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

Introduction

In an earlier post, I indicated that Jim Stanford’s view concerning the creation of jobs reflects a social-democratic or social reformist position (see Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part One: Critique of Jim Stanford’s One-Sided View of Job Creation in a Capitalist Society). In this post and subsequent posts, I will begin to look in more depth at Mr. Stanford’s economic views. It is all the more necessary since the main title of his major book is Economics for Everyone. His book is most definitely not for everyone since, although it appears to be for the working class, it ultimately opposes their interest as a class to struggle for the abolition of capitalism. Furthermore, despite the subtitle of his book, A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism, it certainly does not express the nature of capitalist society adequately. 

For example, Mr. Stanford’s definition of money has little to recommend it since it fails to explain to workers how money (and hence prices) confers upon employers the power to direct workers’ lives. Marx’s theory of money, by contrast, is designed to do just that.

The following necessarily involves a theory of money, and it is not easy.

Stanford’s Inadequate Definition of Money Has a Historical Antecedent

Let us look at one of Mr. Stanford’s references to money (related to prices) in his book. Page 189:

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

Mr. Stanford’s identification of money with “purchasing power,” interestingly enough, already had been expressed by a nineteenth-century author, Samuel Bailey, whose theory Karl Marx criticized. From Elena Lange (2021), Value without Fetish Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, pages 225-226:

… this position echoes Bailey’s identification of money with ‘power of purchase.’  [Quoting Bailey] ‘If the value of an object is its power of purchasing, there must be something to purchase. Value denotes, consequently, nothing positive or intrinsic, but merely the relation in which two objects stand to each other as exchangeable commodities’. Although we will return to this, Marx’s critique of the notion of money as ‘power of purchase’ presents a useful summary of the previous discussion, namely the inability of a formal, functionalist and nominalist theory of money to explain money’s function of general social exchangeability, or, which is the same, the measure of value. ‘Power of purchasing’
hence does not explain the logical significance of money, but presents a tautology. It is well worth quoting the passage at length: [from Marx]

[Bailey’s] entire wisdom is, in fact, contained in this passage. ‘If value is nothing but power of purchasing’ (a very fine definition since ‘purchasing’ presupposes not only value, but the representation of value as ‘money’), ‘it denotes’, etc. However let us first clear away from Bailey’s proposition the absurdities which have been smuggled in. ‘PURCHASING’ means transforming money into commodities. Money already presupposes VALUE and the development OF VALUE. Consequently, out with the expression ‘PURCHASING’ first of all. Otherwise we are explaining
VALUE by VALUE. Accurately expressed it would read as follows: ‘If the value of an object is the relation in which it exchanges with other objects, value denotes, consequently’ (viz., in consequence of the ‘if’) nothing, but merely the relation in which two objects stand to each other as exchangeable objects’ (I.e., [pp.] 4–5). Nobody will contest this tautology. What follows from it, by the way, is that the ‘VALUE’ OF AN OBJECT ‘DENOTES NOTHING’. For example, 1lb. of COFFEE = 4 lbs of COTTON. What is then the value of 1lb. of COFFEE? 4 lbs of COTTON. And of 4 lbs of COTTON? 1lb. of COFFEE. Since the value of 1lb. of coffee is 4 lbs of COTTON, and, on the other hand, the value of 4 lbs of COTTON = 1lb. of COFFEE, then it is clear that the value of 1lb. of COFFEE= 1lb. of COFFEE (since 4 lbs of COTTON = 1lb. of COFFEE), a = b, b = a, HENCE a = a. What arises from this explanation is, therefore, that the value of a use value = a [certain] quantity of the same use value.

The problem with Bailey’s and Stanford’s characterization of money is that nowhere do they explain why a specific thing called money has this power to purchase at all, and how this power to purchase is different from (and yet related to) other things that are on the market (call them commodities–products of labour that are produced for sale). Other commodities do not have “purchasing power” directly–whereas money does. Why is that? Is there a connection with the purchasing power of money and the lack of purchasing power of all other commodities? 

If money is the power to purchase, then what it purchases, by implication, is not money and lacks purchasing power. Hence, money has a monopoly of power over purchasing, and all other commodities lack this direct power of purchasing.

At one pole, there is money, with its monopoly power of purchasing commodities directly, and at the other pole are commodities that lack this power of direct purchasing power. What explains this situation? Mr. Stanford does not address the issue since he is undoubtedly unaware of the problem. For him, the purchasing power of money is simply given rather than something to be explained. 

[As an aside, this definition is obviously inadequate even from the point of view of workers’ everyday experience. For instance, I use my Royal Bank Westjet Master Card to purchase almost everything (in order to accumulate Westjet dollars to be used to see my daughter, Francesca. 

Although my credit card has purchasing power and thus falls under Stanford’s definition of money, obviously the day of reckoning will arise if I do not transfer my deposit funds to pay off my credit card. From this point of view, the deposit funds are money, but not my credit card.)

Stanford’s Distortion of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value Related to Ignoring Marx’s Theory of the Commodity, Value Form, Money and Prices 

This lack of an explanation of the unique monopoly power of money goes hand in hand with a distortion of Karl Marx’s theory of value and commodities. Mr. Stanford reduces Marx’s theory to the so-called theory that labour in general, and only labour, produces value. From his book (2008) Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism, page 54:

An economic underpinning for this fightback was provided by Karl Marx. Like the classical economists, he focused on the dynamic evolution of capitalism as a system, and the turbulent relationships between different classes. He argued that the payment of profit on private investments did not reflect any particular economic function, but was only a social relationship. Profit represented a new, more subtle form of EXPLOITATION: an indirect, effective way of capturing economic surplus from those (the workers) who truly do the work. Marx tried (unsuccessfully) to explain how prices in capitalism (which include the payment of profit) could still be based on the underlying labour values of different commodities. [my emphasis] 

Mr. Stanford’s evident distortion of Marx’s theory comes out even more clearly from the following passage (page 71): 

For simplicity, the classical economists adopted a labour theory of value. In this theory, the prices of producible commodities reflect the total amount of labour required to produce them (including both direct labour and the indirect labour required to produce machines and raw materials used in production – a complication we’ll discuss in the next chapter). Marx realized this simplified theory was wrong: prices under capitalism must also reflect the payment of profit. But he was politically committed to explaining prices on the basis of their “underlying” labour values, so he undertook a complicated (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to explain prices on the basis of labour values  [my emphasis]. Neoclassical economists, responding to Marx, tried to provide an intellectual and moral justification for the fact that profits are paid on capital investments by attempting to show that capital itself is actually productive. These efforts, too, were unsuccessful.

In the end, the relevance of this long controversy is not entirely clear. Productive human effort (“work,” broadly defined) is clearly the only way to transform the things we harvest from our natural environment into useful goods and services. In this sense, work is the source of all value added. For society as a whole, just as for that lazy teenager, if we don’t work, we don’t eat. Nothing else – not alien landings, not divine intervention, and not some mystical property of “capital” – is genuinely productive. Under capitalism, profits are paid on capital investments. These profits reflect a social institution called “private ownership,” not any real productive activity or function. (In fact, as we’ll see, it’s not even possible to clearly measure capital, let alone to prove that it is productive.) Because of this institution of private ownership of capital, profits are reflected in the prices of various goods and services (and hence also in GDP).

We can accept that human work is the sole driving force of production while simultaneously recognizing that prices (and things that depend on prices, like GDP) depend on other factors, too – namely, under capitalism, profit.

There are a couple of points worthy of notice in this passage. Firstly, Mr. Stanford’s view that labour is a primary but not exclusive determinant of value (and price–for him there is really no difference between them since he reduces money to purchasing power) is somewhat similar to David Ricardo’s nineteenth century theoretical position, which held a 90 percent labour theory of value, so to speak since Ricardo argued that it was labour mainly but not exclusively that formed the value (and price) of commodities. . Ricardo (1821/2004)  wrote in his On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (page 30):

SECTION IV

The principle that the quantity of labour bestowed on the production of commodities regulates their relative value, considerably modified by the employment of machinery and other fixed and
durable capital.

In the former section we have supposed the implements and weapons necessary to kill the deer and salmon, to be equally durable, and to be the result of the same quantity of labour, and we have seen that the variations in the relative value of deer and salmon depended solely on the varying quantities of labour necessary to obtain them,—but in every state of society, the tools, implements, buildings, and machinery employed in different trades may be of various degrees of durability, and may require different portions of labour to produce them. The proportions, too, in which the capital that is to support labour, and the capital that is invested in tools, machinery and buildings, may be variously combined. This difference in the degree of durability of fixed capital, and this variety in the proportions in which the two sorts of capital may be combined, introduce another cause, besides the greater or less quantity of labour necessary to produce commodities, for the variations in their relative value—this cause is the rise or fall in the value of labour.

Secondly, like many reformists (as well as some self-proclaimed Marxists), Mr. Stanford identifies Marx’s labour theory of value as either identical to or merely a variant of Ricardo’s labour theory of value. Ricardo identified labour as such or general labour (which was performed in prehistoric times, in ancient Greece, in feudal Europe, etc.) as the main determinant of the value of commodities. Labour as such is what Mr. Stanford calls “human work is the sole driving force of production.”  Mr. Stanford implies that this is supposedly Marx’s position. Such a view is a complete distortion of Marx’s theory–since it lacks any relation to Marx’s theory of commodities, value, use value, money (and hence prices).

It should be pointed out immediately that Ricardo had a labour theory of value but failed to connect his labour theory of value to the existence of money and its monopoly power of immediate purchasing power. The same applies to Mr. Stanford’s own reference to the purchasing power of money, on the one hand, and his attempt to partially dissociate prices from labour on the other (we cannot even talk of “value” in relation to Stanford’s theory since for him there is really only prices). 

If money is purchasing power, or the capacity to immediately be exchangeable with other commodities (with the other commodities lacking this power), then a theory should be able to explain how and why and through what means money has this power. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1:  page 186: 

The difficulty lies not in comprehending that money is a commodity, but in discovering how, why and by what means a commodity becomes money.

In terms of the structure of the first two chapters of volume one of Capital, Samezo Kuruma (2018), in his Marx’s Theory of the Genesis of Money How, Why, and Through What is a Commodity Money? has this to say (pages 54-55): 

Marx analyses the how of money in the theory of the value form, and the why of money in the theory of the fetish character, whereas in the theory of the exchange process he examines the question of through what. …  Marx’s indication of these three difficulties clearly suggests that he managed to brilliantly overcome them, but no hint is provided as to where this is carried out. My view is that Marx answered the questions of how, why, and through what, respectively, in Section Three [of chapter one of Volume 1 of Capital], Section Four [of chapter one of Volume 1 of Capital], and Chapter Two [of Volume 1 of Capital]. So the three problems in the sentence are listed in the order that Marx solves them in Capital.

Incidentally, Marx does not pose these three problems as a sort of logical schema or in some frivolous manner; they are realistic problems. Without solving each, an adequate understanding of money is not possible. Indeed, earlier political economy slipped into a variety of errors by failing to solve those problems.

Marx’s explanation of the purchasing power of money lies, on the one hand, in the specific nature of the labour that results in the existence of money as a monopoly power–abstract labour or general human labour or universal labour without distinction. This general social labour, unlike earlier societies, does not find its expression in the immediate results of the production process (the process of producing our lives as human beings).

The reference to the immediate results of a labour process that does not result in a social product directly means that it can only be expressed indirectly or through a process of mediation–the exchange process. Contrary to Stanford’s characterization of Marx’s theory of value, the kind of labour is therefore historically specific and not some general social labour that exists and acts as or functions exclusively as social labour regardless of  the kind of society. Stanford, however, presents Marx’s labour theory of value as just that: as ahistorical. 

Abstract labour is a kind of negative labour–it is not social labour as workers work concretely or materially, and it is this labour which produces the value of a commodity, say beer, and not the labour which produces the beer as beer concretely.

On the other hand, a definite kind of labour, concrete labour, produces a definite kind of  use value, say beer. But the result of this concrete labour, since it is linked to abstract labour, is a commodity that is not yet social in its concrete form of beer. A further process–the exchange process–is required to convert the beer into a form where it can function as “purchasing power”–by being able to be converted into any form of commodity–money. 

At one pole is the commodity, beer, which lacks “purchasing power,” and at the other pole is money, which monopolizes purchasing power. 

I will elaborate on this in the next section.

Mr. Stanford, therefore, does not have a theory of money that links money to a specific kind of production. His theory of money as purchasing power, like Bailey’s theory, is an exchange theory of money. Marx, on the other hand, had a production theory of money that referred to a specific kind of society. That theory, however, cannot be characterized as merely a labour theory of value; Marx in fact had a dual or twofold theory of labour.

Marx’s Dual or Twofold Theory of Labour and Commodities

This labour that is connected to the monopoly purchasing power of money is not general labour that human beings have performed throughout history, but labour that is organized in a specific way–as I pointed out in one of my published articles, Dewey’s Materialist Philosophy of Education: A Resource for Critical Pedagogues? In pages 259-288, The European Legacy, Volume 11, Issue 3, pages 274-275: 

Marx provided a systematic logical critique of present capitalist society (the contextual basis for the functioning of schools), on the basis of a dual theory of use or a dual theory of labour. It is this theory which provides the ground for his analysis and critique of capital as well as his subsequent account of the history of the emergence of capital. It is an understanding of capital logically via the twin concepts of concrete and abstract labour, and their further development, which constitutes his critique; an understanding of the coming into being of capital presupposes this logical determination.

Marx relied on Aristotle’s distinction between the use of shoes as shoes and the use of shoes as a means for obtaining another commodity (as a means of exchange):

Take for example, a shoe—there is its wear as a shoe and there is its use as an article of exchange; for both are ways of using a shoe, inasmuch as even he that exchanges a shoe for money or food with the customer that wants a shoe uses it as a shoe, though not for the use peculiar to a shoe, since shoes have not come into existence for the purpose of exchange.

Both are uses of shoes, but they are not the same kind of use. Marx expanded the idea of the dual use of things to include labour in capitalist society. Labour in capitalist society has a dual use which constitutes a contradictory dynamic that develops the material production process, while also tending to undermine the material production process through crises. Marx evidently considered that a dual theory of the use of things or a dual theory of labour was central for a critical understanding of capitalist society:

[London], August 24, 1867
The best points in my book are: 1) the two-fold character of labour, according to whether it is expressed in use value or exchange value. (All understanding of the facts depends upon this.) It is emphasised immediately, in the first chapter.

Marx reiterated the importance of the two-fold character of labour for his critique of capitalist society a few months later:

[London], January 8, 1868

It is strange that the fellow [Eugen Duhring] does not sense the three fundamentally
new elements of the book:
. . . 2) That the economists, without exception, have missed the simple point that if the commodity has a double character—use value and exchange value—then the labour represented by the commodity must also have a two-fold character, while the mere analysis of labour as such, as in Smith, Ricardo, etc., is bound to come up everywhere against inexplicable problems. This is, in fact, the whole secret of the critical conception.

It is Marx’s argument that social labour, in the form of abstract human labour, has distinctive characteristics which oppose it to human labour as concrete labour. It is only through being connected to other labours indirectly that it becomes social labour. The concrete labour that is performed has no direct connection to the labour of other people. To put it another way, the material process of life and the social process of life, which form a unity in the case of human beings, since human beings are both material and social beings, is sundered in capitalist society.

This situation can also be expressed in terms of parts and wholes. Each capitalist unit is a part of the total division of labour. However, this part is quite curious. It is a part that does not function as a part qualitatively while human labour is being expended. The labour being performed is not social labour, connected to other human labour and determinate needs. It needs to become a part only after the micro-production process is at an end, if it is to count as a part of the whole.

Since concrete labour is not social labour as it is being performed, and since the latter is not expressed immediately in concrete use-values, the possibility arises that the amount of concrete labour does not translate into the same amount of social labour. This possible non-identity has major implications for the structure of human life: a dynamic quantitative process is built into production. The quantity of labour required to produce output becomes a concern because the mere expenditure of concrete human labour does not necessarily suffice to meet standards set by the general level of productivity in a particular industry. If those standards are not met, the capitalist firm cannot in the long run reproduce itself. For the capitalist firm to survive, an external pressure is brought to bear on producers to meet that standard. The peculiar character of the part of a whole in capitalist production is thus that the quality of functioning as part of total social labour is transformed into a purely quantitative form. The specific quality of social labour in capitalist society is the priority of its quantity over its concrete quality, or abstract labour over concrete labour.

There is further evidence that Marx considered the twofold character of labour to be of major importance. Ironically, Marx explicitly underlines its importance by providing a separate heading for it in the first chapter and emphasizing its importance for his critique of political economy (Capital, Volume 1: pages 131-132):  

2. THE DUAL CHARACTER OF THE LABOUR EMBODIED IN COMMODITIES

Initially the commodity appeared to us as an object with a dual character, possessing both use-value and exchange-value. Later on it was seen that labour, too, has a dual character: in so far as it finds its expression in value, it no longer possesses the same characteristics as when it is the creator of use-values. I was the first to point out and examine critically this twofold nature of the labour contained in commodities. As this point is crucial to an understanding of political economy, it requires further elucidation.

This dual character of labour produces a commodity–a contradictory unity of use value and value, and this is linked to the nature of money.

The Dual or Twofold Character of Labour and Commodities, on the One Hand, and the Nature of Money (or the Form of Value) on the Other: Or How a Commodity Becomes Money 

Marx’s dual theory of labour is related to Marx’s dual theory of commodities. Commodities have two essential aspects to them: they are both use values and values, and concrete labour produces use values whereas abstract labour produces the value of the commodity. 

This nature of commodities as involving two essential aspects is not, however, immediately expressed in the commodities themselves. It is only concrete labour that is expressed in the use value of the commodity as the specific kind of labour that produces the specific kind of commodity, such as beer. The concrete labour which we performed in the Calgary brewery where I worked, for example, resulted in the concrete beer as beer. Simultaneously, the social nature of the labour performed, as forming part of the total labour of society within a division of labour, is not social labour in its immediate form as beer.

Since a social process emerged that resulted in the performance of labour that is not immediately social in nature (a negative process, if you like), another process is required to express the social nature of the labour performed–a process of exchange. 

From Capital, Volume 1, page 165:

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. 

Since the concrete labour performed is not social labour directly but only indirectly, its social nature can only be expressed indirectly–through another, different commodity, in the use value of another commodity. However, merely expressing one commodity, say beer, in another commodity, say in steel, would not express the general social nature of the labour that produces value. To express adequately abstract labour and value, it is necessary that the internal opposition between the concrete labour and concrete use value, on the one hand, of the commodity be completely contrasted with abstract labour and value on the other in an external form–ultimately in money as the unique commodity that has the monopoly power of being able to purchase any commodity. This monopoly power of money necessarily excludes such power attaching to the other commodities. Capital, Volume 1, page 161:

Finally, the last form, C [practically, the money form], gives to the world of commodities a general social relative form of value, because, and in so far as, all commodities except one are thereby excluded from the equivalent form. A single commodity, the linen, therefore has the form of direct exchangeability with all other commodities, in other words it has a directly social form because, and in so far as, no other commodity is in this situation. 26

26. It is by no means self-evident that the form of direct and universal exchangeability is an antagonistic form, as inseparable from its opposite, the form of non-direct exchangeability, as the positivity of one pole of a magnet is from the negativity of the other pole. This has allowed the illusion to arise that all commodities can simultaneously be imprinted with the stamp of direct exchangeability, in the same way that it might be imagined that all Catholics can be popes. It is, of course, highly desirable in the eyes of the petty bourgeois, who views the production of commodities as the absolute summit of human freedom and individual independence, that the inconveniences resulting from the impossibility of exchanging commodities directly, which are inherent in this form, should be removed.

Money is the form of value–the expression of value, or the expression of the general nature of the labour that is not directly social. The internal opposition of abstract labour and concrete labour, and value and use value, finds expression through the external opposition of all commodities on the one side expressing their value in one commodity–money.

Stanford’s definition of money as “purchasing power” simply fails to address “how, why and through what means” something can serve as money or purchasing power of commodities. 

Obviously, not all social labour is expressed in this form; when I cooked for my daughter, my cooking was social in nature but it did not assume a form different from the concrete result. In a capitalist society, by contrast, the social nature of labour assumes–and must assume–a form external to the concrete use value produced by concrete labour. 

Political Implications of the Monopoly of the Purchasing Power of Money

The connection between a specific character of social labour and money has political implications since such a connection expresses a kind of society that necessarily escapes the control of the workers and in fact leads, ultimately, to the control over them of their own products. 

Elena Lange(2019) has addressed this issue by noting that Marx’s theory is a theory of fetishism and not just a labour theory of value in her article “The Transformation Problem as a Problem of Fetishism,” pages 51-70, in Filosofski Vestnik, Volume 40, issue Number 3, page 52: 

To treat Marx’s theory as purely an economic theory without any political implications, of course, is useful for both academics–and for the class of employers. 

For Marx, lacking in the classics, and strangely ignored in Marx‘s modern interpreters, the distinction between abstract and concrete labour is the crucial critical heuristic to clear the path to a thoroughgoing critique of the capitalist relations of production and its inverted self-representations. This distinction is directly reflected in the formulation of the labour theory of value, by determining the social substance of value as abstract-general human labour and distinguishing it from concrete labour as manifested in the commodity’s use-value.  This conceptualisation equally allowed Marx to pierce the problem of form and content – the problem of fetishism.

Mr. Stanford, by assuming as a fact the direct purchasing power of money rather than explaining it, misses the connection between the monopoly of the purchasing power of money and the lack of social power of all other commodities–including workers (after all, there is a market for workers, is there not?). 

The nature and implications of this connection between the production of commodities (a contradictory unity of use value and value) via abstract and concrete labour, the expression of the value of a commodity in money and the fetishism of commodities will be addressed in another post in this series, however. The next post in this series will look at how the exchange process escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process 

Conclusion

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as purchasing power is definitely an inadequate definition of the nature of money since it excludes the conditions for something to be money: concrete labour cannot be directly social labour. His interpretation of Marx’s so-called labour theory of value is also definitely inadequate since it excludes any consideration of the dual nature of labour and commodities in a capitalist society; in effect, he treats Marx’s theory to be a variant of Ricardo’s ahistorical theory of all labour throughout history somehow producing (exchange) value. Ricardo’s labour theory of value has little connection with the necessity for money to arise, on the one hand, and the monopoly nature of money (and the simultaneous exclusion of other commodities) on the other.   

Mr. Stanford’s definition of money as “purchasing power” has also a parallel in Ricardo’s theory in that both fail to connect their theory of money to capitalist production. 

Stanford’s view, similar to Ricardo’s view, that somehow labour is more or less the primary cause of the quantitative price of commodities but not the exclusive cause once “capital” (meaning machinery and other means of production that last longer than one year) fails to engage in any inquiry into the peculiar kind of labour (really a kind of organizing social labour) that needs to be expressed in something other than the immediate use value (such as beer) which is produced. 

 His reduction of Marx’s theory to Ricardo’s theory leaves Mr. Stanford’s theory of money without any connection to the purchasing power that money has–a power that ultimately is exercised over the working class. The twofold or dual nature of labour necessarily involves the expression of the nature of abstract labour as value in the form of money, which excludes all other commodities from being money; purchasing power on one side necessarily involves a lack of such a power on the other side. 

Mr. Stanford’s economics for everyone–is it really for the working class? 

The connection between a specific character of social labour and money has political implications since such a connection expresses a kind of society that necessarily escapes the control of the workers and in fact leads, ultimately, to the control over them of their own products. That connection will be explored in another post. 

 

The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Nine: The Nature of Capitalism

Introduction

It is interesting that social democrats express themselves in different ways. Thus, Professor Noonan, a professor at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada), who teaches Marxism, among other courses, presents what he considers one of the major issues at stake in the struggle of the left against the right in his “post (really a series of posts) “Thinkings 10” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=4662):

… a small minority class owns and controls the natural resources that everyone needs to survive. Because they control that which everyone needs to survive, they force the rest of us to sell our ability to labour in exchange for a wage. Labour is exploited to produce social wealth, most of which is appropriated by the class whose ownership and control over natural resources grounds their social power.

Isn’t this just the picture that Marx paints? Yes, it is,

No, it is not. To present the ground of the capitalist class as control over natural resources requires justification. Nowhere does Professor Noonan provide such a justification–apart from his unsubstantiated reference to Marx.

Such a presentation of the nature of capitalism misses the specificity of the nature of capital and hence of capitalism.

Control over land (the monopolization of land or natural resources) is certainly a condition for modern society to arise, but this condition–“control over natural resources”–hardly “grounds their [the capitalist class’s] social power.”

What is different about modern exploitation is that workers are mainly exploited through control over their own products and the processes which produce those products by a minority–and not just control over “natural resources.” Workers themselves, through the objective relations between the commodities they produce, produce their own exploitation. It is the direct control over these produced commodities that constitutes the ground of the social power of the class of employers; control over natural resources is mediated through such control rather than vice versa.

Let us look at what Marx wrote on the topic, especially in the notebooks known as the Grunrdrisse (Outlines), found in volumes 28 and 29 of the collected works of Marx and Engels (Marx’s best friend and political collaborator). The following has to do with an interpretation of Marx’s theory, so there will be some quotations in order to refute Professor Noonan’s social-democratic reference to Marx.

Control Over Natural Resources Is Insufficient to Characterize the Nature of Capital(ism)

Ownership of Natural Resources (Landed Property) Characteristic of Non-capitalist Societies

Marx drafted (but did not publish) an introduction to what he planned to be his critique of political economy in August and September 1857. He wrote From volume 28(pages 43-44):

… nothing seems more natural than to begin with rent, with landed property, since it is bound up with the earth, the source of all production and all life, and with agriculture, the first form of production in all more or less established societies. But nothing would be more erroneous. In every form of society there is a particular [branch of] production which determines the position and importance of all the others, and the relations obtaining in this branch accordingly determine those in all other branches. It is the general light tingeing all other colours and modifying them in their specific quality; it is a special ether determining the specific gravity of everything found in it. For example, pastoral peoples (peoples living exclusively on hunting or fishing are beyond the point from which real development begins). A certain type of agriculture occurs among them, sporadically, and this determines landed property. It is
common property and retains this form in a larger or smaller measure, depending on the degree to which these peoples maintain their traditions, e.g. communal property among the Slavs. Among peoples with settled agriculture—this settling is already a great advance—where agriculture predominates, as in antiquity and the feudal period, even industry, its organisation and the forms of property corresponding thereto, have more or less the character of landed property. Industry is either completely dependent on it, as with the ancient Romans, or, as in the Middle Ages, it copies in the town and in its conditions the organisation of the countryside. In the Middle Ages even capital—unless it was
purely money capital—capital as traditional tools, etc., has this character of landed property. The reverse is the case in bourgeois society. Agriculture to an increasing extent becomes merely a branch of industry and is completely dominated by capital. The same applies to rent. In all forms in which landed property rules supreme, the nature relationship still predominates; in the forms in which capital rules supreme, the social, historically evolved element predominates. Rent cannot be understood without capital, but capital can be understood without rent. Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion and must be analysed before landed property. After each has been considered separately, their interconnection must be examined.

The issue can be approached from a variety of angles. One angle is how to divide human history into stages or periods. Of course, there are various ways of dividing human history, and some ways are more appropriate (depending on the purpose) than others. Marx at one point divided human history into three stages. From Dan Swain (2019), None so Fit to Break the Chains: Marx’s Ethics of Self-Emancipation, pages 31-32: 

In one passage in the Grundrisse Marx schematically divides history into three kinds of social forms:

Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage. The second stage creates the conditions for the third.

The third stage is conceived as merely the ‘subordination’ of – the exertion of control over – the conditions that exist in the second. This claim is no less necessary for being historically specific, however. So long as we want to maintain the huge advanced developments of capitalism – and we do want most of them – we cannot take a step back to small scale handcrafts. Thus the only option available to us, says Marx, is economic democracy.

Or again, as poin Paresh Chattopadhyay (2018) points out, Socialism and Commodity Production: 
Essay in Marx Revival, pages 239-240: 

Thus in his 1865 lecture (in English) to the workers, Marx speaks of three ‘historical processes’ of the relation between what he calls the ‘Man of Labour and the Means of Labour’ – first, their ‘Original Union’, then their ‘Separation’ through the ‘Decomposition of the Original Union’, third, the ‘restoration of the original union in a new historical form’ through a ‘fundamental revolution in the mode of production’. Earlier we referred to a passage from Marx’s 1861–3 manuscript where Marx, in the same way, speaks of the ‘Original unity between the labourer and the conditions of production’, as in family agriculture and ‘natural communism’, separation between them under capital and the ‘restoration of the original unity by means of a working class revolution’ (along with the rest of society).

A Condition for the Existence of Capitalism Is the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress or Dominate Workers

Economic democracy, however, as a solution to the problems thrown up by capitalist development, must address the fact that both oppression and exploitation of the working class arises through the production of the conditions for their own oppression and exploitation and not just “control over natural resources” by the ruling class. It is control over produced resources, not natural resources, that forms an essential element of capitalism. 

From Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 28, pages 381-382:

Labour capacity has appropriated only the subjective conditions of necessary labour—the means of subsistence for productive labour capacity, i.e. for its reproduction as mere labour capacity separated from the conditions of its realisation—and it has posited these conditions themselves as objects, values, which confront it in an alien, commanding personification. It emerges from the process not only no richer but actually poorer than it entered into it. For not only has it created the conditions of necessary labour as conditions belonging to capital; but the valorisation [the impetus for producing surplus value] inherent in it as a potentiality, the value-creating potentiality, now also exists as surplus value, surplus product, in a word, as capital, as domination over living labour capacity, as value endowed with its own power and will confronting it in its abstract, object-less, purely subjective poverty. Not only has it produced alien wealth and its own poverty, but also the relationship of this wealth as self-sufficient wealth to itself as poverty, which this wealth consumes to draw new life and spirit to itself and to valorise itself anew.

All this arose from the act of exchange in which the worker exchanged his living labour capacity for an amount of objectified labour, except that this objectified labour, these conditions for his being which are external to him, and the independent externality (to him) of these physical conditions, now appear as posited by himself, as his own product, as his own self-objectification as well as the objectification of himself as a power independent of himself, indeed dominating him, dominating him as a result of his own actions.

All the moments of surplus capital are the product of alien labour—alien surplus labour converted into capital: means of subsistence for necessary labour; the objective conditions— material and instrument—so that necessary labour can reproduce the value exchanged for it in means of subsistence; finally, the necessary amount of material and instrument so that new surplus
labour can realise itself in them or new surplus value can be created.

It no longer seems here, as it still did in the first consideration of the production process, as if capital, for its part, brought with it some sort of value from circulation. The objective conditions of
labour now appear as labour’s product—both in so far as they are value in general, and as use values for production. But if capital thus appears as the product of labour, the product of labour for its part appears as capital—no longer as mere product nor exchangeable commodity, but as capital; objectified labour as dominion, command over living labour. It likewise appears as the
product of labour that its product appears as alien property, as a mode of existence independently confronting living labour … that the product of labour, objectified labour, is endowed with a soul of its own by living labour itself and establishes itself as an alien power confronting its creator.

Capitalism as the Use of Produced Commodities to Oppress and Exploit Workers 

The separation of workers from their conditions of producing their own lives (conditions of life), even if produced by them, does not however, yet constitute capital(ism). It is, rather, the structured process of forcing workers to expend more labour than the labour required to produce the conditions for their own lives, relative to From volume 28, pages 396-397:

Capital and therefore wage labour are not, then, constituted simply by an exchange of objectified labour for living labour—which from this viewpoint appear as two different determinations, as use
values in different form; the one as determination in objective form, the other in subjective form. They are constituted by the exchange of objectified labour as value, as self-sufficient value, for living labour as its use value, as use value not for a certain specific use or consumption, but as use value for value.

Hiring someone to mow the lawn does not make me a capitalist nor a member of the class of employers. This hiring process becomes a class relation in the first instance because the process involves a movement that involves a drive to increase more value through control over produced commodities which are then used to exploit workers further (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

By referring to the monopoly over “natural resources,” rather than over produced commodities by the workers themselves, Professor Noonan can then ignore the specificity of the nature of capital(ism). His own brand of social reformism can then be snuck in. He writes:

… but when we paint the problems of the world in ideological terms of “capitalism” versus “socialism” we get stuck immediately in an absolute opposition between political camps. Instead of arguing with opponents we shout at them. The other side does not listen but shouts back before both sides get tired and revert to preaching to the converted.

Getting underneath the political labels will probably not solve that problem. However, it does remove one rhetorical barrier to argument. If we can stop thinking in simplistic terms: capitalism=bad and socialism=good, then we can confront one another on the terrain that really matters: life-requirements and how best to distribute them.

The implication is that we should drop the opposition between capitalism and socialism–and focus on the issue of “life requirements and how best to distribute them.” Since “life requirements” applies to all societies (all human societies involve necessary conditions for human life to continue)–the specific nature of capitalism is lost.

It is not just a question of how “best to distribute life requirements.”–but of the form or structure or arrangement of the process that is involved in maintaining human life in a capitalist society. The very form, structure or organization of capitalist society is such that what is produced is used against workers–as a weapon against them to obtain surplus value in the private sector and to oppress workers in both the private and public sectors. Life requirements, being produced by workers, are used against workers in a capitalist society.

The concept “best distribution of them” sounds very similar to the social democrats Dhunna’s and Bush’s assumption of focusing on distribution of already produced commodities rather than the process through which they are produced in the first place (see A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Is there really any wonder that Professor Noonan then opposes movements that pose the problems that we face in terms of capitalism versus socialism. To be sure, I have already noted the illegitimacy of treating capitalism as a catch-all phrase of capitalism this and capitlaism that among social democrats (see Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part Two), but if we are going to aim for a society without classes, then aiming to create a society without classes requires the elimination of social relations, social structures and political relations that support the specific nature of the kind of society in which we live and suffer, with systemic exploitation and oppression.

Marx would therefore disagree with Professor Noonan’s specification of the problem; it is not just “control over natural resources” that needs to be discussed and critiqued, but the separation, alienation and domination of workers’ own labour and life through its own labour and products. From Volume 28, pages 390-391:

The recognition of the products as its own, and its awareness that its separation from the conditions of its realisation is improper and imposed by force, is an enormous consciousness, and is itself the product of the mode of production based on capital, and just as much the KNELL TO ITS DOOM as the consciousness of the slave that he cannot be the property of another, his consciousness of being a person, reduced slavery to an artificial lingering existence, and made it impossible for it to continue to provide the basis of production.

By ignoring the specificity of capitalist relations, Professor Noonan then simplistically argues that merely referring to “life’s requirements” and “how best to distribute to them” form a necessary and sufficient condition for the realisation of a society in which there are no classes and no exploitation and oppression. He then claims that, by focusing on “life-requirements and how best to distribute them,”

individuals are freed to live the lives the want to live.

This is wishful thinking. Rather than engage in wishful thinking, Professor Noonan would do better to engage in a systematic critique of social democrats and their philosophies–for the domination of social democrats among “the left” is itself a problem.

Professor Noonan recognizes that it is a problem–but he does not address how to solve the problem:

Progressive taxation, the Green New Deal, reparations, public health care, and GBIs [guaranteed basic incomes] can be institutionalised in ways that do not fundamentally transform the structure of ownership and control over life-resources. They can all be sold as in effect ways to bolster consumer demand by putting more money in the pockets of ordinary Americans. If the ruling class is assured that it will get its money back in the end, they can be convinced to go along with the reforms (as they were, despite vociferous opposition, in the 1930’s by the original New Deal). In Canada and the United Kingdom, social democratic parties came up with the ideas for programs like public health insurance, but it was generally ruling class parties that implemented them.

Professor Noonan offers no solution to the problem of cooptation of the labour movement and social movements. Indeed, he naively assume that by referring to life’s needs that we will be able to advance by debating the issues–rather than seeing that it is necessary to engage in struggle and critique to debate relevant issues in the first place. He writes:

While the media (mostly the right-wing media) wastes time hyperventilating about small groups of naive Antifa agitators (it would not surprise me if their ranks were thoroughly infiltrated by the cops they want to abolish) much more important debates about serious institutional changes are underway in the United States. These debates will not get anywhere without patient, organized mass mobilisation and political argument. Some of these debates are about public institutions that have long been parts of countries with effective social democratic parties (public health care, for example). Some are specific to the history of the United States (the debate around reparations for slavery). Along with ambitious plans like the Green New Deal, discussions about a renewed commitment to progressive taxation, and perhaps even Guaranteed Basic Income projects, these debates move public scrutiny beneath the level of slogans and stories to what really counts: an understanding of who controls what and why.

Firstly, Professor Noonan should practice what he preaches. I tried to engage in debate with him some time ago (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part One)–to no avail. Secondly, he does not address how social democrats not only resist any discussion of relevant issues but go out of their way to ridicule those who attempt to engage in such discussion (see for example Do Collective Agreements Convert Working for an Employer into Decent Work?).

It would seem that Professor Noonan and I do, however, agree on the following: he implies that we should aim for a kind of society in which collective control over our conditions of life are to achieved:

The ruling class is good at playing the long game, and so must the Left be. It has to think of public institutions not in terms of income support that bolsters consumer demand for the sake of revitalising capitalism, but as first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.

However, the real Professor Noonan shows the true implications of his emphasis on the “control of life resources”–and his lack of understanding of the nature of capitalism–in a more recent post on the subject of collective bargaining. Compare the quote immediately above with the following (from the post titled “Social Democracy Meets Capitalist Reality” (https://www.jeffnoonan.org/?p=5008): 

Political persistence eventually changed the law, unions were formed, and over the next century succeeded not only in raising real wages (a feat that most classical political economists regarded as structurally impossible) but also helped democratize the work place, by giving the collective of workers some say in the organization of production (via collective bargaining).

Unions have certainly benefited workers in the short-term, but Professor Noonan simply ignores how unions often now function to justify the continued oppression and exploitation of workers (see for example  Fair Contracts (or Fair Collective Agreements): The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part One  or Fair Contracts or Collective Agreements: The Ideological Rhetoric of Canadian Unions, Part Three: Unifor (Largest Private Union in Canada)). 

As for the claim that collective bargaining “democratizes the work place,” Professor Noonan undoubtedly works in privileged conditions relative to other workers and generalizes from his much superior control over his working conditions compared to most other workers (even when unionized). As I wrote in another post (What’s Left, Toronto? Part Five): 

Collective agreements, however, as this blog constantly stresses, are holding agreements that continue to express exploitation and oppression. A few privileged sets of workers (such as tenured university professors) may seem to have decent jobs, but even that situation has eroded over time. Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that such relatively privileged workers exist in a sea of workers, whether unionized or not, who are things to be used by employers systematically and legally. University professors cannot engage in research, teaching and administrative activities unless there are other workers who produce their food, clothing, cars and so forth.

This division of labour is implied in a poem by one of the most famous poets of Gutemala, Otto Rene Castillo (from   Apolitical Intellectuals):

Apolitical Intellectuals

One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the simplest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their nation died out
slowly,
like a sweet fire
small and alone.

No one will ask them
about their dress,
their long siestas
after lunch,
no one will want to know
about their sterile combats
with “the idea
of the nothing”
no one will care about
their higher financial learning.

They won’t be questioned
on Greek mythology,
or regarding their self-disgust
when someone within them
begins to die
the coward’s death.

They’ll be asked nothing
about their absurd
justifications,
born in the shadow
of the total lie.

On that day
the simple men will come.

Those who had no place
in the books and poems
of the apolitical intellectuals,
but daily delivered
their bread and milk,
their tortillas and eggs,
those who drove their cars,
who cared for their dogs and gardens
and worked for them,
and they’ll ask:

“What did you do when the poor
suffered, when tenderness
and life
burned out of them?”

Apolitical intellectuals
of my sweet country,
you will not be able to answer.

A vulture of silence
will eat your gut.

Your own misery
will pick at your soul.

And you will be mute in your shame.

Collective agreements do not exist in a vacuum but form part of interrelated social relations; to exclude such relations when considering the nature and legitimacy of collective agreements is to empty collective agreements of the background conditions which give them meaning in the first place.

Collective agreements by no means help to “democratize the work place.” They certainly are not “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life.”  Professor Noonan seems to be aware of this and yet idealizes collective agreements by claiming that they somehow “democratize the work place.” If however capitalist society is characterized by the use of commodities produced by workers to oppress and exploit them, then collective agreements (except for a small minority of workers–such as tenured professors) merely limit the power of employers to oppress and exploit workers–but do not by any means form even the first step in the democratization of the work place. 

What are these “first steps towards socialising ownership and control over the means of life?” Professor Noonan fails to specify what they are. Why is that? 

I will leave Professor Noonan with his “democratized work place.” Undoubtedly he enjoys a fair amount of control over his work; he is a tenured professor at the University of Windsor. What of the support workers at the University of Windsor? Do they?  

A Private Employer’s “Humanism” in Sweden: The Dream of Social Democrats Everywhere

As I pointed out in my critique of Jane McAlevey’s reference to Sweden’s so-called ‘leveling of the playing field for children’s opportunity for success from birth onward,” (see   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part Two), social democrats tend to idealize the Scandinavian countries. I began to more directly debunk this social-democratic myth in the post  A Short List of the Largest Swedish Employers by the Number of Employees, Profits and the Profits per Worker ).

Let us look at the behaviour of one private employer in Sweden, which supposedly instituted humanistic methods for helping workers to become more healthy: the private employer Scania, a multinational capitalist manufacturing firm (from page 140, Christian Maravelias, Torkild Thanem, Mikael Holmqvist. “March Meets Marx: The Politics of Exploitation and Exploration in the Management of Life and Labour”. Published online: 2012; pages 129-159):

Scania is an internationally leading manufacturer of heavy trucks, buses and coaches, and industrial and marine engines. It operates in some 100 countries with approximately 34,000 employees [in another source, it says 45,235].. Scania was founded in the late nineteenth century and has built and delivered more than 1,500,000 trucks, buses and engines.

Scania is well known both for its products and for its stable and long-term strategic focus. It has grown organically, primarily through internal financing, and it has remained in the same product category for more than 80 years. This conservatism has been successful, yielding annual profits for more than seven consecutive decades and helped avoid regular lay-offs since the 1940s. Today Scania is regarded a stable and attractive employer known for combining continuous improvement in production with safe and professionally stimulating working conditions.

Workers in Scania were subject to a scientific management system, with a top-down management style. As a consequence, (page 145):

the previous system was associated with high levels of personnel turnover (30%) and illness absenteeism (25%),

To deal with this problem, the union pressured for the development of a lean production model in the style of Toyota (pages 145-146):

the union was able to exercise considerable bargaining power, almost forcing the firm to accept a version of lean production that was aligned with principles of health and well-being.

However, Scanian management turned the situation to its advantage by coopting the process of a move towards  so-called health and wellness:

Like many lean production initiatives, Scania’s turn to this kind of system in the 1990s implied an emphasis on self-managing teams, continuous improvement and individual responsibility (see, e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler, Goldoftas, & Levine, 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge, Turnbull, & Wilkinson, 1992). Despite an emerging concern with well-being, the most apparent aspect of this related to the objective dimension of exploiting labour. As new tasks and responsibilities were added to all factory jobs, Scania was able to extract more value from the salary they paid workers. Making workers take individual responsibility for constantly improving the production process intensified work, as it meant that they had to do more for the same salary: in addition to take responsibility for executing predefined tasks, workers in self-managing teams were expected to set goals and find ways of reaching these goals.

This meant that each team member had dual roles: both as an operator and as a reflective practitioner. As operators, team members carried out more or less pre-defined tasks according to standard operating procedures. As reflective practitioners, they stepped out of these same processes and observed them from a distance to identify opportunities for improvement.

As reported through previous studies of lean production (e.g. Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992; Parker & Slaughter, 1990), the enhanced exploitation of labour and consequent work intensification was deeply related to speed, posing production speed in a tight relationship to production error.

The shift from strictly hierarchical managerial structures to more horizontal managerial structures (with, of course, the hierarchical managerial structure still prevailing “in the last instance”) led to the employer engaging in the exploration of new organizational structures to exploit its working force, a feature characteristic of capitalist firms as they are subject to the dual constraint of the need to exploit their working force while being subject to competitive rivalry from other capitalists (page 132):

The basic problem facing firms subject to increasing competitive pressures is to balance exploitation, which is incremental and may facilitate short-term competitiveness, with exploration, which is radical and might enable long-term competitiveness. The reason for this balancing act is that exploitative pursuits tend to undermine explorative pursuits.

This exploration of new ways of exploiting labour led to a focus on managing the health of workers (page 140):

To deal with problems of high costs and accident levels as well as high levels of production error, illness absenteeism and employee turnover, Scania decided to implement a lean production system inspired by the justin- time and total quality management principles of Toyotaism. This was later combined with investments in health promotion, and it is the emphasis on health in particular which makes this case distinct from previous studies of lean production.

The exploration of control over the health of the workers led, on the one hand, to attempts to control their subjectivity (their “mind set” or their “attitude”) (page 142):

Having the right job skills was only seen to constitute one part of this. Perhaps more reminiscent of previous research on service work (e.g. Callaghan & Thompson, 2002), high performance was just as much about having the right mind-set, that is having the motivation to be an active, committed and ambitious employee. It was acknowledged by managers and workers that this was not an easy task, because a partly new type of employee was required for the lean production system to work properly. Since working the production line was hard work, workers needed to be in
good shape. But since this also involved efforts to enhance output and quality, it required a particular person who was motivated and committed to change and improvement.

On the other hand, the attempt to control the subjectivity of the worker also led to attempts to control life after work through what programs that seemed to benefit workers (pages 142-143):

This approach blurred the boundaries between work and life. In the words of one team leader, ‘being active and motivated is not a capacity you can switch on and off, [y] it comes down to who you are and how you live your life’. Hence, workers were expected to go far in adapting to the system. But if Scania was to live up to its goal of being a ‘responsible and caring employer’ as well as a lean firm, this obliged them to make far-reaching adaptations, which go beyond what has been reported in previous studies (e.g. Adler, 1993; Adler et al., 1999; Delbridge, 1995; Delbridge et al., 1992). The mutual responsibilities of employees and employer were expressed through two company programmes known as the Employeeship and the 24 Hour Employee. These programmes were also pinnacles in the firm’s integration of lean production and health promotion, involving anything from safe machinery to helping employees lose weight.

These programs were not just window dressing; workers were conceived as resources in a similar fashion to the machines and buildings that Scania owned; workers were expected to take care of themselves outside work and inside work in order to increase the productivity of the company, and if they did not productivity would suffer (page 143):

Scania’s objective exploration of labour, which was aimed to enhance productivity, improve quality and increase profits, required them to re-socialise workers by subjectively exploring their lives, bodies and personalities and what potential they offered in terms of being exploited as labour. This was expressed in rather explicit expectations and norms concerning employee lifestyle. To be physically, mentally and technologically equipped to handle their work, one nurse emphasised that workers were expected to keep themselves in a ‘healthy workable condition’ and
show competence in ‘health-related things such as physical fitness [and] mental strength’.

Although there was no formal right for Scania to control the workers’ lives outside work, on a practical level the two programs did lead to pressure to conform to the requirements of Scania to exploit the workers (page 144):

Of course, Scania had no formal right to interfere with what workers did in their spare time, but when a worker’s private life started to impact
negatively on their work, the firm was able to intervene in the opposite
direction, subordinating life to labour. As argued by one line manager:

If one of my employees doesn’t get enough sleep because he plays poker all night, it is his own business – as long as it doesn’t affect his ability to work. But if it  does  […] – and most likely it will – it is not just his business but my business as  well.

Workers were somewhat ambivalent about how they experienced this. In the words of an IT specialist:

a couple of years ago I went through a divorce. I started drinking a little bit too            much and somehow my boss found out about this. At first, he didn’t say  anything,  but after some time he did, and he also explained that he had spoken to a counsellor at the Health Office who he wanted me to contact. I did, and the therapy helped. But it was somewhat creepy to see how my family problems  were turned into a work problem.

This worker’s life, then, was subjectively re-socialised and explored to fit the new organisation of production which Scania was objectively exploring in the interest of more intensely exploiting labour.

The far-reaching nature of the employer–employee contract, their shared responsibilities and the blurring of the objective exploration of labour contra the subjective exploration of life was further reflected in the 24 Hour Employee programme. More specifically, this involved a mutual sense of caring, where the programme aimed to show how much the firm cares for its employees, on and off the job, by helping them live healthier. However, this programme also emphasised how workers were expected to take care of themselves during and after working hours. Workers did not necessarily view this contract as consensual, and some workers called it ‘a give-and-take thing’. While Scania promised a safe work environment and helped workers take care of themselves, the firm was seen to expect ‘an awful lot’ in return – that workers ‘live in accordance with its standards’.

Lean production did result in some workers feeling stressed out, but rather than attributing the problem to lean production itself (and the nature of the capitalist firm as capitalist firm), the problem is identified as an individual problem (a similar approach is the current psychological fad called “mindfulness”–a variant of the ancient Stoical philosophy of disregarding the real objective social constraints on our lives); used by management, this led to manipulation (pages 148-149): 

Through a therapeutic and reflective approach, the Health School sought to help workers gain better self-knowledge, set limits and prioritise. Again, this was anchored in an emphasis on individual responsibility, where participants had to accept responsibility for their own life and work. This was important since many participants initially tended to associate stress with outside factors, such as their job being too demanding or managers expecting too much. Hence, the therapeutic process was embedded in a somewhat contested terrain where therapists and participants tried to allocate responsibility and blame in opposite directions. Although therapists sometimes relaxed the responsibilities and performance targets for individual workers in the short term, there was never any doubt that participants were required to adapt to the system should they continue to work for the firm. Indeed, therapy made most participants accept individual responsibility for adapting to the system, who thereby ended up subjectively participating in their own exploitation (cp. e.g. Burawoy, 1979; Delbridge, 1995; Thompson, 1989).

The first step in the therapeutic process was to establish a trustful atmosphere where participants were ready to accept and commit to ‘the fact’ that they have a problem with stress. The second step involved mapping out the daily routines of individual participants and their colleagues. Participants were then taught how to become more aware and reflective about their own behaviour and attitudes, and taught to think in more strategic terms about all parts of their lives. While the integration of lean production and health promotion blurred the work–life boundary, this particular task encouraged participants to make distinctions between work, self and private life, and to define goals for all three areas. According to one health coach, this mindset was pursued in the spirit of helping participants gain control over their lives and ‘feel that their lives were the result of their own conscious and informed choices’ rather than forces beyond their control.

Failing to cope, then, was seen as an outcome of limited self-management skills. Incidentally, life became just a bit more like work. Although this might be seen as an example of skill expansion, we would argue that this chimes less with Adler’s (2007) upgrading thesis than with Thompson’s (2007) argument that multi-skilling does not necessarily lead to up-skilling. Here, the subjective exploration of life did not unequivocally make work more varied, diverse and interesting; it also involved a division, simplification and management of life to make it more appropriate for work.

It should be evident now that working for Scania is a double-edged sword since workers’ health, which involves the whole life of workers and not just the working part of their lives, is used as a means for enhancing the company’s bottom line. Ultimately, Scania follows the same process of subordinating workers’ lives to the pursuit of  more money on an ever increasing scale (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

The idealization of the Scandinavian countries by Ms. McAlevey and other social democrats thus does not stand up to scrutiny. Even on the assumption that children have equal opportunity at birth (as Ms. McAlevey claims–without further evidence), when they grow up many become employees–and as employees, they are used by employers as things for obtaining more and more money.

Working lives may in some ways be better in Sweden but in many ways they also may be worse under the social-democratic approach that co-opts workers’ own subjectivity.

This case also illustrates the importance of ideological struggle since employers have many resources to co-opt workers into their own schemes. Organizational struggle in itself is insufficient; it is necessary to engage in a simultaneous struggle both organizationally and ideologically.

The Pearson Survey of the 50,000 Employees at the Toronto International Airport: A Document Expressing the Ideology of Employers

The following is based on the report Understanding the Pearson workforce: Canada’s first airport workforce survey: Summary report, October 2019. The survey consists of a sample of 3,582 employees at the Toronto Pearson airport from a variety of positions, with the statistical expectation that these employees would be representative of the 50,000 workers who work at the airport.

Of course, since this report was written before COVID, the situation has changed at the airport, but it is still useful to look at the report.

The background to the survey expresses its limitations since it was initiated by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority GTAA).

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Pearson Airport.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) is the operator of Pearson Airport.

The GTAA undertook a workforce survey—the first survey of its kind at any airport in Canada—to provide a baseline to understand more about the airport’s complex work environment, including who the workers are and how they get to their jobs. The information obtained from the survey will inform future work to identify gaps and support planning and programming to meet the airport’s transit and workforce needs. The survey was undertaken by Northstar Research Partners (Northstar) and developed in consultation with the Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC), a collective
of union representatives from across the airport that work together to address issues that impact airport workers.

The report was written with the support of the Peel-Halton Workforce Development Group and Northstar.

The GTAA is itself an employer. According to its Facebook web page, “The Toronto Airport Workers Council is committed to speaking up for workers at YYZ.” According to the Toronto Pearson web page, “The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC) is the collective voice of Pearson’s 50,000 workers and its largest unions.”

Since the GTAA is an employer, its consultations, like consultations with union reps, expresses the power of employers to define issues and to express points of view that favour their interests–and not those of the working class. Given the power of the GTAA as a representative of employers as a whole at the Toronto Pearson Airport and its power as a particular employer, it is understandable that TAWC, in order to at least have some of its concerns recognized and perhaps addressed, decided to be a consultant  in the survey.

The report implicitly uses the standard of better paying, (unionized?), stable (permanent) and full-time positions as the basis for determining inadequacies in the employment situation of the workers at the airport. These better paying (unionized?), stable (permanent) and full-time positions are, apparently, the “good jobs” or “decent work” that social democrats refer to when they justify the goals that they pursue.

Consider, for example, the situation of workers at the airport who are part-time or who receive the minimum wage (as the report notes, these two categories of workers often overlap). The report states (page 4):

As noted above, there is an opportunity to identify and support career path development, in this case to less precarious jobs. Moreover, there appears to be some mitigation of the possible impacts of these aspects of employment precarity on these employees at Pearson.

Less precarious jobs (full-time/permanent), with better pay, thus constitute the standard of evaluation in the report.

I have criticized this standard in various posts. It is, of course, better to have a permanent position for most workers. Full-time work is also often preferable for workers than part-time work if they are going to meet their financial obligations and live some kind of enjoyable life outside of work. Receiving higher wages while working the same number of hours, obviously, is also preferable. However, nowhere in the report is their a hint of criticizing this standard.

This standard fails to criticize the fact that workers are Pearson International Airport are things to be used by

400-plus companies—public and private, large and small [pages 1 and 5].

(There are multiple page references to the same passage sometimes since the report includes the executive summary.)

There is not even a hint of the treatment of workers as things in the report (see The Money Circuit of Capital for a description of how workers are mere means to be used by employers, whether private or public.)  There is also not even a hint that the workers at Toronto Pearson are controlled and exploited (see the posts The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Air Canada, One of the Largest Private Employers in CanadaManagement Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario    and   Employers as Dictators, Part One).

The report in fact idealizes the working lives of 50,000 workers at Pearson. Apart from the issue of precarity, there is a lack of critical distancing from the class point of view of employers.

Thus, the report states (pages 1 and 5):

Employers include airport service providers, retail partners, airline and agency partners, to name a few, and all have a role in ensuring Pearson is a great place to work.

I fail to see how working for one or more of the 400+ employers at Pearson can ever result in Pearson being “a great place to work.” How can a workplace be a great place to work when the workers are used as a means to ends that they do not define? How can it be a great place to work when the workers are controlled, oppressed and exploited? The document is more ideology than anything else. Given that Air Canada workers are oppressed and exploited, it is undoubtedly also the case  that the other 400+ employers oppress and exploit their workers. How could it be a great place to work under such conditions?

Consider the workplace survey about workers’ attitudes towards working at Pearson. The report states (pages 2 and 23):

The majority of employees believe that Pearson provides not only a good job today, but also opportunity to grow and advance. This is especially true of younger employees who are early in their careers and see a path forward within the airport employment community.

Since the standard of evaluation for determining what constitutes a “good job” is one where work is permanent, full-time and better paying (unionized?), there is little wonder that “the majority of employees believe that Pearson provides … a good job today.”

Before becoming workers, working-class children in schools have been indoctrinated into believing that working for an employer is natural. Consider my posts concerning indoctrination of students in schools; the school history curriculum fails to provide opportunities for an historical understanding of the emergence of a class of employers and employees in Canada (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees ; this is one of several posts on the silencing of such an understanding in various Canadian provinces and territories). The lack of such an understanding is reflected in the silence concerning the power of employers to dictate to workers in various ways and to exploit them at Pearson International Airport.

Unions, in turn, have not even provided an opportunity for workers to question this dogma. Their reference to “fair contracts” and “decent work” reinforce such standards of evaluation. Is there any wonder that the majority of workers at Pearson use such low standards to determine whether their job is good or not?

Professor Tufts, a geographer professor at York University and spokesman for the Toronto Airport Workers’ Council (TAWC), refers to the “data being in.” Yes, but there is no data that provides for an examination of the extent to which workers at Pearson Airport would consider that they have good jobs by working for an employer on a permanent and full-time basis with a wage somewhat higher than the minimum wage–if they also believed explicitly that they were being oppressed and exploited by the employers at Pearson Airport.

Professor Tufts has some interesting things to say about the purpose of this report. He says the following (Professor Tufts on the Pearson Airport Workforce Survey):

We want to know … how their careers are developing in the future, and how we can better help their careers develop at the airport and make Pearson a place where it’s not just a place to come to work to survive, but it’s a place where you come to build a career and thrive. And this survey is the first stop to getting something to talk about, to come together and talk about how we can better solutions.

Count on Pearson and Toronto Airport Workers’ Council to make the airport a great place to work.

I would not count on that. The Toronto Airport Workers’ Council may stimulate the improvement of working conditions at Pearson, but improved working conditions are hardly the same as “a great place to work.” Of course, workers should struggle to improve their own working conditions. However, Professor Tuft, like most union reps here in Toronto, assumes that it is really possible to create a good workplace environment on the basis of working for a particular employer in the context of the class power of employers so that the workplace is “a great place to work.” I deny that categorically.

Professor Tufts and the authors of the report assume that working for an employer and working at a great place are mutually compatible. As noted above, in referring to the money circuit of capital, workers are ultimately things to be used for the benefit of employers. They are also exploited. These facts limit improvements in working conditions–including workers’ control of their own working lives at work. These facts also means that workers necessarily lack control over a large area of their work at Pearson International Airport–a fact hidden behind the rhetoric of “a great place to work.”

These facts, on the other hand, are expressed in management rights’ clauses (explicitly in collective agreements if present but implicitly otherwise because arbitrators assume that management has dictatorial powers to direct the workforce, with the collective agreement only limiting such power). .

The report–and Professor Tufts’ commentary on it–express at best a social-democratic point of view, where it becomes possible to improve working conditions, but always within the limits of the power of employers as a class that use and exploit workers for their own benefit.

For the authors of the report and for Professor Tufts, improvement of working conditions, while leaving the power of employers generally intact, means the same thing as making Pearson “a great place to work.”

Now, TAWC may have thought that their participation in the consultation process may benefit the Pearson Airport workers’ interests. There is nothing wrong with that; in fact, the attempt to improve workers’ conditions is to be praised. On the other hand, by not engaging in a critique of the report, TAWC simultaneously–although implicitly–justifies the continued oppression and exploitation of Pearson Airport workers.

Do not the workers at Toronto Pearson International Airport deserve more? Do they not deserve a critical analysis of the report? Does TAWC provide such a critical analysis to the workers?

What do you think?

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.

Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part Two

This is a continuation of my last post. In this post, I will address Mr. Bush’s confused analysis of relations at work and in exchange in a situation dominated by a class of employers, which he confusedly analyzes in his April 26, 2017 article published on the Socialist Project website (Basic Income and the Left: The Political and Economic Problems).

As I noted in my previous post, I will show that Mr. Bush, on the one hand, uses Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value for conservative purposes and, on the other, that he fails to connect Marx’s theory of “costs” to Marx’s theory of surplus value–a connection that has radical implications. Such implications, at the practical level, permit us “to focus on strategies that can help us build the power we need to achieve economic justice and dignity for all”–that really go beyond the class power of employers rather than the pseudo-radicalism offered by Mr. Bush’s “messy business of material reality.”

In the section of that article, entitled “The BI and the Logic of Capitalism,” Mr. Bush has the following to say:

Capitalism operates on the extraction of surplus labour from workers. Workers sell their potential to work on the labour market and employers put them to work, paying them a wage that is less than the value they produce with their labour. This surplus labour is ultimately the source of profits. Capitalism needs workers. Much of the history of capitalism centres around the creation of a working class that is more or less reliant on selling its labour power for a wage in order to live.

If workers in large enough numbers are able to sit outside of the labour market and sustain their basic needs, capitalism would cease to function. BI naively assumes that capitalists and the state would not respond politically and economically to the changing market condition of labour. The logic of capitalism would push capitalists to, at the very least, raise wages and increase prices on goods and services. The ultimate goal would be to compel workers back into the labour market, and make them dependent on selling their labour power in order to live.

It is fascinating to see how a social reformist tries to turn  a radical social theory into a conservative one that agrees with his own reformist conclusions. Let us look more closely at this “analysis.”

Firstly, Mr. Bush simply draws a false conclusion: “BI naively assumes that capitalists and the state would not respond politically and economically to the changing market condition of labour.” Some versions of BI may naively assume that, but certainly not a radical version of basic income (see a previous post  A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform). Mr. Bush simply wants to exclude all consideration of radical basic income policies that go beyond the present system of capitalist system consciously. He likely does so because he wants to draw reformist conclusions from Marx’s radical social theory.

Secondly, let us now turn to how capitalism operates. Mr. Bush claims that the essence of capitalism is the extraction of surplus labour from workers that is greater than the wage that the workers receive. For example, if workers at a brewery work for seven hours a day, and they receive a wage of $35 an hour, then if for every hour they produce a value of $70 an hour, they are exploited 100 percent. If they produce a value of $105 an hour they are exploited 150 percent, and so on. The point is that if there is to be a profit, the workers must produce more than the cost of their own wage, or the $35 an hour.

The problem with this view is that it is only a partial truth, or a one-sided view of what Mr. Bush calls “the messy business of material reality.” Mr. Bush evidently prides himself in being practical, and yet he fails to link up his reference to costs (referred to in my previous post) and the theory of surplus value.

Workers are costs to employers, and the worker receives the cost of what is required to produce “their potential to work” as Mr. Bush says. They receive, apparently, their full value, in exchange, for their wage. They certainly do so when considered only in the immediate exchange between the employer and the workers. Mr. Bush, however, excludes from consideration the question of time and prior conditions.

I will provide a long quote from Karl Marx since Mr. Bush, without referencing him, provides Mr. Bush with the theory of surplus value–but Mr. Bush omits any consideration of Marx’s theory of costs  as it relates to wages–conveniently for Mr. Bush. From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, pages 727-730:

Let us now return to our example. It is the old story: Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob and so on. The original capital of £10,000 brings in a surplus-value of £2,000, which is capitalized. The new capital of £2,000 brings in a surplus-value of £400, and this too is capitalized, transformed into a second additional capital, which in its turn produces a further surplus-value of £80. And the process continues in this way.

We leave out of account here the portion of the surplus-value consumed by the capitalist. We are also not interested, for the moment, in whether the additional capital is joined on to the original capital, or separated from it so that it can valorize itself independently. Nor are we concerned whether the same capitalist employs it who originally accumulated it, or whether he hands it over to others. All we must remember is this: by the side of the newly formed capital, the original capital continues to reproduce
itself and to produce surplus-value, and this is true of all accumulated capital in relation to the additional capital engendered by it.

The original capital was formed by the advance of £10,000. Where did its owner get it from? ‘From his own labour and that of his forefathers’, is the unanimous answer of the spokesmen of political economy.4 And, in fact, their assumption appears to be the only one consonant with the laws of commodity production.

But it is quite otherwise with regard to the additional capital of £2,000. We know perfectly well how that originated. There is not one single atom of its value that does not owe its existence to unpaid labour. The means of production with which the additional labour-power is incorporated, as well as the necessaries with which the workers are sustained, are nothing but component parts of the surplus product, parts of the tribute annually exacted from the working class by the capitalist class. Even if the latter uses a portion of that tribute to purchase the additional labour-power at its full price, so that equivalent is exchanged for equivalent, the whole thing still remains the age-old activity of the conqueror, who buys commodities from the conquered with the money he has stolen from them.

If the additional capital employs the person who produced it, this producer must not only continue to valorize the value of the original capital, but must buy back the fruits of his previous labour with more labour than they cost. If we view this as a transaction between the capitalist class and the working class, it makes no difference that additional workers are employed by means of the unpaid labour of the previously employed workers. The capitalist may even convert the additional capital into a machine that throws the producers of that capital out of work, and replaces them with a few children. In every case, the working class creates by the surplus labour of one year the capital destined to employ additional labour in the following year.5 And this is what is called creating capital out of capital.

The accumulation of the first additional capital of £2,000 presupposes that a value of £10,000 exists, advanced by the capitalist, and belonging to him by virtue of his ‘original labour’. The second additional capital of £400 presupposes, on the contrary, only the prior accumulation of the £2,000, of which the £400 is the capitalized surplus-value. The ownership of past unpaid labour is thenceforth the sole condition for the appropriation of living unpaid labour on a constantly increasing scale. The more the capitalist has accumulated, the more is he able to accumulate.

The surplus-value that makes up additional capital no. 1 is the result of the purchase of labour-power with part of the original capital, a purchase which conformed to the laws of commodity exchange and which, from a legal standpoint, presupposes nothing beyond the worker’s power to dispose freely of his own capacities, and the money-owner’s or commodity-owner’s power to dispose freely of the values that belong to him; equally, additional capital no. 2 is merely the result of additional capital no. 1, and is therefore a consequence of the relations described above; hence each individual transaction continues to conform to the laws of commodity exchange, with the capitalist always buying labour power and the worker always selling it at what we shall assume is its real value. It is quite evident from this that the laws of appropriation or of private property, laws based on the production and circulation of commodities, become changed into their direct opposite through their own internal and inexorable dialectic. The exchange of equivalents, the original operation with which we started, is now turned round in such a way that there is only an apparent exchange, since, firstly, the capital which is exchanged for labour-power is itself merely a portion of the product of the labour of others which has been appropriated without an equivalent; and, secondly, this capital must not only be replaced by its producer, the worker, but replaced together with an added surplus. The relation of exchange between capitalist and worker becomes a mere semblance belonging only to the process of circulation, it becomes a mere form, which is alien to the content of the transaction itself, and merely mystifies it. The constant sale and purchase of labour power is the form; the content is the constant appropriation by the capitalist, without equivalent, of a portion of the labour of others which has already been objectified, and his repeated exchange of this labour for a greater quantity of the living labour of others.

The immediate exchange between workers and employers is an exchange of equivalents, so that workers receive the value of their cost of production. However, when considering the larger context of previous production, then the immediate exchange between employer and workers is a semblance. The employer uses a part of the surplus produced by the workers in a previous round as means of production (machines, raw material, buildings, etc.) and another part (socially as money and physically as means of consumption, such as food, clothing, shelter) to further employ them (in addition to the initial investment).

As “costs,” the workers’ previous products are used against them to further exploit them. Mr. Bush entirely ignores this fact. He ignores the wider context. He ignores “the messy business of material reality.” Why is that? Mr. Bush is really quite arrogant. He pretends to be a very practical person, but he is in reality a very impractical person since he disregards the wider context when engaging in practice. Is this not folly?

Furthermore, even when considering the present costs, what is a cost for the employer and what is a cost for the workers do not coincide–that is one of the implications of the concept of surplus value. As George McCarthy (2018) writes in his book Marx and Social Justice Ethics and Natural Law in the Critique of Political Economy, note 50, page 354:

Not understanding the relationship between constant and variable capital in the production process, the bourgeois economists are unable to understand either the rate of surplus value or the rate of profit. Variable capital thus should include both wages and surplus value. However, when viewed only from the perspective of costs, the concept of surplus value disappears

Referring to surplus labour, on the one hand, and then idealizing “costs” as if it were a neutral concept on the other illustrates the confusion of Mr. Bush. Costs for employers and costs for workers by no means coincide.

In a previous post (Intelligent Activity According to John Dewey: Its Political Implications for the Left), I wrote the following:

The lack of such discussion among most workers shows the extent to which those who call for “practice” and believe that they are eminently practical are eminently impractical; they neglect one of the fundamental conditions for practical intelligence: taking into account the social context when acting. To neglect the social context when acting is to act unintelligently.

What exactly is the aim of those who engage in “practice” among the left? Is there any real discussion about the aims? Or is there simply a rush to engage in one “practice” after another without really engaging in any attempt to unify in a consistent fashion the various actions? If so, is that acting intelligently? Or is it acting unintelligently?

Mr. Bush proposes, practically, that the working class engage in unintelligent activity. More colloquially expressed, he proposes (even if he is unaware of this) that the working class act stupidly.

This is hardly in the interests of the working class.

I strongly suggest that Mr. Bush alter radically his theory and practice.

Unfortunately, there is already evidence that he will not do so. On Facebook, he and I engaged in in a short debate over the issue of whether the fight for $15 and an hour (and various employment reforms) should be paired with the concept of fairness (as indeed it was in Ontario). Mr. Bush explicitly stated that it was fair. I argued that such reforms indeed should be defended–while criticizing any concept of fairness.

My prediction for Mr. Bush’s future is that he will end up with a similar attitude to Mr. Urkevitch (see an earlier post,   Comments from John Urkevich, AESES-UM Business Agent, to my Critique of the Grievance and Arbitration Procedure: Letter to the Editor, Inside The Association of Employees Supporting Educational Services (AESES), Vol. 17, No. 4, May 1994). He will become a staunch defender of practice within the status quo of the employer-employee relation–like Mr. Urkevitch and many other union representatives.

It should be remembered that Mr. Bush is seen by many in Toronto, the largest city in Canada, as a practical leftist, a socialist and a good trade-unionist. That his views have not received any critical scrutiny illustrates the dominance of social-reformist leftism in Canada and the need for the creation of a more critical  but also practical leftism in Canada in general and Toronto in particular.

Basic Income: A Critique of the Social-Reformist Left’s Assumptions and Analysis: Part One

Introduction

I am dividing the post into two parts, with the first part devoted to more concrete concerns, and the second part to more theoretical concerns.

David Bush, in an April 26, 2017 article published on the Socialist Project website (Basic Income and the Left: The Political and Economic Problems), argues that the proposal for a basic income is unrealistic in terms of capitalist relations. Like the later pamphlet by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) (Basic Income in the Neoliberal Age) (Toronto: 2017), he does not consider the basic income proposal strategically worthwhile since it cannot be realized within capitalist relations.

As I argued in an earlier post (Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance), proposing a basic income that contradicts what even OCAP recognizes is economic coercion is a strategy that calls into question the power of employers as a class and hence economic coercion. David Bush, though, considers that the debate among the left does not take “material reality” into account. He says the following:

Instead of a concrete debate about the economic and political aspects of BI, it is discussed as an ideal separated from the messy business of material reality.

Mr. Bush is going to give the idealist left a lesson in the “messy business of material reality.” What is material reality for Mr. Bush?

Mr. Bush obviously believes that he is a realist–he can deal with “the messy business of material reality”–whereas the radical left are idealists. He says the following:

The strategy of those advocating BI centres on crafting policies in a vacuum and hoping governments enact them.

This romantic idealism has stymied serious analysis of the policy from the Left. Taking a step back and looking at the economic and political logic of BI, I hope to show that however well-meaning the policy is, it is economically flawed and a politically dangerous demand for the Left to adopt.

Mr. Bush is a grass roots organizer and practitioner, and because of this he believes that he has a better grasp of the “messy business of material reality”–whereas the radical left, romantic idealists that they are, are unrealistic.

Let us now look at the beginning of this “serious analysis of the policy from the Left.” But just a point: Some who advocate a basic income have no illusion that governments in their present structure will institute a policy that will eliminate economic coercion; such governments, rather, thrive on economic coercion and will not institute a policy that will undercut their own existence.

Costing Basic Income–An Employer Approach

The title of Mr. Bush’s next section is “Costing BI.”

Mr. Bush then refers to three models of basic income. He then makes the following astounding assertion:

The first question we should ask is, what are the basic costs of these models? Looking at Ontario, Michal Rozworski has pointed out the cost of the universal model, even when set at a low rate, is exorbitant.

This is a good example of Mr. Bush’s way of dealing with the “messy business of material reality.” We are not to question the fact of costs; we are to assume that costs are somehow sacred and propose policies only on the basis of costs within the structure of the power of the employers as a class. Mr. Bush’s “first question” assumes that we are to measure a policy on the basis of money–this is his way of dealing with the “messy business of material reality.”

In other words, Mr. Bush does not inquire into why things in our society have a price and in fact why human beings have a price–they simply do. We are then supposed to be “realistic” by accepting this “fact” (and it is a fact) rather than investigating the conditions and implications of this fact for human life and welfare. See The Money Circuit of Capital for the social implications of measuring human beings and our life process in term of money (costs). I will further criticize this approach in the next section.

This jump into costs is related to the inadequacy of Mr. Bush’s next section (entitled The BI and the Logic of Capitalism). The inadequacy of this section will be addressed in the subsequent post (part two).

However, in relation to  OCAP’s pamphlet on basic income, Mr. Bush’s analysis is inferior: at least OCAP managed to express part of the truth of the fact of measuring human life and human welfare in terms of “costs.” In the OCAP pamphlet, it is written:  “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (page 6). If economic coercion is characteristic of the job market, then the left should adopt a policy that short-circuits this economic coercion–such as a radical basic income policy (see an earlier post,  A Radical Basic Income as a Radical Reform).

By treating human beings as “costs” (purchasable with money), Mr. Bush assumes that economic coercion is inevitable without connecting the dots. By nonchalantly accepting costs as a fact of life and a so-called necessary part of the world–part of the “messy business of material reality” (actually part of the messy business of capitalist reality), Mr. Bush becomes an ideologue of employers without realizing it.

Mr. Bush continues this illogic of treating human beings as costs; the reader will be spared any further reference to this “messy business of material reality.”

In the subsequent post, I will pursue Mr. Bush’s illogic by looking at his next section, entitled “The BI [Basic Income] and the Logic of Capitalism.” It will be shown that Mr. Bush fails to connect up treating people as costs with what he thinks is Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value.

However, I will not wait until the next post to expose Mr. Bush’s real intent.

He gives his own position away when he states the following:

Rather than raising the rates for social assistance, increasing the minimum wage or spending more on social services the government is touting its BI experiment.

These reforms are what Mr, Bush is really after. The basic income experiment as proposed by the Liberal government and even right-wing parties and governments would interfere with these reforms. The real alternative is “raising the rates for social assistance, increasing the minimum wage or spending more on social services.” These reforms are all–within the context of economic coercion and economic blackmail, are they not? There is nothing wrong with fighting for reforms–workers need to improve their lives, but why not improve their lives but not having any illusions about the fairness of such reforms? Why not propose some reforms that do definitely exceed the power of employers and the government to meet them? Mr. Bush is really a social democrat who wants social reform while assuming the eternal nature of the power of employers as a class.

Mr. Bush further gives himself away as a social reformist who accepts the inevitability of the power of employers as a class when he says:

The very same forces that make it difficult to win improvements in current social programs….

That is what Mr. Bush really calls dealing with the “messy business of material reality.” The only viable strategy is–improvements in social programs. Forget about eliminating the economic blackmail characteristic of the power of employers as a class. Forget about trying to develop policies and strategies that address the root of “material reality” characterized by economic coercion and economic blackmail. We need to fight–for social reforms only; everything else is idealistic nonsense. Such is the way in which Mr. Bush deals with the “messy business of material reality.”

Mr. Bush, like other social-democratic reformists, then refers to dignity for all without explaining how this is to be achieved within the context of the class power of employers:

Burying the idea of BI as a viable strategy to respond to inequalities and injustices of capitalism allows us to focus on strategies that can help us build the power we need to achieve economic justice and dignity for all.

Mr. Bush, like other social-reformist leftists, has no intention of really questioning the power of employers as a class. Social reform, and more social reform, and more social reform–that is all they have to offer.

Perhaps Mr. Bush can explain how “economic justice and dignity for all” is possible in conditions characterized by “economic coercion?” By the money circuit of capital? By treating human beings systematically and necessarily as means rather than ends?

I prefer the analysis of Tony Smith, in his book Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism: Marx and Normative Social Theory in the Twenty-First Century (Leiden: Brill, 2017, pages 342-343) to Mr. Bush’s reformist rhetoric:

The abolition of labour markets, that is, the abolition of wage labour as
a social form, would contribute greatly to overcoming the ‘bifurcation of the
political’. It is also required if we are to ever attain a world in which the [sic] ‘all persons are equal, so far as the importance of their basic interests are concerned’.3
To accomplish this, the production and distribution of goods and services could
be undertaken by worker co-operatives, with managers democratically elected
by, and accountable to, those over whom they exercise authority.

Smith refers specifically to a demand for a basic income that goes beyond anything that the class power of employers could satisfy (page 346):

It is not the mere presence of markets that establishes the alien power of
capital. What makes capitalist market societies so different from pre-capitalist
societies with markets is the society-wide compulsion to place the accumulation
of surplus value above all other ends. The democratising of decisions regarding
the levels and priorities of new investments, combined with full employment
and basic income guarantees that are not feasible in capitalism, removes the
compulsion.

Note that Smith does not limit the proposal to only a basic income that is not “feasible in capitalism.” Mr. Bush, by contrast, will always propose policies that are feasible within capitalism. This is his way of dealing with the “messy business of material reality.”

Rather than concluding on a purely negative note, however, it should be recognized that Mr. Bush at least should be commended in putting into writing and publicly his beliefs. How else can errors and hence corrections arise? Many of the social-democratic left here in Toronto (and I suspect elsewhere) hide behind their “practice” and are unwilling to come out publicly to expose their beliefs to criticism. Mr. Bush should be commended for having the courage for publicly declaring his beliefs.

Given the inadequate nature of Mr. Bush’s views, he should modify his beliefs and thereby change his practice. If he (and other social reformers) should, however, persist in their dogmas, both theoretically and practically, then of course they should be thoroughly criticized.

In my next post, I will show that Mr. Bush, on the one hand, uses Karl Marx’s theory of surplus value for conservative purposes and, on the other, that he fails to connect Marx’s theory of “costs” to Marx’s theory of surplus value–a connection that has radical implications. Such implications, at the practical level, permit us “to focus on strategies that can help us build the power we need to achieve economic justice and dignity for all”–that really go beyond the class power of employers rather than the pseudo-radicalism offered by Mr. Bush’s “messy business of material reality.”