not just end at the border. The Black nation rose up against imperialism because they saw themselves in the Vietnamese nation. A Mexican, Guatemalan, or Salvadoran immigrant worker in the US sees herself in much the same way she sees she her family at home...she may buy an American flag T-shirt at Wal-Mart to blend in but she also works to send paychecks back home to her family. These are the issues we need to grapple with - what portion of the US working-class is bribed and what portion is not?

  • Guest - Keith

    TNL writes:

    "I want to take issue with the idea that exploitation is measurable where oppression is not. In theory the rate of surplus value extraction is measurable. In practice we are lucky to get a decent picture of the rate of profit. There is this idea that if we could just establish unequivocally who is exploited and who isn’t that we would then know who the base for the revolution would be. I submit that interests are always mediated by ideology, no less when that ideology is a positivist faith in the measurement of exploitation."

    I think it would help if we sorted this out. Let's leave aside the question of ideology for a minute.

    Start with oppression and then exploitation. I don't know how oppression is measured or could be measured. How it could be determined that this person or this group is oppressed but this group is not. This group is more oppressed then this group, or that both groups are oppressed by one of them benefits a bit because of the oppression of the other.

    Undoubtedly there is oppression, just as there is injustice. But it is a moral category and as Eddy pointed out is his exposition on justice the meaning of moral categories is historically determined (not all philosophers would agree that moral categories change-- Plato would not agree). Even after 41 comments there is nothing even approaching a definition of oppression. I will leave it to others to explain the relationship between oppression and revolution.

    Exploitation is a category of political economy. The term "exploitation" has a moral connotation but it is not a moral category. Indeed, the whole point of bourgeois law is that the exploitation of labour takes place ideally in conditions of equality between contracting parties (labour and capital), who are both free to enter and leave contracts, and who are both obligated to fulfil their end of the bargain. Thus equality, freedom and justice-- and yet these are prime conditions for the exploitation of labour.

    Exploitation is measurable. Exploitation is the difference between what the worker receives as wages and what capital appropriates. Lets think about labour exploitation.

    To understand exploitation we need two concepts: surplus labor and its related opposite, necessary labor. Surplus just means "more" or "extra" -- as in more than is necessary. All societies produce a surplus of goods and services -- a surplus of wealth beyond what is necessary for the people doing the work. Because of the reified or fetisihized social relationships of capitalism it is easier to understand exploitation if we start with some non-capitalist modes of production.

    Take, for example, a communal egalitarian society like the Iroquois or Cherokee before the European invasion; all members of the tribe work except the very young, the very old, the sick, and disabled. In order to care for those that cannot work (the young, the old, etc.) those who can work must produce a surplus, extra -- they must produce more than is necessary for their own sustenance. This extra is the difference between what the people who do work need to live and what they produce for others.

    These societies are egalitarian or non-exploitative because the people who produce the surplus control it collectively and decide how to use it -- the decision to take care of the old, the young, and the sick is made by the people who do the work. That is why hunter-gathering societies use to be called examples of "primitive communism." The mechanisms for appropriating and distributing surpluses were communists -- non-exploitative-- but at a very low level of development of productive force.

    Now let's look at surplus in very different social relations. Take slave-based societies: the slaves do the work and the master gets the product of their work and decides what to do with it. The difference between what the slaves get back as food, clothing, and shelter and what the master keeps is the surplus. This can be measured with some precision.

    This form of social organization is very different from the arrangements of the Iroquois or Cherokee. In those societies the people who do the work decide on what to do with the surplus. In slave society the people who do the work have no say over the surplus -- that is exploitation by definition.

    Exploitation occurs when the people who do the work and produce the surplus are different from the people who get the product of that work and the surplus. The difference between the people doing the work and the people getting the surplus produced is a class difference. Exploitation is at the heart of class difference. In a society where the people who create the surplus are different from the people who get the surplus and decide what to do with it, there are class differences, and class struggle.

    Marx, in his mature theory (a little different then in the Manifesto) defines class by the relationship between groups of people (classes) and the production, appropriation, and distribution of surplus. (Other Marxists have different ways of thinking about classes -- some identify classes by consciousness (class consciousness, or identity), others by property (ownership of means of production) or power (theories of the elite). Mainstream discourses usually think in terms of income or status: i.e., "blue collar or "white collar," or "middle class." But Marx defines class by exploitation-- you can't abolish classes without focusing on exploitation.)

    In European feudalism somewhat different arrangements for exploitation occurred. In the corvée system a peasant family might work on a piece of land for three days and keep the fruit of their labor for themselves. Then they were required to work an additional three days on a different piece of land -- the fruit from this labor was delivered to the feudal lord. The first three days are necessary labor (necessary to re-produce the peasant by providing food, clothing, shelter and so forth) and the second three days are surplus -- taken by the lord (and the seventh day, of course, is devoted to the lord above).

    Exploitation and class difference are obvious under slavery and feudalism.

    What is clear under slavery and feudalism becomes mysterious under capitalism. The hidden nature of capitalist exploitation accounts for the rise of economics as a science. Political economy emerged with the rise of capitalism because it was unclear, for instance, how market prices were determined, or where profit comes from.

    Marx's most important works, the four volumes of his magnum opus Capital (totaling over 4,000 pages) is a study of how surplus is produced, appropriated, and distributed in capitalist societies. Thus, Marx's critique of political economy is also known as value theory.

    Value is the measure of exploitation. Value, explains Marx, is a social relation. Value is the form that the relation between necessary labour and surplus labour takes in the capitalist mode of production. The value relation changes with organic composition or, to put it more clearly the relation between necessary and surplus labour is determined by the level of development of the productive forces. The level productive force determines how much of the working day is necessaryand how much is surplus. (Productive force is another way of saying "labour productivity).

    Let's look at capitalism.

    The short story of work under capitalism goes something like this: When you go to work, part of the day you spend producing the goods and/or services that you will get back in the form of wages or as a salary. This is the necessary part of the working day because you are making the value that you need in order to buy the things you need to live. But once you have produced this value you will keep working, and during this time you will be producing surplus that the capitalist will take.

    Part of the surplus produced by workers becomes the capitalist profit and the rest is distributed by that appropriating capitalist to others (some goes to other capitalists like bankers as interest, landlords as rent, some goes to the state as taxes, and so forth). This surplus will take different forms -- capitalist profits, bankers' interest, landlord rents, stock holder dividends -- and can be used by the capitalist (or in a modern corporation, the board of directors) in a large variety of ways.

    Marx wants us to see that labor produces surplus and the exploitation of workers is the origin of these different forms of capitalist income or profit.

    The story is simple when we look at an egalitarian society, or a slave society. In these societies everyone knows that labor produces the goods and services that we need to live on. It is no mystery. But under capitalism it is a great mystery. Because, value -- socially necessary labour time (the relation between necessary and surplus labour)-- appears as things. Things like:commodities, money, credit, debt, and capital.

    But these things are actually social relations (this is Marx's teaching on the commodity fetish) and these social relationships ultimately come into conflict with the continuous development of the productive forces; this conflict between the social relations of the capitalist mode of production (debt credit, money, capital, profit etc) and the continuous development of the productive forces (accumulation of real capital-- machines, tools, technology -- productive force) results in periodic crisis and is expressed in the tendency towards a falling rate of profit;. which leads to the super session, of necessity, of the capitalist mode of production -- the abolition of labour exploitation, the destruction of the value relation and the abolition of class.

    I can't get into the question of ideology now.

    It is not all that hard to measure the rate of exploitation, nor is it hard to determine who is exploited. The difference between productive and unprodutcive labour need not be made into a great mystery. Anyway, those are a part of the tasks of a 21st century Marxist theory and practice of revolution.

    If people want to dump that and take up an analysis based on moral categories then they are free to do it. We are almost at the point where those who want to go that way will be blunt and honest and admit that they are renouncing Marx's theory and stop pretending that they are "synthesizing" it.

  • Guest - eddy laing

    Keith, your mis-reading of <I>Capital</I> should be an object warning to others not to engage in bookish study divorced from social practice (paint rollers notwithstanding).

    You ignore the global activity of capital and demand that your re-interpretation of some examples you read about (in what is essentially a case study, based on the example of England because that was the best set of data available to the author) are more real than the lived contemporary experiences of six billion people.

    Electronics, metals, textile, garment, machine tools and many other industrial and extractive activities don't largely take place in the continental United States -- where 'American' proletarians live -- for one major reason, and many others seem to know this. The capital formations that control those operations, such as Exxon-Mobile or Apple understand how, by the labor of whom, they can achieve the highest levels of productivity. They measure productivity with precision.

    These capitalists are not fools, who don't under stand the organic composition of capital, who don't understand the relationship of fixed assets to variable capital. Quite the opposite, they know their business and strive to drive the last drop of surplus value out of 'their' labor force. Indeed, managers at Foxconn and Exxon are notorious for doing that. By the standards of capital, they are successful in this practice.

    Their behavior is also the grounding ethic of capitalist society: it infuses all manner of thinking and other behavior, it guides politics and shapes ideologies. There is a binding relationship between the two - general ethics and economics - just not an equivalency. (And so, one can indeed evaluate oppression using qualitative and quantitative methods. )

  • Guest - Keith

    Eddy, you are mistaken. das kapital is not a case study of England.

    In any event, Eddie, you ramble on and on without addressing any of the argument. I have no idea what your point is.

    In the future, you might try having a point, it makes a comment so much more interesting.

  • [moderator note: Please respond respectfully. Leave the snark aside.]

  • Guest - PatrickSMcNally

    I try not to get caught up in arguing over precise levels of exploitation in various regions because that seems like a secondary issue. What I think is more primary is simply understanding that the era which Leon Trotsky had mapped out a century ago in which revolution would begin on the edges of the underdeveloped world and then seek to spread is definitively over. Fifty years ago it would have been plausible to imagine Colombian coffee-growers spearheading a revolution that would spread across Latin America and form alliances with either the Soviet Union or maybe even the People's Republic of China. If such had occurred at that time then it would have been silly to get bogged down in arguments about "But they are not the most exploited!"

    But that era is over. The biggest, most central lesson which the world has absorbed from the last century is that workers revolution must begin in the heart of the advanced First World, that means in the USA, before it goes anywhere. Until then figures like Chavez &amp; Lula can be taken as prime examples of progressive leadership in the developing world. They won't be effectively dislodged in any productive way by Maoists, Trotskyists, Hoxhaists or anything similar. They represent the best which Third World nationalism can offer, and even Ahmadinejad is not the absolute worst by any stretch.

    As long as that much is clear, I can feel fine with allowing that workers in the USA are less "exploited" or "oppressed" according to some general criteria. But that only emphasizes all the more how vitally important is the task of preparing the way for workers revolution in the heartland of the USA. Because without that, you've got almost nothing. Not many people in Paraguay are going to be inspired by Nepal to launch a "protracted people's war" which opens up some major revolutionary front. Anyone who is fantasizing about that really has their head buried in the middle of the last century. The central key, as always, is proletarian revolution in the USA.

  • Guest - Red Fly

    <blockquote>The argument is simple. Is the ending the exploitation of labour the fundamental question of communist revolution.</blockquote>

    <blockquote>Exploitation occurs when the people who do the work and produce the surplus are different from the people who get the product of that work and the surplus. The difference between the people doing the work and the people getting the surplus produced is a class difference. Exploitation is at the heart of class difference. In a society where the people who create the surplus are different from the people who get the surplus and decide what to do with it, there are class differences, and class struggle.</blockquote>

    <blockquote>which leads to the super session, of necessity, of the capitalist mode of production — the abolition of labour exploitation, the destruction of the value relation and the abolition of class.</blockquote>


    Isn't it the case that the end of exploitation is compatible with class society? Isn't the supersession of the latter only possible under conditions in which, along with the end of labor exploitation, markets too are overcome? Because its perfectly possible to have a class society in which all value is produced by worker-owners within a market/production-for-profit context. Under this scenario there would be no exploitation, but the worker-owners of the Apple Cooperative could end up much wealthier than the worker-owners of, say, a small bakery. The hope would then be that socialist politics and institutions would ensure an equitable distribution of political power, but does that seem likely if there really is a vast difference in wealth between worker-owners of different cooperatives?

    Can you elaborate a bit on how you see the relations between exploitation, markets, planning and socialist revolution?

  • Guest - Keith


    I guess that some of the confusion arises because of the concept of "class." I define class in accordance with the way that I read Das Kapital. Class is determined by your relationship to the production of a social surplus product. In capitalism this takes the form of surplus value.

    I think Stephen Resnick and Rick Wolff's book "Knowledge and Class" and their book on the Soviet Union (I think it is called "History and Class Theory") is really good on this (I don't like their epistemology -- they call tnemselves "postmodern Marxists" and/or Althusserian Marxist, but that is besides the point here).

    Defining class by surplus production is a little unusual. Most "Marxists" derive their definition of class from the Communist Manifesto. In the Manifesto we are presented with a two class model of capitalism in which their are propertyless workers and a property owning bourgeoisie. The Manifesto, is a propaganda piece (written when Marx was 26, before he seriously studied Political economy). The funny thing is, everyone agrees that the theory as presented in the Manifetso is inadequate but they don't take the time to see if Marx actually developed something else. He did! There are three sections of the capitalist class -- financial capital, productive capitals, merchant capitals, there is landed property, and there are productive and unproductive workers. They gives us 6 classes to work with. A lot (all, in my opinion) of teh confusion that arises in attempts to class/ify groups or people disappears when you have 6 choices.

    There are other ways to define class. Besides defining class by ownership (young Marx) or surplus production, appropriation, and distribution (mature Marx) some Marxists identify classes by consciousness (class consciousness, or identity-- Lukasc and E.P Thompson do this), others define it by power (theories of the elite). Mainstream discourses usually think in terms of income or status: i.e., “blue collar or “white collar,” or “middle class.”

    So part of the problem, Redfly, is that we are mobilizing two class concepts simultaneously.

    When I say abolishing exploitation means abolishing class difference, I am arguing from definition. Class is abolished if you abolish exploitation by the definition of class.

    But, you are defining class by inequality. Redfly is saying that there is a class difference if there is inequality (of income, benefits, living standards, or whatever).

    I think that inequality is a different problem. Marx addresses this stuff in the "Critique of the Gotha Program." It is response to the problem of inequality that he raises the slogan “from each according to ability to each according to need.” But, Marx says this is the slogan of a communist society that has a material abundance (not the kind of abundance that we have now where they would be enough for everyone if we spread it around better, but a real abundance—you could eat as many blueberry pies as you want and it wouldn’t mean less for anyone else). If you will forgive me a direct quote:

    "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 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.”

    Please notice that this society – the higher stage of communism—is, according to Marx, the outcome of a high level of development of the productive forces.

    The slogan of a socialist society (Marx called it the “lower stage of communism”)has a different slogan: “From each according to their ability to each according to their work or contribution.”

    A socialist society or the lower stage of communism, the transitional society, is not a society where the productive forces are fully developed such that the market and the state whither away. It is not yet a society of abundance and inequality remains.
    Equality is a complex problem. If I have a disabled spouse, four kids, and a grandparent with Alzheimer’s it is going to take quite a bit more income before I have a living standard that equals a young single person responsible only for his or her self. Even if we both work for the Apple co-op and have the same income. We still won’t be equal.

    Marx says we have to accept that and deal with it as a part of the transition.

    My point here is that inequality is not necessarily evidence of a class difference, and inequality can persist even if exploitation is abolished.

    Just so as I am not avoiding some of the direct questions raised by Redfly, let me continue.

    I think that the distinction between the higher and lower stage of communism (or between socialism and communism) is crucial. Socialism is a transition from capitalism to communism. The primary feature of socialism (or the lower stage) is the political rule of the working class. Worker co-operatives can exist now under the political rule of capital or under the political rule of the working class. Obviously, working class political power would be more supportive of co-operatives then private capital. In the lower stage of communism markets will still exist for some goods and services and planning will systematically replace markets.

    At the end of the day markets are tied to the production of value and value is a social form that wealth takes at a certain level of development of the productive forces. So a crucial task of working class political power will be to develop the productive forces to blow out the value form. To transcend the law of socially necessary labour time– which is to say that a crucial task of socialism is to reduce socially necessary labor time to zero.

    It bears repeating.

    The goal is free time. in other words, the goal of socialism is to get to communism and communisms fundamentally feature is free time for the masses. Thus will begin human history proper.

    The ruling classes throughout history have been distinguished from the working classes by their access to free time. The exploitation of labour is how they got free time. We want free time too.

    The path for proletarian free time is the development of human productive power. It is also the path that eradicates inequality.

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