- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Different classes, different conclusions, a handful of exceptions to the rule

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 25, 19100 at 10:44:14:

In Reply to: Same environment different conclusions? posted by Gee on January 24, 19100 at 16:15:39:

How does one measure personal ability v machine ability when the latter requires the former to even be active? This would be a contentious issue under such a first stage communist arrangement.

Yes it would, hence its flaw. (To my knowledge, only Trotsky scented the problem.)

Stoller: 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...

: Indeed, though the example of two workers is still valid - as the decision has been made by the many, the effect upon the two workers is similar to having it made for them by the previous capitalist owner, their participation not necessarily indicating approval, consent or agreement.

To posit that democratic production and (capitalist) class dictatorship would impact the individual worker in the same way is to overstate your case. The workers, under my plan, would cast an equal vote along with every other worker; in capitalist reality, the only 'vote' a worker has is take it or leave it. Nonetheless, your point---a solitary individual's production priorities will be tiny compared to the final tally of society---has merit. But that's the consequence of industrialization, not democratic production; industrialization---whether controlled by a capitalist minority or a proletarian majority---is socialized production. A solitary individual has been reduced due to the mode of production, not the social relations that control it.

: Its interesting to note the flexibility given to the concept of wages being enough to replicate. Where once that means food shelter and a few surviving offspring, 'subsistence' for the western worker now seems to include modern housing, a car, annual holiday, ready supply of (evidently) fattening foods etc. Is this raising of abundance the return sought by 'pleasant mary' as we'll come to below?

And where profit once meant millions and a controlling stake in the nation-state, profit has expanded to mean billions and a stake in the global economy. (We shall return to pleasant mary, indeed.)

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

: If taken as sum I can appreciate your argument, I refer to the different successes of 'capital' in the context of supply in reaching the demand.

And I refer to each individual worker---whose consumption is individually shaped by his / her wage. Marxism does not deny competition as a vital process in the development of capital (far from it, Marx criticized the redundancy of resources and the anarchy of market competition engenders). But which individual capitalist is expropriating surplus labor is of little consequence to the worker.

: On wages we can invoke the rare skills / abundant skills models...

You're trying to make 'supply and demand' a principle participant again. Supply and demand fluctuates, raising commodities above or below their value, but supply and demand does not explain value itself. And education (skills) is any other commodity.

: I would add that the base rate skills are climbing ever higher, not sinking. Where once the ability to read and write and do math was 'privileged' it is now a base requisite, indeed the ability to use IT tools is fast becoming a base requisite in office based roles. The foundations are rising not sinking, it is necessary to learn more from birth to 18 in order to work, than it ever was.

If you want to call mindless data processing ('IT tools') a quantum leap in the evolution of human skill, be my guest. Using a computer in an office is no more advanced than farm work---it's just less physical. Skills change, yes; but does capital 'raise' skills? Only in the sense that capital decides what's a skill in the first place. And there's plenty of reason to suspect that technology lowered skills---wiping out all (precapitalist) artisan skills---promiscuously.


: Have you ever studied psychological 'equity theory'*? Often applied to business it does have broader implication - there are two main points.

: 2) Equity theory recognizes that individuals are concerned not only with the absolute amount of rewards for their efforts, but also with the relationship of this amount to what others receive.

That's not news. Wealth and poverty are social constructs. Why shouldn't workers want extravagant standards of living since the capitalist ideology insists that extravagance is the measure of all success?

: 1) Individuals compare their job inputs and outcomes with those of others and then respond so as to eliminate any inequities.

: So the worker who gets less because he has no children may downgrade his work relative to his family man colleague in order to feel as if he is receiving outcome in proportion to his input. He adjusts until the 'equity ratio' is the same.

I suspect 'equity theory' is a neoliberal argument against equity (rational redistribution). People may behave this way with jobs they hate, jobs with no status, but they would never behave that way with jobs they loved, jobs with high status. As I suggested here, there's a whole range of incentive techniques open to communists that are closed to capitalists---such as distributing both types of works among all people, or (again) letting people vote on what they want to produce.

Stoller: 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.

: It seems inconsistent with marxist intent to me. It appears more as a meritocracy (which is what capitalism tries to become)

Marx considered it flawed, transitional. He was no utopian dreamer, he knew that communism must emerge out of the capitalist society, with much of the capitalist ideology intact. Hence, the 'first phase.'

But 'meritocracy'? As long as workers are rewarded according to their work which is largely determined by the organic composition of capital instead of their work, there's hardly any meritocracy involved.


: Consumers do determin through their choices which uses of capital are successful or not relative to one another.

What type of consumers? Reproductive or unproductive?

As I said before:

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.

: I'm note sure on what quantitative basis you prioritised those three...

I read a right silly post, it said 'it is us, the consumers who make' capitalists rich. What type of consumption, no surprise, is not specified. Capitalists make capitalists rich. Two-thirds of the wealth in America is controlled by the top 5% of the population (the capitalist heavy hitters) (1), therefore 'us, the [unproductive] consumers, ' i.e. the other 95% of the population, possess far less money in which to purchase anything---each purchase, of course, nothing more than handing 'our' wages right back to the capitalist class.

: ... but on the above (government spending) - they appear un discriminating because they don't try and choose the best product, but choose via a convoluted politics process which includes appeasing power groups, pressure groups, media image, politicians' ambitions etc etc.

You omitted the best part. Some manufacturing jobs are just too big and expensive to be left to the market anarchy of competition: railroads, highways, defense. In these areas, capital agrees a planned, centralized economy is required. That 'socialist,' FDR put 80% of the New Deal expenditures into roads and construction,(2) which made the Fords and the Rockefellers very happy about 'socialism'...


Stoller: 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).

: By you defintion they will rent it, the distinction is an important one.

No, I tacked the -power on the ability like Marx differentiates between labor and labor-power. Labor is something a worker owns; labor-power is what the capitalist gets from the laborer. The difference between the worker's wage and the surplus labor the capitalist expropriates is the difference between labor and labor-power. Labor-power---or ability-power, no difference---is not rented, it is bought (alienated).

Labor-power is different, bigger if you will, than labor. It's labor of the individual PLUS other individuals, PLUS dead labor (in the form of the means of production). The more labor-power the capitalist alienates, the more labor-power becomes the very thing that oppresses labor: capital.

Stoller: Whether or not I'll accumulate capital myself will be as much determined by capital as my ability...

: So the greater your ability the greater self determination you shall have, the greater capital can be built up to undo any shortage.

Not at all. Example: the greater my ability to reference Marx's works, the less 'self-determination' I shall have. 'Determination' is controlled by the capitalist class. They decide what ability is, and how much they need. Any excess and, so sorry, its low-wage unskilled work for you (despite the degree you just earned, er...bought, needlessly). Only 25% of American jobs require any skill above a high school level. These exigencies of capitalism do not accommodate the amount of university graduates there might happen to be in any given year; the other way around.


Stoller: For example, a Marxist accepts that if Marx had not discovered the materialist conception of history, someone else would have...

: This seems strange though - Marx was not the next person and the next person was not Marx. It is as if to suggest that killing Marx would result in another Marx and so on until all but one person lived. As it cannot be so then I doubt the validity of the principle.


That Napoleon, just that particular Corsican, should have been the military dictator whom the French Republic, exhausted by its own war, had rendered necessary,was an accident; but that, if a Napoleon had been lacking, another would have filled the place, is proved by the fact that the man has always been found as soon as he became necessary: Cæsar, Augustus, Cromwell, etc. While Marx discovered the materialist conception of history, Thierry, Miget, Guizot, and all the English historians up to 1850 are the proof that it was being striven for, and the discovery of the same conception by Morgan proves that the time was ripe for it and that indeed it had to be discovered.(3)

: I am beginning to think the argument between socialism and the free market, or collectivism and individualism, is essentially an argument over causality (or at least the 'weight' of one cause or the other) extended to the field of human relations.

Skinner, anyone?


Stoller: Do you believe that talk?

: No, I think it was chosen and driven by individuals' wills. History does not end until time 'ends'. As people drive new discoveries which change the way humankind can (potentially) interact with each other and their environments so history changes (be fanciful, imagine endless production from nanotechnology using any raw materials - and its effects of social relations). If I were to believe capitalism is an inevitable end form of social interaction (gosh aren't we lucky to just so happen to have it in *our* generation) then I might be tempted to believe other 'end of history' nonsense.

Then you can (theoretically) envision an economic system seceding capitalism.

: I add that what people choose is not *just* culturally determined, that the environment of evolution (and, indeed, of 'everything') and the apparently undetermined nature of human development has been overlooked by (many) socialists.

If environment was EVERYTHING, then socialists could simply sit back and wait for the socialist transformation. That tact has been taken before (Eduard Bernstein). Revolutionaries believe in the power of people to affect history, their history; however, they also believe in acting when historically-determined ('objective') conditions are favorable. It is on this point that the Bolsheviks ultimately failed.

: Will you make room for variation in the form of genetic identity and a 'chaos' factor which has a multitude of choices make for outcomes which cannot be wholly attributed to social determination?

Sure, but don't expect me to take it up as a religion (like many neoliberals do)...


Stoller: 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'?

: Perhaps Mary gets her return in the form of the technologies which enhance her life of which she could have no conception - whether it a handy calculator or a heart machine in her hospital.

No conception? You deny Mary control over her investment and her rate of profit. Would capitalists accept the same terms? How about I, the worker, telling the capitalist that he /she will receive the sort of work I want to do, maybe they have no 'conception' today what that may be just yet? No? Then why expect it of Mary?

Oh, I remember... Mary has no power, so she must accept whatever the capitalists offer...

Stoller: 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.

: As the owners can and do change (they are not a static aristocratic class - even they werent static) and as wealth is not fixed then those inventors can still become capitalists themselves... The only time I can imagine the above scenario resulting in the outcomes you've described is if Mary were an all powerful single dictator or an overwhelming majority - and both used direct force (not implicit force as the force you describe being exerted by capitalists) upon them.

Whether or not the owners change is immaterial to the proletariat. The owner is always the capitalist CLASS. This class is all powerful: work or starve, those are very harsh terms...

Stoller: 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.

: I hold that at no point under capitalism does ability become its inevitable wage dependant - there always being the option for ability to become capital as per the original function of ability in creating wealth.

I agree that ability becomes capital (through alienation). I don't agree that the person selling the ability to the capitalists necessarily becomes a capitalist.


: It is my understanid that the ratio of potential sports applicants to actual positions is far higher than with teachers - that whatever wise words are offered many many people times the number of positions still pursue sports just as Hollywood is littered with actor wannabes when the amount Studios take in is tiny.

The wannabes are a small ratio, too; soon they go back to the working world (perhaps as substitute teachers).

Stoller: 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).

: Or exceptional ability?

'Exceptional ability' is the ticket to class ascension, that's the routine...

Stoller: 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).

: Bread and Circuses? In Rome I could see how a class of rulers concentrated in a broadly dictatorial monarchy of sorts could orchestrate such a 'conspiracy'. I don't really buy the same with a globally diffused and changeable group of business owners, even when grouped and focused within their political leadersships. I think a more likely explanation is that people like the ballgame and that any one who claims to be orchestrating circuses for the masses is way over estimating his/her power and influence. Indeed, I think Romans liked the entertainment - and the leaders patted themselves on the backs for being so clever without realising that, well, they weren't.

Just because the leaders aren't consciously aware of the effects Bread and Circuses (or any other form of social lottery) have on the lower classes doesn't mean that effect isn't happening. A lot of capitalists (Stuart Gort for example) don't believe in surplus value---but they sure enjoy that money that keeps appearing with each additional employee they hire...



1.Sklar, Collins, and Leondar-Wright, 'The Growing Wealth Gap,' Z Magazine, May 1999, pp. 47-52.

2. Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation, University of California Press 1997, p. 199.

3. Engels, letter to H. Starkenburg, 25 January, 1894, Selected Correspondence, International 1936, p. 518.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup