Socialism, What It May Look Like: The Series

I have written a number of posts as series rather than just one long post. This is due to a number of reasons. To work out a view requires elaboration and time, and posting as a series permits such elaboration over a longer period of time. Also, I have many interests (which correspond in part to my own experiences as an oppressed and exploited worker, oppressed father and so forth).

However, I thought it may be useful to some readers to string series that I may not expand further into one long post in order to present more content on the same theme. I will not edit the series to make it more like one long essay; readers can pick and choose the posts that interest them.

I will probably do this with various other series on this blog.

Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like

“My wife asked me what other kind of society could we live than the one we are living now. I suspect that most people have the same kind of question. It is difficult to imagine another kind of life than the life that we have experienced all our lives.

There are, of course, no magic answers. The answers will be experimental, with some failures and some successes, and not in ideal circumstances, of course.

However, some ideas can still be provided about some possible ways of living that provide an alternative vision–a vision so obviously lacking among the so-called left these days.

Tony Smith, in his book Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), provides a description of some aspects of a possible future kind of society. He borrows his model largely from David Schweichart’s model of economic democracy in After Capitalism (2002) (which I have not read). He adds three modifications of his own.

I will cut and paste short pieces from this work. He paints various aspects of a socialist society that need to be incorporated into a socialist society. There are undoubtedly other aspects, and his own account may have to be modified.

I will not pursue the topic week after week after week until the topic is exhausted since there are other topics which I consider relevant–above all a critique of the power of the class of employers, but also a critique of the social-reformist left and the so-called radical left that do not question the power of employers as a class.

From Smith’s book, page 303:

The model Schweickart defends has the following essential elements:

(i) Production and distribution are primarily undertaken within worker
collectives. Workers are not hired as wage-labourers by capital; they instead
join worker collectives as fellow members. There is a basic right to employment,
with state enterprises providing jobs for those unable to find positions in
collectives.

This condition is to initiate a reduction in economic coercion as an essential move towards an increase in economic and individual freedom.

There is, of course, a possible problem of increased inefficiency, but Smith addresses this issue in further democratic socialist measures.

 Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From  Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(ii) Managers of worker collectives are democratically accountable to those
over whom they exercise authority, either through direct elections or through
appointment by a workers’ council that is itself directly elected. These
enterprises are required to have representatives from a range of social
movements (environmental groups, consumer groups, feminist groups, and
so on) on their boards of directors, accountable to those movements.

What do you think of such proposals? How do they relate to democracy? To the lack of democracy in your life? Do you think that such proposals are worth fighting for?

Socialism, Part Three: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of an earlier post (Socialism, Part Two: What It May Look Like) about the nature of socialism–which is a solution to problems that capitalism, characterized by the domination of a class of employers, cannot solve. Socialism is not something that emerges from a utopian view independently of the nature of capitalism but requires a critical approach to capitalism.

In the following, Michael Perelman contrasts what many people experience in their lives: their own contrast between an activity which they enjoy doing and their experience working for an employer, which they often enough find to be draining.

From Michael Perelman, The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011),

Just What Is Work?

To understand the potential for transforming the economy, consider a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of the imagination. Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work for wages and gardening as a hobby. Farm work is considered to be so abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only foreign-born workers are willing to perform it. Supposedly, upstanding citizens of the United States would never subject themselves to the life of a farm worker for poverty wages.

While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion. While the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood garden clubs. Over and above the time they spend in their gardens, many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners. In addition, many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and supplies to use in their gardens.

What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and gardening? Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens. The difference lies in the context of gardening. Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely choose to be gardeners. During the time they work in their gardens, they want to be gardening. Nobody tells them what to do. Gardeners are producing for themselves rather than for someone else who will benefit from their work.

As the psychologist John Neulinger says: “Everyone knows the difference between doing something because one has to and doing something because one wants to.”43 We should also keep in mind that society respects gardeners. Our newspapers regularly print features of interest to gardeners. Some even have special sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers. All the while, the lives of farm workers pass virtually unnoticed. In our society, farm work is never “respectable” work; well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming farm workers.

Of course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims. The rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands beforehand. …

As suggested earlier, the key to the Procrustean trap is not the threat of physical force but rather the inability to imagine anything outside of the constrained present circumstances. The willingness to take seriously Margaret Thatcher’s preposterous claim—“There is no alternative”—perfectly sums up this state of mind.

A writer for Bloomberg.com reminisced about Thatcher’s Procrustean destructive success:

Of course, it’s possible to change a society and to drag it into the global economic monoculture. Mrs. Thatcher showed how: Break up collectives and make people feel a little bit more alone in the world. Cut a few holes in the social safety net. Raise the status of money-making, and lower the status of every other activity. Stop giving knighthoods to artists and start giving them to department-store moguls. Stop listening to intellectuals and start listening to entrepreneurs and financiers.
Stick to the plan long enough and the people who are good at making money acquire huge sums and, along with them, power. In time, they become the culture’s dominant voice. And they love you for it.46

Thatcher’s scheme actually worked. Her acolytes were so convinced that the mere utterance of Thatcher’s acronym TINA seemed sufficient to cut off any debate with skeptics.

The social-democratic or social-reformist left in Toronto certainly has reinforced the TINA principle. The so-called radical left, by keeping silent out of fear of becoming isolated, themselves becomes part of the social-democratic left. They, like the social-reformist left, provide no real alternative vision to the oppressive and exploitative nature of work characteristic of the power of employers as a class.

In fact, through their silence and their lack of criticism, they contribute to the perpetuation of class rule. They are, practically, social reformists who will never go beyond the existing class system despite their rhetoric of class struggle and struggle from below.

Socialism, Part Four: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the democratic nature of the workplace, which is subject to control not only by the workers at the particular workplace electing managers but also by certain community organizations that represent specific community interests. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 303:

(iii) Worker collectives produce public goods, inputs into the production process, or final consumption goods. Funds for the first are directly allocated to collectives by the relevant planning agencies (see below). The latter two categories of products are offered for sale in producer and consumer markets. In Schweickart’s view, attempts to centrally plan all inputs and outputs in a top-down fashion are simply not feasible, at least not in a complex and dynamic economy. But it does not follow that capitalist market societies are the only acceptable forms of economic organisation. It is possible to imagine a feasible and normatively attractive society combining markets with the socialisation of the means of production, that is, a society making use of producer and consumer markets after abolishing both capital markets and
labour markets.

In addition to the elimination of a market for workers and management of work enterprises being accountable to work councils and community councils, capital markets in the sense of an investment process owned by a minority would no longer exist. There would, nonetheless, be markets that produced means of production and markets that produced consumption goods. For example, at the brewery where I worked, the workers who produced the soaker or the filler that the brewery workers used would be subject to competition from other workers who produce soakers or fillers. Workers in the brewery would be subject to competition from workers in other breweries.

Unfortunately, Smith does not elaborate much on what he means by the abolition of capital markets. His reference to David Schweickart’s work Against Capitalism, however, gives a clue to what he means. Schweikart has the following to say (page 172):

First, we issue a decree abolishing all enterprise obligations to pay interest or stock dividends to private individuals or private institutions.

This decree will need no enforcement, since enterprises are not going to insist on paying what they are no longer legally obligated to pay.

But Schweickart sees a flaw in the abolition of all capital markets, at least immediately (page 173):

6.3.2 Once More, This Time with Feeling (for the Stockholders)

Too Simple? Of course. The above is not meant to be a realistic scenario. Above all, it fails to take into account the fact that millions of ordinary citizens (not only capitalists) have resources tied up in the financial markets. People with savings accounts or holdings in stocks and bonds have been counting on their dividend and interest checks. (Nearly half of all American households have direct or indirect holdings in the stock market, mostly in pension plans.) Eliminating all dividend and interest income-which is what Radical Quick does-will not strike these fellow citizens as a welcome reform. Let us run through our story again, this time complicating it to take into account their legitimate concerns.

Schweickart, realistically, recognizes that workers have investments in capital markets and hence are in some ways tied to such markets. His solution is to imagine a situation where at least the key corporations, due to the circumstances of a crisis, would be subject to elimination from capital markets (pages 173-174):

Let me first set the stage a little more fully than I did with Radical Quick. Let us suppose that a genuine counterproject to capitalism has developed, and that, gradually gaining in strength, it has been able to elect a leftist government that has put most of the reforms outlined earlier in this chapter on the table and has secured the passage of some of them. Suppose investors decide they’ve had enough and begin cashing in their stock holdings. A stock-market crash ensues. In reaction, the citizenry decide that they too have had enough-and give their leftist government an even stronger mandate to take full responsibility for an economy now tumbling into crisis.

Our new government declares a bank holiday, pending reorganization (as Roosevelt did following his election in 1932). All publicly traded corporations are declared to be worker-controlled. Note: This control extends only to corporations, not to small businesses or even to privately held capitalist firms. It is decided that it will be sufficient  to redefine property rights only in those firms for which ownership has already been largely separated from management. (With the “commanding heights” of the economy now democratized, most other firms can be expected to come under increased pressure from their own workers, over time, to follow suit.)

The exact way in which capital markets would be reduced and eventually abolished would vary across time and place, depending on circumstances.

As I have emphasized throughout this blog, though, it is much less likely that workers will be receptive to a call for the elimination of capital markets and markets for workers unless they find the situation to be unfair. The ideology of the social-reformist left consistently makes reference to fairness within the limits of the employer-employee relation. We need to break with such ideology if we are to initiate such a process without having to respond erratically when a crisis hits.

Or are there alternatives? What do you think?

Socialism, Part Five: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers


The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the right of use by workers of the places, machinery and so forth where they work, but with the local community being the owner of local resources (and regional and national communities being the owners of regional and national enterprises of regional or national scope). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 304:

(iv) Workers in enterprises are granted use rights to facilities and other
means of production. But ultimate ownership rights remain with the local
community. Workers cannot use their enterprise as a cash cow and then walk
away; they have a legal duty to maintain the value of the community’s
investments. If sufficient depreciation funds cannot be appropriated from
revenues to maintain the value of these investments, it is the responsibility
of community banks to shut down an enterprise. Once depreciated funds
have been deducted, the remainder of the revenues from public allocations
or sales in consumer/producer markets (apart from the taxes to be considered
below) are then distributed among the members of the collective according
to formulae set by the democratically accountable management

Since the workers are the trustees of the workplaces and not their owners, each year, the workers in the sector that produces either consumer goods for the market or the raw material, machines and so forth required to produce both themselves and consumer goods, have to set aside a certain amount of the proceeds from sales to purchase worn out means of production. The workers must also include in that depreciation fund a fund for repairs.

Workers have a responsibility to the present community and to future communities to maintain the general conditions for the continued livelihood of the community. This means that any cooperative that fails to maintain the value of the means of production must be closed down, and workers in such cooperatives must find work in another, more viable cooperative.

The sales revenue will be distributed generally into three parts: (1) the depreciation fund, (2) a tax on capital assets (which will be explained in another post), and a residual of what is called profits, to be distributed to the members of the cooperative as their personal income according to distribution rules created by themselves. (There also may be income tax and consumption tax, but I will not address that).


Socialism, Part Six: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment and the supply of public goods. From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 304-305:



(v) The origin of funds for new investment and public goods is a flat tax
on the non-labour assets of all enterprises.16 In Schweickart’s proposal, the
rate of this tax is initially set by a democratically elected legislature, operating
on the national level. This legislature also decides on the appropriate division
of revenues between funding for national public goods and funds that are
allocated to democratically elected regional and local legislative bodies. Each
of these assemblies, in turn, must also decide upon the level of funding for
public goods to be supplied in the relevant geographical area vis-à-vis the
level of funds set aside for distribution to the level below it. These legislative
bodies can also set aside a percentage of funds for investment in areas of
pressing social needs.


(vi) After all decisions have been made regarding the general level of new
investment and the order of social priorities, and after funds required for
public goods on the national, regional, and local levels have been allocated, the remaining revenues are distributed to local communities on a per capita
basis (at least this should be the presumption in the absence of compelling
reasons to do otherwise, such as the need to temporarily favour historically
disadvantaged regions). Community banks would then undertake the actual
allocation of new investment funds to worker collectives. The boards of
directors of these banks would include representatives of a broad range of
social groups affected by the banks’ decisions. New enterprises would be
formed, and existing ones expanded, through allocations by community banks
rather than private capital markets.


The capital-assets tax assumes that the workers have right of use of most of the means of production of our lives (there may be some room for independent businesses, but they do not form the bulk of economic activity). If they do, then instead of new investment being derived from the private decisions of boards of directors of corporations, it is derived from a democratically-elected national legislature which sets the rate of the capital-assets tax.

There are two general aspects to the tax (like any tax): the flow from a source to the government and the flow of the tax to institutions. The source is the capital assets used by democratic worker cooperatives. It is a flat-rate tax based on the value of the means of production that is applied to capital assets used by workers.

The flow of the revenue generated by the tax to people only arises after deductions from revenue required for investment in projects at the national level. Once this has been deducted, then the revenue is distributed to the regional communities on a perc capita (per person) basis; the regional democratic bodies which in turn allocate investment funds for investment in projects at the regional level. The remainder is then allocated to the local community via public banks, likewise on a per capita (per person) basis.

This principle of distribution of the revenue generated from the capital-assets tax on a per capita basis means that, in areas where there is a concentration of means of production relative to the number of people who live in the area, the outflow of taxes paid will be relatively greater than the inflow of revenue from taxes when compared to areas where the concentration of means of production is relatively smaller.

The capital-assets tax is to replace interest and dividend payments. As noted in the previous post on this topic, since many workers in the more industrialized capitalist countries have at least some investments in the stock market or hold bonds, GICs, and so forth and, furthermore, pension funds are generally linked to investment, a policy that at one sweep sought to abolish interest and dividend payments may well be opposed by the working class, initially. Consequently, some form of transitional program may be necessary, one where interest and dividend payments are gradually phased out, or one where compensation for nationalization occurs. In any case, the ultimate goal is to abolish interest and dividend payments and replace them with a flat capital-assets tax.

Socialism, Part Seven: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

The following is a continuation of previous posts on the possible nature of socialism that excludes the power of employers as a class.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on the criteria to be used in the distribution of the flat-rate capital-assets tax, which is the basis for the generation of new investment (and which was outlined in the last post on this topic). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), page 305:

(vii) When allocating investment funds for new worker collectives and the
expansion of existing ones, community banks must take three main questions
into account. Is there likely to be sufficient demand for the output of the given
enterprise for it to maintain the value of the community’s investment and
provide adequate income for its members? Will the investment provide stable
employment? And is the investment consistent with the set of social priorities
democratically affirmed on the national, regional and local levels? Extensive
external financial and social audits can be regularly imposed on all enterprises
and community banks to assess their performances in terms of these criteria.
These independent social audits are a crucial component of the socialist version
of the principle of transparency, institutionalising a level of accountability
and transparency far beyond the limited neoliberal version of the principle.17
Community banks can then be ranked on the basis of the results of these
audits. The level of income of the staff of a particular bank, and the amount
of funds allocated to this bank for distribution in the future, are determined
by the bank’s place in this ranking.

The distribution of investment funds to existing and new worker collectives through community banks would be controlled by taking into account:

  1. Whether the level of demand would likely be sufficient to not only maintain the value of the means of production (machinery, buildings and so forth) but to ensure a reasonable income for the working members of the cooperative.
  2. Whether the investment would result in unemployment of the members, or would there be sufficient work for all members (without jeopardizing efficiency, presumably).
  3. Whether the investment would result in effects that contribute to the realization of plans democratically decided on at the local, regional and national levels.

To ensure that these criteria for lending to worker cooperatives via public banks were satisfied, social audits could be carried out systematically and transparently. Since the revenue of workers in public banks would be a function of their success in extending loans based on the three criteria (and subject to social audits), workers in public banks would be motivated to more likely extend loans to worker cooperatives that were most likely to meet these three criteria.

Socialism, Part Eight: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers

This is a continuation of earlier posts on the subject of the nature of socialism–a society that aims at the abolition of the power of employers as a class and the initial appropriation of the necessary requirements for us to control our lives as a collectivity and as individuals.

In the following, Tony Smith elaborates on some kinds of relations that may emerge between a nation that is socialist and other nations (whether socialist or not). From Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Account (2006. Boston: Brill), pages 305-306:

(viii) In Schweickart’s model, there are no markets for capital assets, and
so there will be no capital flight in the form of cross-border investments in
capital assets. There will also be little foreign direct investment, since worker
collectives are unlikely to outsource their own jobs, and community banks
are assessed according to the extent they create employment in their own
communities. But there will still be trade across borders. For a period of time,
this may include trade with regions that have not institutionalised a version of economic democracy. In such circumstances, regions committed to socialist
globalisation should follow the principle of fair trade rather than ‘free’ trade.
To ensure that this occurs, Schweickart calls for a ‘social tariff’.18 If oppressive
labour practices hold down wage levels in a given region, the prices of imports
from that region will be raised to what they would have been had worker
income been comparable to the level prevailing in the importing country. A
social tariff will also be imposed to compensate for a lack of adequate spending
on the environment, worker health and safety, or social welfare in the exporting
nation. The revenues collected by this tariff will then be distributed to the
groups in the exporting country with the best record of effectively implementing
anti-poverty programmes, whether or not they are agencies of the government

There will little if any flow of capital investment beyond the borders of the socialist nation (hence little or no capital flight); workers are unlikely to invest abroad rather than locally since this would result in loss of employment. Furthermore, community banks would prevent such investment through its enforcement of the criteria of employment creation (see previous post).

It is possible that trade between socialist and non-socialist nations would still occur. In trade between a socialist nation and a capitalist nation, the socialist nation would create a social tariff, imposing it to prevent unfair competition on the basis of capitalist ways of producing wealth (such as reduced wages or lack of health and safety measures).

This social tariff, rather than being used for the benefit of the socialist workers and community members, would flow back to workers in the non-socialist world as an expression of solidarity with them via agencies or organizations of the exporting non-capitalist country that have proven to be effective enforcers of anti-poverty measures in the non-capitalist country.

Smith adds three other measures that have an international focus: (1) the creation of international monetary clearing units, which would serve as world money that would function, among other things, to ensure that excessive trade imbalances would not arise, especially for the more vulnerable parts of the world economy; (2) a global representative assembly that would legislate and oversee issues between nations in a much more democratic manner than the current United Nations model; and, finally, (3) a democratically accountable international planning agency that would ensure equitable investment funding for the provision of international public goods, distributed according to the number of people (per capita), with provisions for exceptions on the basis of past historical biases of economic development.

All these measures refer to what has come to be known as “market socialism.” Such a system, if democratically organized, would likely not only be more efficient than a capitalist economy but definitely superior in terms of ethics. However, before addressing that issue in further posts, I will, in a future post, consider whether the idea of market socialism is an adequate model for a future society without capitalism, or whether it leaves out of consideration some essential aspects that need to be considered if we are to resolve our social problems on this planet.

Socialism, Part Nine: An Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part One

The class formal principle of employers–that workers receive from society what they contribute (contradicted at a practical level through systematic exploitation of workers necessarily in a capitalist context–that is why it is a formal principle that contradicts reality–see  for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One) would be realized in a socialist society on average since exploitation of one class by another would be eliminated. However, the principle of relating individual life to labour is still a bourgeois or capitalist principle that needs to targeted because it still reduces human beings to merely one criterion–labour. From  Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, pages 86-87 of Marx-Engels Collected Works, volume 24):

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

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly encumbered by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labour they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour. But one man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies more labour in the same time, or can work for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal  abour. It recognises no class distinctions, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognises the unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity of the workers as natural privileges. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right by its nature can exist only as the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable by an equal standard only insofar as they are made subject to an equal criterion, are taken from a certain side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Besides, one worker is married, another not; one has more children than another, etc., etc. Thus, given an equal amount of work done, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, etc. To avoid all these defects, right would have to be unequal rather than equal.

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

Neither Tony Smith nor Schweickart, both advocates of market socialism, refer to this. For Schweickart at least, any elimination of the market economy will lead to various negative effects, such as authoritarian conditions. Sam Gindin, similarly, does not take into consideration the inadequacy of markets as an expression of human freedom.

This model so far is a market-socialist model. Rather than conceiving it as a definitive model of how future society will work, however, we should consider it as a transition society that may last for longer than Marx thought but, nonetheless, is itself inadequate.

This inadequacy can be seen in the omission by Smith and Schweickart of any consideration of the need to transform the division of labour. In Schweickart’s book, for example, there is no discussion at all of the division of labour. If we are to live in a full life, though, we need to reduce or eliminate the gap between labour that is predominantly physical and labour that is predominantly intellectual.

Another aspect over which both Smith and Schweickart are silent is the implication for human beings if prices are to continue to exist. Schweickart does not directly address the question, but his assumption that prices will always exist fails to address the problem of the continued valuation of objects ultimately in terms of labour. Marx’s theory of exploitation is not just a critique of exploitation but a critique of the form of exploitation–through the mediation of relations between objects instead of a conscious connection with other human beings. Human beings, via ultimately money, are related to each other via objectified labour measured externally as money.

Market socialism may well be needed for some time, but it is inadequate as a form of society for human beings. At first, it is necessary to create a society where the reality of labour time being the measure of human wealth corresponds to the principle of determination by labour time: what workers contribute to society and what they receive from it do not differ quantitatively (workers are not exploited).

However, the principle of the life process is still based on one principle–labour and its measure, time. The human life process, however, is much more than this process, and the need for human beings will be to surpass this principle and to break the link between contribution and the flow of goods and services based on that contribution.

Now, let us listen to a person who claims to aim at realistic socialism–Sam Gindin, head of the Toronto Labour Committee (and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor). Mr. Gindin implies that, due to what he calls scarcity, we will always need a market form of socialism:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin, it is clear, identifies the need to make choices of “labour time and resources” with scarcity. There is an identity between the need to make choices in the realm of labour and the continued existence of scarcity. 

The counterpart of this is the implicit denial of the need to make choices in “leisure,” which is identified with the “realm of freedom.” Mr. Gindin, of course, fails to justify this identity and fails as well to explore the nature of “leisure.” 

Mr. Gindin follows neoclassical economics (which justifies capitalism in various ways) by arguing that “scarcity” in the abstract (eternally or forever, without qualification) characterizes human life. Consider the following quotation from a typical textbook on neoclassical (or capitalist) economics (Steven A. Greenlaw, Timothy Taylor, Principles of Microeconomics, page 8:

Economics is the study of how humans make decisions in the face of scarcity. These can be individual decisions, family decisions, business decisions or societal decisions. If you look around carefully, you will see that scarcity is a fact of life. Scarcity means that human wants for goods, services and resources exceed what is available. Resources, such as labor, tools, land, and raw materials are necessary to produce the goods and services we want but they exist in limited supply. Of course, the ultimate scarce resource is time- everyone, rich or poor, has just 24 hours in the day to try to acquire the goods they want. At any point in time, there is only a finite amount of resources available.

People live in a world of scarcity: that is, they can’t have all the time, money, possessions, and experiences they wish.

Mr. Gindin argues, then, that scarcity arises objectively when there are alternative possibilities that exist for the use of resources and labour time. Choices must be made, and the choices necessarily involve the realization of some projects and the exclusion of others. We can never have our cake and eat it simultaneously.

This idea seems valid, and yet it is really superficial. Mr. Gindin practically wants to ridicule those who believe that work can be itself a realm of freedom–despite the need to make choices and despite the need to engage in the production of food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and so forth. To be realistic for Mr. Gindin is to believe in the necessity of drudgery throughout human history. What else does he mean when he writes “And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of incentives becomes paramount.”

Mr. Gindin’s implicit assumption is that all incentives are external or instrumental in nature. There is, for this social democrat, no such thing as an intrinsic incentive (or motivation). Such an assumption needs to be questioned.

Rather than addressing the issue of scarcity (pure necessity for Mr. Gindin) directly, let us look at the so-called opposite realm of leisure (pure freedom for Mr. Gindin).

He claims that leisure is somehow the “realm of freedom.” What leisure is that? Leisure is a concept that is purely non-instrumental, it would seem, for Mr. Gindin. All leisure.

As an aside: Mr. Gindin borrows his concepts from current experiences and then generalizes them throughout history. Thus, leisure in the current context of work life characterized by the power of employers using people as things for their own ends is often a compensation for the drudgery of such daily life. Such an uncritical use of the concept of leisure will be addressed in another post.

Thus, Mr. Gindin separates completely labour and leisure. Leisure is purely non-instrumental, and labour can be to a certain extent enjoyable but, ultimately, is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature. Since leisure is identified with the “realm of freedom” and non-instrumentality, and labour is tainted with instrumentality by its very nature, scarcity must arise by necessity since workers by their very nature would prefer leisure (freedom) over work (necessity and instrumentality). To engage in work, workers must be externally motivated to do so (since their default mode is to prefer leisure (pure freedom) over work (pure necessity).

Mr. Gindin’s assumption concerning the so-called identity of leisure with the realm of freedom and a lack of instrumentality is questionable. Many so-called leisure activities have an instrumental aspect to them. For example, I “leisurely” drove my daughter, Francesca, to the Royal Tyrrell Museum summer camp in Alberta some time ago, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (about a distance of 1,300 kilometers). It took a “leisurely” time of around 18 hours (stopping along the way for lunch and supper). For me, the activity was stressful though enjoyable (when compared to working for an employer) since Francesca was with me. The leisure activity of driving, though, was instrumental since it was a means to the end of developing my daughter’s capacities–that was the real end.

I had a choice to make in whether I was going to ask Francesca whether she wanted to go to the camp at all and, given that choice, what means I would use to achieve that goal. 

It cannot be said that the act of driving the car was secondary to the end of developing her capacities in a certain direction since she could not do so without attending the camp. The act of driving the car, though instrumental, was an essential condition for achieving that end (of course, it was not the only means by which to achieve that end–taking a plane, bus or train were possible alternatives). Furthermore, the end of developing Francesca’s capacities motivated me to drive for long periods of time in the first place, so the end itself formed an instrumental aspect of my activity of driving the car–it formed an ideal or motivating aspect of the physical aspect of driving the car.

My drive to Drumheller was thus instrumental for Francesca, my daughter, despite being a leisure activity. I had to make choices, of course. I could have taken a bus with her. We could have flown. The goal of the trip, for me, though constrained by certain means, was non-instrumental as an ultimately intrinsic end and yet was instrumental, ideally, in guiding my own activity in the present (driving the car towards Drumheller, Alberta, where the Royal Tyrrell Museum is located). I had an internal incentive or intrinsic incentive.

Of course, human life is finite, but who would deny that? However, Mr. Gindin draws false conclusions from that fact not only in relation to leisure but also to “education” and “art.” These issues will be dealt with in another post or posts.

Mr. Gindin’s assumption, then, that leisure is the pure realm of freedom is simple nonsense. Mr. Gindin’s hidden assumption of the mutual exclusion of instrumentality and intrinsic ends–that they are separate–remains an unproven assumption.

But some may say that this is an example from the realm of leisure (which does not exclude the realm of necessity despite Mr. Gindin’s implicit assertion to the contrary). What of the realm of work? Does it need external incentives because alternatives arise and choices must be made?

In a follow-up post, I will shift to Mr. Gindin’s opposite view concerning work. Since leisure is supposedly the pure realm of freedom that lacks instrumentality, work, according to Mr. Gindin, if in any way instrumental (which it must be for Mr. Gindin), involves a lack of freedom, which is expressed in the concept of scarcity and thus requires external or extrinsic motivation. Just as leisure is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, so too the realm of work is supposed to be always tainted by the realm of necessity. 

This issue has to do with the two main divisions of labour: academic or intellectual and practical (or manual or physical). I referred briefly to such a division when I provided a critique of such a division in schools and the school curriculum (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three). 

(As an aside: Mr. Gindin probably follows his colleague, Leo Panitch (they wrote a book together), in rejecting (without understanding) Marx’s so-called labour theory of value (really a theory of commodities and capital). (I attended Mr. Panitch’s class on globalization in the winter of 2014. Mr. Panitch explicitly stated that he considered Marx to have taken a wrong turn in Capital, especially Marx’s use of some of the dialectic of the German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel, who, among other things, argued for the need to reconcile opposite relations, such as freedom and necessity)


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Two

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s view that leisure is the pure realm of freedom. (Sam Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor)). In this post, I will criticize his view that work, being a world of necessity, requires external incentives.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s superficial imagination leads him to apply the current poverty of work relations, implicitly, as the standard for determining the so-called “realm of necessity.” Like leisure, which is supposed to be the pure realm of freedom, he separates freedom and necessity at work.

Consider my work at the brewery in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. When I worked at the brewery, we were obliged to work to produce not only beer, but beer for the market, and not only for the market but for the ultimate goal of more profit. We were things to be used by the employer (see https://theabolitionary.ca/the-money-circuit-of-capital/).

The riveting of material production to the goal of profit as the ultimate goal prevents workers who produce beer from reorganizing their lives both inside and outside the brewery in such a way that they can integrate their working lives with other aspects of the process of producing beer. For example, at the brewery in Calgary, there was a chemist who probably, among other things, tested the quality and properties of the beer being produced (being “only a bottling worker,” I really did not understand what the chemist did when I worked at the brewery).

Mr. Gindin tips his hand by referring to “scarcity” as somehow requiring incentives. He fails to explore what is meant by “incentives,” but implicitly assumes that all incentives are external and cannot be internal to the process which produces beer–a mechanical materialist point of view.

Under a socialist way of life, initially, workers would produce beer for others via the market. Even at this stage, here is no reason why workers could not begin to integrate a study of chemistry with the production of beer. The same could be said of the mechanics, physics and mathematics of beer production. For example, the filler–a machine for the filling of beer bottles rotated in a circular motion, with spouts attached to the machine. The velocity of rotation, the speed of the incoming bottles and so forth could be calculated and adjusted to attain certain specific rates of output and qualities of beer production (rather than being externally specified by managers as the representatives of employers).

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, pointed out somewhere that there is no such thing as a purely biological human experience, a purely mathematical human experience, a purely physical human experience and so forth. Human experience is all those aspects and more. The apparently most mundane human act or experience contains a rich variety of potentially worthwhile pursuits that can be analyzed and pursued in ever greater depth and breadth. The production of beer can be integrated into the study of chemistry, physics, mechanics, biology, mathematics, history, geography and other sciences. Despite beer production being instrumental for the production of beer as a consumer good, it could be the point of departure for the infinite expansion of the capacities of workers who produce beer–with the only limit being their own capacities for the pursuit of such sciences and the finite period of time in which they live on this planet before dying. Workers could thus freely expand their intellectual and physical horizons even when they produce beer.

Mr. Gindin’s superficial separation of freedom and necessity at work, like his superficial separation of freedom and necessity during leisure hours (as pointed out in the previous post), leads him to false conclusions concerning the nature of work in a socialist society. This should not surprise anyone.

Mr. Gindin’s false conclusions concerning the nature of the relationship of freedom and necessity under socialism go beyond the issue of leisure and work. He claims the following in relation to education and art, among other areas of human life:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education, greater care for the aged, the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

In another post, I will show that Mr. Gindin’s reference to “more and richer education” can integrate–contrary to Mr. Gindin’s mechancial separation of the two–both elements of necessity and freedom. I may also address in a future post his claim that the demand for the expansion of art somehow involves the separation of necessity and freedom.


Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.

Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Four: Art

This is the conclusion of a series of previous posts on the subject.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s claim that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union. See Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. However, just as Mr. Gindin does not criticize the particular form of education in modern society, he does not consider the limitations of the particular form of art in modern society. He writes the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of … the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Mr. Gindin seems to consider the “expansion of art and cultural spaces” in purely quantitative terms. The existing “art and cultural spaces” are supposed to be “expanded” rather than qualitatively transformed. Given the specific class nature of modern society dominated by a class of employers and the general class nature of human history after the agricultural revolution, the view that art and culture needs mere expansion rather than qualitative transformation reflects an impoverished view of the nature of socialist society. If socialist society is characterized by the abolition of classes, and classes involve exploitation and oppression, then the nature and development of art and culture should accordingly change qualitatively.

The issue can be approached from different angles. One issue is the question of the form of art (something which Mr. Gindin does not even adddress). John Dewey’s philosophy of art can aid us in understanding the limitations of Mr. Gindin’s characterization of “scarcity” and art in a socialist society.
Dewey points out that the form of modern art is isolated from common human experience. It is this isolated form itself that prevents a proper understanding of the nature of art as a refined development of common-sense human experience. From John Dewey (1934), Art as Experience , pages 3-4:

BY ONE of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience.

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications., The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish.

If one is willing to grant this position, even if only by way of temporary experiment, he will see that there follows a conclusion at first sight surprising. In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic. We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour. For theory is concerned with understanding, insight, not without exclamations of admiration, and stimulation of that emotional out burst often called appreciation. It is quite possible to enjoy flowers in their colored form and delicate fragrance without knowing any thing about plants theoretically. But if one sets out to understand the flowering of plants, he is committed to finding out something about the interactions of soil, air, water and sunlight that condition the growth of plants.

The isolation of art from ordinary human experience distorts an understanding of the nature of art. Such a distortion is like a mirror, in which we only see the reflection offered to us and not the background material (and social) conditions for the mirror to function as a mirror. From Thomas Nail (2020), Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism, page 149-150:

A mirror is something that reflects almost all the light that it receives within a certain limited frame. A mirror, however, also actively changes the light it receives and limits the range of light returned based on the limits of its frame. The danger of the mirror, as the myth of Narcissus reminds us, is mistaking the mirror for nothing other than the image it reflects. The mirror is thus a tricky kind of object because it so easily conceals its own quality, use- value, or sensuous materiality: the frame, the tain (silver backing), as well as the agency of light itself. Narcissus dies because he mistakes the sensuous agency of nature (water, light, air) as nothing other than himself.

The isolation of art in a socialist society from the rest of human experience would proceed to break down as the power of the class of employers was superseded and as the objectified power of workers is abolished and the human life process comes under the workers’ and the diverse communities’ control.

Mr. Gindin simply ignores any qualitative transformation of art and culture and refers to the (quantitative) expansion of arts and culture–as if the integration of the domain of art with other domains of life would not in itself involve “an expansion of art and culture.” Mr. Gindin fails to see that the modern art form itself expresses oppressive conditions, where art is relegated to an isolated activity by a relative minority. He succumbs to the ideology of the mirror, seeing only the reflected form of the alienated art form as a permanent form that merely requires–“mechanical” elements rather than organic elements that grow from the common source of human daily life experience.

Art in modern capitalist society would undergo a qualitative change–it would be freed of the exploitative and oppressive conditions that give rise to it as something separate and divorced from everyday living and working. From Piotr Hoffmann (1982), The Anatomy of Idealism: Passivity and Activity in Kant, Hegel and Marx, page 98:

In effect, since human labor is guided by conception and imagination, the Marxian “architect” from Capital is always capable of embodying in the material an original vision of things; he can tear the veil of banality and commonplace which stifles the potential of our sensibility. Needless to say, according to Marx this aesthetic potential of human senses must be stifled and repressed under the prevailing conditions of commodity production and of alienation of labor in general. 54 But it is the same conditions – the increasing sophistication of the labor-process – which both create the new potential of human senses and needs and repress its emerging claims and requirements. Indeed the whole process of labor, such as we know it in its past and present form, has that double, paradoxical function: at the same time that it creates those new and higher qualities of human life it also represses them by creating a mode of human intercourse which prevents their realization. “Certainly, labor obtains its measure from outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But [ …] this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity [ …] the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realization, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labor. ” It is in

Grundrisse, not in

Pans Manuscripts, that Marx writes these words. His intention couldn’t be clearer: labor is not only a response to need and dependency upon external objects, but a truly creative and (as Marx put it) “liberating” process through which man gives a higher form to his life-activity, a form where his senses, needs and tastes become refined and stripped of their crude utilitarian functions.

In societies before the emergence of capitalism, art was not as divorced from daily life as it is now. Art forms were closely related to utility and daily living, with art expressing more, initially, an assumed magical function related to survival than some sort of separate form expressing emotion and aesthetic refinement. From Arnold Hauser (1951), The Social History of Art, Volume 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, page 3:

When the Palaeolithic artist painted an animal on the rock, he produced a real animal. For him the world of fiction and pictures, the sphere of art and mere imitation, was not yet a special province of its own, different and separate from empirical reality; he did not as yet confront the two different spheres, but saw in one the direct, undifferentiated continuation of the other. He will have had the same attitude to art as Lévy- Bruhl’s Sioux Red Indian, who said of a research worker whom he saw preparing sketches: ‘I know that this man has put many of our bisons into his book. I was there when he did it, and since then we have had no bisons.’ The conception of this sphere of art as a direct continuation of ordinary reality never disappears completely despite the later predominance of a conception of art as something opposed to reality.

Later on, emotional expression and aesthetic concerns emerged with the development of agriculture. Here art and aesthetics (the appreciation of art from the side of consumption) now became somewhat divorced from daily life–with the emergence of class society. Religious rite took the place of magic. However, even then the degree of separation of art from daily life characteristic of modern capitalist society, with art appearing to be a separate realm from the realm of human life and its self-reproduction, was much less. In feudal society, for example, production and consumption were not as separated since they were still closely linked to daily life and utility. Page 93:

‘Urban economy’ in the sense of Buecher’s theory of economic stages signifies, in contrast to the earlier production for own use, a production for the customer, that is, of goods that are not consumed in, the economic unit in which they are produced. It is distinguished from the following stage of ‘national economy’ in that exchange of goods still takes the ‘direct’ form—i.e. the goods go direct from the producing to the consuming unit, production as a rule not being for stock or the free market, but to the direct order of definite customers personally acquainted with the producer. We are thus at the first stage of the separation of production from consumption, but still far removed from the completely abstract method of modern production by which goods have to pass through a whole series of hands before they reach the consumer. This difference of principle between the medieval ‘town economy’ and the modern ‘national economy’ still remains, even when we pass from Buecher’s ‘ideal type’ of town economy to the actual historical facts; for although pure production to order never existed by itself, the relationship between the tradesman and consumer in the Middle Ages was far closer than nowadays; the producer was not yet faced with a completely unknown and indefinite market as he was later. These characteristics of the ‘urban’ way of production showed themselves in medieval art in a greater independence of the artist, on the one hand, as compared with the artist of Romanesque times, but, on the other hand, in a complete absence of that modern phenomenon, the unappreciated artist working in a total vacuum of estrangement from the public and remoteness from actuality.

The abolition of classes in a socialist society, undoubtedly, would revolutionize the relation between art and daily life–just as the agricultural revolution and the emergence of class societies also revolutionized the relation between art and daily life. The abolition of classes would mean that even in work relations there would be the possibility of expressing ourselves without exploitation and oppression preventing us from doing so. The relation between freedom and necessity would change accordingly. There would be a qualitative change in the nature of art as it became integrated into the daily lives of individuals–but this time on a higher, more refined plane than earlier.

Mr. Gindin, though, just sees “an expansion of art”–undoubtedly in purely quantitative terms. He has an impoverished view of the nature of a socialist society and the relation between freedom and necessity in a socialist society.

Once Again on the General Strike that Almost Was in Ontario, Canada, Part Two: Sam Gindin’s Analysis

Introduction

For some of the context of the strike, see a couple of earlier posts (The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism and The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector). 

A few more leftists have made commentary on the initial strike of 55,000 education workers and the possibility of a general strike in Ontario. I looked at the debate between Adam King and Abdul Malik and in the online newsletter Passage  https://readpassage.com/should-cupe-have-kept-education-workers-on-strike/) in my last post.  Then there is Sam Gindin’s analysis on the Socialist Project’s website  https://socialistproject.ca/2022/12/education-workers-lead-but-come-up-short/. I will now look at his article. 

The title of his article–Education Workers Lead But Come Up Short: What Lessons for Labour?–indicates that workers and the left can and should draw lessons from the strike. His article is organized as follows (using his headings as guides): 

Introduction
Threats of Fines and Legislation
Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike
Organize, Organize, Organize!
General Strike?
Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?
Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

Gindin then lists and explains a number of points. In his own words: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

1. Organizing
2. Coordination
3. Addressing Class
4. Union Transformation
5. Politics

Introduction

In the introduction, Gindin rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation which the education workers faced. Unlike the typical scenario of the government legislating striking workers back to work and union reps grumbling about its anti-democratic nature but complying with the legislation–and the workers also complying with the legislation–Ford passed the legisaltion before the workers even went out on strike: 

The divergence from earlier experiences began with the way the Ford administration tried to end the strike. Rather than wait until the strike was actually on, Ford used his parliamentary majority to pass legislation that criminalized the right of these workers to strike even before they actually went out (in the infamous Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act). With inflation running just under 7%, the legislation imposed a collective agreement offering 2.5% for workers earning under $43,000 annually and 1.5% for those earning above that princely sum. (The distinction the government made between low-paid and less low-paid workers was perhaps intended to push 1.5% as the standard for future collective bargaining in the public sector with the additional sum for lower-paid workers an ‘exceptional’ add-on for this sector alone.)

Threats and Fines

In the section on Threats of Fines and Legislation, Gindin points out to the second difference from the typical union scenario–the use of the notwithstanding clause, which reverberated not only within the union movement but beyond it: 

and, in addition, [the Ford government] invoked the notwithstanding clause to prevent a legal challenge to such legilsation.

Gindin then points out that the workers (not the union reps) did not follow the typical script: they refused to comply with the legislation and walked off the job: 

The main break with past collective bargaining came next. Unlike earlier labour responses, the education workers rejected the script. Across the province, school custodians, maintenance workers, education assistants, early childhood educators, lunchroom and safety monitors, librarians, and office staff ignored the legislation and walked out.

The audacity of the education workers galvanized the larger labour movement against Ford’s authoritarian over-reaction. On the ensuing weekend, after the first day of the strike, rumours spread of an imminent escalation of the conflict. A press conference was called for Monday morning (Nov. 6) where unions leaders were to announce a ‘general strike’. What was so recently unthinkable – a province-wide shut-down – seemed to have become an actual possibility.

This led to Ford backtracking and to an improved wage offer at the bargaining table: 

With this, the government’s once definitive ‘final offer’ also became flexible. In response to the union’s demand to ’put more money on the table’ Ford conceded that the government would indeed increase the wage offer if the workers ended the strike and returned to the bargaining table. The union complied and on November 20, the two sides announced a tentative agreement. It included monetary gains, though short of workers’ hopes, but no gains on staffing. More than two weeks later, 76% of members voted on the tentative agreement with 73% voting for ratification (it’s unclear why ratification took more than two weeks).

Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike

In the section “Context: When a Strike is More Than a Strike,” Gindin outlines why Ford acted as he did and why the wildcat strike likely happened whereas it had not happened earlier for many years among other workers: 

Like other public sector workers, the education workers had suffered under the 1% cap on wages in their last agreement. Over the past decade (2012-2021), their real wages had fallen by some 10% as prices increased by 19% while wage increases were under 9%. Moreover, while all workers have been hard hit over this period, Ontario’s education workers’ wages fell further behind the province’s broader public sector, where average wages had increased by 12.2%. Federally regulated workplaces had seen their wages increase by 18.6%, municipal unions by 19.1%, and private sector workers by 20.3%.

The education workers’ 1% wage cap had expired with the end of their previous collective agreement, ‘freeing’ CUPE to bargain without that cap – the first major agreement to be in that position. This set the stage for the face-off with the government. For the Ford administration the demands of the education workers were not just about one sub-sector but a Trojan Horse for gains across the public sector. They had to be aggressively contained.

He then claims that CUPE OSBCU faced, however, definite obstacles to engaging in a fight with the Ford government; it was only one union that faced the Ford government head on despite the significance for the public sector; he also claims that the significance for privat-sector bargaining was less directly affected: 

This morphed a ‘normal’ conflict with a set of employers (the school boards) into what was essentially a political strike against the government. The dilemma for the union was that in spite of the conflict’s significance for the entire public sector (and less directly, for private sector bargaining), the battle was being led and fought by only a sub-sector of the union movement.

This underestimates union reps’ perceived threat that the use of preemptive legislation and the use of the notwithstanding clause by Ford threatened their own economic, political and ideological interests, as I argued in an earlier post on this topic (see  The Case of the Possible General Strike of Ontario Unionized Workers: Critique of Conservative Radicalism or Radical Conservatism). To quote from that post: 

Union bureaucrats themselves realized the potential threat to their ideology of free collective bargaining so often expressed by them. At the press conference, we hear the following from Mark Hancock: 

National Secretary Treasurer, Candace Renick [of CUPE], Fred Hahn, the Ontario division president, and many CUPE leaders from all across the country. Friends who have joined him from the labour movement today up front. We have leadership from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, ATU Canada, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teacher Federation, the AEFO, the United Steel Workers, UFCW, Unifor, the Ontario Building Trades, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, the Sheet Metal Workers, Unite Here, IATSE, the National Union of Public and General Employees, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Nurses Association, SEIU Health Care, the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union, the Society of United Professionals, the Toronto and York Regional Labour Council. Today we represent millions of private and public sector workers all across the country.

This is an unprecedented gathering of labour leaders because the attack against workers’ rights that we’ve seen from this government—the attack on the rights of all Canadians which has been unprecedented. Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers’ rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians. It invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights. That regressive attack on workers united the labour movement like never before.

Gindin, like his ally Herman Rosenfeld, underestimaes the extent to which Ford’s move threatened the interests of not only public-sector unions but also private-sector unions. This underestimation then permits him to neglect the potentiality of uniting the union movement and workers in unions due to the pecularities of that situation–a peculiarity which Malik rightly emphasizes: 

Continuing to organize is important, but the massive groundswell of support and mobilization is already dwindling. I believe it’s doubtful we’ll see this degree of action again anytime soon, and we’re all worse off for it.

Gindin’s pessimism is reinforced by his view that only sporadic lights of hope have emerged in unions’ fights in recent years: 

Further militating against the aspirations of the education workers was that the prevailing mood of labour as a whole was characterized by a dispiriting passivity. It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike and ATU’s (Amalgamated Transit Union) GO bus strike had generated some optimism. So too did progressive changes in union leadership in OPSEU, Unifor, and the Toronto elementary teachers. But the grumbling across unions over the 1% caps on wages included little or no substantive resistance. Strikes in the public and also private sectors were at an ebb. Tentative agreements were rarely rejected. Wildcats were almost unheard of.

Gindin’s pessimism reminds me of of-quoted remark by Marx. From The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 33, page 103: 

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given
and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

Yes, let us be cautious when the situation warrants it, but the situation which not only the education workers faced but also the entire Canadian working class faced because of Ford’s authoritarian actions hardly warranted a conservative stance. By looking towards the past rather than the potential of the present and thus the future, Gindin, like his fellow conservative radical Rosenfeld, thereby urges the gradual approach of step-by-step organization–without any consideration of possible situations that may potentially accelerate organization and class consciousness. 

In addition, Gindin, like Rosenfeld, underestimates the potential the situation had for unifying the labour movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada since Ford’s use of the withstanding clause had the potential to threaten the collective-bargaining process across Canada if other premiers used it to prevent legal challenges to their own anti-labour legislation. Gindin, like Rosenfeld, positions himself as a radical conservative or a conservative radical by failing to take into account the potentialities of the situation. 

On the other hand, we certainly need to look at the limitations of past leftist actions in contributing to limitations on the potentials of unique situations. Gindin and his ally Rosenfeld, as well as the left here in Toronto in general, have done nothing to undermine the idealization of collective bargaining and collective agreements. Gindin, for example, justified unions’ use of the ideological phrase “decent work” in the context of working for employers because unions were acting defensively–as if unionized settings consitute decent work when workers are still used as means or things for    employers’  own purposes–see The Money Circuit of Capital for the objective situation of workers in both the private and public sectors). Bullshitting the workers with such rhetoric is hardly in the class interests of workers–and yet Gindin justifies such rhetoric. Go figure. 

What is needed when such potentially radical situations are not on the horizon is to undermine union rhetoric by exposing, on the one hand, the actual relations of workers to their employers and, on the other hand, exposing and underming directly the union rhetoric of “decent jobs,” “fair contracts,” and other such euphemisms that hide the reality of class oppression and class exploitation. 

Gindin also refers to parents as players in the scenario.Undoubtedly, parents are a player in determining the level of public support for such a strike: 

Of concern as well to the union was the likely response of parents. Parents had experienced the negative impact of COVID on their kids’ education and with their kids at home, they faced interruptions in their own work. Even though the union had prioritized its concern for kids and their parents in its emphasis on improving badly-needed school services, and there had been very impressive organizing among parents by the Ontario Parents Action Network, Ford would no doubt try to position himself as the defender of in-school learning against its ‘disrupters’.

Gindin probably underesitmates the level of parent support for the striking education workers; at the picket line and the rally that I attended on November 4, there were a number of parents who had signs that supported the workers. The use of the notwithstanding clause probably angered not just unionized workers and represenatives but also parents. 

Organize, Organize, Organize!

In the section “Organize, Organize, Organize!,” Gindin argues that the education workers’ strike was largely successful in beating back Ford’s authoritarian legislation because of the eight-month lead in organizing workers up to the strike, using Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. Although McAlevey’s organizing model is certainly innovative, focusing on using organic leaders who are the recognized leaders at the workplace (and not necessarily union or political activists) as well as “structured tests” as mini-tests to determine whether there is indeed power to back up demands). 

This emphasis on the need to engage in “deep organizing” is certainly relevant, but as I pointed out in my critiques of McAlevey’s books (see my review “Review: Jane McAlevey’s No shortcuts: Organizing for power in the new gilded age,” in the section “Publications and Writings” on this blog and the posts Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One  and  Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), McAlevey’s approach does little to address the larger class problem of the class power of employers–and such power concentrated in the government or state. 

General Strike?

The next section addresses the issue of whether a general strike was a viable option. Unfortunately, Gindin then hands over the ball to his ally, Herman Rosenfeld, by referring to an article written by Rosenfeld, who argues that a general stike was not realistically on the table: 

These are hopeful sentiments. But we need to be sober about the state of the labour movement and what it takes to pull off even a partially successful general strike (see especially the account by Herman Rosenfeld). If we credit the pre-strike organizing by education workers for their illegal walk-out, a corollary is that since labour as a whole generally has done so little of such organizing, it could not have successfully pulled off much of a general strike. The above optimism over what might emerge from a general strike does not tell us how to actually achieve a general strike.

As I have argued against Rosenfeld’s position in another post, I refer the reader to that post (    ). 

Gindin provides further arguments that it would have been unrealistic to call for a general strike under existing circumstances: 

Consider. The teachers, as noted earlier, were not supportive of the education workers’ disruption of classes and this didn’t bode well for other sectors walking out. Would public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously? Ditto private sector workers, whose unions often defended and even sold concessions such as two-tier wages to their members. Moreover, would we expect – or even want – workers to go on a general strike when they haven’t been consulted, the strategy hasn’t been debated, no education has occurred, and no larger plan articulated?

Firstly, were teachers not supportive, or were teachers’ unions not supportive? Gindin assumes there is an identity between the two. Whether there were such an identity would have to be proven, not assumed. Secondly, even if teachers themselves opposed supporting the striking workers, would other “public sector workers who suffered the 1% cap without their own unions putting up much of a fight take the sudden call for a general strike seriously?” That would have remained to have been seen. Given Ford’s authoritarian fist of using the notwithstanding clause, they may or may not have done so; this would have been a test to see who had more power. Even if the other public-sector workers were not organized on the basis of McAlevey’s approach, they could at least have been partially organized in order to support a general strike. We will never know, of course. But there could have been partial mobilization in support of a general strike that could have provided further pressure on the Ford government and not, as Gindin implies, some long-drawn out process that requires the step-by-step gradualism that he and his ally Rosenfeld evidently advocate.

Furthermore, this would have been an appropriate occasion for bringing up explicitly the issue of the adequacy of “free collective bargaining” and what union reps mean by that. Gindin remains silent over this issue. 

Of course, strategy should be debated–but part of what is interesting about the situation is the open-endedness of the situation, as even Mark Hancock, the president of CUPE National stated: 

I think part of it is: Nobody really knew. That was the beauty of what’s happened over the last number of days leading into the legislation being enacted that…this grew a movement of its own in some ways. And you heard very clearly from private-sector unions and public-sector unions that everybody was very serious on that. And what that looked like on Saturday at the rally and on Monday, I think we had a pretty good idea. But beyond that I have no idea. This has got legs of its own.

For Gindin, like Rosenfeld, what is needed is–debate, debate and more debate! and not the translation of even imperfect debates into action (and even then, the debate must occur within limits deemed relevant by Gindin–see below concerning his belief that it is irrelevant to debate whether union rhetoric that unionized work is decent).. Like his fellow ally, Rosenfeld, his approach reminds me of one part in the Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, where a woman indicates that Brian is going to be crucified  (see   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55fqjw2J1vI ). Chatter, chatter and more chatter. 

Gindin also opposes the advocacy of a general strike because it was unclear what the term meant: 

Nor was it even clear what the union leaders intended by a ‘general strike’. Did they mean an indefinite strike or – more likely – a one, perhaps two-day strike which, though of consequence would essentially amount to another protest rather than a fundamental challenge to authority (protests had preceded the talk of a general strike; they were spirited and not insignificant, but far from overwhelming).

Note the downplaying of around 10,000 workers and supporters at the picket line/rally on November 4 in the context of the head of a government legislating workers back to work before they even had begun a strike and using the notwithstanding clause to prevent any legal challenge to such legislation. For Gindin, it would seem, only if hundreds of thousands of workers were organized and out on the streets should any realistic talk of a general strike be attempted.  Let us not risk anything; let us be 99 percent certain of victoy before we act. Gindin, apparently idealizes the Days of Action in the 1990s, when about 200,000 people in Toronto alone participated in a city general strike that formed part of a rolling provincial general strike (shifting from one city to another, such as from London or Hamilton–see the interview with Gindin (https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/so-you-want-to-have-a-general-strike-feat-sam-gindin/id1472061764?i=1000463838625). 

If there were 200,000 Sam Gindin’s in Toronto participating in a strike, I doubt that the Ford government would have to worry; even if organized, they would seek a very slow, very cautious path that would not upset the status quo–except perhaps in 200,000 years. 

Gindin’s cautious attitude also reminds me of a parliamentary attitude towards mass actions–despite Gindin’s own undoubtedly sincere acknowledgement of the importance of mass action. From Johannes Agnoli, Collected Works, Volume 2, page 70 (my loose translation): 

… exactly herein lies the point of divergence between attempted communism and  conformist social democracy. There will surely be many comrades at the base and in the top committees, who (without knowing that they are therewith repeating the watchword of narrow-minded German conservatism) will say: We will make no experiments, we will not stake our organization and our methods of struggle,  which are well tried and function well, in favour of a new path whose outcome  we do not know. The German social democrats had already proclaimed, when faced with the rise of Nazism: “Let’s not risk too much in order not to lose everything.” Yet one day comrades will in fact begin to think about a somewhat currious phenomenon, that the organizations and methods tried and tested by history in the western capitalist countries have not only never led in any particular case to revolution but also have not not even been good enough to stop the counter-revolution. [Werner Bonfeld, in “Constitutional Norm versus Constitutional Reality in Germany:  A Review Article on Johannes Agnoli’s Die Transformation der Demokratie und andere Schriften zur Kritik der Politik
(The Transformation of Democracy and other writings on the Critique of Politics),” in pages 65-88, Capital & Class, Volume 16, Issue No. 1, page 66). By “counter-revolution” Agnoli means, as Werner Bonefeld explains, “Agnoli understands the political integration, and thus reformulation, of social struggles for social emancipation as being bound up with a merely political emancipation which characterises the constitution of power in bourgeois societies.”

Gindin fails to take into account the effective nature of the capitalist state in co-opting or integrating  social movements in general and union movements in particular into the capitalist system (backed up, when necessary, by the iron fist of the police and, at times, the military). 

Thomas Mathiesen saw this danger to which Gindin is blind. Mathiesen calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. From Mathiesen (1980), Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism ,page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

On the other hand, Gindin does accurately assess the union reps’ likely response to Ford’s backing down over Bill 28: 

In any case, the proposed general strike wasn’t actually over the workers’ demands, but the Premier’s especially authoritarian legislation. Once that law was repealed, so too was talk of a general strike. And based on what we saw in the media and heard from other channels, while the labour leadership was rightly proud of getting Ford to step back, it seemed quite universally relieved that their threat of a total provincial walk-out would not be tested.

Yes, the union leadership was probably relieved. However, that does not mean that the rank-and-file necessarily were.

The underestimation of the co-optive capacity of the capitalist state leads Gindin to fail to support the potential opposition to the government arising from various sources–a lost opportunity. 

Bill 24, as a specific piece of  authoritarian legislation, was the continuation of earlier authoritarian legislation, such as Bill 5, which had changed–in 2018 mid-municipal elections–ward boundaries. In 2021, when the Ontario Supreme Court judged parts of Bill 254 (which pertained to doubling the length of time a third party could run pre-election ads) to be unconstitutional,  Ford used the notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 307–which contained those parts judged unconsttutional; the use of the notwithstanding clause to quash a judges rulings should be seen in the context of provincial elections the following year–which Ford won. More directly relevant was Bill 124, which capped public-sector wage increases to one percent per year for three years. Just recently, on November 29, the Ontario Supreme Court judged the Bill unconsitutional; Ford’s government is appealing the decision. 

There has been plenty of evidence that Ford has used the political system to quash even liberal political democracy when he can. Given that only about 43.5 percent or, to put it the other way, about 56.5 percent did not bother to vote in the 2022 provincial elections, this in itself indicates that actual support for Ford was probably quite a bit lower. Given the historical record of Ford’s authoritarian administration, and the use of the notwithstanding clause to break not only the union but also set a precedent that could be used to block “free collective bargaining” in the future not only in Ontario but across Canada, the potential for substantial opposition to Ford’s government was there. Furthermore, given the pent-up lives of many during the COVID pandemic, the potential was probably even greater. 

Gindin ignores this potential. 

And what did Gindin do before this situation to call into question the typical union model of “free collective bargaining?” His advocacy of Jane McAlevey’s approach to organizing as deep organizing (with stress tests to see how much power workers have) is a start, but he vastly underestimates the need to engage in ideological struggle if micro-organizing is going to be linked effectively with macro organizing with the aim of overcoming and abolishing the class power of employers. His own defence of unions’ use of such rhetoric as “decent work,” fair contracts” and so forth hardly prepared workers for a grasp of the inadequacy of collective bargaining and collective agreements as vehicles for realizing their interests. 

Gindin then provides a rather weak explanation of why Ford backed down by agreeing to repeal Bill 28: 

And yet Ford did back down in the shadow of labour’s threat of an all-out war with his government. What are we to make of this? Though speculative, it seems that it was not so much the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford, but a growing web of contradictions. He had been trying to carry the populist banner of representing ‘the little man’ and nurturing labour leaders to his side. But the chain of events that the education strike set off exposed his true anti-worker colours and lost him the seven endorsements, primarily from unions in the construction trades, that he had previously recruited.

I will not explore further Gindin’s speculation except to speculate that it was indeed probably “the fear of a successful general strike that moved Ford.” Gindin wants to play down the possibility of such a successful strike and thus provides a speculative account of why Ford backed down that does not involve evidence that a general strike might have achieved more than Gindin is willing to admit. 

He then paints a geneal strike as somehow useful at times but not the only or even the most appropriate weapon workers can use to accomplish their goals: 

None of this denies that general strikes can be a crucial instrument in labour’s arsenal in the struggle to make our society more democratic and equal and our lives more secure and meaningful. But ill-prepared general strikes may also expose the weakness of the labour movement rather than showcase its potential. And general strikes are not necessarily the strategic pinnacle of labour opposition.

Consider the contrast with the Days of Action in the mid-1990s. In that earlier period the labour movement understood that it didn’t have the strength to call and sustain a general strike. The alternative chosen was to turn to a series of community shut-downs. This allowed labour to start with communities where it was stronger, concentrate their best organizers there, spend a good deal of time to prepare for each action, and ultimately sustain the protest over eleven one-day regional strikes over two and a half years.

Firstly, there are undoubtedly times when the call for a general strike would be ill-advised. When I attended a second rally in Toronto in support of the education workers on November 11, 2022, there were perhaps only 300 protesters when compared to the 10,000 a week earlier. Despite this, Socialist Action, a far-left political organization here in Toronto, had a poster that called for a general strike; it was evident that such a call for a general strike would fall mostly on deaf ears at this stage. However, before the calling off of the strike on November 7, the potential for a successful strike was much greater to at least force Ford to repeal Bill 28 before workers were to go back to work. It also had the potential to snowball into a call for the repeal of Bill 124 (the legislation that limited public-sector workers’ wages to one percent per year–which a court has recently declared invalid, a decision which Ford has appealed). 

Secondly Gindin refers to the Days of Action and the lack of a general strike but rather eleven one-day regional strikes over two and half years.” What was accomplished by such a tactic? Gindin fails to specify what was gained. Was it a further advance in the organizational capacity of workers? A further understanding of the class nature of our society? A further weakening of the legitimacy of government? When I came to Toronto at the end of August 2013. the left was dominated by social democrats or social reformers–and Gindin reinforced their dominance by failing to engage in any real criticism of their political position. 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

This section tries to answer the question in the heading: 

Why Didn’t CUPE Stay on Strike?

The most vexing question emerging out of the education workers’ strike is how it ended. Rather than following the common union practice of staying on strike until there was a concrete offer on hand and ratified by the membership, the leadership ended the strike, returned to negotiations, and also accepted a blackout on information.

The practical point here is that the return to work took the pressure off the employer. Even if talks broke down and picket lines returned, in the interim the momentum of the strike will likely have been eroded. The democratic point is that staying on strike until workers have seen and ratified a deal gives concrete expression to the promise that ‘the union belongs to the workers’. Furthermore, the labour movement seemed to be solidly behind the strike and polls showed the workers had the support of more than six parents in ten. Why, after all the preparations and this apparently favourable moment, would the union end the strike?

As for the media blackout on information, usually justified as allowing the bargaining to ‘go more smoothly’, this generally comes from employers more concerned with trying to freeze the union’s on-going mobilization. For the union, on the other hand, keeping the members informed was a matter of respecting the wisdom of workers and of the commitment to continuous organizing. Transparent bargaining could also facilitate getting a better read on where the members were at as the conflict progressed.

Moreover, in light of Ford’s recent embarrassed retreat, the union had some leverage in rejecting a bargaining blackout. Anxious to quickly end the strike, Ford would have had trouble delaying bargaining so as to control and block information flows. (The obvious compromise was to put any blackout on hold; if bargaining did seem at some point to demand a blackout this could, through mutual agreement be reconsidered.)

Gindin is right to point out the unusual backing down of the reps for the education workers in calling off a strike until demands had been met. The lack of transparency in negotiations is also of concern since this reflects typical anti-democratic behaviour of many union reps. 

Gindin further argues: 

Yet, there were two factors making the continuation of the strike problematic. First, Ford’s eating humble pie changed the dynamics of the bargaining conflict. The labour movement’s prime concern had been Ford’s removal of the right to strike and once that was defeated, the use of that right became secondary. For the labour movement, the negotiations between the education workers and the government drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation.

Ford’s “eating humble pie” did indeed change “the dynamic of the bargaining conflict”–for union reps. Their focus was on defending “free collective bargaining,” and once that had been achieved by a written guarantee by Ford that he would appeal the law, they “drifted towards becoming a more or less ‘normal’ labour-management confrontation. This should have been met by a radical critique of not only this shift but the obvious earlier idealzing of the whole collective-bargaining process and the resulting collective-bargaining agreements as inadequate expressions of the interests of workers. Gindin has done no such thing. 

The radical left needs to explicitly address the inadequacies of the collective-bargaining process, critizing union rhetoric at every turn. It needs to use every opportunity to open up debate about the legitimacy of that process–and such a debate has not been opened up since I moved to Toronto in 2013. Should not socialists be addressing this explicitly whenever they can? 

The second factor to which Gindin refers is parent support: 

Along similar lines, the support of parents could not be indefinitely counted on. After Ford had shown some ‘flexibility’ in annulling his legislation and expressing a readiness to modify his final offer, parents could be expected to pressure the union to show a parallel flexibility by ending the strike and returning to negotiations.

It is true that parents cannot be the determining factor for union strategies – the first consideration must be the workers affected – but neither can the reaction of parents be easily dismissed. Parent attitudes can affect the morale of workers and are critical to any future alliance for improvements in school conditions and funding. And with a good number of parents themselves workers, a relationship to parents is also critical to the building of a more coherent working class. Still, risking the loss of parent support might have been the route to go if it weren’t for the second factor.

Continuing the strike demanded a strike-able issue but in moving to a wage settlement, the union undermined both the staffing issue and the possibility of continuing the strike to win more. This clearly requires some unpacking. In doing so, the point isn’t to make judgements with the benefit of hindsight, but to explore some of the dynamics of bargaining to the end of rethinking future tactics/strategies.

It is true that parent support would likely not last indefinitely–short of much more radical measures. Gindin’s point is that the union could have tried to shift the central issue in bargaining from wages to the other issue of staffing levels–which would resonate more with parents than wage increases. This was perhaps a tactical error even for union reps–they could have achieved more at the bargaining table if they could sustain parent support.

Gindin then, interestingly enough, suggests an alternative scenario that would have addressed the staffing issue even if it were not a priority for the bargining committee: 

When they did, any pressure on the government moving on staffing was essentially gone. The union could not sustain a strike on staffing alone, which would have been a hard task in any case but certainly after wages, the workers main issue, was settled. Like wages, the call for more staffing went against Ford’s determination to continue reductions in expenditures across the public sector. What was distinct about staffing was that it challenged employers’ sacred ‘management right’ to rule the workplace. Getting the government to bend on staffing would be especially difficult and uncertain.

To have escaped this dilemma, the union would likely have had to concentrate on the staffing issue before getting to wages. This may seem peculiar given that wages were the obvious priority. But there is a distinction between priorities and the tactics of putting a package together. Unions in fact commonly try to address critical workplace and management rights issues before turning to wages, even when wages increases are the main goal.

When Ford offered to modify the government’s final offer in exchange for the union ending the strike and returning to the table, what if the union had responded not by pointing to wages but by leaving the wages to the side – knowing they would in the end return to the centre – and demanding some movement on staffing before they ended the strike? If Ford bit and offered something – anything – that in itself would give the workers a breakthrough to build on. If he didn’t, then twinning wages and staffing (unlike staffing alone) could sustain the continuation of the strike.

This indeed could have been done. Pressing for an inroad into what is traditionally management rights would have opened up the possibility of further politicizing the issue. However, such a possibility would have to be built on and not just swept under the rug–which is what the social-democratic or reformist left do so often. 

In addition, Gindin does not question the adequacy of addressing staffing levels–which have to do with adequate services under the existing school system. Adequate staffing levels appears then to assume that the school system is itself adequate and what is needed is an expansion of money and current services–and public education will be adequate. Public education, however, is riveted with contradictions and inadequacies, such as the rhetoric of addressing the educational needs of children while simultaneously using grades or marks to control, oppress and stream students (see in general the series of posts titled “Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher” and for the partiular criticism of the use of grades or marks in schools see  Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Fifteen: Progressive Versus Regressive Grading Systems in Schools). 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

This final section before drawing up lessons learned is a summing up of whether the education workers won or lost. 

Did the Education Workers Win or Lose?

It’s hard to claim a victory when wages will fall even further behind inflation and staffing remains as is. But what can be said is that the internal organizing among the education workers and their readiness to strike illegally mattered. In a mere two days, the education workers had, remarkably, forced an aggressive Premier to back off a law dangerous to the labour movement as a whole, pushed the employer to drop concessionary demands like the erosion of paid sick days, and in spite of Ford’s absolute ‘final offer’, raised wages by a dollar across the workforce in each year of the agreement (a near doubling of the earlier offer).

Beyond this, the education workers were a showcase for implementing systematic member organizing into union strategy and demonstrating that workers can fight back even in the worst of circumstances. The education workers tried to derail the grim austerity agenda the Ford government has been pursuing but fell short. This poses a challenge to the larger labour movement to acknowledge its decades long internal crisis and start to confront seriously what reversing that crisis will mean.

It will take time to assess whether, considering everything, this strike is deemed a win or not. It will take some time to get a read on whether the education workers and the labour movement as a whole came out of this stronger or weaker. Time to learn about the impact on the consciousness and confidence of the education workers and time to see how the union deals with lingering disappointment. Time, that is, to see whether the example of the education workers affects the orientation and culture of the labour movement.

The education workers did indeed gain something–an increase in wages that they would otherwise have not gained, They also gained in organizing themselves and in learning to organize themselves. These positive gains also must include the negative gain of defeating Bill 28. However, largely what was gained was–a return to the status quo without any real questioning of the premises of the class power of employers. There is little indication that the workers drew any radical conclusions about the nature of working for an employer, the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements or the nature of class oppression and class exploitation.

Why is that? 

My prediction is that what transpired will have little effect on “the orientation and culture of the labour movement.” It had the potential to do so–but the potential was wasted–and Gindin, ultimately, is in agreement with such waste even if he is not conscious of his implicit agreement.

Gindin then refers to what he claims is needed for the labour movement: 

Of the various indicators of whether labour is, at long last, turning the corner, four challenges/tests seem especially pivotal.

He actually refers to five, not four, “challenges/tests”: 

1. Organizing

Activists should be pressing the parent union of the education workers CUPE, the largest union in the country, to extend the education/training carried out with such success in its education sector to the rest of CUPE. And activists everywhere should push their union to emulate the internal organizing the education workers did, adapted of course to their own circumstances. Among other things this would require setting up a cross-union school for training instructors. and essentially adding ‘organizing schools’ to the characterization of what unions are.

Yes, internal organizing and organizing schools should be created–but they should be combined with a critical part of such education–on the one hand, the critical determination of the nature of the kind of society in which we live and, on the other hand, a critical discussion of the limits of collective bargaining and collective agreements. 

The second challenge/test: 

2. Coordination

It is stunning that in the face of the 1% caps on public sector wage agreements, no systematic coordination occurred across unions. There have been ad hoc attempts to coordinate bargaining in some sectors like health, but it has been limited. Any broader coordination across unions will be difficult, yet with the public sector facing common attacks from the state, it’s surely time for the creation of a permanent council of public sector unions to strategize and build solidarity for the confrontations that we know are sure to come.

Yes, this too should arise. However, coordination across the public sector that fails to be crticial of union rhetoric is likely to result in the same kind of business union concerns that individual unions address. For example, when I attended a meeting of the Toronto Airport Workers Assembly (TAWC), an organization where union reps from various local unions whose jurisdiction is Toronto Pearson Airport workers, the meeting seemed like an enlarged union meeting, with the concerns of union reps being addressed without any critical larger issues being addressed (for addtional information on TAWC, see the posts  The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC): One Step Forward and Two Steps Backward?    and  The Pearson Survey of the 50,000 Employees at the Toronto International Airport: A Document Expressing the Ideology of Employers  as well as TAWC’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=tawc%3A%20toronto%20airport%20workers%27%20council. What we also need is not just defensive coordination but offensive coordination. Unions have not engage in offensive tactics and strategies for a long time–and that does not just mean going on strike to achieve better contracts; it also means coordinating efforts with the explicit purpose of challenging the class power of employers in various ways, such as economic, political and ideological struggle. 

Gindin refers to the third challenge/test–and it sounds radical: 

3. Addressing Class

While organizing at the base and coordinating at the top complement each other, both need a clear strategic vision. What are workers being educated and trained for? What struggles would coordination prepare workers for? Some four decades ago Doug Fraser, then president of the UAW, clearly identified the emerging reality: “A class war is being waged in this country but only one class is fighting.” This remains true today and workers have suffered immensely for it. If this is to change, workers must come to grips with who they are, who is there with them, and where they ‘fit’ in the system. Class penetrates every aspect of workers’ lives and unless workers integrate class into how they think and act, the future will, if anything, be even worse than the past and present.

There is evidence that  what Gindin means by “class” is quite different from what I understandin by class. Thus,  part of the nature of class is to criticize slogans that hide the real nature of oppression and exploitation at work. As Gindin wrote on  November 24, 2017: 

Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.  Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve. ‘Decent jobs’ or a ‘good contract’ are a way of expressing defensive gains when radical gains are not even on the table and we – those on this exchange – don’t have the capacity tooter [to offer?] them any kind of alternative jobs. So criticizing them for this hardly seems an effective way to move them to your view – which is not to say you shouldn’t raise it but that you shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t suddenly act on your point.

Gindin’s approach is far from Marx’s approach. From a letter written by Marx to Arnold Ruge, September 1843 (Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 3, page 142): 

But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists,
ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be.

“Everyone pretty much knows … that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve.” Really? I doubt that. Where is the evidence that workers or even the so-called radical left here in Toronto take seriously the nature of exploitation in Toronto? It is nowhere to be found.  Who is this everyone?

Indeed, it is one of the basic features of capitalist relations (class relations in a capitalist society) that they take the form of a relation between things and thus hide the nature of class exploitation. Social relations between workers become an objective relation that controls the workers rather than vice versa.  From Nicholas Gray (Winter 2012), “Against Perversion and Fetish: The Marxian Theory of Revolution as Practical Demystification,” in pages 13-24, Studies in Social and Political Thought, Volume 20, page 19: 

Thus, in bourgeois society, although individuals hold their “social power in their pocket” or “in the shape of a thing” (Marx, 1973, p. 157), in fact it is they who are beholden to it, or under its sway: they are “ruled by abstractions” (their own social relations which have become abstracted from them – i.e. alienated from them) (1973, p. 164). The alienation of social power goes hand in hand with an ontological inversion characteristic of the money form of value: money is transformed from means of exchange to a relation of power which subjugates individuals; a social relation alienated such that
it becomes autonomous, self-standing, and an end in itself.

These objective relations between workers results in their exploitation–but such exploitation is not visible–unlike earlier kinds of society. From Meghnad Desai (1974), Marxian Economic Theory, page 16: 

The contradiction between the juridically free status of the labourer and his exploitation is the original contradiction of capitalism. It is original since it appears at the origin in capitalism. In  no other society does exploitation take the value form [objective form of the relations between producers] since in no society does it have to be masked from visible relationships.

Class relations are hidden by relations of exchange, or relations of buying and selling commodities. Desai, page 23: 

The difference lies not in the characterization of the productive process, similar for all schools of
economics, but in the process of buying and selling labour power,  which lies at the beginning of the productive process and leads to appropriation of surplus value by one class. Throughout all the participants perceive only legitimate exchange relations and not unequal relations of class and
exploitation.

Exploitation is hardly evident in a class society characterized by capitalist relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. Quite to the contrary. The capitalist process of exploitation appears in the form of its opposite. From Desai, page 55: 

In Neoclassical economic theory, preferences and technology are the structural relations which explain the observed pricequantity data. Marx would reject these Neoclassical relations as not
penetrating beneath the surface of exchange relationships to the relations of production and the forces of production. But Marx went further than this. He also emphasised that the observed reality was the inverse or mirror image of the true social relationship. Thus, exchange shows equality where the true relationships are of exploitation. In this sense, observed reality is upside down, and empirical data unless approached within a value theoretic framework would lead to conclusions which will contradict the predictions of the value theory.

Exchange relations appear as what they are–formal relations of equality between buyer and seller. No one threatens through the use of physical violence for workers to work for a particular employer. This formal exchange relation, however, conflicts with the exploitation and oppression of workers when they are working.

In addition to exchange relations hiding the real nature of exploitation, distribution relations also hide the nature of exploitation. Although I have tried to calculate the rate of exploitation of specific workers working for specific employers (see for example The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One), the amount of surplus value or profit particular employers receive need not and indeed rarely coincides with the surplus value that their workers produce. The amount of surplus value (s) or profit employers receive is mediated through the distribution of the surplus value produced according to the rule of equal rates of profit for equal amount of total capital invested (for an example of this complicating issue, see my response to a comment made by Biswadip Dasgupta on my post  The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in Canada). As Desai remarks, page 56: 

The role of price mechanism and exchange in Marx’ s theory is to mask surplus value and make it appear legitimate as profit. The profit of anyone particular firm, industry or Department does not equal the surplus value produced by it. … The link between profits and surplus value becomes complex and in fighting against exploitation workers cannot fight against their own industry’s owners in isolation; they have to fight the whole system.

What workers face immediately, however, is a particular employer so that the fight has its point of departure there but has class exploitation as its background and supposition.

Given the nature of capitalist reality, exploitation is hardly evident to workers. An ideological struggle is thus necessary to expose such a reality–but Gindin obviously considers such struggle to be secondary to the magic of “organization.” As I wrote in another post: 

Mr. Gindin fails to see the need to combine a specific kind of organization with ideological struggle. To be sure, without organization workers cannot gain power, but workers will unlikely gain power without engaging in organization and ideological struggle simultaneously. Mr. Gindin minimizes the importance of ideological struggle and exaggerates the importance of mere changes in organizational struggles (such as Ms. McAlevey’s innovations in organizing). Both are required simultaneously, and that means engaging in an ideological battle with the traditional left. Mr. Gindin, however, indulges the social-democratic left and panders to them by avoiding an ideological struggle. Any organization that emerges as a consequence will unlikely be more than an organization that accepts the power of employers as a class.

Gindin ignores the specific nature of exploitation in a capitalist society–its hidden nature. 

Or is Gindin referring to some union reps being aware of exploitation, such as Wayne Dealy (executive director of CUPE local 3902) or Tracy McMaster (union steward, former president of the Greater Toronto Area Council, to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), and former vice president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)? 

Perhaps Dealy plays lip service to the existence of exploitation (although I have never seen any evidence of this), but does he take such exploitation into account when formulating a plan of action? There is no evidence that he does so. Let Gindin provide evidence to the contrary. 

As for Tracy McMaster–“Our Tracy,” as Gindin once called her–her views are linked to Dealy’s response to her email sent to those on the listserve of the Toronto Labour Committee: 

Hello all,
 
Sean,  It was great hearing you on CBC this morning talking about   TAWC!  In case you haven’t heard, our neighbours the Molson’s   workers from Local 325 CUBGE are on the picket line. Representing  airport & airline workers I spoke at their Solidarity BBQ last week   at the International Drive/Carlingview entrance. They are in a tough battle with a huge corporate (and American) giant in Coors and could  really use our support. Please boycott Molsons products for the  duration of the strike, and feel free to drop by the picket line  -honking support is also welcome! The workers just want a fair deal, good jobs, pension security and fair benefits [my emphases] but the employer won’t even bargain.  I hope you all   will join me in showing solidarity with the brewery workers from   Local 325! 
 
In solidarity,

 

Tracy
Since I wanted to open up debate on such an issue, I responded thus: 
Hello everyone,
 
 
I would like to respond to Tracy’s reference to a “fair deal” and  “good job.”
 
These workers do certainly deserve to be supported in various   ways–it is a question of solidarity.
 
However, I do hear often enough such terms by those who support  unions. I too support unions, but the use of such terms needs to be  debated.
 
Having worked in a brewery for about four years, I do have some  experience in the area. I fail to see how what workers at a brewery  do is considered to be a good job. They are used as means to obtain  
more money for investors. Is being used to obtain more money for investors something to be proud of?
 
Would a parent sincerely want her or his child to be used to obtain   more money for others? To be treated as a means to that end?
 
Yes, brewery workers may receive higher wages than some, and they  may receive benefits as well (if they fight for them through  organizing themselves). However, is this adequate compensation for  
being treated, ultimately, as things to be used by investors and  their representatives in order to obtain more money? Do we not   deserve better–much better?
 
But let us assume that these workers have whatever is called a good  job and are not used by others (a cooperative could be such a  situation where workers have more control over their immediate  working lives). Firstly, what of the other workers in other  industries, or those who work in the public sector?Are their lives  not a means for obtaining a profit (the private sector), or for  realizing the mission of the particular public sector (without much  control over their own working lives). Even on the assumption that a particular group of workers have somehow a “good” job involves other  workers lacking control over their working lives. Such a situation  contradicts the principle of solidarity among workers,does it not?
 
Unless of course there is a growing movement for all workers to  control their working lives–which involves the conscious intent to  do so and the practical effort to realize such a goal.
 
The same logic applies to a “fair” deal.
 
What is meant by a “good job,” a “decent job,” or a “fair deal?”
 

Fred

Dealy responded thus: 
Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?
 
 
Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science
University of Toronto
My response: 
It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has  something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.
 
Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts  (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed,  the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real  concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in  relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response  itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on  March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.
 
Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker
By the way, the topic was never addressed by the Toronto Labour Committee at the date and time indicated–and never while I was a member of that organization. 
 
Dealy’s response: 

wayne.dealy@utoronto.ca

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.
 
Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.
 
On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of
employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.
 
And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.
 
Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.
 
Wayne.
 
p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick
Gindin’s intervention involves his cavalier dismissal in the quote above of my concerns, beginning with: “Debating whether a job is ‘decent‘ is a misdirection.”
 
Further evidence that McMaster does not take exploitation and oppression seriously is one of her emails, a response to an email I sent, part of which is reproduced below: 

On Feb 2, 2018, at 4:32 PM, Frederick Harris <arbeit67@hotmail.com> wrote:

The idea that 20,000 new members have been organized as part of a collective-bargaining unit is certainly better than not belonging to a collective-bargaining unit. One has to wonder, though, what Jane McAlevey would think about such an accomplishment. Is it the old model of a union engaging in collective bargaining while the membership grieve mainly through legal means (the grievance procedure) and, otherwise, remain passive? Is it the model where at best 2,000 of those members attend union meetings (probably substantially less, if the number who attended UNITE HERE Local 75 meetings is any indication)? Where union really means an objectified social structure that fails to really unify the workers against management on a day-to-day basis?

Of course, since there are no details provided about what organizing 20,000 part-time workers actually means for the lives of these 20,000 workers, it is difficult to determine how significant this is.

What is needed, instead of merely citing numbers (purely quantitative considerations), is an opening into a qualitative debate and conversation about the goals of the labour movement and of the union movement and their relation to the power of employers as a class–unless of course we already have fairness, economic justice and fair contracts–in the best of all possible worlds.

Fred

McMaster responded as follows: 

Tracy MacMaster
Fri 2018-02-02 7:33 PM
 
Hi Fred,
I don’t normally repsond to your emails, but I feel compelled.  20,000 workers, who for 50 years had almost no protections in the workplace, since they were excluded from many of the most basic protections of the Employment Standards Act, will now have a voice in the workplace.  The potential to improve their material circumstances, as well as their health – precarious workers are at greater risk for negative health outcomes, due to uncertainty, and of course poverty – gives me hope.
 
Having worked alongside numerous activists on this project for the past 13 years, I can only express delight that they finally have come this far.  Collective bargaining is limited and imperfect, but a fuck-ton better than none [my emphasis]. I hope you can attend the meeting to hear what’s going on with them, particularly in the context of the pressure being put on their employer through the recent faculty strike. Theory is a marvelous thing, but we need to acknowledge concrete gains and losses if we have any hope of affecting change.
 
In solidarity,
Tracy
In the first place, I had already recognized that collective bargaining that results in a collective bargaining is better than no collective agreement. In the second place, her claim that “collective bargaining is limited and imperfect” sounds like more union rhetoric. If it is limited and imperfect, in what way? If so, what is McMaster doing about it? The reference to “limited and imperfect” is union rhetoric that hides any real consideration of such limits and imperfections and taking them to heart. The only way to convince Ms. McMaster, as far as I can see, is to–agree with her. She idealizes collective bargaining and fails to address its limitations.
 
I sincerely doubt that McMaster takes seriously the limitations and imperfections of collective bargaining. If there is such evidence, others should provide us. If she did, she would have discussed such limitations and imperfections as well as what needs to be done to overcome such limitations and imperfections. She merely pays lip service to such limitations and imperfections. In practice, she operates entirely in terms of collective bargaining.
 
Gindin’s claim that “Everyone pretty much knows, I think, that workers are exploited even if their conditions improve” rings hollow both at the level of working class in general and at the level of so-called trade-union activists. 

The fourth “challenge/test” also seems to be radical: 

4. Union Transformation

Carrying out the above projects is not just a matter of adding certain functions to unions. To deal with them seriously is to recognize that what is at stake is transforming our unions. Truly addressing all of the above means changing union structures and priorities, how unions allocate their funds, the role of the staff, the leadership’s relationship to their members, the unions’ approach to bargaining, and its orientation to ‘politics’.

Given Gindin’s position in point three above (unless he has changed his position in the meantime), his call for transforming unions is insufficient. When faced with a challenge by me of a typical union position, he defended the union position and criticized my position without a thought. His meaning of what union transformation involves and what I mean are obviously quite different. 

Furthermore, in Gindin’s article, he implies above that going out on strike 

It is true that there were some hints of a reawakening within the labour movement. OPSEU’s (Ontario Public Sector Union) college strike.

How was the college strike an indication “of a reawakening within the labour movement?” Gindin fails to explain how this was so. Going out on stike as a means to obtain a collective agreement has formed part of the union scene even during the Second World War and has formed a part of that scence during the post-War settlement. That strikes have decreased in frequency does not mean that a resurgence in strikes questions the premises of the class power of employers in any way. It may just be a tactic to obtain a better collective agreement. 

How is this change to arise if not through criticism? Through open debate? I withdrew from the Toronto Labour Committee and started this blog in large part because of the lack of open debate in the Toronto Labour Committee over issues that I consider important. I fail to see how Gindin’s position has changed in the meantime. Perhaps he can enlighten his readers on this point. 

The only change that Gindin seems to propose concretely is to follow Jane McAlevey’s model of organizing. He fails to address how the macro issue of the class power of employes is to be addressed (McAlevey fails to address it). He nowhere takes into account how the nature of capitalist economic, political, legal and ideological relations hide the nature of exploitation and oppression. He also fails to address the issue of how unions are to be transformed when they persistently define the limits of their actions in terms of collective bargaining. Even McAlevey repeatedly refers to “good contracts”–as if there were such a thing. 

Fifth challenge: Politics

5. Politics

The problems workers face go beyond any workplace, union, or sector. And at some point we need to clearly address why things are the way they are: Why do inequalities keep rising? Why is there unemployment and why is there inflation? Why do we have a looming environmental crisis? Politics is not so much about good policies as about building the social base so we have the power to see those policies implemented. At the centre of building such a base is the making of a working class with the understandings, coherence, individual and collective capacities, and confidence to make change. At this moment in time, the over-riding political question is how we to organize ourselves so as to build that kind of working class. The Ontario CUPE education workers gave us a glimpse of what is needed and what is possible. Will the labour movement in Canada build on this? There is much more to be done. •

Note Gindin’s focus here: increasing inequalities, unemployment, inflation, the environmental crisis. All of these are real enough and of concern for workers, but there is also the daily politics of subordinating billions of workers’ lives and wills to the power of employers. No mention of exploitation here. I guess we never really need to make exploitation an essential aspect of any critical approach to class politics. 

Gindin seems also to asusme that what is needed is to develop the social power of workers–so that they can push through policies that the state will then implement–why else refer to “have the power to see those policies implemented”? Who does the implementing of policies is vital. It is crucial that workers not only “have the power to see those policies implemented” but that they have the power to implement them as well and to oversee such implementation–the democratisation of the state through the abolition of its hierarchical, separate and objective nature (see the post The CUPE Education Workers Strike: A Lesson on the Nature of the Public Sector for an elaboration of this)–in effect abolishing the nature of the state as an oppressive feature in our lives and self-government through an a great expansion of who is elected (administrators and judgeds would themselves be elected) and a great expansion of control over those elected through the right to recall elected officials–real accountability, not the pseudo-accountability of the present neoliberal state. 

Conclusion

On the positive side,  he rightly emphasizes the unique nature of the situation–especially Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. Gindin also emphasizes the need for deep organizing as suggested by Jane McAlevey–and how the education workers used that principle to organize their own strike. In addition, he correctly assesses the probable desire of union leaders to return to the status quo of “free collective bargaining” as soon as possible. Furthermore, Gindin also usefully refers to the need to consider tactical considerations (and public support) when emphasizing certain bargaining demands, Finally, he justifiably indicates that the education workers did make some gains

,  -but . He certainly does not really engage with the issue of how working for an employer is oppressive and exploitative nor how collective-bargaining and collective agreements cannot adequately address this common situation of workers

There are nontheless many problems with Gindin’s analysis. Gindin’s approach clings to caution, caution and more caution. His underestimation of the uniqueness of the situation to unify the union movement not only in Ontario but also in Canada leads him, in part to be overly cautious. This cautious attitude is reinforced by his underestimation of the probable level of public support for the striking workers. He also downplays the probabe real fear that Ford experienced of a possible general strike.

Despite his recognition of the need to fashion bargaining demands that take into account likely public reaction (especially in the public sector) while making inroads in management rights, he does not consider the larger qualitative issue of the adequacy of the social services provided in the public sector (such as the adequacy of the grading system to meet the learning needs of students). 

Gindin leaves open the impact of the education workers’ strike on the union and labour movement. My assessment is that there will be little impact of what occurred on the larger labour movement. Gindin ignores both the specific hidden nature of exploitation and the co-optive capacity of the modern capitalist state. 

Organizing will continue on the same basis, and “free collective bargaining” will continue to be idealized. Even deep organizing will fail to address the wider class issues. So too will coordination within the public sector unless it addresses the exploitative and oppressive nature of the employment relaitonship and the inadequacies of “free collective bargaining.” 

Gindin’s call for making class central sounds radical, but his understanding of class does not come to grips with the specific nature of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Given the nature of class exploitation and oppression in modern capitalism, his call for union transformation, accordingly, has a hollow ring to it since he fails to address the economic, political and ideological obstacles to such a transformation. Similarly, his call for class politics sounds radical, but he apparently conceives the modern government, with its hierarchy and anti-democratic executive structure, to be the vehicle for the realization of the social power of the working class. Class politics, however, also needs to involve a radical breaking down of the hierarchy through the expansion of the election of administrators and judges and the closer control of them by workers and the general public. 

Now that the opportunity for a general strike or at least a more unified union and labour movement–along with advanced in the repeal of repressive Bills (such as Bill 124) through workers’ own initiative rather than through the courts–has been lost, what will Gindin do? Probably continue to engage in his slow, social-reformist approach that will not serve the interests of the working class as a whole. 

All in all, Gindin’s article, like Rosenfeld’s article, expresses conservative radicalism or radical coservativism.

 

Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Three, or How Commodities and Money Dominate Our Lives

Introduction

I have already criticized Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as purchasing power in two previous posts (see Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One   and Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Two). I turn now to the social effect of commodity and money production as commodity fetishism and money fetishism. 

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money fails to connect it to the peculiar kind of social labour that produces commodities and how this peculiar kind of social labour necessarily gives rise to money as the monopolizer of purchasing power. To repeat his definition of money (from Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism, 2008, page 189: 

Very broadly, money is anything that allows its holder to purchase other goods and services. In other words, money is purchasing power.

We can compare this with Marx’s views on money. From pages 168-169: 

The forms which stamp products as commodities and which are therefore the preliminary requirements for the circulation of commodities, already possess the fixed quality of natural forms of social life before man seeks to give an account, not of their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but of their content and meaning. Consequently, it was solely the analysis of the prices of commodities which led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and solely the common expression of all commodities in money which led to the establishment of their character as values. It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly.

Since money as simply given hides the “social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers,” it is necessary to analyze how it arises theoretically (and practically through the actual exchange process)–which is what Stanford precisely fails to do. From Capital, page 139: 

Everyone knows, if nothing else, that commodities have a common value-form which contrasts in the most striking manner with the motley natural forms of their use-values. I refer to the money-form. Now, however, we have to perform a task never even attempted by bourgeois economics. That is, we have to show the origin of this money-form, we have to trace the development of the expression of value contained in the value-relation of commodities from its simplest, almost imperceptible outline to the dazzling money-form. When this has been done, the mystery of money will immediately disappear.

For Stanford, however, there is no mystery to money. It is simply the power of a specific thing to purchase other things. How and why money permits its owner to purchase other things–including the capacity of workers to perform human labour–remains a mystery on the basis of Stanford’s definition. Stanford, in fact, merely assumes the power of money to purchase commodities. At least eighteenth and nineteenth century political economists were able to infer from exchange relations that labour formed their basis as value (although they also assumed that the kind of social labour that produced value was concrete labour). From pages Capital, 173-175: 

Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely,  and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product.  These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature-imposed necessity as productive labour itself.

The above quote links up to the theme of commodity fetishism and money fetishism, or the loss of power by workers over their own life process (the production process of their own lives) and the positive acquisition of power of the things they produce–commodities, money and, ultimately, capital. 

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as “purchasing power” fails miserably to address something which is very relevant for members of the working class: Why does the ownership of money by employers confer so much power over the workers at work? 

By severing the connection between the positive monopoly of immediate purchasing power of money from the negative lack of such power of commodities, Stanford fails to grasp the organic or internal connection between the difference in power between commodity power–especially the commodity called labour power–and money power (represented by the employer)

Part of the answer to the question of the asymmetry in power relations between the owner of commodities and the owner of money is found in Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism, and the associated theory of the money fetish, which is really a development from commodity fetishism. By fetishism is not meant some kind of personal fetish, such as a fetish for a particular part of the human body or a particular item of clothing. Rather, it is a fetish in that human powers appear as the power of things, whether as commodities (commodity fetishism) or as money (money fetishism), or indeed as a thing called capital (capital fetishism). As Elena Lange (2021) notes, Value without Fetish Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, page 225: 

The inversion of the problem – money is not to be explained on the basis of the fetish character of the commodity, but the commodity is to be explained on the basis of the fetish-character of money – however leaves open the question how money is capable of paradigmatically representing general social exchangeability.

Stanford, with his one-sided positive definition of money as purchasing power, cannot link the power that ownership of money confers to the employer. He cannot do so since he fails to link the nature of money in a capitalist society to the nature of the kind of labour that requires money as an external power (“purchasing power”).  Money for Stanford  just has purchasing power–it appears to have this active power independently of the way in which the producers’ own labour (the labour of the working class) is organized and how they relate to each other by way of the topsy-turvy relation between things (commodities and money).

The Nature of Commodity Fetishism–and the Domination of Workers 

Stanford cannot understand the nature of commodity fetishism since he simply assumes that a thing called money has purchasing power by nature. He obviously rejects connecting the nature of money to the peculiar social labour that produces commodities. In fact, I doubt that he is even aware of the connection (since he interprets Marx’s labour theory of value as some sort of moral theory that is applicable throughout history). 

Commodity fetishism arises because the labour performed by the workers is not social labour as it is being performed and, as a consequence, the relations between the labours of workers who work for different and independent employers lack direct social connections. Materially, though,  they form, interdependent relations. At the brewery where I worked, for example, brewery workers did not produce the bottles that they needed to produce the beer, nor the barrels of soap needed to make the bottles move smoothly along the line, nor the chains on which the bottles moved, nor the machines, such as the soaker, the filler or the labeler. There was thus a material dependence of the workers in the brewery on the workers who produced the bottles, the barrels, the soap, the chains, the soaker, the filler and the labeler. 

The labour performed by us to produce the beer, though materially dependent on other labour processes, did not express its dependent nature directly by means of those who produce beer, along with the whole set of other workers jointly communicating and deciding on what to produce, how much to produce and how to produce according to the diverse productive and personal needs of the producers (and other members of society). Rather, the dependent (and interdependent) nature is only expressed indirectly, through the relations of commodities to each other in the exchange relation and the exchange process–since the labour performed during production in a society characterized by a class of employers is only social labour indirectly. The commodities themselves then obtain human characteristics that appear to arise from the nature of the commodities as natural things (such as beer) rather than through their nature as social things. Thus, beer having a price seems to arise from the nature of beer  whereas price in fact arises in the first place because of the organization of production as private, isolated production.  This attribution of social relations between humans as an attribute of commodities and their relations is what Marx calls commodity fetishism. From Capital, Volume 1, pages 164-166: 

The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. Through this substitution, the products of labour become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social. In the same way, the impression made by a thing on the optic nerve is perceived not as a subjective excitation
of that nerve but as the objective form of a thing outside the eye. In the act of seeing, of course, light is really transmitted from one thing, the external object, to another thing, the eye. It is a physical relation between physical things. As against this, the commodity form,
and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations
arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

As the foregoing analysis has already demonstrated, this fetishism of the world of commodities arises from the peculiar social character of the labour which produces them.

Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labour, the specific social characteristics of their private labours appear only within this exchange. In other words, the labour of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and, through their mediation, between the producers. To the producers, therefore, the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things.

It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility.

Stanford, by assuming as given that money has purchasing power, fails to derive such power from human relations characteristic of a society where the workers lack the power to direct their own lives and–therefore–money arises as a result that permits others to direct their lives.

Stanford presents the purchasing power of money as natural to money–it is (“that is the way it is” attitude–with a shrug of the shoulders). The purchasing power of money, however, derives from the lack of such power by commodities, and the lack of such power is in turn derived from the nature of the labour that produces value–abstract labour, or labour that is not social as it is being performed but requires a further process–a process of exchange–if it is to form part of the labour of society. 

In a society characterized by the production of commodities and their expression in money (with its immediate power to purchase), the power of workers to produce their social lives (reciprocal production of human life) assumes the form of a relation between things produced. The origin of commodity and money fetishism is thus in production–the way production is organized. From Guido Schulz (2012), “Marx’s Distinction between the Fetish Character of the Commodity and Fetishism,” in pages 25-45, Studies in Social & Political Thought, Volume 20, page 26: 

The fetish character of the commodity, which Marx also calls “mystic character”, originates in the “peculiar social character of the labour” that gives products their commodity form. Therefore, the fetish originates in production. Although production is ultimately social under capitalism, it is privately organized and carried out by atomised producers. Capitalist production thus entails a conflict between sociality and asociality. An objective mediation between the two extremes of sociality and asociality is established through the process of commodity exchange. The social relation between the producers is thereby established. Instead of consciously creating immediate links between the
producers, in place of “rationally regulating [production], bringing it under […] common
control“, the social link gets reified and externalized in commodities.

Abstract labour as labour that is not yet social assumes the form of a relation between commodities, things with physical and supersensible (social) qualities that regulate the participants in exchange rather than the participants regulating the process. From Guide Schulz, page 27: 

But value relations objectified in commodities do not only establish the socializing link between producers. From the viewpoint of the individual producer, these objectified value relations even gain autonomy and regulative social power. This non-imaginary regulative social power is twofold: “[R]elations based on the exchange-value of commodities (‘social relations of things’) come to control the distribution of labour-products and the distribution of the labourers themselves within the production process” (Carver 1975, p.51).

All human production is social in character in that, if we are to produce our lives and continue to live as a species, we must in one way or another work for each other in even a temporary social division of labour. This “working for each other,” however, in a situation where labour is not social as it is being performed, assumes the form of a relation between produced commodities, with the social nature of the labour expressed not in the immediate or material form in which it exists but in another use value (as I have already explained in an earlier post–see  Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One). If there are two commodities produced, say beer and a pair of pants, the social nature of beer production is not expressed in the beer but in the pair of pants. From Samezo Kuruma (2018), Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money How, Why, and Through What is a Commodity Money? page 144:

How, exactly, is the value of a commodity indicated? Given that a commodity cannot indicate its value on its own, it is indicated instead by another commodity with which it is in a relation of exchange. Yet in the case of that other commodity as well, its natural form is its use value (not value), and it does not, on its own, have a form of value in addition to its natural form. The natural form of that other commodity must therefore become the form of value. This is indeed what happens … he [Marx] traces the development of the
form itself, and in so doing thoroughly solves the riddle of money.

The pair of pants in this case is immediately exchangeable or convertible into the beer since it represents objectified social labour–objectified labour that is freely convertible into any useful form. Similarly, the  labour that produces the pair of pants represents general social labour, or labour that can assume many different forms. The pair of pants is immediately exchangeable with the beer (its “purchasing power”) despite the concrete labour that produces the pair of pants being separated off and being produced independently of the other commodities  because this particular labour represents general social labour. 

This power of immediate exchangeability, or its purchasing power, is derived from the negative way production is organized in a capitalist society; there is no unity of workers with each other as human beings who produce for each other. The unity arises through the emergence of a special commodity that functions as an external unifier of producers who are socially external to each other despite their material interdependence. 

It is through the development of this simple expression or form of value–the value of the beer being expressed in another use value, the pair of pants or what have you–that there arises the money form, as the final form where value achieves a uniform and general expression in just one commodity that then becomes money as the monopolizer of general exchangeability or purchasing power ultimately emerging from the nature of abstract labour and embodied in one particular use value (and hence one particular form of concrete labour). 

The property or characteristics of commodities as social products requires a form different from their immediate use value as the product of concrete labour. This form–ultimately the money form or money–then has the social characteristic of being immediately exchangeable or convertible into any particular commodity or use value.

This social power is transferred to commodities, but only potentially, not immediately since commodities cannot immediately express their value in their own use value. In turn, this social power becomes concentrated in one commodity–which becomes money.

Stanford, by ignoring completely the process by which money acquires the immediate power to purchase all other commodities, himself contributes to commodity fetishism since he fails to link the property of money of having immediate purchasing power with the lack of such power of commodities and, in turn, their lack being due to the peculiar social nature of the labour that produces the value of commodities. 

The Nature of Money Fetishism

The fetish character of commodities is a simpler form than the money form since the relations between producers is still expressed as a relation–although a relation between things. From Marx, Capital, Volume 1,  page 176: 

As the commodity-form is the most general and the most undeveloped form of bourgeois production, it makes its appearance at an early date, though not in the same predominant and therefore characteristic manner as nowadays. Hence its fetish character is still relatively easy to penetrate. But when we come to more concrete forms, even this appearance of simplicity vanishes. Where did the illusions of the Monetary System come from? The adherents of the Monetary System did not see gold and silver as representing money as a social relation of production, but in the form of natural objects with peculiar social properties.

Does Mr. Stanford enlighten workers on how money has the property of “purchasing power?” Not at all. He assumes such a property as given without explaining it. The money form, however, is a form that hides its own nature. From Marx, Capital, Volume 1, pages 168-169: 

It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual

Commodity fetishism, as a social relation between workers as exchangers that assumes the form of a relation between things, is converted into a money fetishism as money emerges as the unique power of a commodity to be converted immediately into any commodity form.  Money thereby assumes the form of a thing that has–“purchasing power”–by its very nature, apparently  independently of the nature of commodities and commodity production. Money fetishism is a development of commodity fetishism. From Desmond McNeill (2021), 
Fetishism and the Theory of Value: Reassessing Marx in the 21st Century, pages 61-2: 

There is a similar important passage later in the same volume [of Marx’s book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published in 1859]:

A social relation of production appears as something existing apart from
individual human beings, and the distinctive relations in which they enter
in the course of production in society appear as the specific properties of a
thing. … This perverted appearance manifests itself merely in a more striking
manner in money than it does in commodities. (Marx 1970: 49)

Here, Marx is making the point that money fetishism is a developed form of commodity fetishism.

As Georgios Daremas (2018) says, “The Social Constitution of Commodity Fetishism, Money Fetishism and Capital Fetishism,” in pages 219-249, Judith Dellheim Frieder Wolf, Editors, The Unfinished System of Karl Marx Critically Reading Capital as a Challenge for our Times  page 226: 

An inversion has taken place: money—instead of being seen as a reflector of a commodity’s value (as the universal equivalent or representative, as the passive agent of reflection)—is perceived as the active agent positing the value of the commodities. From a logical point
of view, the basis of money fetishism is the collapse of a relationship of reflection/representation to that of an identity. The inner connection of the commodity’s value represented by the money form is reduced to a social feature inherent in money per se that appears to hold an external, contingent connection to the multiplicity of commodities bestowing value upon them.

Stanford, by assuming the purchasing power of money without explaining it, reinforces the fetishism of money. This is hardly in the interest of workers. 

Probably in a follow-up post, I will in future elaborate on the further development of commodity fetishism and money fetishism as capital fetishism (I have already hinted at such a fetishism in referring several times to the domination of workers’ lives by their own actions and by the products of their labour). 

Conclusion

The way in which the labour process is organized in a society characterized by a class of employers involves the relations between workers assuming the absurd form of a relation between things leads to the mystery of why a particular commodity–money–has the magical ability to purchase all other commodities whereas they, on the contrary, lack such power. 

Commodity fetishism is easier to understand than money fetishism since it relates more directly to the production process and involves the expression of value in a not-yet fixed form. With money fetishism, on the other hand, money seems to have purchasing power capacity immediately, independently of the organizational structure of labour. Stanford, by simply accepting the purchasing power of money without linking it to that structure, contributes to hiding the real nature of money and the real nature of commodities as alienated forms of human social labour. 

It is instructive of how dominant social democracy and social reformism are here in Toronto (and undoubtedly in many other capitalist cities) is the lack of any criticism of Stanford’s definition of money. 

I will conclude this post in anticipation of a possible future post on capital fetishism by quoting from Thomas Hodgskin’s book (1825), Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital: 
Or the Unproductiveness of Capital proved with Reference to the Present Combinations amongst Journeymen, pages 71-73: 

Betwixt him who produces food and him who produces clothing, betwixt him who makes instruments and him who uses them, in steps the capitalist, who neither makes nor uses them, and appropriates to himself the produce of both. With as niggard [stingy] a hand as
possible he transfers to each a part of the produce of the other, keeping to himself the large share. Gradually and successively has he insinuated himself betwixt them, expanding in bulk as he has been nourished by their increasingly productive labours, and separating them so widely from each other that neither can see whence that supply is drawn which each receives through the capitalist. While he despoils both, so completely does he exclude
one from the view of the other that both believe they are indebted him for subsistence. He is the middleman of all labourers … Not only do they appropriate the produce of the labourer; but they have succeeded in persuading him that they are his benefactors and employers. At least such are the doctrines of political economy; and capitalist may well be pleased with a science which both justifies their claims and holds them up to our admiration, as the great means of civilising and improving the world.

Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part Two

Introduction

In a previous post (Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One), I questioned Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as purchasing power, as well as his implied reduction of Marx’s critical dual or twofold theory of commodities to a labour theory of value. I showed that Mr. Stanford fails to explain why money has a monopoly power of immediate purchasability.

In a subsequent post, I also showed how Stanford’s inadequate theory of money leads him to assume a “real economy” that is somehow independent of the process of producing value (and surplus value) and consequently his false conclusion that there is not a trade-off between the economy and the health of workers (in the context of the pandemic, but this trade-off applies generally in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers). (See Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads). 

In this post, I will further develop the importance of the nature of money as “purchasing power,” in particular how this power (and the lack of such power at the level of commodities) involves or entails a process that escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.  

The Expression of the Dual Nature of the Commodity Requires a Double Movement of Sale and Purchase 

I will assume the reader has read the first post on money and therefore is familiar with the dual nature of both the labour that produces commodities and the dual nature of commodities.

The real expression of the dual nature of commodities is expressed in a dual movement, from commodities (represented by C) exchanged for money (represented by M), which is the realization of the value of the commodity, and the opposite movement of the conversion of M into C, which is the realization of the use value, not of the original commodity, but of use values for the original owner of the commodity. The whole movement is thus: C-M, and M-C, or C-M-C, where the dash represents an exchange.

From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1:Capital, pages 199-200:

Let us now accompany the owner of some commodity, say our old friend the linen weaver, to the scene of action, the market. His commodity, 20 yards of linen, has a definite price, £2. He exchanges it for the £2, and then, being a man of the old school, he parts for the £2 in return for a family Bible of the same price. The linen, for him a mere commodity, a bearer of value, is alienated in exchange for gold, which is the shape of the linen’s value, then it is taken out of this shape and alienated again in exchange for another commodity, the Bible, which is destined to enter the weaver’s house as an object of utility and there to satisfy his family’s need for edification. The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through two metamorphoses of opposite yet mutually complementary character – the conversion of the commodity into money, and the re-conversion of the money into a commodity. The two moments of this metamorphosis are at once distinct transactions by the weaver- selling, or the exchange of the commodity for money, and buying, or the exchange of the money for a commodity – and the unity of the two acts: selling in
order to buy.

The end result of the transaction, from the point of view of the weaver, is that instead of being in possession of the linen, he now has the Bible; instead of his original commodity, he now possesses another of the same value but of different utility. He procures his other means of subsistence and of production in a similar way. For the weaver, the whole process accomplishes nothing more than the exchange of the product of his labour for the product of someone else’s, nothing more than an exchange of products.

The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through the following changes of form:

Commodity-Money-Commodity
C-M-C

As far as concerns its material content, the movement is C-C, the exchange of one commodity for another, the metabolic interaction of social labour, in whose result the process itself becomes extinguished.

The Escape of the Whole Process of Simple Circulation from the Control of the Participants with the Emergence of Money 

In the external measure of the value of commodities via money as measure, there is, indeed, all commodities on one side and money on the other side, but in the actual exchange of commodities with money (money as a means of purchase or as a means of circulation) this is not the case; on the contrary, there is necessarily a separation in space and time between the act of sale (realization of the value of the commodity in money) and the realization of money in various use values (purchase).

The unity of value and use value, hidden in the commodity, is expressed as mutually exclusive and external forms of sale and purchase so that crisis becomes a possibility as the gap between the realization of the value of a commodity and the realization of use values of an equivalent value becomes intensified. The whole process is what Marx calls simple circulation, and this process escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.

To make the following a little easier to follow, we can consider the following: 

  1. The owner of linen wants to sell the linen in order to buy a Bible.
  2. The owner of money who buys the linen obtained the money by selling wheat. 
  3. The owner of the Bible sells the Bible to the former linen owner in order to buy brandy (but the brandy does not directly figure in the total metamorphosis or total exchange of the linen for the Bible since we end with the Bible owner possessing money and the linen owner possessing the Bible.
  4. At the beginning of the total exchange process, the linen owners owns the linen (a use value for others) but does not want it.
  5. At the end of the total exchange process, the former linen owner now owns a use value useful to her (and the linen also is useful for the farmer, the former owner of wheat). 
  6. The money stops circulating for the moment at the end of the process with the former owner of the Bible aiming to purchase some brandy (but not yet doing so). 

Pages 207- 209: 

The circulation of commodities differs from the direct exchange of products not only in form, but in its essence. We have only to consider the course of events. The weaver has undoubtedly exchanged his linen for a Bible, his own commodity for someone else’s. But this phenomenon is only true for him. The Biblepusher, who prefers a warming drink to cold sheets, had no intention of exchanging linen for his Bible; the weaver did not know that wheat had been exchanged for his linen. B’s commodity replaces that of A, but A and B do not mutually exchange their commodities. It may in fact happen that A and B buy from each other, but a particular relationship of this kind is by no means the necessary result of the general conditions of the circulation of commodities. We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of the human agents. Only because the farmer has sold his wheat is the weaver able to sell his linen, only because the weaver has sold his linen is our rash and intemperate friend able to sell his Bible, and only because the latter already has the water of everlasting life is the distiller able to sell his eau-de-vie. And so it goes on.

The process of circulation, therefore, unlike the direct exchange of products, does not disappear from view once the use-values have changed places and changed hands. The money does not vanish when it finally drops out of the series of metamorphoses undergone by a commodity. It always leaves behind a precipitate at a point in the arena of circulation vacated by the commodities. In the complete metamorphosis of the linen, for example, linen-money-Bible, the linen first falls out of circulation, and money steps into its place. Then the Bible falls out of circulation, and again money takes its place. When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person.  Circulation sweats money from every pore.

Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present in this case between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sale and purchase. To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to say also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing – a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity,
between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things*; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction.

A Limitation of Stanford’s Definition of Money as Purchasing Power: A Lack of Control Over the Total Social Process of Exchange

Stanford, by not linking the purchasing power of money to the dual oppositional nature of labour and commodities characteristic of a capitalist society, fails to address the loss of control over the total process of exchange by the participants in exchange. This loss of control is linked to what Marx called commodity fetishism, where things produced by workers gain independent power over the producers. 

The issue of commodity fetishism will, however, be addressed in another post in this series. Commodity fetishism is both a process of the exchange process becoming independent of the participants in that process and the resulting independence not only appearing to be attributes of things rather than social attributes originating from the producers themselves but actually being social attributes. The issue also has to do with the further development of commodity fetishism in the forms of money fetishism and  capital fetishism, where the process increasingly takes on an independent form that not only escapes the control of workers but increasingly controls their lives. The internal opposition between abstract labour and concrete labour then becomes a nightmare for workers as their own working lives are used against them to exploit and oppress them.

This commodity fetishism  is a process of the products of social labour coming to dominate the producers rather than vice versa. This appears to be and in some senses is independent of the workers.

Hence, Stanford, by failing to link his definition of money to a dual theory of labour and commodities, fails, in other words, to understand the essential relation between the nature of money as purchasing power and the domination, oppression and exploitation of workers on the basis of their own social labour becoming independent of them in exchange and ultimately controlling them at work. 

Conclusion

Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as “purchasing power” is inadequate because it fails to deal with the dual nature of labour and the dual nature of commodities, and this dual nature generally involves a temporal and spatial split between the realization of the value of the commodity and the realization of the use value of the commodity (in the form of many use values). This split leads, in the first instance, to the creation of an exchange process that escapes the control of the participants in that process; it also leads to the possibility of an economic crisis.

Ultimately, it leads to a production process that not only escapes the control of the participants in exchange but also of the producers, leading to their domination and exploitation. That may be  shown in further posts, however. 

Socialism, Part Nine: Market Socialism as an Initially Necessary but Inadequate Social Model

In previous posts on the topic of socialism, I have argued implicitly that a market for consumer and capital goods may be necessary initially. This is so in order to eliminate the exploitation of workers by employers. The amount of work performed by a person would still be related to the amount of consumption goods available and flowing to the those who perform the work. It undoubtedly would not be an exact match between the amount of labour performed and the amount of products received which require the same amount of labour–here Marx’s view of an exact match between individual effort and individual income would not be realized because there would still be markets. From Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (a document that contains his evaluation and commentary on a draft program written up on the basis of the amalgamation of two social-democratic parties in Germany in 1875), page 86 of Marx-Engels Collected Works 24):

Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society after the deductions have been made exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labour. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the
individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labour
(after deducting his labour for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour costs. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form he receives back in another.

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

It is unlikely that all individual labour would be immediately social labour at the beginning. Central planning along the lines of the Soviet Union led to dictatorial forms of management that need to be avoided. A move towards the integration of individual and social labour on a wider and wider basis, however, is possible, and perhaps would arise with a move towards the elimination of the principle of organizing production and distribution on the sole basis of labour, especially in an objectified form as market relations between commodities rather than direct relations between producers.

Market socialism thus needs to be conceived as a defective society and not an adequate form of communal society. It is defective on at least four counts: the specific form of the market form, possible disjunction or divergence between average contribution and individual contribution, measuring human need in terms of human labour and the continued existence of a division of labour.

In other words, the possible socialist society that I have described in earlier posts is itself defective because markets still exist. Markets are an expression of a social defect, however necessary they may be at the beginning.

If markets exist to a great extent, then the objectified form of human beings relating to each other still exists rather than in the human form of direct relations between producers. The lives of workers as they work takes on or assumes an objective form as a commodity relations, or relations between things. The assumption by some socialists that market socialism is an adequate form of socialism needs to be criticized since such market socialists assume that the only problem with capitalism is exploitation and not the specific form in which exploitation occurs–commodity relations and money relations. As long as the relation between those who perform labour assumes an objective relation as money, workers cannot by any means control their lives as living human beings.

It is interesting how many so-called Marxists and so-called radicals ignore Marx’s so-called labour theory of value in relation to his theory of money.

In a society characterized by market relations, even when exploitation does not exist, money relations prevent control over our life process since the market by its very nature expresses a lack of control over our life process. Labour assumes a private form, with the labours of different individuals being connected only indirectly via another process–an exchange process, or the conversion of the labour already performed into an objective form distinct from the particular form of human labour. For example, in a socialist economy where workers work at a brewery, if there are still markets, then the labour performed by the brewery workers is still not connected to other workers’ labour as cooperative or communal labour despite the existence of democratic structures at the local, regional. national and international levels. The very form of relations between human beings prevents such control since the form or structure is a structure that negates or prevents simultaneous cooperation between production units. From Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital, pages 164-165:

Whence, then, arises the enigmatic character of the product of labour, as soon as it assumes the form of a commodity? Clearly, it arises from this form itself. The equality of the kinds of human labour takes on a physical form in the equal objectivity of the products of labour as values; the measure of the expenditure of
human labour-power by its duration takes on the form of the magnitude of the value of the products of labour; and finally the relationships between the producers, within which the social characteristics of their labours are manifested, take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour.

The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists therefore simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labour as objective characteristics of the products of labour themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Hence it also reflects the social relation of the producers to the sum total of labour as a social relation between objects, a relation which exists apart from and outside the producers. Through this substitution, the products of labour become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time suprasensible or social. …

Market socialists generally ignore the form or manner in which the products of labour assume a commodity and therefore a money form. Such a form still expresses, even when exploitation is eliminated, the domination of past labour over living labour. It is a definite defect of social relations, which does not yet permit human beings to direct their own lives as living human beings in the present.

Why then propose market socialism if it has such a defect? The dictatorial way workers were treated in central planning regimes, such as the former Soviet Union, provides evidence that the abolition of market relations cannot be eliminated as easily and as quickly as once thought (although it is probably an exaggeration that such relations were in fact eliminated in such regimes). Furthermore, it has been around 136 years since the death of Karl Marx; commodity and money relations and hence market relations have spread world-wide. To abolish commodity and money relations and hence market relations will take more time since they are more entrenched than before.

However, once workers have gained political power and made major inroads against exploitative relations at work, the problems that will arise from the continued existence of commodity and money relations will need to be addressed. Such problems, if they are to be resolved, will require more and more inroads on commodity and money relations and hence on market relations.

Such problems are implied but not explicitly acknowledged by Tony Smith, for example, when he points out the issue of the possible impact of depreciating funds (page 304, note 15, where he also quotes David Schweickart):

If these depreciation funds formed hoards apart from circulation, undesirable price effects might follow. One possibility is that they could be used to provide consumer credit in ‘socialist savings and loan associations’ that allow people to purchase high-cost items when they do not have ready cash. These associations would not be allowed to provide business credit, since ‘What should not be done is what capitalism does: Merge the institutions that generate and distribute investment funds with the institutions that handle consumer credit. Business investment, as opposed to consumer credit, is too important to the overall health of the economy to be left to the vagaries of the market’. Schweickart 2002, p. 82.

The problem is that consumer credit, by the nature of credit, expresses the possibility of economic crises since credit involves a disjunction or disconnect between the realization of the value of a commodity and the realization of its use value. For example, the purchase of a car on credit involves the transfer of the use value of the car to the consumer and the piecemeal transfer of the value of the commodity to the producer (or to the capitalist in the case of a capitalist economy). The separation of sale and purchase in time via credit and the function of money as a means of payment (where money expresses the realization of the value of the commodity separate from (independently of) the transfer of the use value (such as a car) can easily involve forcing people to work just to pay off their consumer debt–hardly an expression of human freedom. Furthermore, if too much debt is accumulated relative to commodity production, disturbances in the economy can easily arise due to the requirement that money be available (demanded) as money in order to pay off debts; commodity prices might collapse as money becomes required at any cost in order to pay off debts.

There would undoubtedly be other possible disturbances that would arise due to the commodity nature of production–in other words, the existence of the market. Commodity production, money and the market by their very nature express the independence of the economic life process from the producers of their own lives.

Of course, those who advocate market socialism as the practical end of history (see, for example Sam Gindin, Socialism for Realists), do not address the oppressive power of market relations. they claim that markets somehow do not express oppressive relations by their very nature. Mr. Gindin, for instance, claims the following: 

But markets are also fetishized when they are rejected as an absolute and treated as having a life of their own independent of those underlying relations. The place of markets under socialism is a matter of both principle and practicality — and dealing creatively with the contradictions between the two. Some markets will be banished under socialism, some welcomed, and some reluctantly accepted but with constraints on their centrifugal antisocial tendencies.

Markets will be necessary under socialism. 

There are other problems with such views, but I will address some of them in other posts. 

 

 

Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right

In an earlier post (Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two), I argued that the social-reformist leftist activist Mr. Bush used Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value for conservative (reformist purposes). This post will expand on this view by pointing out, in a more theoretical way, how Mr. Bush, undoubtedly like many of his social-reformist comrades, share assumptions with their apparent enemies, the right, such as the conservatives.

Mr. Bush referred to Marx’s theory of surplus value and assumed that this was the primary feature of Marx’s theory. Undoubtedly it is an important aspect of Marx’s theory, but Mr. Bush, by referring to the “messy business of material reality,” including “costs,” crassly assumes that costs are somehow a fixed standard that leftists are somehow not to question. The “messy business of material reality” is assumed, in other words, to be a fixed fact rather than a fluid reality created by human beings and therefore subject to change by them.

Mr. Bush assumes, like Doug Ford and other conservatives, that things (including human beings), have “costs” (the “messy business of material reality)–without inquiring into the nature of those costs or why such things have such costs in the first place.

Let us, however, refer to Marx (and not to the shared assumptions of Mr. Bush and Doug Ford). From Capital, Volume 1, pages 173-175,

Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the product.  These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp of value of the belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature-imposed necessity as productive labour itself.

The first point is that value and its magnitude (which is related to price, money and “cost”) is an expression of a kind of society in which “process of production has mastery over man [and woman], instead of the opposite.”

The second point is that Marx relates his labour theory of value in order to reveal the social and alienated nature of the labour involved in the development of money and in “costing” things. From Capital, Volume 1, pages 168-169:

Consequently, it was solely the analysis of the prices of commodities which led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and solely the common expression of all commodities in money which led to the establishment of their character as values. It is however precisely this finished form of the world of commodities – the money form – which conceals the social character of private labour and the social relations between the individual workers, by making those relations appear as relations between material objects, instead of revealing them plainly.

Other authors agree that Marx’s concern is not just with a theory of surplus value but with a theory of surplus value. Thus, John Weeks, in his work Capital, Exploitation and Economic Crisis (New York: Routledge, page 19):

Value acts as a regulator of price once the entire product, all inputs, are monetized; until this occurs, the product is not a commodity in its entirety and all the concrete labor time expended on it need not be replaced by money. This occurs only with the development of capitalist production. It is important not to become entangled in semantics. “Value” regulates price under capitalist relations and can be used as a tool of analysis only in capitalist society.

Value regulates cost or the price of what is produced because both the items used to produce something have a price and what is produced with those commodities generally have a price (public services on the produced side excepted). Cost is not some neutral fact in a capitalist society but in an integral aspect that characterizes the very nature of the kind of society in which we live: a capitalist society (modified by public services but not altered fundamentally).

Marx’s theory of value, which Mr. Bush completely ignores, is designed to capture that essential aspect. This is one of the reasons why, before he analyzed capital, he analyzed commodities and money.

Mr. Bush, like Mr. Proudhon, a nineteenth century leftist socialist reformist before him, simply assumes that costs are natural. He refers to these costs as the “messy business of material reality”–as if material reality were somehow by nature characterized by prices and costs. Doug Ford undoubtedly shares the same belief.

In other words, Mr. Bush, a self-avowed social-reformist leftist, shares similar beliefs as Doug Ford about the nature of society despite apparent opposing ideologies. The same could be said of many trade unionists. Do they not believe that costs are natural? That the “messy business of material reality” must necessarily include costs and prices? A social world without costs and prices would be impossible for them.

How can such a shared belief not but fail to have limits in practice? Already Mr. Bush has equated fighting for a $15 minimum wage and other employment law reforms with “fairness.”

What does the radical left do in Toronto (and probably elsewhere)? It is afraid to criticize Mr. Bush’s ideology. After all, Mr. Bush is–doing something. He is “progressive.” Such progress, however, will lead to a backlash since its limits are limits shared by him and Doug Ford. Mr Bush will not seek to go beyond the limits of the power of employers. He will become an apologist for employers, ultimately, since he considers costs and prices to be inevitable–like Doug Ford does. He will, in practice, engage in tactics and strategies that will limit the capacity of workers to free themselves from the power of employers as a class once and for all. He has already begun the process ideologically by claiming that $15 an hour as a minimum wage is somehow fair.

The radical left, then, would do better by criticizing Mr. Bush’s position (and the position of trade unionists similar to that of Mr. Bush). Otherwise, it forms part of the problem rather than part of the solution. By not criticizing such positions as that of Mr. Bush, by remaining silent, it panders after the elite and fails to address the needs of the working class, unionized or non-unionized. Those needs involve exposing the produced conditions of their oppression and exploitation and the proposal of an alternative vision of a society without such oppression and exploitation–which only they can produce.

In other words, the radical left, by failing to develop an independent position and merging with the amorphous “progressive left” (aka, the social-reformist left), has aligned itself with a clique of elitist activists within the labour movement rather than with the working class as a whole.

By doing so, the radical left indirectly aligns itself with the right–such as Doug Ford, since Mr. Bush and Doug Ford share certain assumptions.