- Capitalism and Alternatives -

I certainly question the 'great man of history' theory

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 23, 19100 at 11:49:40:

In Reply to: Questioning the theory posted by Gee on January 21, 19100 at 13:07:21:

Stoller: Briefly summarized, what a worker produces is determined not only by their effort and ability, but by the general level of material development, i.e. machinery, technology, and raw materials. Since most workers (in socialized, i.e. industrial society) do NOT determine the investment (hence, technological) level of the TOOLS they work with, they can NOT be really held accountable for what they produce.

: Given that you have accepted their effort and ability is one of the determinants it should read "they can NOT be really held *wholly* accountable for what they produce"...


Following my earlier example, two workers doing the same task in the same telephone factory will logically have their abilities compared to one another under the principle 'according to their work.'

More generally speaking, however, workers are not AT ALL responsible for the disparities owing to differing organic compositions of capital because it is capital (ownership of the means of production and all investment decisions flowing from that ownership), not workers, who subdivides labor (deskilling workers), mechanizes their jobs (lowering wages), and ultimately determines their net productivity.

Only if workers controlled the means of production and (subsequently) controlled the conditions of their employment would they be COMPLETELY responsible for the labor they contribute (which shrinks as a fraction of the organic composition of capital with each increase in productivity due to further subdivision of labor and mechanization).

Stoller: Example: the hard worker who makes telephones using crude machinery could not hope to compete with the goof-off who makes telephones using the most sophisticated, productive machinery. To penalize the first worker, to reward the second worker, because they access differing levels of technology (determined by people other than those workers) would be COMPLETELY ARBITRARY.

: A nice example but as wages are determined by supply / demand...

I challenge entirely the emphasis you (and your whole ideology) place upon 'supply and demand.'


Supply and demand regulate nothing but the temporary fluctuations of market prices. They will explain to you why the market price of a commodity rises above or sinks below its value, but they can never account for that value itself...The same holds true of wages as of the prices of all other commodities.(1)

Wages, I believe, are determined, not by 'supply and demand'---some 'invisible hand' regulating market anarchy---but by the value of labor:

[T]he labor-time requisite for the production of labor-power reduces itself to that necessary for production of th[e] means of subsistence; in other words, the value of labor-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the laborer... [T]he number and extent of his so-called necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the product of historical development, and depend therefore to a great extent on the degree of civilization of a country, more particularly on the conditions under which, and consequently on the habits and degrees of comfort in which, the class of free laborers has been formed.(2)

The socially determined needs of the laborer are also, I hasten to add, determined by the active struggle between capital and labor (in the streets)...

Further, mentioned here, I believe that, ultimately, 'supply' (capital) determines 'demand' (consumption by workers).

And when I say wages are arbitrary, I mean wages between various workers determined largely by various investment decisions that determine the level of tools that workers access (and therefore productivity). Wages, however, are NOT arbitrary in the sense that capitalists are impartial players in the determination of investment decisions that impact the level of various worker's skills and, hence, worker's productivity as a fraction of the organic composition of capital.

: So the fellow operating a machine is 'productive' largely because of the machine's designers but not because of the carpenter next door or his sister.

Yes. And that machine, let us not forget, is MORE than the 'ability' of the 'genius' who invented it; that machine (reducing worker's skills and, therefore, wages) was made by OTHER workers (dead labor). This is what Marx means when he says workers are confronted by their own labor, turned hostile (alienated).


: People's needs differ, whether by objective or 'self defined' standards and so equal pay will not meet the stated goal.

That's right. As Marx emphasized---criticizing the 'bourgeois right' inherent in the principle 'according to work': '[O]ne worker is married, another not; one has more children than another and so on and so forth.'(3)

Now, this might offend procapitalist thinking, but: that's why it would not only be unfair to apply equal rights to workers possessing unequal abilities, but it would be unfair to apply equal rights to workers having unequal needs.

Remember how my original post opened:

Socialism, if it means anything, is the rational attempt to have equality govern people's relations to one another---although individuals are not equal.

My contribution to Marxist thought is the observation that because wages are largely---and I use the word 'largely' in deference to you---arbitrary (owing to the impact investment decisions make upon worker's productivity), the principle which informs the 'first phase of communist society' ('according to work')---a principle Marx explicitly claims is flawed---is even more flawed than originally presented by Marx.

So I support with unrestrained zeal the principle that workers should be expected to work as well as they can and, in return, receive what it is they desire---the availability of such desires determined democratically after appraising the productive potential of society.


:: Version 2: "From each according to ability to each according to work"

: You'll have to help me out here. What does it mean by 'work'? Does that mean any work, any contribution is an equal claim on ability?

Like the post's title said, abilities (and what they?re worth) are determined by the ruling class.

A socialist society, producing for people?s needs, will have different priorities than our capitalist society, which produces for the best profits to be gained.

Please resist the temptation to counter that 'consumers' (i.e.workers) already determine what gets produced and what doesn't (through the 'impartial' mechanism of 'supply and demand,' no doubt).

Capital (Dept. 1) is capital's best customer. Government is capital's next best (and least discriminating) customer. Workers who consume unproductively (Dept. 2) are capital's least significant customer.


Marx: " In the social production of their existence, men inevitable enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, "

: But not independent of their will - or the relations would never have come about in the first place, there would be no 'relations' were it not for the will of people. This smacks of the 'hapless leaf on the breeze' view of man, unable to determine anything about his own life. I therefore don't see that "existence that determines their consciousness" but that such a process is far more a progressive two way relation, an involvement.


Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.(4)

We do not choose our environment, we can only impact it as we find it.

And some of us find it not to our liking!

Nonetheless, social environments (and all economic environments are social environments) posses powerful forces.

If I own lots of ability (useful to capitalists) and nothing else, then my ability (-power) will be sold to the capitalists, on their terms, and then they will own my ability (-power). Whether or not I'll accumulate capital myself will be as much determined by capital as my ability... Business bankruptcies are at an all-time high; does everyone lose their business due to a lack of ability, or do some lose their businesses due to a shortage of capital?

Engels enlarged upon Marx's famous statement:

Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the result of these many wills operating in different directions and of their manifold effects upon the outer world that constitute history.

It is the actions of historically engendered characters who make ensuing history. Ensuing history is determined by 'many wills operating in different directions.' There is nothing teleological, nothing preordained about history's outcome. For example, a Marxist accepts that if Marx had not discovered the materialist conception of history, someone else would have; but a Marxist rejects the notion that proletarian supremacy is assured when historical forces bring about inevitable struggles between the two classes.

So, yes, it is a 'progressive two way relation'...

But my emphasis is different than yours.

Fundamentally, our conflict here repeats the conflicts of Hegal versus Marx.

You see the individual influencing history and you see the conscious acts of individuals affecting the (ensuing) mode of production. I see history influencing the individual and I see the mode of production affecting the (ensuing) consciousness of individuals.

I expect we can never resolve these differences, just as we cannot resolve the differences that come from our partisan positions regarding the LTV and the STV.

Stoller: One: ideas correspond to the material development of an epoch. The epoch of feudalism did not require the steam engine, the capitalist epoch did. Indeed, the capitalist forces within the feudal era called forth the steam engine...

: Hmm, I;m sure you didn't intend it but you made that sound as if the steam engine was a pre existing knowledge just waiting in the wings!

Hmmm, I've heard some people talk about capital as a 'natural' relation between people; capital as an economic order which 'waited' to be unfettered from a barbarian and feudal past; I?ve even heard it said that since capital is the 'inevitable' apotheosis of human interaction, history has 'ended.'

Have you heard this talk?

Do you believe that talk?

To reject all of Marx's materialist conception of history, you must also reject the neoliberal triumphalism that today enlists it in the service of discrediting Marx (which is an assertion based upon negating that assertion).

: To talk of 'forces' is to implicitly deny people's minds and wills in the matter, as if the progression is some natural occurrence over which mankind has no power whilst in fact it is people who are steering.

Yet you bestow upon 'people's minds and wills' the very same 'natural' force that you reject regarding the collective historical consequences of that 'steering.'

Stoller: Thus, ability is as much a product of social development as the 'private possession' of an individual.

: You seem to be suggesting a roughly equal relationship between the two.

No, my grammar was off, I did mean that the 'private possession' of an individual (in society characterized by social production) is socially determined.

: The inventors of computers have before them mathematics, engineering, philosophy and many other fields necessary to enable them to invent the computer, but pleasant mary next door is not part of that, has no claim on that.

Perhaps pleasant Mary next door, performing the primary productive work that sustains society (agriculture, fuel extraction, construction, etc., etc.) which materially supports a class of individuals consequently freed from participating in the primary productive work of society deserves a return on her 'capital'?

And if pleasant Mary had a monopoly on the means of production (as the capitalists do), then those who invent the computers might have to repay Mary WITH the property rights to that computer. Their 'natural' capital would then become her material capital.

: So the inventor who wishes to retain their invention privately does not with to secret all the knowledge pre existing which enabled the invention, just his 'bit' which is not replicated by others and has not existed prior to his conception. This is no ransom.

Only if the inventor has provided for him / herself the food, housing, and heat that went into realizing the invention---only then the inventor would be truly able to claim the invention as unsocialized property. Only then could it REALLY be private property. As it stands now, private property is determined by a social order in which the great majority of people (have to) do the primary productive work that sustains society---AND society?s class of brain workers who are consequently freed from participating in that work.

This social order is founded upon laws, and laws are founded upon monopolization of force, and that force is but the bounty of previous class struggles.

Stoller: ...[P]rivate property always devolves into the negation of ability: those with capital RENT (other's) ability, expropriate the surplus of that labor, become more powerful, dictate even harsher terms.....

: Because the sum of wealth can grow and this growth is a function of ability...

No, I insist that the growth of wealth, originally a function of ability which becomes alienated from its natural owner BY capital, becomes simply a function of capital.


Good players are rare and so attract a premium. The same consumers also value child care, but many people are good child care...

As I explained here:

Only a few hundred professional baseball players are required to entertain a nation. Many million teachers are required to educate a nation.

On the surface it would seem that there would be great competition in the world of professional baseball and less in the world of teaching---forcing up baseball player's wages, lowering teacher's wages.

The opposite occurs.

Because there are so few openings available for professional ball players, few people receive much encouragement to pursue professional baseball. On the other hand, because so many teaching positions need to be filled, many people receive encouragement to become teachers. As always, the more workers there are (for a particular profession) the more competition there will be amongst themselves (which lower wages).

I also add that the ruling class has an intuitive interest in paying large sums of money and status to small groups of individuals who demonstrate to society at large that class ascension is possible (if only with lottery odds). Is this a 'conspiracy theory'? Precedent: Gladiatorial (slave) combatants throughout the Roman Empire?s reign were offered unconditional manumission as incentive to fight well (and survive). The Romans, no doubt, would tell us that no conspiracy existed, people just liked to see gladitorial combat, and comatants fought better when they had ample incentive... As celebrities---like gladiatorial combatants---are statistically insignificant, its a small price to pay for the docility of an entire class.


And, finally, the core issue---does not capitalism (as must the socialism of the future) indirectly coerce workers to work (if all positive incentive fails)?

: I accept your position that those who don't contribute to 'society' will starve.

We can now drop much of the rhetorical melodrama we've engaged in in the past---and move the dialogue forward then.



1. Marx, Value, Price and Profit, International 1935, p. 26.

2. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, p. 171.

3. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, International 1938, p. 9.

4. Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, International n.d., p. 13.

5. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, International 1941, p. 49.

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