[OPE] 'Let us rediscover Marx' -Talks by Mike L and Ernesto Molina at the Book Fair

From: <glevy@pratt.edu>
Date: Sat Feb 28 2009 - 06:29:52 EST

---------------------------- Original Message ----------------------------

Subject: talks by Molina and me at the Book Fair
"michael a. lebowitz" <mlebowit@sfu.ca>
Date: Sat,
February 28, 2009 12:33 am

Let us rediscover Marx' -- Two talks on Michael
Lebowitz's `Beyond
Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working

By *Michael A. Lebowitz*

Michael Lebowitz
will be a featured guest at the /World at a Crossroads/
to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009,
organised by
the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Resistance and /Green
Weekly/. Visit http://www.worldATACrossroads.org
<http://www.worldatacrossroads.org/> for full agenda and to book

February 16, 2009 -- It is well known that
when Karl Marx heard what
people calling themselves Marxists were
saying, he commented, ``all I
know is that I am not a Marxist''. It
is not as well known, however,
that Marx had little respect for
disciples in general. A theory
disintegrates, he said, when
disciples try to ``explain away'' problems
in the theory -- when
they engage in ``crass empiricism'', use ``phrases
in a scholastic
way'', and employ ``cunning argument'' to support the
theory. A
theory disintegrates, he said, when the point of departure of
disciples is ``no longer reality'' but the theory that the master

Although Marx had in mind what had happened to the
theories of Hegel and
Ricardo at the hands of their disciples, the
problem he detected applies
to his own theory. /Marx has had too
many disciples /-- too many people
who simply repeat the theory, too
many people who argue endlessly that
it is correct in the form that
Marx left it. These are people whose
mantra is the ``two whatevers''
-- whatever is in /Capital /is right,
whatever is/ not /in /Capital
/is wrong. With a dialectical perspective,
however, we recognise
that what is outside /Capital /is essential to
understand what is
inside it.

I began to wonder about what was not in/ Capital
/when I was reading the
/Grundrisse/, Marx's notebooks from 1857-8.
Among other things, those
rich notebooks are filled with a
discussion of needs. And, indeed, Marx
noted there that the
contemporary power of capital is based upon the
creation of new
needs for workers. (Can we deny the significance of the
generation of needs by capital, of the power that consumerism
capital?) But, where was the discussion of the needs of workers in
/Capital/? Further, Marx explained that he would assume that the
standard of necessity of workers was given for a given time and place,

but that this assumption would be removed in the book on wage
/What/ book on wage labour? In the /Grundrisse/, Marx
indicated that the
book on wage labour would be one of his six books
(of which /Capital
/was only the first).

And so I began
to explore the question of what happens if we /remove/
assumption that Marx intended to remove? What happens if we allow
the standard of needs of workers, that set of needs which underlies the

value of labour power, to vary? Let me tell you that it was like
on a loose thread. The more I pulled on this thread, the
greater the
implications that were revealed (and continue to be
revealed). Except
this is really not a good analogy. Because the
theory did /not/ unravel.
On the contrary, the theory in /Capital
/became so much more consistent
with the bulk of Marx's work on
politics and struggle. In short, it was
more like a chemical
experiment -- adding an element and producing
exciting results.

Let me tell you about a few of those results in the time available
to me

We need to recognise, for example, that
Marx's /Capital /is a critique
of the political economy of /capital/
-- that it is an inner examination
and critique of the way things
look like from the perspective of
capital. That book looks at things
from the side of capital and not from
the side of the working class.
It articulates and develops the goal and
impulse of capital, its
drive for surplus value, but it does not
articulate and develop the
/alternative/ goal, what Marx called the
worker's own need for

Thus, we can see that there is a whole set of
alternative categories
which are not developed which we need to
think about. The concept of
productive labour introduced, for
example, is productive labour for
/capital/ -- labour which produces
surplus value. What is /not /explored
is productive labour for the
/worker/ -- labour which supports the
education, health and the
nurturing of human beings, and which aids in
the development of
human capacities. The concept of wealth introduced is
wealth from
the perspective of /capital/ -- an accumulation of
commodities, an
accumulation of money. What is /not/ considered, though,
is wealth
from the perspective of workers -- the full development of
capacities, the creation of what Marx called rich human beings.

However, we do get little glimpses of that alternative political economy

of which Marx spoke -- the political economy of the working class,
political economy which points to a society in which people are
able to
develop all their capacities. In that society, ``all means
for the
development of production'' do /not /cripple workers and
turn them into
fragments of human beings, ``alienated from the
potentialities of the labour process''. That is a
society in which
productive forces are /not/ infected by capital's
need to divide
workers; that is a society in which ``the original
sources of wealth'',
human beings and nature, are not destroyed
because they are only means
to capital's goal.

refers repeatedly to capitalism and capitalist relations as an
/inversion/, an inversion of this alternative society. Nowhere, though,

does he /describe/ that society; rather, it is his /premise/. In
respect, Marx's /Capital/ is not neutral science. Rather,
/Capital/ is
filled with indignation, hatred of the system that
exploits and, even
worse, /destroys/ human beings. How can we read
/Capital/ without
recognising that his condemnation of capitalism is
from the perspective
of that inverse situation in which means of
production are used to
satisfy ``the worker's own need for
development''? When you recognise
Marx's understanding of real
wealth as the development of human
capacities, you understand the
horror implied in the opening sentence of
/Capital/, where he
describes a society in which wealth appears as ``an
collection of commodities''.

Indeed, one of the most important
findings flowing from this particular
intellectual experiment is the
recognition that Marx's focus upon human
development and the
development of human capacities is present in
/Capital /as a spectre
haunting the political economy of capital. The
importance of human
development is essential there just as it is in his
other works. Of
course, Marx does not think of human development as
falling from the
sky, as coming as a gift from above, or as a present
for those who
have been good enough to develop productive forces. Always
to his conception is that people produce themselves through
activity -- in other words, that ``simultaneous changing of
circumstances and human activity or self-change'', which he defined as

``/revolutionary practice/''.

Here, then, is what I call
the /key link/ -- human development and
practice. People transform
themselves through their activity. The
particular kind of activity
in which people function within capitalism
produces a particular
kind of person: when you work under capital's
direction for
capital's goal, you are capital's product. Understand this
key link,
and you recognise that the full development of human
cannot occur without producers functioning as collective
under their own direction with their own goals. This concept of
key link of human development and practice, which is Marx's concept
of revolutionary practice, thus points to the importance for the
development of socialist human beings of democratic practices and
protagonism at the level of neighbourhoods, communities, workplaces and

society as a whole. It points to the necessity for the simultaneous

development of socialist productive forces and socialist human
beings --
that concept of which Che Guevara spoke.

we have the full development of human capacities without
protagonism? Without democracy from below? I suggest that Karl Marx
speaks to us today and that he is very relevant to the reality we face

-- the task of going beyond capital and building socialism for the

Several years ago, one of the finest
Marxist theorists, Istvan Meszaros,
presented a paper here in Cuba
with the title, ``Marx, Our
Contemporary''. I share that idea of the
contemporary relevance of Marx.
Let us rediscover Marx -- not as
disciples who disintegrate a theory but
as followers who continue
along the path that he opened.

[This was a presentation on the
Cuban edition of /Beyond Capital: Marx's
Political Economy of the
Working Class, /which was delivered at the
Havana Book Fair,
February 16, 2009.]

Ernesto Molina: `Workers have to
learn to construct a more universal
space in its struggle against

By *Professor Ernesto Molina, *translated by
/Federico Fuentes/ for
/Links International Journal of Socialist
<http://links.org.au>. Presentation on the book,
/Beyond Capital: Marx's
political economy of the working class/ by
Michael A. Lebowitz, at the
2009 Havana Book Fair.

February 16, 2009 -- The author of this book is a professor emeritus of

Marxist economy and socialism at Simon Fraser University in British

Colombia, Canada, where he gave classes for a little over 30 years.

Currently, he is the director of the program, "Transformational
and human development", at the Centro Internacional
Miranda, Caracas. As
well as his works on Marx, methodology and
theory of the crisis, he has
written widely on the theory of
socialist economy. He received,
precisely for the book that we are
presenting today, the Isaac and
Tamara Deutscher Prize for the best
and most innovative work in the
Marxist tradition.

Michael Lebowitz's book, we can identify a creative focus on the
analysis of those aspects that Marx left incomplete as part of his grand

plan to write six works that he was unable to finish due to the
adversities of life. He was only able to partially prepare the first
work -- /Capital/ -- because, as is known, the final draft of volumes II

and III were done by Frederick Engels.

fundamentally conceived of /Capital/ as a way to expose the enemy
the working class: capital. The merit of Michael Lebowitz resides,
precisely, in his identification of another pole of analysis necessary

to carry out: the struggle of the working class against capital, for

which Marx proposed to write "Wage labour".

The more capital divides workers, the more it can exploit them. Workers

want time to themselves, they want to still be able to do things
work, reduce the work day and increase real salaries: that is,
the level of exploitation. Capitalists push in a contrary
That is why they introduce new technologies: to increase
the level of
exploitation. /Technology is an instrument of class
Technology is not neutral: it can be put at the service
of capital or at
the service of the working class.

workers compete among themselves, it strengthens capital. If
acts as one in the face of many unions, it is strong. If the
union demands a lot, capital moves to another country. When unions
in the North are very united, capital emigrates to the South and the
situation of the workers in the North worsen, unemployment increases and

salaries deteriorate. But unions in the North frequently convert
themselves into complices of capital, against the unions in the South.

The greater the level of division among workers is, the lower
real wages
are. In /Capital/, Marx assumes a constant wage. He knew
that the
struggle meant it was not constant. The necessities of the
workers grow,
and that is where the power of capital resides. This
idea of the /role
played by the necessities of workers as an arm of
domination by capital/
is fundamental in Michael Lebowitz's

The working class has to have a strategy to raise
the level of
satisfaction of its growing necessities. The study of
the working class,
of ourselves, demands that we know how people
produce themselves through
their activity, through the struggle.
Workers that don't struggle belong
to capital; they are faithful
slaves, immoral instruments of capital,
apathetic beings,

The struggle is also a process of production of
people, of historic
subjects. Capitalist productive forces are
created to divide the workers.

>From the
theoretical-methodological point of view, /Beyond Capital/
constitutes well what the author has used as a subtitle for the work:

``Marx's political economy of the working class''. It makes us think
a political economy of the working class before and after the

Because the workers have to /learn
to construct a more universal space
in its struggle against
capital/, when today it is assuming a character
more global with new
instruments of domination. This demands the
bringing together of a
large diversity of legitimate interests of the
peoples, cultures,
struggles and proposals of the social organisations
in opposition to
capital and all its forms of domination.

This work is of
special interest for Latin America and Cuba. The social
political situation in Latin America has been defining itself
further to the "left" via the resistance of the peoples
established democratic means. The Bolivarian Revolution has
been pushing
forward bit by bit and with great flexibility the idea
[Bolivarian Alternative for Our Americas], which is
converting itself
into a process of legitimate integration adapted
to the particular
conditions of each situation, locality and

Not all the governments in Latin America that have
taken a position in
defence of national interests in the face of
North American imperialism
are promoting truly radical projects in
defence of the grand majorities.
But these alliances are possible in
the face of the colossal of the
North. While Venezuela's President
Hugo Chavez Frias is promoting the
idea of socialism of the 21st
century, reformists, non-neoliberal, or
better still
neostructuralist ideas, that in some way or another are
counterposing themselves to North American imperialism, are
attempting to attract the efforts of the peoples to favourable changes

towards a better world in the region.

*Is it possible
and necessary to establish alliances between
revolutionary and
reformist movements? Under what conditions? *

Venezuela has
converted itself into a very rich and diverse scenario for


the human value of /inclusive
social policies;/


the protagonist role and
participation of the popular sectors in
testing out new development


the differences between accumulation of
electoral forces and
accumulation of social, citizen and political
forces, and


also demonstrating to what point a
better world is possible
despite all the aggressions and mainstream
media campaigns at the
service of transnationals.

is a certain relationship between the emphasis that Lebowitz gives
to the importance of the subjectivity of the working class, and in
general the workers, and the conception of Ernesto Che Guevara, who in

the spirit of Marx's ideas, recognised that it was not enough to
increase (productivism) the object on which socialist property
but also, and with more reason, it was necessary to develop
personality of the subject that exercises that property.

/I'm not interested in the economic socialism without a communist

moral. We fight against misery, but at the same time, we fight
against alienation. One of the main objectives of Marxism is to make
disappear the interest, the individual interest factor and profit
factor, from psychological motivations. Marx was interested in the
economic facts but also on their repercussions on people's mind and
the definitive result of this repercussion. He called it a `fact of
conscience'. If the communism neglects the facts of conscience, it
converts itself into a distribution method, but it will never be a
revolutionary moral./// [1] <http://links.org.au/node/921#_ftn1>

It is better to build the new by building from our own
strengths, and
not from our weaknesses, inherited from the old
regime. The new
socialist moral cannot come into being if we only
rely on the "old"
capitalist moral, that while old,
continues persisting when we initiate
the transition to the new

Evidently, Adam Smith faithfully reflected the moral
inherent to
capitalist society when he wrote in /The Wealth of
Nations /in favour of
not putting trust in human solidarity, but
rather in the egotistically
and personal interests of each one,
given that, in order to get what we
want out of others, we have to
demonstrate to them how much it will
benefit them to do so:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the

baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own

interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their

self-love, /and never talk to them of our own necessities but of
their advantages/// [2] <http://links.org.au/node/921#_ftn2>

It is as if conscious cooperation without coercion between people
impossible, and effectively, this is the norm under capitalism,
that is
why it is so important to create, step by step, this
cooperation, with
the protagonism and initiative of all free and
associated producers, in
the community, the country, the region,
with the consensus of all;
starting off, with a certain level of
economic coercion by the socialist
state, and education, until
public opinion sees as the norm that no
producer (worker, peasant)
escapes from work.

Capital imposes economic and extra-economic
coercion on labour. Social
property will progressively eliminate all
types of coercion as general
norms. The workers themselves within
each factory and within society
will each time be more capable of
cooperating in a conscious manner.

But for this it is
necessary to create the required favourable
conditions. It would be
very interesting to hear from Michael Lebowitz
himself about his
experiences in Venezuela at the community scale and of
factories under workers' control that are developing there, not
without some opposition and incomprehension from within the
revolutionary process itself.

Lenin spoke of socialism as a
society of cultured cooperativists. When
we consciously cooperate,
we develop relations based on solidarity, we
are democratic, we
accustom ourselves to listening to others, to
initiatives, we educate ourselves and others and we
ourselves, we develop our capacities, we learn to struggle
in an
organised manner.

And when a democratic and popular
government, such as the one in
Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, gains
access to some quotas of power,
/internal and external obstacles are
raised/ by reactionary forces, so
that the wealth in the hands of
the state (oil) are not put at the
service of the people and to
avoid the ever more conscious protagonism
of the workers in all
spheres of society. But above all, so that the
socialist project
does not advance and serve as a example for the people
of the region
and the world

When for many it appeared that "The end of
history" had arrived, that
the Marxist utopia had been an
impossible dream, the Cuban Revolution
persisted. Latin America is
assuming new colours. We are still far from
having conquered all,
but we continue to move forward. We salute with
affection and
respect this work of Michael Lebowitz, who we consider a
revolutionary of ideas and action.

[Ernesto Molina Molina
was a professor of economics at the University of
Havana for 38
years. Since 2001, he has been professor at the Superior
of International Relations at the Ministry of Foreign
MINREX. He is president of the Society of Economic Thought of
National Association of Cuban Economists, ANEC, and member of the
Academy of Science of Cuba's commission on social sciences. His books

include /The General Theory of Keynes/, a critique of bourgeois
theory, and most recently, /Economic Thought in the Cuban
Nation/ (2007).]


[1] <http://links.org.au/node/921#_ftnref1> Un reportaje
al Che en
Argelia. Entrevista con Jean Daniel titulada "La
profecía del Che",
citado en Ernesto Che Guevara: La
Economía Socialista: debate .Editorial
Nova Terra, Tamarit
191, Barcelona 11, p. 46 -- 47.

<http://links.org.au/node/921#_ftnref2> Adam Smith, La Riqueza de

las Naciones, Barcelona, Editorial Bosch, 1983. Reproducida por la
San José, 1986, Libro IV, Cap. II, Sección I,
Tomo II, pag. 54.

Michael A. Lebowitz 
Economics Department 
Simon Fraser University 
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6 
Director, Programme in
'Transformative Practice and Human Development' 
Centro Internacional
Miranda, P.H. 
Residencias Anauco Suites, Parque Central, final Av.
Caracas, Venezuela 
fax: 0212 5768274/0212 5777231 

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Received on Sat Feb 28 06:32:49 2009

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