[OPE] Marx on market equality and freedom in the Grundrisse (contra McNally)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@telfort.nl)
Date: Tue May 06 2008 - 14:13:46 EDT

In the Grundrisse, at the beginning of the chapter on Capital, Marx engages in a lengthy discussion about the liberating and equalising potential of exchange relations. Here is an excerpt:

"Therefore, when the economic form, exchange, posits the all-sided equality of its subjects, then the content, the individual as well as the objective material which drives towards the exchange, is freedom. Equality and freedom are thus not only respected in exchange based on exchange values but, also, the exchange of exchange values is the productive, real basis of all equality and freedom. As pure ideas they are merely the idealized expressions of this basis; as developed in juridical, political, social relations, they are merely this basis to a higher power. And so it has been in history. Equality and freedom as developed to this extent are exactly the opposite of the freedom and equality in the world of antiquity, where developed exchange value was not their basis, but where, rather, the development of that basis destroyed them. Equality and freedom presuppose relations of production as yet unrealized in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages. Direct forced labour is the foundation of the ancient world; the community rests on this as its foundation; labour itself as a 'privilege', as still particularized, not yet generally producing exchange values, is the basis of the world of the Middle Ages. Labour is neither forced labour; nor, as in the second case, does it take place with respect to a common, higher unit (the guild)."

In discoursing about "Marx's theory of freedom", Professor McNally has no notion of this at all, and completely ignores it. His claim is that for Marx "the essential basis of freedom is humanity's capacity for self-production. And as with Hegel, this freedom can be exercised for Marx only within the human community." (New Dialectics and Political Economy, p. 15). By contrast, according to McNally, the exchange of money and commodities are a condition of unfreedom because they impose an "external logic" (p. 20). 
McNally has this hippy 1970s sociological idea about socialism of a "Gemeinschaft" where everything is groovy, everybody is included, and people just share to get what they need, you know. Anything to do with money or trade is alienating or - in Prof. McNally's special expression, it lacks "genuine self-mediation" (p. 19). 

But this view conflicts with Marx's own explicitly stated position, which is that the development of economic exchange carries within it dialectical contradictions: it BOTH creates the conditions of freedom and equality, AND negates freedom and equality at the same time. Market relations are both liberating in some respects, and oppressive in other respects. McNally has no clue about what this dialectic is at all, or of what it consists in. For him, markets and private property are simply the enemy, though of course he likes to shop and own his car and his house.

In fact, in his 1844 Paris manuscripts, Marx explains in fine detail, that private property relations cannot be "transcended" before people have actually learnt to master them, i.e. learnt to take responsibility for their own private assets and products. You cannot build a communist society with irresponsible brutes who do not even take good care of their own assets, and have no experience or consciousness of property relations.

Anyway - the wealthy Marxist bureaucrats lean over their academic rostrums to inform us that Marx says that "markets are bad, alienating things which should be abolished", but this has nothing to do with Marx himself. But supposing that their forgeries were correct - then they have to explain how a non-market allocation would actually be realistically achieved, and how that would be better in terms of freedom and equality. This they do not do, except for talking vaguely about democratic decisionmaking, and shooting mathematical formulas. So their "socialism" is just a chimera.

When we examine more closely what their so-called "socialism" really consists of then, it turns out that in practice they seek the authority to grab wealth and money from you by non-market methods. At the beginning, they want you to work for them for free, spreading their socialist propaganda and donating money and labour to them. So it starts with exploiting your sympathy. But later, they want control over taxation, so they can grab income & wealth from you unilaterally, and distribute it according to their "socialist" idea (with a very rich helping to themselves, of course, justified by saying that after all they create new jobs for other people and take responsibility for things). And finally they want at least the option of robbing and imprisoning anybody who doesn't agree with their socialist idea (you cannot really "rule" without that threat). The function of Marx in all this is only to conjure up an image of theoretical profundity and fidelity to principle, suggesting depth of intellectual thought. The rhetoric is about freedom, but the real content is utterly totalitarian and despotic. 


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