Understanding socialism

The New York Times magazine has described Richard Wolff as “probably America’s most prominent Marxist economist”.  And that is probably not an exaggeration as a description of this emeritus Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and visiting professor at the New School University in New York.

Richard Wolff has been one of a handful of Marxist economists with full tenure at an American university.  And he has worked tirelessly to bring home to students and all who would listen in the US, the Marxist alternative explanation of the nature of US capitalism and its current crisis.  Wolff has written several important economics books, sometimes with his close collaborator, Stephen A. Resnick.  In particular, their recent book,  Contending Economic Theories, neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian is a very useful and clear explanation of the main strands of economics for those who don’t know. Professor Wolff’s weekly show, Economic Update with Richard D. Wolff, is syndicated on over 70 radio stations nationwide and available for broadcast on Free Speech TV.

Now Wolff has published two short books designed to explain the ideas of Marxism and socialism in a straightforward way: Understanding Marxism and Understanding Socialism.  The first analyses capitalism. He goes through the concepts of how competition develops between the capitalists (p.51); how labour power is commodified (p.41); and how capitalism is prone to crises and instability (p.60). Any individual, he says “exhibiting a personal instability comparable to the economic and social instability of capitalism would long ago have been required to seek professional help and to make basic changes” (p.61). But capitalism limps on and threatens to take us all down with it. Until workers get to decide democratically what to do about replacing it, so it will continue.

As Wolff has said: “If you want to understand an economy, not only from the point of view of people who love it, but also from the point of view of people who are critical and think we can do better, then you need to study Marxian economics as part of any serious attempt to understand what’s going on. Not to do it is to exclude yourself from the critical tradition.”

Wolff concentrates on Marx’s key discovery about capitalism, namely the surplus value, which is what employers appropriate above what they pay for wages.  Wolff shows that productive workers are not compensated for the full amount and worth of their labour.  And that constitutes exploitation. The expropriators constitute a tiny percentage of the population, and they control what happens with that surplus value. It is this relationship of production, Wolff insists, that has thwarted the democratic promises of the American, French, and other bourgeois revolutions. And this system of minority rule over ownership of assets and people’s labour power is also the cause of the staggering inequality that afflicts the world now.

The weakness in Wolff’s narrative, at least as expressed in his previous books is his explanation of why capitalism has crises in investment, production and employment that damages the lives of billions.  Wolff adopts the classic underconsumption argument that capitalists pay “insufficient wages to enable workers to purchase growing capitalist output”.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider this theory of capitalist crises as wrong.  Marx rejected it; it does not stand up theoretically as part of Marx’s law of value or profitability; and empirical evidence is against it.

In the second book, Understanding Socialism, Wolff looks at various socialist experiments throughout history and suggests a new path to socialism based on workplace democracy.  Socialism allows the many to control the fruits of their labour.  And this would be done in a democratic way, with the workers voting on these concerns, as democracy is extended way beyond voting for politicians and even ballot initiatives, to the factory floor, the office, etc.

Wolff focuses on this democratization of the workplace as the basis of a socialist future.  Wolff correctly emphasises that the economic base of socialism is the collective ownership of the means of production.  But he is concerned not to adopt the central planning model of the failed Soviet Union, as he sees it.  So he wants decentralised democracy through workers cooperatives.  For him, the solution to recurrent crises and rising inequality lies in “changing the class structure of capitalist enterprises” and replacing them with “workers-directed enterprises.” 

Wolff is concerned, rightly, to correct the view that the socialist alternative to capitalism is simply the public ownership of the major corporations and a national plan.  Without democracy and workers control at company level there can be no real socialist development.  Otherwise state officials merely replace a capitalist board of directors.  This is “insufficient conceptually and strategically”.

But Wolff wants to include and emphasise the role of what he calls Workers Self-Directed Enterprises (WSDEs).  To me, this seems to be bending the stick too far the other way, being close the utopian socialist ideas of Fourier and Robert Owen. Workers cooperatives without planning implies that markets will continue to rule between coops, opening the door to the forces of the law of value, rather than directing productive forces in the interest of society as a whole.  It is one thing to achieve democracy at the workplace, but is it not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, by leaving the wider economy to power of the market?

42 Responses to “Understanding socialism”

  1. Mohamed Elmaazi Says:

    Well written clear and interesting. Thank you.

  2. timothyfay Says:

    independent coops is no efficient or viable way to coordinate production.

    • Boffy Says:

      It depends what you mean by coordinating production. Marx and Engels certainly saw coops, and indeed joint stock companies themselves as the transitional form of property between capitalism and socialism.

      Moreover, precisely because these forms of socialised capital are to begin with large, they already involve a significant degree of planning and regulation within the firm, and between each firm and its suppliers and customers. That is even more true today.

      To the extent that these suppliers and customers are increasingly also coops, or other forms of socialised capital under workers control, then the process of coordination expands organically and immediately on the basis of workers ownership and control.

      Marx and Engels’ approach to this was expressed by their closest ally within the First International in Britain Ernest Jones. He wrote to a Cooperators Congress, expressing the International’s positin thus.

      “Then what is the only salutary basis for co-operative industry? A NATIONAL one. All co-operation should be founded, not on isolated efforts, absorbing, if successful, vast riches to themselves, but on a national union which should distribute the national wealth. To make these associations secure and beneficial, you must make it their interest to assist each other, instead of competing with each other—you must give them UNITY OF ACTION, AND IDENTITY OF INTEREST.

      To effect this, every local association should be the branch of a national one, and all profits, beyond a certain amount, should be paid into a national fund, for the purpose of opening fresh branches, and enabling the poorest to obtain land, establish stores, and otherwise apply their labour power, not only to their own advantage, but to that of the general body.

      This is the vital point: are the profits to accumulate in the hands of isolated clubs, or are they to be devoted to the elevation of the entire people? Is the wealth to gather around local centres, or is it to be diffused by a distributive agency?”

      Engels later made clear in a letter to Bebel,

      “the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale. It must only be so organised that society, initially the state, retains the ownership of the means of production so that the private interests of the cooperative vis-a-vis society as a whole cannot establish themselves.”

  3. stephenhinton Says:

    I have to admit, Professor Wolff’s explanations are entertaining and clear, the best I have heard. He says socialism will not go away – as everyone expects it to- because it is capitalism’s shadow. He also explains in very clear terms the problem with “free” markets and goes back to Aristotle and Plato to explain the problem that each to their means (rather than their needs) is the problem with markets.

    In fact, he describes a toxic brew – capitalism as a means of production, markets for distribution and a democratic system that treats corporations like human beings in terms of rights. (One might like to throw in monetary system there, and how fictive money abounds in house and share prices.)

    Having been a long time around cooperatives I agree with your take, Micheal, on Prof. Wolffs ideas about co-operatives that still leave the challenge of the market although democratically run organisations are compelling.

    What might seem anathema to many, but I believe essential, is to fetter the market hard. Not maybe by strict government rules but by us citizens finding something better. Walking away from the current model. One of those things that is looking promising is subscription and consumer investment in for example food production.

    It is a win-win on many levels. Farmers (Farming coops or similar I would hope) get guaranteed sales, customers get guaranteed fresh and local, little waste, and customers who invest get to share in the profits. Not to mention the wonderful idea of days out on the farm and a say in the planning of the year’s crop.

  4. tjayaraman Says:

    Dear Michael, As always thanks for this review. In fact, I think the key with Wolff’s vision of the future is his view that, as you put it, “socialism allows the many to control the fruits of their labour”. Whereas Marx’s view was certainly control of the means of production, Wolff’s is a consumptionist view, that I believe is close cousin to his underconsumption view in the first book. The neglect of central planning is of course a corollary to this since there is no vision of the need for planning, if you do not think of socialism as the ownership of the means of production by the many.

  5. Benjamin Ingram Says:

    For being a ‘Marxist’, Wolff seems never to have read the ‘Gothakritik’, which takes direct aim at the kind of Lassallean co-op boosterism he engages in.

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/ch03.htm

    “That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

    Indeed, Marx described his kind very well.

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/10/27.htm

    “At the same time the experience of the period from 1848 to 1864 has proved beyond doubt that, however excellent in principle and however useful in practice, co-operative labor, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries… It is perhaps for this very reason that plausible noblemen, philanthropic middle-class spouters, and even keep political economists have all at once turned nauseously complimentary to the very co-operative labor system they had vainly tried to nip in the bud by deriding it as the utopia of the dreamer, or stigmatizing it as the sacrilege of the socialist.”

    • Obrien Says:

      This is what Wolff said several years ago in response to similar criticism:

      “If I proposed worker coops as “alone and right now” the way to go, I would be badly mistaken. But I dont. My whole point is to ADD to the previous socialisms’ overfocus on the macro a balancing focus on the micro precisely so that the 21st century socialism has better success than the 20th century’s. A worker coop is also a place/space where struggles over all sorts of questions will be engaged. A commitment to avoid exploitation will be struggled over. The notion that ANY social institution will always and automatically make everything right is not credible. Worker coops are a better, more democratic way to organize production, a better context for social struggles forward to a better society. They do not solve all problems.”

  6. nemonemini Says:

    https://redfortyeight.com/?s=democratic+market+neo-communism

    The marxist left rarely specifies the type of social and economic system is to replace capitalism. The idea of worker cooperatives is a good one but hardly specifies the larger context. The blog at redfortyeight.com attempts a comprehensive model which considers that the basic elements of a whole system: its gist is to remorph a liberal system into (neo-)communism and remorph communism into a liberal system,but with the key element of expropriation in a form that is not state capitalism. The issue of a Commons, markets and planning, and a democratic system within a socialist and ecological socialist context. That is a truly monumental task and it must deal with considerable complexity, in advance. In theory our DMNC could be constructed directly and we can predict if would work if its liberal variant could work. This system can still have markets, socialist markets,and manager/ex-capitalists can license resources from a Commons. The relationship of planning, markets, ecological courts, and an apparatus of an economy that can actually prosper is key.
    The days are coming when the left has to get specific in relation to chronic skepticism that won’t accept abstractions like ‘communism’ with no further specification.

    • gonzogil Says:

      “That is a truly monumental task and it must deal with considerable complexity, in advance” Yeah, that is why I wonder if the desire for workers control, which I share, needs to avoid falling for the trap of trying to put in its mouth more than it can chew. If it begins to feel monumental it, the approach, may not be very materialistic-scientific. I agree with every issue you are talking about. If it is our society then it is up to us to manage it. But, like I said, perhaps when it becomes more than you can chew something has gone wrong with the approach to concrete problems. It is as if social-relations have escaped from our hands once again. And this is clearly to be avoided

  7. Brian Green Says:

    If you want to democratise socialism the following conditions have to apply, firstly an objective pricing system that ensures what workers contribute they receive back, secondly democratic control of the social fund, thirdly consumer led planning where the consumer is active and the planner inactive and finally workers control of production to homogenise the intensity of labour. Anything else is mere sophistry.

  8. Egmont Kakarot-Handtke Says:

    Understanding socialism presupposes understanding profit
    Comment on Michael Roberts/Tom Hickey on ‘Understanding socialism’*

    “The New York Times magazine has described Richard Wolff as ‘probably America’s most prominent Marxist economist’.”

    From the word prominent alone you know that you are out of science and in the midst of the usual journalistic propaganda hype. The applause troll Michael Roberts tries to arouse even more enthusiasm by quoting Wolff: “If you want to understand an economy, not only from the point of view of people who love it, but also from the point of view of people who are critical and think we can do better, then you need to study Marxian economics as part of any serious attempt to understand what’s going on.”

    No, you don’t because Marx’s economics is refuted on all counts and Wolff only recycles long-dead stuff: “Wolff concentrates on Marx’s key discovery about capitalism, namely the surplus value, which is what employers appropriate above what they pay for wages.”

    The fact of the matter is that Marx NEVER understood what profit ― the foundational magnitude of economics ― is.#1 Neither did his followers to this day.#2 The rectification of Marxianism consists of the replacement of the key-concept of exploitation by cross-over exploitation.#3

    Wolff sticks to surplus value and this tells one that he is a rather feeble thinker. Marx got economics wrong, so he can safely be forgotten. Same for Wolff’s policy proposals which have no sound scientific foundations.

    Oh no, says the philosopher Tom Hickey: “He [Marx] was a philosopher, social and political activist, political theorist, historian, and one of the founders the disciplines that later became sociology and economics.”

    True, but irrelevant.#4 Marx’s economics is provably false = scientifically worthless and this makes it very probable that the rest of his intellectual output was also proto-scientific garbage.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    * Michael Roberts Blog
    https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/understanding-socialism/

    #1 Links on Karl Marx
    https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2019/09/links-on-karl-marx.html

    #2 Dear idiots, Marx got profit and exploitation wrong
    https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2019/02/dear-idiots-marx-got-profit-and.html

    #3 Capitalism, poverty, exploitation, and cross-over exploitation
    https://axecorg.blogspot.com/2018/04/capitalism-poverty-exploitation-and.html

    #4 Perhaps the debunker Miles Mathis is closer to the historical facts than the philosopher Tom Hickey: “In that sense, Marxism is probably the greatest propaganda success of all time. The smashing success of this early major psy-op has led to everything we have seen since, including the sharp rise of all forms of misdirection. The upper class discovered that most people could be fooled most of the time, and that this fooling allowed for complete control of society.”

    Click to access marx.pdf

  9. vk Says:

    Prof. Wolff’s solution is basically a rip off of the Trotskyist critic on the USSR, that is, that the CPSU should relinquish its centralized power and give it all to the soviets.

    But the Trotskyists are wrong: the problem with the USSR wasn’t that they didn’t gave back power to the soviets, but the fact that it couldn’t do the historical task of socialism to spread all over the world.

    Socialism in one country is not sustainable: it is only when the entire or practically the entire globe is under socialism hegemony that we would be able to talk about long-term reproducibility of the system.

    China — the only significant socialist country that still exists in our times — knows this: that’s why, when it realized capitalism had successfully crushed the socialist tide in the 1970s, it fell back and did the Reform and Opening Up (so they could salvage what could be salvaged), awaiting for better times to come. That’s also why, amidst this newest (“Trumpian”) capitalist nationalist (“anti-globalist”) charge, it is not only refusing to give up globalization, but it is doubling down on it publicly.

    • sartesian Says:

      Anyone else notice the contradiction:

      “Socialism in one country is not sustainable”

      “China — the only significant socialist country that still exists in our times —”

      • vk Says:

        Socialism in the long term is not sustainable in one country.

        Socialist countries can only survive in the long term if they act as initial bases for the spread of socialism worldwide — that’s why China is surviving: it broke out the capitalist noose in 1972 and is being able to export its prosperity under the flag of One Belt One Road (OBOR).

        The USSR was doomed the moment Stalin decreed “socialism in one country” (that is, that the USSR would content itself in being just one country forever).

        Mao Zedong was correct when he diagnosed that, in Late Capitalism, it is the task of socialism to initiate the process of development of the productive forces of typical of capitalism in the periphery of the system (i.e. the “Third World”).

        Of course that, if the geopolitical design remains what it is today for the next decades, China will also collapse. The difference is the Chinese know that, and are trying to avoid this fate.

        English is not my mother language, so I may have expressed myself badly.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ”Mao Zedong was correct when he diagnosed that, in Late Capitalism, it is the task of socialism to initiate the process of development of the productive forces” In fact he argued the opposite, namely that the development of the productive forces typical of capitalism would not lead to socialism. The thesis was denounced emphatically, but when Deng Hsiao-ping took over this became the new gospel, and Marx was declared out-of -date by Mr Deng as a 4th century Greek or a 19th century German or some other drivel.

  10. Charles A. Says:

    There are more ideas of democracy than there are varieties of roses. Social democrats never make clear what democracy is in their socialism. But they insist on “democratic planning” or “democratic workplaces” or democratic sidewalk rights. This is how they evade any definite program for socialism. As for democracy, you can’t look at it accurately without discussing dictatorship and how the two combine in class rule — another no-no for social democrats.

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”There are more ideas of democracy than there are varieties of roses.” Yes and No. To be sure we come across false definitions such as ‘indirect democracy, representative democracy, bourgeois democracy etc.’, but these are all forms of oligarchy. Aristotle in his ‘Politics’ gives the original meaning of democracy: rule of the poor or as we should say today, the rule of the unpropertied. As he points out it is quite misleading to define democracy as the rule of the majority and oligarchy as rule of the few; rather democracy is rule of the poor, who are always the majority, and oligarchy the rule of the rich, who are normally the minority. The mark of a democracy is the selection of government by lot, that of an oligarchy, election by ballot, which elections the oligarchy will usually win thanks to their superior wealth and resulting culture. Now, of course there are Marxists who are opposed to selection by lot, arguing that the proletariat has first to be educated by the Party. But a party is itself an oligarchy! Note that what Aristotle calls an extreme democracy would be analogous to the dictatorship of the proletariat.

      • Mohamed Elmaazi Says:

        Brilliant post. This I what I have found myself saying over the past few years. Republics and Parliamentary states are merely forms of oligarchy. Until 1800s no one referred to the US or UK as democracies (indirect or otherwise). The book Against Elections: The Case for Democracy covers this fairly well.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ‘Until 1800s no one referred to the US or UK as democracies (indirect or otherwise).” In fact in the early 1800’s democracy is a dirty word and bourgeois ideologists set out quite consciously to craft an alternative. Thus ”The Federalist Papers” Number X argues ‘democracies…have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property……The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic: first, the delegation in the latter of government to a small number of citizens selected by the rest…” So they applied the concepts of Roman Republicanism to avoid designating the U.S. as an oligarchy. But as Aristotle had already pointed out the best way for an oligarchy to remain in power is to moderate its rule by granting minor concessions to the people (demos) e.g. allowing them to hold minor offices (local councillors) or serve on juries in courts, where the real power is wielded by appointed judges( a democratic court has no judges-the people judge themselves).

        Under the pressures of the modern class struggle the oligarchy gradually saw the value to itself of making such concessions and calling them ‘democratic’, for in any case the state in the form of the professional army is always lurking in the background as events in Boivia currently remind us.

      • vk Says:

        Ok, Aristotle may have said that in Ancient Greece.

        But we’re not in Ancient Greece anymore. We’re in capitalism, and in capitalism the definition of democracy is that of a liberal representative democracy. Want you or not, that’s the really existing democracy we have now.

        As a Marxist, you should never analyse the world as it should be, but as it really is. That’s the main difference between idealism and materialism.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ‘ in capitalism the definition of democracy is that of a liberal representative democracy’ I see that instead of analysis you substitute assertion and propagate bourgeois definitions. Now let us analyse the world as it really is: ‘representative democracy’? The members of the US Senate are all millionaires; since the war with three exceptions all British Prime Ministers went to Oxbridge, some of them went to the same school, Eton. Yes, very representative of the British population en masse. Or take Abe, Prime Minister of Japan. His grandfather made millions as a war criminal. So Abe is a representative offspring of war criminals! Look into it!

        Is it beyond your intellectual range to grasp that the permission of the right to exercise a vote is not the same as the exercise of power? Note that this permission has been abolished of late in Bolivia. Those who did the abolishing clearly are the ones who exercise power, and when the ‘democracy’ that you defend is again permitted, one will readily read that ‘democracy has been restored’, the use of the passive voice eliding the identification of the agents of such a restoration. For you the US may be a liberal representative democracy; for me it is a plutocratic, oligarchic despotism.

        ”But we’re not in Ancient Greece anymore.” Do you then suggest we should ditch dialectics?

        Finally, why do you profess ‘Marxism’?

      • jlowrie Says:

        I should emphasise that while selection of the government by lot is the mark of a democracy, this does not exhaust the institutions appropriate to a democracy. The ancient Athenian demos was the people in arms i.e. a citizen army, unlike Rome and subsequent regimes where the army consists of professional mercenaries. Second, the main body of the police force consisted of slaves. Think about it. Thus the Athenian democracy was finally overthrown only by external force; unlike Bolivia and a whole number of previously existing ‘democracies.’

  11. antonio Says:

    The objective of Richard Wolff with his cooperatives to decentralize power is desirable and correct. The medium used (independent cooperatives) is not. With isolated and independent cooperatives, two serious problems arise: a) the tendency to centralize capital cannot be stopped. The oligopolistic cooperatives (and their workers) would prevail and dominate over the rest and b) The large economies of scale of a central planning and management of a coordinated production are prevented. A solution for the decentralization of capital-subject (the decentralization of power) but maintaining the centralization of the object-capital and its planning: some workers not only owners of their cooperatives but also owners of their socialist planning State.

  12. fredtorssander Says:

    I think writing (economic) laws for socialism is a bit premature. What could be useful is if economists today tried defining the (economic) laws that makes capitalism redundant. For example from the better (I think) definition of what economics is that Marx wrote. In the beginning of the fist book of Capital. Method of human metabolism with the environment (Stoffwechsel mit der Natur) by (socialized) work.
    That will become useful in the climate crisis.

  13. rojaspedro Says:

    “Wolff adopts the classic underconsumption argument that capitalists pay “insufficient wages to enable workers to purchase growing capitalist output”. Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider this theory of capitalist crises as wrong. Marx rejected it; it does not stand up theoretically as part of Marx’s law of value or profitability; and empirical evidence is against it.”

    Nothing is sadder than doing science of what a deceased person meant or did not mean.

    If you treat Marx as the messiah and treat “Capital” as a holy book you are doing religion. The economy is something else.
     

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”Nothing is sadder than doing science of what a deceased person meant or did not mean.

      If you treat Marx as the messiah and treat “Capital” as a holy book you are doing religion. The economy is something else.”

      Do you then conclude that Ricardo’s ”Notes on ‘Malthus’s Measure of Value”’ is a religious book? In fact controversies around the ideas of leading scientific figures is the very stuff of science and must necessarily give rise to contenting interpretations and rival theories. Were this not the case, then indeed would we be dealing with religion and its revealed truths! cf “Dawkins vs. Gould” (2007) with debates about Darwin and evolution, particularly its suggested reading.

    • vk Says:

      It’s ok to refute one scientific theory with another scientific theory.

      The problem is that Wolff’s underconsumption theory has no scientific basis at all. It is akin to trying to refute Darwin with the Bible.

      There’s a limit to opinion, after which we’re entering the territory of superstition or even madness.

    • marthajpc Says:

      I think that the problem with the way many (if not most) academic marxists treat teaching marxism is they seem trapped in Volume 1 of Capital. In Volume 1 Marx implies but doesn’t clearly say that his analysis requires that he abstract capitalism’s mode of production from the social order that it evolves and requires to reproduce itself, and that he, therefore, must accept as given, political economy’s representation of that mode of production, liberal illusion all (regarding the relation between capital and labor, a free market of equal, competing buyers and sellers)–in order to critique political, and in the process reveal the contradictions within capitalist mode of production itself. But, later in the volume, of the capitalist mode of production as such, which requires his discovery of surplus value. But this requires stepping outside the illusory world of political economy and into the history of the real world. Here, he defines capital as a “social relation”. What’s up?

      It takes a good teacher or two readings of Capital 1 to understand what Marx is up to. Fredric Jameson who quipped that the first product of capitalism is unemployment, also impishly suggested that Capital should first be read “backward”, starting with the section on primitive accumulation and working forward to the commodity.

      The section on primitive accumulation sets out the historical events that produced the “social relation” that is capital itself, and, therefore, the material basis for the emergence of the bourgeois law of value, which is based on the exploitation of socially necessary (alienated) labor. It is also the material basis for the extraction surplus value. In other words, capitalism’s unequal, contradictory and recurring social relation is the historical, material basis for Marx’s labor theory of value, which, Marx insisted, must assume a global capitalist system, and therefore serve to theorize the role of imperialism, war and theft in capitalism’s drive for profit and reproduction of itself. Marxism is revolutionary and international, anything but “eurcentric” and reformist.

    • marthajpc Says:

      This is a corrected form of the above reply:

      • marthajpc Says:

        I think that the problem with the way many (if not most) academic marxists treat teaching marxism is they seem trapped in Volume 1 of Capital. In Volume 1 Marx implies but doesn’t explicitly say that his analysis requires that he abstract capitalism’s mode of production from the social order that it evolves and requires to reproduce itself, and that he, therefore, has accepted as given, political economy’s representation of that mode of production, liberal illusions and all (including the equal relation between capital and labor, a free market of equal, competing buyers and sellers, etc.)–in order to critique political economy, and, in the process, reveal the contradictions within capitalist mode of production as such. But, later in that volume, stepping out side the illusory world of political economy, Marx says that capital is fundamentally a “social relation”. What’s up?

        It takes a good teacher or two readings of Capital 1 to understand what Marx is up to. Fredric Jameson, who quipped that the first product of capitalism is unemployment, also impishly suggested that Capital should first be read “backward”, starting with the section on primitive accumulation and working forward to the Marx’s analysis of commodity.

        The section on primitive accumulation sets out the historical events that produced the “social relation” that is capital itself, and, therefore, provides the material basis for the emergence of the (bourgeois) law of value, which is based on the cost of socially necessary (alienated) waged labor. It is also the material basis for the extraction and appropriation of surplus value. In other words, capitalism’s unequal, contradictory and recurring social relation is the historical, material basis for Marx’s labor theory of value, which, Marx insisted, assume a globalized capitalist system, and, therefore, must factor in imperialism’s expropriations of wealth as well as its appropriations of surplus product as a key element in capitalism’s drive for profit and reproduction of itself. Marxism is revolutionary and international, anything but “Eurcentric”. It is open to reform nationally, but within a revolutionary, international intention. Marxists like Wolf caused him to declare he was no marxist.

      • mandm Says:

        This is a corrected copy of the above:

        I think that the problem with the way many (if not most) academic marxists treat teaching marxism is they seem trapped in Volume 1 of Capital. In Volume 1 Marx implies but doesn’t explicitly say that his analysis requires that he abstract capitalism’s mode of production from the social order that it evolves and requires to reproduce itself, and that he, therefore, has accepted as given, political economy’s representation of that mode of production, liberal illusions and all (including the equal relation between capital and labor, and the free market of equal, competing buyers and sellers, etc.)–in order to critique political economy, and, in the process, reveal the contradictions within the capitalist mode of production as such. But, later in that volume, stepping out side the illusory world of political economy, Marx says that capital is fundamentally a “social relation”. What’s up?

        It takes a good teacher or two readings of Capital 1 to understand what Marx is up to. Fredric Jameson, who quipped that the first product of capitalism is unemployment, also impishly suggested that Capital should first be read “backward”, starting with the section on primitive accumulation and working back to the Marx’s analysis of the commodity.

        The section on primitive accumulation sets out the historical events that produced the “social relation” that is capital itself, and, therefore, provides the material basis for the emergence of the (bourgeois) law of value, which is based on the cost of socially necessary (alienated) waged labor. Primitive accumulation is also the material basis for the extraction and appropriation of surplus value. In other words, capitalism’s unequal, contradictory and necessarily recurring social relation is the historical, material basis for Marx’s labor theory of value, which, Marx insisted, assume a globalized capitalist system, and, therefore, must factor in imperialism’s expropriations of wealth as well as its appropriations of surplus product as a key element in capitalism’s drive for profit and reproduction of itself. Marxism is revolutionary and international, anything but “Eurocentric”. It is open to reform nationally, but within a revolutionary, international intention. Marxists like Wolf caused Marx himself to declare he was no marxist.

    • Mohamed Elmaazi Says:

      This comment literally makes no sense. It also betrays a lack of knowledge to delve deeper into the analysis on this site more generally.

  14. Egmont Kakarot-Handtke Says:

    Mohamed Elmaazi
    cross-posting Mike Norman Economics

    The crucial point with Marx/Socialism/Communism/Capitalism is whether Marx understood how the monetary economy works. This presupposes an understanding of the foundational economic magnitude profit. The point is that Marx and Marxians have NO idea what profit is. For the proof see

    Profit for Marxists
    https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2414301

    So, Marxianism is scientifically worthless for 150+ years. Maybe Marx is philosophically relevant, in any case, he is irrelevant for economics understood as science.

    Note in passing that philosophy has degenerated much from the ancient Greeks to the present and has become irrelevant itself. The practical proof is that philosophers readily board an aircraft that has been constructed by scientists/engineers but would refuse to board an aircraft that has been constructed by philosophers.

    Now, the philosopher Tom Hickey claims: “I would add, at the very least. Marx and Engels, and subsequent Marxists and those influenced by Marx are still highly relevant and they are becoming more so as capitalism is more and more in crisis owing to neoliberalism, neoliberal globalization and the challenge of climate change.” Given their track record, the idea that philosophers or Marxists or economists can solve any of humanity’s problems is downright idiotic.

    To repeat, Marx is scientifically irrelevant. And whether he gets many likes from folks like Richard Wolff, Michael Roberts, Tom Hickey and the brain-dead journalists of the New York Times is a scientific non-event.

    The fact is that Marx got profit wrong and this he has in common with MMTers. The fact is that Marxians, MMTers, and philosophers like Tom Hickey are too stupid for the elementary algebra that underlies macroeconomics. The proof has been given elsewhere.

    To expect from folks who cannot put 2 and 2 together a contribution to the advancement of science, culture, and civilization is the very definition of madness.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    • Dr. Wintermute Says:

      Dear Egmont,

      you’re obviously very intelligent, why do you seem to be in a bad mood all the time? According to a well-known saying, I would characterize the general situation of humanity as «hopeless, but not serious». I want to help you to improve your theory by pointing out that you don’t really understand the implications of quantum mechanics, the Gödelian incompleteness theorems and – most importantly! – Hegelian Dialectics. Philosophy on its own is inferior () to science + mathematics..

      So philosophy, according to you «has degenerated much from the ancient Greeks to the present and has become irrelevant itself». The practical proof is obviously that scientists/engineers (as opposed to philosophers) wouldn’t build nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone regions like Fukushima, Japan and blame the degradation of the natural environment resulting from nuclear bomb-testing and nuclear accidents on CO(2)-induced climate change. Oh wait, that’s not true, they actually would do this.

      Your theory is interesting, but, like much of mainstream economics, it works only if people have opposite preferences (debt based consumerism versus profit seeking), which is a contradictious assumption to make about human nature. A relevant alternative to your economics could be built up on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics complemented by Gesellianism, which doesn’t abstract from the power dynamics implied in commodity-exchange. Aristotle already clearly saw the difference between the necessary “economy” and the degenerate “chrematism” (capitalism).

      Your beef with Hegelian Dialectics ist that on one hand, you don’t understand that the set of things which can be thought of without contradiction is only a subset of all possible things, and on the other hand, that the Kantian assumption that knowledge as such is limited is itself inconsistent. So you cannot blame the assumption of existing «real contradictions» solely on bad theorizing.

      Because of the selective blindness implied in quantum mechanics, everyone needs to judge which information about reality is useful to him or her. Therefore quantum mechanics (and thermodynamics) is limited by economics. In order to understand economics, you need to understand collective behaviour. Therefore economics is limited by mathematical set theory. In order to understand mathematical set theory, you need to understand formal languages. Therefore mathematical set theory is limited by mathematical logic. In order to understand mathematical logic, you need to have a grasp of the Law of Non-Contradiction and the Law of Sufficient Reason. Therefore mathematical logic is limited by systematical philosophical considerations (a fact well-known by supreme genius G.W. Leibnitz).

      I recommend you to study «The two characteristics of an antinomy: self-reference and negation» by the mathematician Ken Kubota https://lists.cam.ac.uk/pipermail/cl-isabelle-users/2018-June/msg00048.html and my own humble contribution to science on my blog «Analytische Sozialkritik. Der Blog von Dr. Wintermute»: “Randomness and negative self-reference”.

      Kind regards,

      Dr. Wintermute

    • Mark S. Says:

      Can you explain in a relatively simple short way, so a non-economist can understand, why Marx did not understand profit and why you do?

  15. Dr. Wintermute Says:

    There is a missing part in my reply: Philosophy on its own is inferior () to science + mathematics..

  16. Dr. Wintermute Says:

    (One part of my message couldn’t be posted for reasons unknown to me.)

  17. Egmont Kakarot-Handtke Says:

    Dr. Wintermute

    Broadly speaking, economics is about how the economy works and NOT about how society or the human brain works. The economy is a sub-set of the universe and the subject matter is defined with phenomena like profit, income, price, output, saving, etcetera that do not appear in other sub-sets of reality like physics or biology.

    Science takes the concrete form of a theory. The true theory/model is the humanly best mental representation of reality. Scientific truth is well-defined by material and formal consistency. “The chief demerit is inconsistency …” (Popper)

    In this thread, we are concerned specifically with Marx’s economics. The proof has been given that Marx’s profit theory is false. Because Marx got the foundational concept of economics wrong the analytical superstructure of Marxianism is scientifically worthless.

    This is the 150+ years overdue end of Marxian economics. Tom Hickey admits this but argues: “Secondly, Marx was a philosopher in his own right and a public intellectual in this time as a journalist and writer of political tracts in the context of the contemporary debates.” Yes, but this does NOT change the fact that Marx was a fake scientist and Marxianism is proto-scientific garbage.

    What the philosopher Tom Hickey does is meta-communication. We are no longer talking about how the economy works but about the philosopher and agenda pusher Marx. Calgacus goes further in the wrong direction: “That’s some sort of positivism, analytic philosophy stuff. Stuff that was popular in the 20th century. Especially virulent in the postwar era. 1945-1970 or so. There was a bit of that in Marx, but not much. He was German, not English!” Perhaps this is good to know in a TV quiz.

    You drive meta-communication even further away from the point at issue: “Your beef with Hegelian Dialectics is that on one hand, you don’t understand that the set of things which can be thought of without contradiction is only a subset of all possible things, and on the other hand, that the Kantian assumption that knowledge as such is limited is itself inconsistent. So you cannot blame the assumption of existing «real contradictions» solely on bad theorizing.”

    I do not blame Marx or any other economist for bad theorizing, I blame them for being too stupid for the elementary algebra that underlies macroeconomics.#1 In fact, I prove it and the proof is a good as the proof of the Pythagorean Theorem and in any case vastly superior to your brain-dead off-topic meta-communication.

    To make it concrete and politically relevant: Dear philosophers tell the econoblogoshpere which of the two macroeconomic relationships is true
    a) (I−S)+(G−T)=0 (MMT, Keynesianism)
    b) (I−S)+(G−T)=Q (AXEC)?

    Equation b) boils down to Public Deficit = Private Profit and this gives one the life formula of present-day Capitalism. You certainly agree that one cannot find this enlightening formula that gives you the conditions of the breakdown of Capitalism in the works of the philosopher and political agenda pusher Marx nor in Hegel’s dialectic nor in Dr. Wintermute’s Analytische Sozialkritik.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    #1 The ancient philosophers were supposed to be proficient at math as the motto of Plato’s Academy testifies.

  18. gonzogil Says:

    “but is it not jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, by leaving the wider economy to power of the market?”

    Are there any federated models of distribution, and exchange currently operating that could help serve as a model that could give coops a guide as to how to exchange?: at the digital/internet level, or, non-internet level?. Clearly the idea would be to modify the relations to nature so that these very same relations to nature extend to the workplace, and from the workplace to modes of distribution, and exchange. How is coordination to be concretely carried out within a hostile environment of market social relations. He would have to find further examples of what Engles talked about “The seeds of the new society being found in the old one”

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