Re: [OPE-L] A startling quotation from Engels

From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@GN.APC.ORG)
Date: Tue Aug 14 2007 - 17:20:40 EDT

Consider the context here, Engels is doing an introduction to
Marx critique of Proudhon in Poverty of Philosophy, in which Marx
criticises Proudhon for wishing to have labour values directly
correspond to prices in future society which remains one based
on commodity production, Engels then makes similar criticism
of Rodbertus.

His criticisms are twofold
1. The point mentioned by Alejandro about the lack of a cybernetic feedback
   system in Rodbertus proposal.

2. That Rodbertus was still proposing to pay landlords an capitalists
   an income:
"In the second place, however, rent and profit are also to continue
undiminished. For the landowners and industrial capitalists also exercise
certain socially useful or even necessary functions, even if economically
unproductive ones, and they receive in the shape of rent and profit a sort of
pay on that account — a conception which was, it will be recalled, not new even
in 1842. Actually they get at present far too much for the little that they do,
and badly at that, but Rodbertus has need, at least for the next five hundred
years, of a privileged class, and so the present rate of surplus value, to
express myself correctly, is to remain in existence but is not to be allowed to
be increased. This present rate of surplus value Rodbertus takes to be 200 per
cent, that is to say, for twelve hours of labour daily the worker is to receive
a certificate not for twelve hours but only for four, and the value produced in
the remaining eight hours is to be divided between landowner and capitalist.
Rodbertus' labour certificates, therefore, are a direct lie. Again, one must be
a Pomeranian manor owner in order to imagine that a working class would put up
with working twelve hours in order to receive a certificate for four hours of
labour. If the hocus-pocus of capitalist production is translated into this
naïve language, in which it appears as naked robbery, it is made impossible.
Every certificate given to a worker would be a direct instigation to rebellion
and would come under § 110 of the German Imperial Criminal Code. [7] One need
never have seen any other proletariat than the day-labourer proletariat, still
actually in semi-serfdom, of a Pomeranian manor where the rod and the whip
reign supreme, and where all the beautiful women in the village belong to his
lordship's harem, in order to imagine one can treat the workers in such a
shamefaced manner. But, after all, our conservatives are our greatest

This point about an incentive to rebellion is developed in the report
I wrote on monetary policy in the transition to socialism in venezuela which
I think I posted to the list a month ago.

The theoretical problem for socialists is to reconcile this position
of Engels that Alejandro quotes with the proposal of Marx in Critique
of the Gotha program for the use of labour certificates to regulate
consumer goods.

Quoting Alejandro Agafonow <alejandro_agafonow@YAHOO.ES>:

> BENDIEN: You write: "For Engels only when market reaches the point where
> commodities
> are fully useful, then commodities have its full labour value." What is your
> source for this interpretation? The concept of socially necessary labourtime
> needs to refer only to the effective acquisition of the products of that
> labour time by the consumer.
> We have been discussing Engels' Preface to the First German Edition of The
> Poverty of Philosophy.
> «That which today cannot be supplied quickly enough, may tomorrow be offered
> far in excess of the demand. Nevertheless, demand is finally satisfied in one
> way or another, good or bad, and, taken as a whole, production is ultimately
> geared towards the objects required. How is this evening-out of the
> contradiction effected? By competition. And how does competition bring about
> this solution? Simply by depreciating below their labour value those
> commodities which by their kind or amount are useless for immediate social
> requirements, and by making the producers feel, through this roundabout
> means, that they have produced either absolutely useless articles or
> ostensibly useful articles in unusable, superfluous quantity. [...] Only
> through the undervaluation or overvaluation of products is it forcibly
> brought home to the individual commodity producers what society requires or
> does not require and in what amounts.»
> Regards,
> Alejandro Agafonow
> ----- Mensaje original ----
> De: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@TISCALI.NL>
> Enviado: martes, 14 de agosto, 2007 13:08:54
> Asunto: [OPE-L] A startling quotation from Engels
> Alejandro,
> Perfect competition does not exist, it is only a theoretical supposition -
> economic competition by nature also involves blocking competitors.
> There are different ways of thinking of perfect competition. Perfect
> competition would be like playing football in strict accordance with the
> rules, on a level playing field, in which the outcome of the game depends
> purely on how well the players play.
> In perfect competition, the outcome for producers would depend only on
> productivity, the ability to buy at least cost, and the ability to sell
> maximum volume. Perfect competition need not necessarily mean perfect market
> knowledge, but that all competitors have the same access to knowledge and
> access to markets, and have an equal opportunity to gain access to
> resources. If there are hypothetically no obstacles to market competition
> with respect to production and circulation in this sense, then all trade
> would be determined only by the commercial value (prices) of goods traded,
> and individual choices.
> I agree that I did not consider consumer preferences in the examples. But
> typically consumers choose, with imperfect knowledge, from what they
> perceive is available. Marx rejected the doctrine of consumer sovereignity
> in capitalism, stating in footnote 5 in Das Kapital Vol. 1 "In bourgeois
> societies the economic fictio juris prevails, that every one, as a buyer,
> possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of commodities".
> Presumably in
> a wellfunctioning socialist economy there would be more consumer
> sovereignity, not less, because consumer knowledge is no longer blocked or
> obscured as much by property rights, the motive to misrepresent supply and
> demand would tend to disappear.
> Money cannot be a measure of prices, if it is not an objective (or
> objectified) measure, surely?
> I think Marx's theory of value has both objective and subjective aspects,
> among other things because he seeks to explain why the phenomena of value
> necessarily appear to human subjects in the way that they do, and why they
> respond to these phenomena in a systematic or characteristic pattern.
> It is difficult to know how one could measure the magnitude of utility,
> other than indirectly, via a proxy of some sort. What we can verify is what
> the magnitudes of normal or basic human needs are.
> Jurriaan
> Sé un Mejor Amante del Cine
> ¿Quieres saber cómo? ¡Deja que otras personas te ayuden!

Paul Cockshott

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