[OPE-L:7196] Re: Marx on solving human problems

From: Hans Ehrbar (ehrbar@econ.utah.edu)
Date: Thu May 16 2002 - 15:17:26 EDT

Jurriaan and others,

In my view, Marx's oraculous pronouncement, that mankind
only sets itself such tasks that it it is able to solve,
stems from Marx's belief that all relevant contradictions
are internal contractions.  This is one of the legacies from
Hegel which he didn't manage to rid himself of sufficiently.

Let's look at the English factory legislation limiting the
length of the working day, which was analyzed by Marx.  The
problem was: capital destroyed its own working class by
overworking them.  Market forces did not stop it because
there was a fresh influx of labor from the countryside.

I think Juriaan would argue: the solution was possible
because this is a man-made problem and therefore these same
economic agents can also unmake the problem.  In other
words, the capitalists themselves would eventually have to
come to their senses and say: "this is absurd, we cannot
destroy our own working class."  Juriaan, would you agree
that what you wrote would have to be applied in this way
to the situation of the working-day?

Now Marx explicitly ruled this out as a possible solution.
He wrote that capital is not moved by the prospect of
depopulating the earth any more than by the probable fall of
the earth into the sun, and he wrote repeatedly that without
the resistance of the working class this legislation would
never have been passed.

By the way, Marx also never even hinted at a kind of
solution which you find often among today's Marxist debates:
namely, to say, we have to solve this problem by abolishing
capitalism.  There is no way capitalism could have been
abolished in time for the English working class to be
salvaged from the ravages of capitalist profit-making in the
1800s.  I don't think Marx would have considered it as a
possible solution to the problem.

Well, what *was* the solution?  The solution was that capital
had socialized production so much that it had become
necessary for the interest of the ruling class itself to
heed, to some extent, the interest of the working class.
This is the principle which was so famously victorious.
The same socialization of production which gave the capitalists
unlimited economic power over the workers, by their ability
to replace workers with machines, also forced them to let
the working class have a voice, because without this voice,
the capitalists themselves, only following their class interest,
would run capitalism into the ground.  They didn't give this
voice voluntarily, this would have been against their
class interest, but the working class fought for it.

The problem arose with the means for its solutioin because
the contradiction between the capitalist class and the
working class is an internal contradiction.  They are
interdependent and they are both political and economic
actors in the same society, this is why the working class
could achieve a shortening of the working day without
overturning capitalism itself.  (Of course, Marx hoped that
the workers now would have enough time at their hands that
they would achieve the latter goal too.)

Unfortunately, things are much more sinister if you are
talking about external contradictions.  Marx did not believe
that capitalism would be brought down by external
contractions.  He thought capital would be able to resolve
all external contradictions in its favor and then would
succumb to its internal contraditions.  But the limitedness
of the resources of our planet, which is now an external
barrier to capitalism, is a task which has arisen *without*
the means of its solution.  Dolphins and rain forests do not
have political clout, and those who would have political
clout, the working class, do not suffer immediately enough
to be stirred into a fight.

Hans G. Ehrbar

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Jun 02 2002 - 00:00:07 EDT