[OPE-L:8357] Re: law of value and justice

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Sat Jan 18 2003 - 11:58:42 EST

Cologne 18-Jan-2003

Re: [OPE-L:8354]

Christopher Arthur schrieb Fri, 17 Jan 2003 17:56:06 +0000:

> Michael
> I  must protest at  the  misinterpretation of Marx you give below. You must
> know pervfectly well Marx never had any truck with justice and certainly
> never regarded the LTV as its foundation. More detail below.
> >For there to be individual freedom in a society, there has to be individuals.
> >The being of an individual socially is tied essentially to relations of free
> >exchange (intercourse in the broadest sense, including the exchange of
> >views and
> >also the abstract relations of commodity exchange). Marxism is antithetical to
> >such individualism insofar as, on the basis of the LTV, it pronounces all
> >exchange of labour for wages to be _essentially_ unjust, the injustice
> >purportedly residing in the fact that the worker creates surplus-value for the
> >other party (the capitalist), who appropriates the surplus without giving
> >anything in return. This is one aspect of what I mean by Marxism being
> >metaphysically impoverished. In ascribing value-creation to labour, which turns
> >out to be wage labour, it makes all else worthless, literally non-productive.
> >Value-creation is pronounced to be a function of labour-time expended, from
> >which a claim to a portion of the product is derived. This is the kind of
> >thinking worthy only of planning bureaucrats.
> The conflation you first make between different kinds of exchange is
> unhelpful; as it reads it seems you might think free individuality is
> necessarily rooted in market exchange. That is pure bourgeois ideology of
> course.

Saying that something is "pure bourgeois ideology" does not have any persuasive
power for me. I also did not talk of "free individuality" but of the connection
between abstract relations of generalized commodity exchange and the social mode of
being as individual. This way of social being implies a dissociation in the sense
of freedom from coercive social ties of, say, tradition and direct subjugation to a
ruler, even if this ruler is democratically elected.

> As for the LTV stuff this is a classic case of shooting the messenger for
> the bad news. It is bourgeois society that is ontologically impoversished,
> it is bourgeois society that declares non-productive activities worthless.

I disagree. On the basis of the LTV and its corollary, the theory of surplus-value,
labour of circulation or management or entrepreneurship creates no value, i.e. it
is 'in truth', beneath the false appearances of bourgeois ideology, worthless.
Bourgeois society itself, however, honours this labour nonetheless in money.

> It is bourgeois society that not only subsumes individuals under class
> identities but provides even its beneficiaries with an impoverised
> individuality. You should read Oscar Wilde on 'The SOul of Man under
> Socialism' where he looks forward to socialism making possible true
> individuality.
> Any unprejudiced reader of Marx should see that his critique of PE is
> directed against such bourgeois relations and their implications.
> I don't deny the experience of Stalinism was a set-back, just as the
> experience of the Terror and Napoleon was a set-back for the hopes of the
> bourgeois revolution. But we can learn and go forward. Certainly the
> violence of the market cannot be the only option.

I agree that the markets can be violent and that they are risky. Capitalist market
opportunities, however, can also lift millions of people out of abject poverty.
There is also something positive in facing the challenge of trying to earn a living
in capitalist markets -- if the rules of play are roughly fair.

> >Perversely, and motivated unconsciously by resentment and envy, Marxism
> >declares
> >individual differences in material wealth in themselves to be socially unjust.
> >Genuine justice, which "avoids" all the "Missstaende" (unacceptable states of
> >affairs) accepted as just in bourgeois conceptions of justice, is
> >proclaimed to
> >be "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs."
> >(Kritik des Gothaer Programms MEW19:21) Here is where Marx's impoverished
> >metaphysics of human being becomes visible, since, in truth, needs only arise
> >from the usages of how each of us lives, not conversely. Marx himself
> >points to
> >this: "One worker is married, the other is not; one worker has more children
> >than the other, etc. etc." (MEW19:21) In this "etc. etc." is hidden the entire
> >gamut of possibilities of individual ways of living.
> >Since these usages, i.e. these customary ways of living _from_ which needs
> >arise, are to serve as the measure for a just claim on the social product, a
> >communist society would also have to prescribe _how individuals live_.
> >Otherwise
> >"need" would be a function of 'bourgeois' individual caprice and
> >arbitrariness.
> >Whether I could become a philosopher or an artist would have to be decided by
> >some committee somewhere, not by my individual resolve to cast my life in a
> >particular direction and scrape toegether the material means for doing so
> >by all
> >sorts of circuitous routes. The committee (which hasn't a clue about
> >philosophy
> >or art) may decide that philosophy is socially superfluous/dangerous and
> >that I
> >should establish a family instead because of the demographic "needs" of
> >society.
> >I would then have to bribe some committee member or other, etc.
> CA: Marx never ever said individual differences were unjust as such. The whole
> point of the first part of the CGP is to vindicate these differences
> against all conceptions of justice which necessarily group people into
> definite classes. The whole point of the slogan, if you read the context
> carefully, is precisely to get away from any rules of justice externally
> imposed on individuals and leave them free to determine for themselves
> their needs and abilities. This is nothing to do with bourgeois caprice
> because we are thinking of a communist society in which sociality is a
> feature of our lives. One great advantage would be precisely that the
> individual would not have to 'scrape together' but would have a secure
> basis for existence.

Providing such a "secure basis for existence" is probably the worse possible thing
to do to a human being, especially a potentially creative one. Help to self-help is
the genuine role of social safety nets. People need to be enabled to take care of
themselves self-reliantly, not to have their cares taken away from them (which only
makes them dependent).

An example: in the Netherlands there is a scheme to support art by supporting
artists. Anyone fulfilling certain minimal criteria can claim to be an artist and
then claim guaranteed purchases of his/her artistic output by state-funded museums.
Is the result a blossoming of artistic creativity? No. The result is a lot of bad
art filling up the basements of Dutch museums.

This example just to indicate that creativity of any kind involves an enormous
struggle in which the indivisible individual comes to their self. I am not making a
plea for a notion of bourgeois genius here. All creativity is only possible in the
social world in which an individual lives, and this social world evokes and elicits
and enables this creativity. But, there is also no alternative to individual
struggle and risk to unfold one's creativity in one's life. Nobody else can stand
in proxy for this struggle and risk.

The notion that individuality would unfold freely and creatively if only the
external coercion of economic exigencies would disappear is, in my opinion,
entirely naive. Becoming a human being, casting one's very own existence and giving
it shape, learning one's limits and delimiting oneself, taking a stand in the world
-- all these things are always an individual struggle.

> That is Marx. Of course he could be criticised on the ground that he is
> presupposing a society of abundance and, short of that, external measures,
> however 'fair', would have to ration resources, and likewise if some work
> is still unpleasant some sort of social norms requiring some measure of
> contribution may be needed. Finally the demographic is a worry but in the
> opposite sense to what we have seen in the USSR, namely overpopulation may
> require pressure for 2 child families as in China. But these are problems
> for us all and it is unfair to blame Marx for not having the answer.

Actually, in China isn't it one-child families? Which raises the serious
demographic problem in China (and also elsewhere in Asia -- South Korea, India) of
loads of boys and no girls. But this only by the bye.

To my mind, these ideas on communist society are innocent and naive in that they do
not take into account the terrible uncanniness and limitless possibilities of human
being itself, which is not just a 'product' of 'bourgeois social relations', but
lies much deeper. Uncanny human being is capable of good and bad, of justice and
injustice, of utter mediocrity and astounding creativeness, of the most incredible
meanness and the most overwhelming magnanimity, etc.

Needs can be fulfilled, desires can be satiated, but human desire and its striving
is limitless. In particular, individual human striving to acquire the material
goods of life is limitless, perpetually assuming new forms. Material self-interest
is not a bourgeois invention and is not extinguished in any attempt to socialize
material production and distribution. The abstract social relations of capitalist
society provide legitimate room for play for the individual striving for material
goods. The limits to acquisition of wealth are set by the market rules of play
(which are formalized and supervised more or less successfully by the
bourgeois-democratic state).

My reservations about the possibilities of socialism do not derive only from the
historical experience of brutal, murderous Stalinism, nor even only from the
historical experience of the repressive character of all socialist societies. Human
being itself and especially human being as social being has to be thought through
(philosophically). Self-interest does not disappear, nor does human being cease to
be limitlessly desirous in any attempt to socialize also the material reproduction
of society and do away with private property, capitalist competition, and all the

Bourgeois society knows of abstract relations of commodity exchange and also of
co-operation, when self-interested individuals get together to realize a common
project. But forms of hierarchical organization and of government are also
ineluctable to a greater or lesser extent. Whenever somebody is able to give
(legitimate) orders which others have to obey, there is a _dynamis_ and an
_archae_, i.e. a point of origin governing changes in another. Whenever association
is not a matter of mutual agreement, some form of _archae_ or power is involved.
Power is a medium of sociation sui generis, to be distinguished from both commodity
exchange mediated by money and also the economic power which relies on money,
wealth, assets, capital.

Political power arises necessarily where there is a res publica, i.e. public
matters that have to be deliberated on and the decision that is reached executed.
Wherever political power is wielded there is the possibility of self-interest
becoming melded with this medium, i.e. there is the possibility of political
corruption wherever one person has power others. That is why the thinking on
bourgeois democracy is permeated by the problem of how the instances of political
power are to be themselves controlled and checked and kept in check. The separation
of powers in the bourgeois-democratic state is just one aspect of how to come to
terms with this: the medium of power is not to be blindly trusted by society; there
must be checks and balances.

If private property were to be abolished and the material reproduction of society
socialized, the scope of the medium of political power would be widened. The
possibilities of political corruption are increased immensely. Society becomes more
repressive because the abstract freedom enabled by money is replaced by social
directives and social permission.

The problems and possibilities of misuse of power in capitalist organizations are
well-known. That is why there are such things as supervisory boards, auditors and
corporate legislation. But there is also the discipline of the markets and
capitalist competition which force those in charge at capitalist companies to keep
the final aim of turning a profit in sight.

Where production becomes a thoroughly political matter, power becomes the dominant
medium within which social reproduction is effected, and the abuse of power for the
sake of self-interest becomes an all-pervasive, ubiquitous problem. The historical
experience of socialist societies also provides evidence of this.

On the other hand, guaranteeing the fulfilment of material needs removes one of the
principal spurs for people to give their best. What can be taken for granted loses
in value. What things are worth, desire and the striving to acquire are all
essentially and intimately interrelated. That is the erotic character of human
being which Plato already clearly saw. (There is nothing erotic about Marxism. Its
appeal lies rather in the promise of _fulfilling_ needs and _satisfying_ desire and
in "scientifically proving" that an entire class in society has been

The notion that the state would "wither away" in a socialist society is childishly
naive. It is on a par with expecting that human self-interest would fade away. But
self-interest has rather to be delimited and channelled so that something good
comes of it.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
http://www.webcom.com/artefact/ _-_-_-_-artefact@webcom.com _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Jan 19 2003 - 00:00:01 EST