[OPE-L:1033] Re, Jerry's suggestion

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 18:42:33 -0800

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I'll try to keep this short. I may have missed something, but
to the best of my recollection nobody has responded explicitly
to Jerry's suggestion that we propose a couple of topics for
discussion on OPE this month -- although several ongoing
debates have rolled on. I half-proposed "value and
socialism". Simon was dubious, saying that we ought to sort
out value and capitalism first; Paul C. was more positive.
Since the evidence so far is that "value and capitalism" is a
bottomless pit, I'm inclined to re-propose my topic. Marx
said (I can't remember where) that "the anatomy of man is the
key to the anatomy of the ape". This proposition may be
questionable as zoology, but it has some merit as a hypothesis
regarding the analysis of social forms: the lower forms do
seem to become more fully intelligible in the light of the

Anyway, Paul and I have made some specific recommendations
regarding the role of labour-time values in socialist
planning. We have argued for the following system: people are
paid for their work in labour tokens (one per hour), as in the
Critique of the Gotha Programme. Consumer goods are then
marked with two magnitudes: their labour-content (calculated
according to a continuously-updated v = vA + L) and the price,
in labour-tokens, that (approximately) clears the market given
the pre-planned supply of the good. The planning authority
then adjusts the planned supply of the various consumer goods
according to the following rule: if the market-clearing
labour-token price exceeds (resp. falls short of) the labour
content, then increase (resp. decrease) the planned supply.
At the same time techniques of production are selected on the
criterion of minimizing direct plus indirect labour-content
per unit. Our claim is that such a system would be far more
efficient than, and much more in line with classical Marxian
principles than, the erstwhile Soviet planning system.

We know that Marx disparaged "labour-money" systems, and with
good reason, but look carefully at his reasoning: his critique
was directed against the attempt to rectify the inequities of
capitalism at the level of circulation alone -- messing with
prices while retaining commodity production. Our proposal is
more like Owen's scheme, which Marx explicitly excepted from
his critique. Production is socialized and planned, and the
labour-token distribution system has to be seen in this

Any comments? Thinking this through is a salutory exercise, I
believe. It forces you to answer the question: are the
non-accidental divergences of price from value under
capitalism (so to speak) bugs or features?

[If anyone wants to examine our arguments in detail, I will be
glad to supply references. The most substantial is our book
"Towards a New Socialism", published by Spokesman in 1993.]

Allin Cottrell.