ASSA 2023 part two: the radical – monopoly and war

In some ways, the radical sessions at ASSA were disappointing. As far as I could tell there were no papers on the causes of the rise in inflation or on what policies to adopt to support labour on this issue.  Maybe this is sour grapes from me, as URPE rejected my own paper on a Marxist theory of inflation for inclusion in their ASSA sessions.

Instead, the sessions focused on whether monopoly power was the dominant development in 21st century capitalism.  And of course, Ukraine was also a key issue – and it is interesting to compare the approaches of the mainstream sessions (see ASSA part one) to that of the radical sessions. 

On monopoly power, Lenore Palladino of UMA wanted to make a distinction between firms and corporations to show that the latter were dominated by shareholder power to the expense of what she called ‘stakeholders’, as developed in progressive law.  I was unclear where this took us.   

Zhongjin Li University of Missouri-Kansas City drew on the insights of the monopoly capital school to argue that ‘platform power’ ie (data and apps) depends on massive capital from the financial market and so has become a new frontier of ‘financialization’.  In doing so, big tech in this hierarchical platform economy increases income inequality, exacerbates overcapacity and generate financial bubbles, thus intensifying the tendency of economic stagnation in this era of monopoly capital.  Readers will know my critique of the monopoly capital thesis of 21st century capitalism.

Cecilia Rikap from City University London presented a paper similar to that delivered at the recent Historical Materialism conference; namely that there is a new type of monopoly based in ‘knowledge’ markets.  In this era of intellectual property and knowledge production, these companies have a monopoly over innovation (like algorithms) and so have established permanent monopoly power. It is no longer a question of monopoly in markets but power over innovation.   I was not convinced of this view at HM last November.

Herman Mark Schwartz University of Virginia criticised the ‘intangibles’ thesis of Haskel and Westlake’s Capitalism without Capital for implying that ‘intangibles’ have changed the very basis of capitalist accumulation.  Instead, intangibles should be seen as just a new form of capital that allows ‘knowledge’ monopolies to capture the bulk of profits.  That critique seems right to me. 

But my criticism of the intangibles thesis is different; it is not that the knowledge ‘monopolies’ are causing ‘secular stagnation’ as the monopoly capital school wants to argue.  Indeed, the ‘moral depreciation’ of intangibles is probably even greater than tangibles and so increases the contradictions of capitalist accumulation.  For an individual capitalist, protecting profit gained from a new piece of research or software, or the branding of a company, becomes much more difficult when software can easily be replicated and brands copied.  Thus we have the position where the new leading sectors are increasingly investing in intangibles while investment overall falls along with productivity and profitability.  Marx’s law of profitability is not modified but intensified.

On international trade, Maha Rafi Atal of Glasgow University seemed to suggest that the collapse of trade regulation by the World Trade Organization could be replaced by bilateral agreements to regulate unfair practices – hmm. 

There were also papers on whether a combination of free trade agreements and tight monetary policy by central banks would impose stagnation on emerging economies (Devika Dutt, USC); and the rise of crypto-curriecies in poor countries being used as a solution to currency crises there (Hanin Khawaja New School for Social Research).

The URPE session on Ukraine was revealing in its completely different analysis to that of the mainstream sessions (see ASSA part one).  David Kotz set the scene in his paper, Imperialism and the Ukraine War.  Kotz saw the war as driven by the imperialist ambitions of both Russia and the U.S, namely after the full emergence of post-Soviet Russia as an autocratic capitalist state with an oligarchic capitalist class dependent on export of raw materials and metals; and the post-Cold War strategy of the U.S. government to prevent the emergence of any powerful rival state to the U.S. Such rivalries between powerful capitalist states were an inevitable feature of a world divided into capitalist states.  “As long as capitalism persists, avoiding such wars requires efforts to reach compromises between the conflicting imperial ambitions of large capitalist states. Big state influence over smaller states around its borders can be resisted with force of arms by other big states only at the cost of war and its attendant destruction.”

Alan Cafruny Hamilton College took a similar position. The war in Ukraine has deepened Europe’s dependence on the American power at a time when the United States is neither able nor willing to underwrite European economic prosperity given its own broader vulnerabilities and global objectives.  This proxy war has reasserted and extended U.S. power in Europe but at the cost of growing instability within the transatlantic space and beyond.

Hene Grabel posed the possibility that the war would lead to new alignments geopolitically and allow ‘permissive multilateralisms’ rather than nostalgia for a liberal world order or a new Bretton Woods.  She thought that would be good news.  Sounded optimistic to me. Ann Davis also discussed the prospects of developing a new world order that replaces US hegemony and so perhaps the BRICS would now come onto the stage outside the influence of the US. 

Despite my disappointment at some of the URPE sessions, there were two excellent papers on capitalist accumulation and its impact on labour.  Carlos Duque of UNAM Mexico followed up his excellent paper of 2021 on the rate of profit in Colombia, which supported Marx’s law of profitability, with a new paper on the accumulation of capital and employment.

Duque showed that Marx’s general law of accumulation holds, not only in the advanced capitalist economies, but also in the Global South..  The level of employment has a significant long-term relationship (cointegration) with both the fixed capital stock and labor productivity. In line with Marx’s theory, ie. the level of employment expands with fixed capital stock and contracts with labor productivity. In turn, the mass of profits has positive effects on both the fixed capital stock and the labor productivity. This supports Marx’s theory of ‘capital-biased technical change’ ie a rising organic composition of capital.  “The overall results are consistent with the Marxian economics framework presented in the paper but not with other economic paradigms like the neoclassical or Keynesian where, for instance, there is no Marx’s biased technological change and the effects of employment over profits are positive.”

And another Latin American Marxist economist, Sergio Camara from UNAM, came to similar conclusions in his paper on The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation and a Labor-Shortage Theory of Cycles. Camara showed that Marx’s general law has both short term and long term consequences.  In the short term, capital investment can increase employment and cause labour shortages, but longer term, it will shed labour and restore the industrial reserve army.  It’s a cyclical process.

It was good to finish a review of these radical sessions with some further empirical support for Marx’s law of accumulation.

36 thoughts on “ASSA 2023 part two: the radical – monopoly and war

  1. My guess as to why there was an emphasis on monopoly capital is that the panelists are probably in cahoots with the so-called Democratic Socialists and/or so-called Progressives, whose agenda basically revolves around some form of revival of anti-trust law (see e.g. Elizabeth Warren). This logic also applies to the European panelists, given American cultural and ideological influence over there.

    Another possibility for the focus on monopoly, when the case, is an attempt to rehabilitate Baran and Sweezy, which would mean putting American Marxism back at the center stage. This may be calculated or accidental, because the Americans are very insular, and rarely read non-American sources. I always find it hilarious when American historians even refute to refer to the original when quoting Marx himself, instead quoting an American author who quoted Marx.

    Knowledge or immaterial labor doesn’t change one bit the Law of Value. Knowledge still takes a given amount of time and requires a human to do it; it still has to be socially necessary knowledge in order to be value. As such, it has to enter the production process somehow in order to be materialized and realized.

    In theory, “knowledge” can enter as any component in the productive process, as fixed or constant capital. That will depend on the individual capital, not on the nature of the knowledge itself. The only requirement is that this “knowledge” must be socially necessary. But that is true for every kind of living labor, thus reverting back to Marx’s general theory.

    This means Marx’s demonstrated there is no ontological difference between intellectual and manual labor. Such division is historically specific and class specific. What is intellectual labor today may be manual labor tomorrow, and vice versa; it will all depend on the development of the productive forces and the specific class configuration on the technical division of labor.

    The multi-imperialism approach on the Ukraine War is wrong in my opinion. The key here is the fetishization of the Nation-State, idealized in an UN era as some kind of global democracy.

    The fact is, not all Nation-States are equal. Some are literally more important than others. The status of Ukraine as a Nation-State is completely irrelevant to the war, from the point of view of both the Russians (who don’t even see Ukraine as a real country) and the Americans (who see it as just the abstract cartographic limit of NATO against Russia). Compromise in the true sense of the word is impossible between Nation-States, as it would require the more powerful ones to give up their own national interests to the less powerful ones, thus annihilating the concept of Nation-State to begin with.

    I agree though that this conflict would not have happened the way it is happening without capitalist competition: the Putinist theory of the “Lenin’s Ticking Time Bomb” is pure, unadulterated nonsense. There is no historical evidence the existence of the Ukraine was we know it today was a problem during post-Civil War Soviet times. With (maybe) the exception of Nagorno-Karabakh, all the ethnic/border problems of the Soviet Union started after the USA decided to co-opt and bribe local Muslim elites in the south (i.e. install in them the idea of a comprador elite, of being an oligarchy) and then arm them to the teeth, i.e. give them the means to give this new dream to fruition.

    1. The “American left” is not only insular, but non-existant as an organized force (unless, like DSA , the organization is owned by George Soros). But, despite your usually insightful (cocksure) analyses (like this one), your are dead wrong regarding the insularity of the so-called Monthly Review “school” (there’s no such thing) of marxism. The magazine and the Monthly Review Press have been internationalist and substantively anti-imperialist from the start (1947), publishing articles and books by Du Bois, Giap Vo Nguyen, Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney, Samir Amin, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Edward Galeano, Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Domitila Barrios de Cungara, Kwame Nkrumah, Zhun Xu… name a few.

      Whatever you think of Sweezey and Baran’s marxism (open-ended and mostly misundersstood) , it remains a beacon in a dark, irritated bowel of the beast) and staunchly anti-imperialist.

      1. I don’t think American Marxism (i.e. Baran-Sweezy Marxism) is anti-imperialist at all. Quite the contrary.

        Not wanting to sound arrogant (again), but, in my opinion, those American anti-monopoly ideologies — and here it is not only American Marxism, but other leftist ideologies such as Democratic Socialism (American Gaitskellism) and Progressivism, both of which further plagiarize the former — are a nothing short of a form of witchcraft.

        They took and take Marx’s scientific, true, and very elegant theory that explains everything capitalism and, by taking isolated aspects and sometimes isolated words and phrases, try to argue the polar opposite of Marx’s conclusions. It’s like reading tea leaves, doing divination or astrology.

        This is very damaging to Marx’s reputation. But there’s a more sinister intention behind all of this: Marx definitely proved capitalism will end. It is simply a mode of production destined to die. Those American Marxists and their liberal derivations claim to use Marx’s theory in order to make capitalism last forever (because that’s the ultimate logic behind anti-trustism: that capitalist entropy can be forever be reversed, in an endless cycle of centralization-decentralization). That is, they ultimately claim they have subverted Marx’s theory to make capitalism be the exact opposite of what Marx’s theory claimed it to be.

        That exposes the non-dialectic nature of American Marxism and its liberal derivations from the American Left (New American Left and Democratic Socialism): they see Marx’s theory as a tool, in the utilitarian sense, that can be repurposed to do completely different things, as if e.g. one used a kitchen knife to assassinate a person. They essentially claim they’re much smarter than Marx, and/or that they’re the natural, positivist progression from Marx (Marx’s natural successors). The problem is that Marx’s theory is a theory in the true, rigorous sense of the word, not some random formula or series of postulates that get called a theory just because the academia/university industry has to keep its production quota: it really explains everything, it cannot be denied, so to speak.

        I have an opinion that the Cold War (1953-1991) + End of History (1991-2008) was a dark age for Marxism, after its golden age that started somewhere during the end of Marx’s lifetime and 1917. So this is not the case where I’m simply making ad hominem attacks on individual academics and intellectuals. I think there is a deeper, historical reason for the decline of Marxism after WWII.

      2. The Cold War did not begin in 1953. In one sense it began in 1943 when the US excluded the USSR from any role in liberated Italy. Or when the UK favored fascists in Greece in 1944. Or when the US totally terminated all aid to USSR at the formal end of WWII in Europe in 1945. Or when the US tried to negotiate the survival of the Guo Min Dang in China. Or when the Progressive Party candidacy of Henry Wallace was redbaited in 1948. Or when the US intervened to save colonialist capitalism in Korea in 1950. The whole Marshall Plan, the whole Fulton speech about the Iron Curtain, all that sort of thing was Cold War. The only thing special about 1953 was either the death of Stalin or Eisenhower beginning his presidency.

  2. I’m not defending “American marxism”, nor, for that matter, Western marxism. I’m defending one of the evolutions (Sweezy’s and Baran’s) of Marx’s critique of capital. Their critique is based on the labor theory of value, but as applied to conditions of extreme concentration of capital–now much more extreme than when “Monopoly Capital” was written–old fashioned monopolistic corporations have been absorbed within mammoth globalized capital management institutions, along with various forms (abstract and material), of “individual” competing bourgeois property owners — family trusts, individual owners within small and large corporations, single billionaire oligarchs, etc– all hedgedly invested and competing with each other within these modern leviathans.

    Bourgeois attempts to theorize what’s happening to capitalism is both a joke and a”lie” that even capitalists laugh at. Only marxist critiques like yours and Robert’s (and I’d say Sweezy’s) make some sense because they are based on fundamental marxism and the labor theory of value–but most critiques, including yours, do not go as far as Marx himself, whose most fundamental epistomological position demands an open ended critique based on historical change, for instance, Marx’s support of Russian revolutionaries –which still confounds many anti-Soviet marxist “fundamentalists”– to say nothing of Marx’s view that post -Taiping-rebellion-China might be the beacon for world revolution.

    1. Marx’s theory is open ended. You don’t need to deface it in order to expand it and apply it in any given concrete situation.

      However, being an open system doesn’t mean it is not complete. Marx’s system is a complete theory, meaning one cannot cherrypick this or that fragment of the theory in order to make conclusions that are not already demonstrated by the theory. If you want to use Marx’s theory, you have to take it whole and not butchered.

      That means no taking isolated chapters of Das Kapital, not using personal letters, not using the Grundrisse as an opus that is above Das Kapital, not using random sketches from MEGA, not using Engels’ alleged or real “corrections” etc. etc.

      The only way to scientifically study Marx is this: you have to start will all (and I mean all, not just the main ones) works (the scientific-philosophic stuff, not the journalistic stuff) he published in life with the intention to be published. Start in chronological order. This will culminate with the first book of Das Kapital. Proceed by reading the next two books of Das Kapital. Then, if you really understood his philosophy, you’re allowed to take on Grundrisse. Then, you’re allowed to read Kaustky’s Das Kapital (the alleged Das Kapital book IV). You cannot understand Das Kapital fully without understanding “young Marx”; that’s an impossibility. If we lived in a capitalist world where Hegel was not obliterated and instead taught as the standard philosophy in the universal basic educational systems of the liberal countries, it would be feasible to go straight into Das Kapital by High School — but we don’t live in that world; instead we’re taught some bastardized Neokantian system, so we have to essentially relearn how we see the world in order to understand Marx.

      Then, optionally, if you decide to be a Marx scholar, if you decided to dedicate all of your life in studying Marx the thinker himself, you can take on his letters and other personal stuff, including his many published biographies.

      I consider the two Pauls “Cold War fossils”. Notice that I’m not an advocate of book burning – that’s a Nazi thing. I think those Cold War fossils are very useful for historians of the period: their opus should be preserved for posterity so that future generations can learn how even the most smart people can be blinded by ideological fervor and political polarization. But they are just that: primary sources for historians of that specific period.

    2. In copying my notes I neglected to insert the transition from the first paragraph to the last. It’s as follows:

      But what about the US hegemon which controls the Western Leviathan? The profitability of its economy has been shown by marxists like Roberts to be on a consistently downward path, and Samir Amin has shown its economy to be more the pirate marauder than proper capitalist. Istvan Meszaros has show Western capitalism to be stuck in a suicidal/homocidal, final stage of (homo and ecological) “destructive production”. Both authors have been published by Monthly Review Press.

  3. Maybe one of the non-Western Marxists who grace this site can resolve this apparent contradiction and answer the questions that follow from it.

    Axioms: (1) labor time is the measure of value, (2) any sets or numbers of objects produced in the same time have equal values. “Time is everything, man is nothing” (Marx, Poverty of Philosophy).

    Marx’s assertion: (1) He restricts the origin of relative surplus value to the fall of the value of labor power, brought about by increasing productivity in production of “necessities,” and stating:
    “But an increase in the productiveness of labour in those branches of industry which supply neither the necessaries of life, nor the means of production for such necessaries, leaves the value of labour-power undisturbed.” (2) In Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 15, Marx writes:
    “Machinery produces relative surplus-value; not only by directly depreciating the value of labour-power, and by indirectly cheapening the same through cheapening the commodities that enter into its reproduction, but also, when it is first introduced sporadically into an industry, by converting the labour employed by the owner of that machinery, into labour of a higher degree and greater efficacy, by raising the social value of the article produced above its individual value, and thus enabling the capitalist to replace the value of a day’s labour-power by a smaller portion of the value of a day’s product. During this transition period, when the use of machinery is a sort of monopoly, the profits are therefore exceptional, and the capitalist endeavours to exploit thoroughly “the sunny time of this his first love,” by prolonging the working-day as much as possible. The magnitude of the profit whets his appetite for more profit.
    “To replace the value of a day’s labour power by a smaller portion of the value of a day’s product,” in this manner is not the extraction of greater relative surplus value, when the total value itself drops proportionately to the labor-power deployed. It is again the redistribution of the total surplus value thrown into the markets by all producers, and the “exceptional” profits disappear as soon as the enhanced productivity of labor becomes standard. Then there is no arbitrage to be conducted between the individual and social value of the commodity:
    As the use of machinery becomes more general in a particular industry, the social value of the product sinks down to its individual value, and the law that surplus-value does not arise from the labour-power that has been replaced by the machinery, but from the labour-power actually employed in working with the machinery, asserts itself.
    (3) Marx sees another source for the accelerated extraction of surplus value through the application of machinery in the intensification of labor:
    “Generally speaking, the mode of producing relative surplus-value consists in raising the productive power of the workman, so as to enable him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of labour. Labour-time continues to transmit as before the same value to the total product, but this unchanged amount of exchange-value is spread over more use-value; hence the value of each single commodity sinks. Otherwise, however, so soon as the compulsory shortening of the hours of labour takes place. The immense impetus it gives the development of productive power, and to economy in the means of production, imposes on the workman increased expenditure of labour in a given time, heightened tension of labour-power, and closer filling up of the pores of the working-day, or condensation of labour to a degree that is attainable only within the limits of the shortened working-day. This condensation of a greater mass of labour into a given period thenceforward counts for what it really is, a greater quantity of labour. In addition to a measure of its extension, i.e., duration, labour now acquires a measure of its intensity or of the degree of its condensation or density. The denser hour of the ten hours’ working-day contains more labour, i.e., expended labour-power than the more porous hour of the twelve hours’ working-day. The product therefore of one of the former hours has as much or more value than has the product of 1 1/5 of the latter hours. Apart from the increased yield of relative surplus-value through the heightened productiveness of labour, the same mass of value is now produced for the capitalist say by 3 1/3 hours of surplus-labour, and 6 2/3 hours of necessary labour, as was previously produced by four hours of surplus-labour and eight hours of necessary labour.”
    First issue: how can the “intensity of labor” be measured and converted into labor time, if time itself is the measure of value? How is it that Marx and Marxists drop the essential relation of production–aggrandizement of the laborers’ time as an exchange value– without further investigation and ASSUME or assert that this is one of the ways of increasing relative surplus value, if not THE way?

    Second Issue: Marx restricts the expansion of relative surplus value to the decline in the value of the wage–and a decline relative NOT to the total capital advanced in production– but to its previous value, without a co-equal decline in production hours .. This of course is exactly what took place in the “long deflation” period of 1873-1898. But that did not occur post WW2 in the US. How then can we explain increases in relative surplus value when the size of “V” increases, the total hours absorbed in production DECLINE, as they have declined since…. the 20th century?

    Third issue: Given the decline in production hours and the real increase in wages in the advanced capitalist countries, what is the source of increased profitability, i.e. increased surplus value in industry post WW2 until around 1968. Citing the “3rd world” will not do, as no amount of super- profit exploited from less developed countries can be demonstrated as occurring or accruing to “profit leaders” (IBM for example). .

    Fourth Issue: Isn’t it the fact that increased use and application of technology, while enhancing productivity of labor REDUCES the proportion, the rate, of surplus value extracted in production if the “V” advanced does NOT decline more steeply than the working hours.

    1. Pardon my French, but your argument and line of thought is absurd. You clearly didn’t read Capital (even though there is a quote from it at the beginning of your comment).

      1. Exactly the response I knew I would receive from a hack and poseur like VK who hs nothing to say and has proven that innumerable times with reactionary, Idiotic postings.

        Anyone who has read Capital, and Marx’s other writings will notice that Marx contradicts himself several times regarding productivity of labor and relative surplus value.

        So for those who are more interested in applying Marx’s critique to the real world than they are interested in jousting with fake divisions of Marxism into western and non–western or than they are cheerleading for cops as long as cops have a red star on their badges. I welcome their input regarding the following

        I think Marx does not confront the apparent conflict created between the law of value– that regardless of the number of commodities produced in a fixed time, the value will always remain the same; his argument that only if labor is devalued (by the devaluation in the costs of reproduction) can relative surplus value be increased; numerous statements that machinery ipso factor produces relative surplus value; and his introduction of the “intensification of labor” as an explanation for “another source” of relative surplus value, which IMO undermines the fundamental law of value.

        If requested, I provide a number of quotes from Marx’s economic manuscripts that seem to hold these conflicting positions simultaneously.

        Paraphrasing Sly’s “Dance to the Music”– “All the hacks fall out.”

      2. And here are some quotes from Marx which express the ambiguity of relative surplus value production:

        “The growth of the productive power of labour is identical in meaning with (a) the growth of relative surplus value or of the relative surplus labour time which the worker gives to capital”–Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook 7, The Chapter on Capital


        “If the productivity in wool spinning is trebled then, provided the conditions of wool production have remained the same, three times as much time as previously would have to be spent, three times as much capital would have to be expended on labour in wool production, whereas only the same amount of the spinners’ labour time would be required to spin up this trebled quantity of wool. But the rate [of surplus value] would remain the same. The same spinning labour would have the same value as before and contain the same surplus-value.”—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 9.

        And then Marx says this,

        “But nothing is more fallacious than that, generally speaking, the rate of profit can increase while the amount of capital laid out on labour declines. Exactly the opposite takes place. Proportionally less surplus-value is produced, and the rate of profit therefore falls.”—Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 24

        Proportionately less surplus-value is produced, if the wage does not decline more steeply than the total production hours both rate and mass decline.

      3. @ anti-capital

        You’re simply wrong in every “issue” you claim to exist with Marx’s theory. They are non-existent.

        “Issue 1”: time is not the measure of value. Labor time is the measure of value. More specifically, socially necessary labor time. If a worker in 2020 produces ten pair of shoes in one hour, and, in 2021 the same worker produces those same ten pairs in half an hour, then the value of those shoes produced in 2020 will be halved if they would be sold in 2021. That’s because the socially necessary labor time to produce said pair of shoe was halved. It is socially necessary labor time, not time, which is value.

        That was all explained in book I of Capital. You simply didn’t read or you read wrong.

        “Issue 2” is simply nonsense. Relative surplus value is determined by the rising productivity of labor, not lower wages. Again, it’s all there, written in Capital book I, in a whole section literally titled “The production of relative surplus value” (Section IV). Don’t need to quote the Grundrisse.

        “Issue 3” is not even a Marx issue, as you’re talking about a historically specific configuration of capitalism in the late 20th Century. However, it is explained by the debunked “issue 2”, that is, the extraction of relative surplus value happens because the necessary labor time falls, not because the journey of labor itself is shortened. By “necessary” it means necessary for the worker, not the capitalist. If the worker can reproduce himself in half an hour, then the last seven and a half will be surplus value to the capitalist. That would be better for the capitalist than if, e.g. a worker needed eleven hours to reproduce himself, giving the capitalist just five hours of surplus value, in a 16 hour labor journey.

        The relation between the First World and the Third World are only relevant if we are studying the international division of labor. The Law of Value continues to operate as normal even in a nation-state divided global capitalism, there is no scientific novelty here.

        “Issue 4” is also a non-issue because, it is obvious, Marx assumed the capitalists would never apply technology which lowered their surplus value. That’s why we do not speak of technology in abstract, but in socially necessary technology. That’s why Marx correctly assumed OCC will tend to rise.

    2. To Michael Roberts: I’m very sorry that the answers took such an inordinate space. But perhaps the attempt to go back to the very basics might be tolerable?

      Not even sure it is legitimate to cite “The Poverty of Philosophy” as foundational economic analysis. It’s been forty years since I read it, but what sticks in my memory is that the repudiation of Proudhon’s anarchism is primarily a kind of empirical stance: The glorious past went away for a reason and it’s not coming back, especially if you don’t understand why it all changed in the first place. As the place to find the fundamental axioms of Marx, I think the later works should be consulted first.

      That said, axiom #2 ignores the concept of abstract socially necessary labor time, which specifies that not all commodities have the same value. Incompetent labor time is a waste, but it does not count. If you’ve forgotten how “socially necessary” is determined, it’s by the operation of the market, where the good old law of supply and demand drives the production of commodities to the standard necessary. Marxism does not deny Adam Smith, it corrects him and expands the depth of analysis.

      It’s not clear how Marx’s assertion #1 is related to your presentation of a paradox disproving Marx. But this is a convenient place to not that, in line with the continuity of Smith and Marx, the term “value” is in some senses a synonym for division of labor. The number of people working to produce the essential goods for the survival and reproduction of people and the number of people working to produce instruments and materials of production of said goods are what they mean. If there is an improvement in the productivity of this labor, in the long run, the number of people working in those sectors will decrease. This change in the division of labor as I say (and think Marx says) is the change in value. Again it is mediated by the effects of exchange in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, to the degree consistent with the imperfections of the market. (Technically, non-reproducible goods are not covered by this analysis, but it is not clear how this would relate to anything you’re writing.)

      Assertion #2 is largely a quotation from Marx himself, except that I find your use of quotation marks confusing. I can’t distinguish Marx’s words from your comment. But I’m sure you made this comment “…the social value of the product sinks down to its individual value, and the law that surplus-value does not arise from the labour-power that has been replaced by the machinery, but from the labour-power actually employed in working with the machinery, asserts itself.” Perhaps it is merely an accidental reversal, a kind of typo, but it’s the individual value of the innovating firm that is gradually reduced to the socially necessary abstract labor time, i.e., value as the operation of supply and demand force the introduction of said technical improvement to the standard firm in the sector. In addition to this being the opposite, the notion that the surplus value comes from the machinery is misleading. Lest you forget, surplus value implies surplus product. In the early stages of innovation, the surplus product for the innovating firm, when realized as profit on exchange in the market, counts in monetary terms as surplus value. It is the concrete manifestation of the labor power. The new machinery, like the old, also contributes, indirectly, the value concretely invested in it by the workers whose labor power created the machine in the first place, by the way. In the production process for this innovating firm, the surplus product increases, constituting a temporary increase in surplus value. At this point I’m not sure what the paradox destroying Marx is supposed to be.

      Assertion #3 at least is clear about when Marx is writing. But there are no direct comments here, just gotcha questions aimed at annihilating Marx.

      ” …how can the “intensity of labor” be measured and converted into labor time, if time itself is the measure of value?” By direct measurement for one. The amount of weight shifted, the distance traveled, the number of tasks accomplished. By the effects on the worker, such as damage to the body by stress, aka work. Since value is also division of labor, by the amount of people and their time spent in preparing the labor-power of the worker. The labor time of teachers, coaches, trainers also multiply the intensity, effectiveness, productivity of the labor-power of the worker. (Again, non-reproducible goods are not really treated by this analysis.) It may be objected that no one has really done much of this analysis, not even Taylorists whose purposes preclude an objective study. But in principle it is feasible. The use of machinery to control the time on task has been an essential aspect of production in an industrial capitalism. Time on task is clearly an aspect of labor-time and professing outrage on the very idea is an unconvincing posture.

      And, “How is it that Marx and Marxists drop the essential relation of production–aggrandizement of the laborers’ time as an exchange value– without further investigation and ASSUME or assert that this is one of the ways of increasing relative surplus value, if not THE way?” To aggrandize I thought meant to praise highly or even fulsomely; to make greater; to conceive as nobler. How this constitutes any relation of production is anyone’s guess? The reasons that vile band of Marx and Marxists assume there is such a thing as more intense, which also means more skilled, labor are pretty much the same that all economists and businessmen think there are such a thing. The difficulties in measuring the heterogeneity of labor are real, but they refute all schools in your unique judgment. And the reasons the bad guys Marx and the Marxists evade your requirement they produce a logical a priori proof (and reams of statistics too?) are pretty much the same reasons all other economists and businessmen don’t either. Except that usually Marxists are not so incentivized about. intensifying labor. But when they do show some interest in increasing production this is somehow widely regarded as their unique evil.

      By the way, the difficulties in the heterogeneity of labor are exceeded by difficulties in the heterogeneity of capital, considered as physical products. The last I looked, the problems for academic economics’ foundations discussed in G. C. Harcourt’s Some Cambridge Controversies were left discreetly unresolved. This is something like criticizing the scurrilous villains Marx and the Marxists for being mere people, while neglecting to note all economists are people too.

      “How then can we explain increases in relative surplus value when the size of ‘V’ increases, the total hours absorbed in production DECLINE, as they have declined since…. the 20th century?” The preliminary comments imply the “Trentes Glorieuses” refute Marx. But the actual question seems to aim for more generality. But it is confusing. The assertion “V” increases seems to mean, real wages increase. But real wages have not increased so much in a much longer period than 2000 to present. As for the notion that total hours absorbed in production are declining despite the increase in production (I think that’s what this means?) that is, as I said before, one thing it means to say that their is an increase in labor productivity. Again, relative surplus value means fewer workers in the sectors producing necessities for reproduction of labor power and physical capital required for same.

      You revert back to your beloved refutation of Marx, the Trentes. “Given the decline in production hours and the real increase in wages in the advanced capitalist countries, what is the source of increased profitability, i.e. increased surplus value in industry post WW2 until around 1968. ” Since this is aimed at vk, you reject the idea that superprofits from exploitation of the Third World can explain it. But my answer is pretty straightforward: First, in some respects, the glory of the Trentes Glorieuses is partly illusory, arbitrarily ignoring the performance of the world capitalist system considered as a whole. Second, a key role was played by the massive destruction of capital in the developed world, especially western Europe accompanied by a massive investment in physical capital. The network effects of this investment increased productivity for the whole system, hence profits. Third, the stabilizing effects of the non-capitalist parts of world economy also played a role. And fourth, and conclusively in my opinion, a temporary exception in one part of the world is not a decisive refutation. As I understand it, Australia hasn’t had a genuine capitalist depression for a very long period of time. But that by itself doesn’t refute Marx either. In science, “How much?” is essential to be science. And in economics, that means both geographically and temporally. If you’re a Mont Pelerin thug like Popper you may latch onto some imagined refutation. But that’s not good science in my opinion.

      “Isn’t it the fact that increased use and application of technology, while enhancing productivity of labor REDUCES the proportion, the rate, of surplus value extracted in production if the ‘V’ advanced does NOT decline more steeply than the working hours.” Again, you do not seem to grasp that the numbers of people working in the various sectors, the division of labor, are value and surplus value, in the way total product and surplus product are value. And you seem confused about whether V is the money advanced by an individual or the real wage for workers. The notion that real wages must decline more than the total hours may assume only absolute surplus value “counts,” but that is not Marx, that’s you.

      Or may you mean the decline in the rate of surplus value, which implies a decline in the rate of profit, omits the redistribution of surplus value (which means eventually, profit.) But that’s not Marx’s theory at all. Rejecting Marx’s theory is not at all the same as finding a contradiction in it.

      Or, you may not think that the mass of surplus value, profit, for the whole economy may increase even as the general rate of profit is declining. Not only is this not Marx, it seems to me to be empirically false and also ignores the difference between percentages and totals.

      And you may mean, that only absolute immiseration counts as confirmation of Marx. But the thing is, the praise for the achievement of capitalism’s historical task in developing the productive forces *in the Manifesto itself* makes no sense is absolute immiseration on a secular basis is demanded as “proof” of Marxism. There are committed capitalist ideologues who do this, but I still say, capitalism is not the final society. There are anarchist ideologues who scorn that evil conspiracy of Marx and the Marxists for their concern for developing the productive forces. But I think that is a false consciousness due to a social existence in a relatively developed nation. It’s not an accident that the primary form of modern anarchism is the libertarian movement, which is deeply reactionary despite its lip service to occasional ideals and hopes held by the masses (as revealed in revolutionary periods but not the market.)

      Speaking as one often provoked to refute vk’s occasional nonsense about history and politics (and disagreeing strongly with vk’s idea that destroying the people of the US will finally bring about a peaceful coexistence, where the slow growth of socialism is inevitable,) as near as I can tell, your nonsense is worse *and* counterrevolutionary.

  4. The division is not between Western and non-Western “marxism”, but between two different kinds of “marxists”: pro-and anti-imperialist.

    Actually, you seem to be an anti-marxist kind of “anti-capital” as you dance about uncovering Marx’s self-contradictions. I had no idea that Marx didn’t even know what “fixed time” is!

  5. VK,

    Repeating your ignorance of a problem does not resolve the problem.

    “time is not the measure of value. Labor time is the measure of value. More specifically, socially necessary labor time. ” No shit, Sherlock. You should have been a detective, although your reading comprehension skills means that everyone would get away with a murder.

    I said: “Axioms: (1) labor time is the measure of value, (2) any sets or numbers of objects produced in the same time have equal values. “Time is everything, man is nothing” (Marx, Poverty of Philosophy).”

    AXIOM– get it? Axiom – means an established principle.

    Regarding issue 1: first I state again–” how can the “intensity of labor” be measured and converted into labor time, if time itself is the measure of value?” The issue is NOT how many times I say “labor time” vs “time,” but: “How is it that Marx and Marxists drop the essential relation of production–aggrandizement of the laborers’ time as an exchange value– without further investigation and ASSUME or assert that this is one of the ways of increasing relative surplus value, if not THE way?” The issue is the argument that increased intensity of labor produces more exchange value when there is no measure of intensity like labor time is the measure of value . This conflicts with the core of Marx’s critique That’s the issue and you have zero response. If I were an uncharitable sort, I’d say you don’t even know what Marx is talking about. But I’m not….most of the time. This time, you simply don’t know what you’re talking about

    ISSUE 2: ““Issue 2” is simply nonsense. Relative surplus value is determined by the rising productivity of labor, not lower wages. Again, it’s all there, written in Capital book I, in a whole section literally titled “The production of relative surplus value” (Section IV). Don’t need to quote the Grundrisse ”

    Yes, that’s the assertion. Yet Marx a) does not demonstrate that anywhere in Capital b) in Chapter 12 of Volume 1 Capital defines and restricts the increase in relative surplus value to A FALL IN THE VALUE OF LABOR-POWER. Perhaps you skipped Chapter 12 where Marx states that; where he writes: In order to effect a fall in the value of labour power the increase in productiveness of labour must seize upon those branches of industry whose products determine the value of labour power…” He goes on to include those areas where cheapening of the means of production that are “required for producing the necessaries of life.” So Marx explicitly states that relative surplus value requires a decline in the value of the labor power. He excludes as a factor in relative surplus value improvements in productivity in those branches of production that do not yield commodities that reduce the value of the wage, that do not reduce the value of the commodities necessary to reproduce the laborer as the laborer.

    Marx also defines productiveness of labor as endowing a given quantity of labour with the power of producing a greater quantity of USE values”– and as Marx takes pains to demonstrate, greater quantities of use values DO NOT equate to a greater sum of value. After all, whether 500 nails are produced in a working day, or 500,000, if the FIXED TIME of production, the day is 8 hours, then the value of two groups of nails is the same.

    Since the same value is always produced in the same working period, only if the necessary labor time is is reduced as a percentage in the working period can the surplus labor time. If the total hours of production of a nail is reduced by a factor 10, but the proportion of the necessary labor time, as represented by the wage, TO the total labor time remains the same, NO increase in surplus value occurs.

    The value of the wage as a portion of the total time spent in production, in relation to the working day must decline. Productivity of labor may influence that, if it impacts reproduction costs, but not PRODUCTIVITY simply as productivity can accomplish that.

    Issue 3: ““Issue 3” is not even a Marx issue, as you’re talking about a historically specific configuration of capitalism in the late 20th Century. However, it is explained by….” then you go on to give a hypothetical which deals with the labor time necessary for reproduction without a SINGLE connection to the concrete in that you NEGLECT the critical factor that SUCH reduced cost, reduced necessary time is expressed in the wage. However in the 1950s, and particularly the 1960s, real wages do not decline, but total working hours do. The wage then, according to Marx, represents a greater portion of the total value, and surplus value must therefore be reduced. Reconcile that with your previous assertions…if not, spare us the simple-minded, canned explanations that have nothing to do with anything other than your own self-aggrandizement.

    Issue 4: Your response is just a tedious schoolchild’s regurgitation of assumption. In fact, capitalists do exactly that– introduce technology that expels labor and reduces surplus value in their never-ending necessity to reduce the costs of production. Marx makes that point in several different places. It is this, the substitution of dead labor for living labor that defines the LIMIT to the capitalist mode of production and makes it clear that the immanent barrier to capital is capital.

    As you amply demonstrate with each post VK, your ignorance would fill volumes. But don’t bother yourself trying to resolve the apparent conflict in Marx’s work. It’s clearly beyond your capabilities.

    Aside to all those, who with mandm, regard me as “unMarxist:” I’m in good company. Marx himself knew he wasn’t a Marxist.

    1. Correction: “whether 500 nails are produced in a working day, or 500,000, if the FIXED TIME of production, the day is 8 hours, then the value of two groups of nails is the same.”

      Should “the value ADDED by the labor process is the same”

      1. We need to bear in mind Marx’s distinction between social value and individual value of commodities.More intensive labour surely shortens the necessary labor time of a particular capitalist so that while her commodities have the same market value, their individual value is lower, so that greater surplus value accrues to this capitalist, since her commodities contain more unpaid labour.

      2. I think JL has touched on the critical element here– and that is that the variations in the productivity of labor create a gradient that allocates or distributes FROM the total social surplus value TO the more efficient operations. It is not the intensity of the labor that produces “more value” as Marx claims. It is not even relative surplus value that the productivity of labor creates- it is this distributive function that is both product and producer of the need to constantly lower the production costs that drives both capital’s expansion and establishes the arbitrage of surplus values.

        It is in short the variation, the deviation between price and value that offsets, from moment to moment, the tendency of the rate of profit to decline. Productivity of labor in a single or in multiple enterprises doesn’t create increased surplus value but rather allows those enterprises to claim a greater portion of the total.

        “Intensity of labor” has no way of being measured, and thus exchanged in proportion by and in markets which recognize only time. “Economy of time: to this all economy reduces itself”–Marx in the Grundrisse ten years after Poverty of Philosophy

      3. Anti-capital can certainly find support for what seems to be his argument in Capital 3 Pp274-275:”all capitals, whatever the surplus value they themselves produce, tend to realise in the prices of their commodities not this surplus value but rather the average profit….The whole difficulty arises from the fact that commodities are not exchanged simply as commodities but as products of capitals, which claim equal shares in the total mass of surplus value according to their size, equal shares for equal size.” But Cockshott and Cotrell have argued that there is no empirical evidence for a tendency of the rate of profit to converge, only of the rate of surplus value!

      4. Let us for the moment consider the rate of surplus value. If as we have seen in any particular share of production it is the preponderant category producing under average conditions that determines the market value, then that category producing under more favourable conditions produce commodities whose individual value is below their general or social value, so they can sell above their individual value : ”it has the same value as if it contained the same labour-time, though this is not the case” (TSV Part2 206).. Have the more favoured producers produced more surplus value and from where. Is it at the expense of the least favoured? I think such an equivalent cannot be asserted, as it would depend on the weighting of the two categories. Here is a possible solution. The average producers 4c/4v/4sv, but more favoured producers 4c/3v/5sv. So the commodities of the more favoured producers sell at the same price but realise more surplus value as each commodity contains more unpaid labour. However, marx further complicates matters by asserting ( I cannot at the moment find the passage) that to those commodities produced under more favourable condition accrues more surplus value than they contain, individually,, and those produced under less favourable conditions less.So what is the explanation?

      5. Jlowrie has grasped part of the conundrum. Meanwhile, I too lean towards the C&C view that there is no evidence of an “average” or general rate of profit established through prices of production. This “pains” me a little bit, because I know vendors do exactly what Marx describes– they figure the costs of production and then add an “average profit” that translates into a price just below, or just above the “market price.”

  6. jlowrie to further the discussion. Marx’s fullest definition of social value is market value which he defines in Chapter Ten of Volume Three. Market value is the weighted average of the individual values multiplied by their individual volumes within an industry. Under normal market conditions market value will change as the weight of change in both individual values and volumes changes. Marx and Engels never fully discussed this process which has led to a lot of confusion between embodied values and reproduced values, i.e. older industrial processes versus newer processes.

    Anti if you will allow a fellow westerner on the other side of the Pond. I suspect you are confusing time with the standard of time. So the uni-directional movement of time is measured by seconds, minutes, hours etc. which forms the universal standard, just as distance is measured by yards or meters, just as money serves as the standard of price and so on and so forth.

    1. ”Marx’s fullest definition of social value is market value which he defines in Chapter Ten of Volume Three. Market value is the weighted average of the individual values multiplied by their individual volumes within an industry. ” This correct as as far as it goes, but we must supplement his discussion with that in TSV 2 where he points out that those capitalists that produce under more favourable conditions always sells its product above their individual value:”The commodity produced under more favourable conditions contains less labour time than that produced under less favourable conditions, but it sells at the same price and has the same value, AS IF it contained the same labour time, though this is not the case”'(TSL203-206).As Ch10 argues it is where the bulk of commodities produced under average conditions meets the market demand, then the commodities of this category determine the market. So if I understand the argument correctly it is not the weighted average value per se that determines the market value.

      1. We are both right. On my site you will find tables which shows that if their is a preponderance (to use Marx’s term) of more productive firms the weighted average sits below the simple average and vice versa. However in all cases, as you have pointed out, the most efficient producers will make an extra profit. There is only one instance where this will not occur and that is when the social need or demand, has fallen to the point where the market price is driven down to coincide with the value produced in the most productive firms. But then the the rest of the industry will lose profit and the least productive could even become loss making.

    2. ucanbe–

      I’ll allow pretty much anything, because it’s not up to me. It’s up to Michael.

      I don’t think I’m confusing anything, really. I’ve produced quotes from various works of Marx where the quotes contradict each other on the amplification of relative surplus value through increased productivity of labor.

      My view is that relative surplus value is only amplified under very specific conditions, and the increased productivity of labor may have a connection to the amplification of relative surplus value, but not in all cases, and is not, in and of itself, SUFFICIENT to augment the extraction of surplus value. Indeed capitalists do exactly what others claim Marx never assumed: introduce machinery that reduces the extraction of the mass of surplus value without offsetting the impact by increasing the rate of surplus value. That is, IMO, the source of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

      FWIW, I remember reading a paper by G. Carchedi where he argues that in fact with the increasing accumulation of, and increasing organic composition of, capital, the surplus value extracted is being reduced.

      Why this all strikes our “unwestern” “real Marxist” “anti-imperialist” comrade as such heresy is a problem for them and their adherence to ideology as a substitute for revolutionary critique.

  7. I’m gratified that another of our adept hacks sees fit to label a question, a inquiry into an apparent self-contradiction by Marx, as “counterrevolutionary.” And this guy claims it’s poor form to cite Orwell?

    Well be that as it may, Marx is ambiguous about the origin and sustenance of “relative surplus vale,” confining it in chapter 12 of Capital to the very specific case where the portion of the necessary working day, the portion required to cover the wage, declines. This decline is manifested in the decline in the value of the labor power. That is to its value in relation to the new value extracted in the working day. Because machines create no new value but simply transfer increments of their pre-existing value, relative surplus value can only be brought about by a decline in the costs of reproduction of the means of subsistence of the laborers.

    This requires a decline in the value of the wage, the wage representing the value of the necessary labor.

    At various points in various texts including Capital, the Grundrisse, Theories of Surplus Value, Marx affirms the above, while at other points in various texts, he contradicts the above, stating that the application of machinery increases surplus value without any other qualification.

    So the issue is: if the machinery cannot add “new value” in the production process; if machinery supplants living labor and reduces the cost of production; if machinery reduces total labor-time appropriated in the production process, AND if the value of the wage DOES NOT decline more steeply than the reduction in labor-time, how can surplus-value be increased?

    Feel free to dismiss, ignore, disregard, impugn the question itself. Doing so is so much in keeping with Marx’s adherence to “Merciless criticism of everything in existence.”

  8. “So the issue is: if the machinery cannot add ‘new value’ in the production process; if machinery supplants living labor and reduces the cost of production; if machinery reduces total labor-time appropriated in the production process, AND if the value of the wage DOES NOT decline more steeply than the reduction in labor-time, how can surplus-value be increased?”

    The decrease in the socially necessary abstract labor time required to cover the reproduction of labor power=the increase in the relative surplus value. From an individual capitalist’s stand point, it is not necessary that the monetary wage advanced to the firm’s workers decrease. That would be an increase in the rate of absolute surplus value. Again, if any of this farrago means anything, the presumption seems to be that “Marxism” requires absolute immiseration for capitalist development. (Which is a genuine example of someone imagining they’re a Marxist but being something Marx isn’t.) The thing about absolute immiseration is not that it’s the sole mode of capitalist progress, it’s that despite the fantastic wealth of imperialist metropoles, absolute immiseration is still ineradicable even in the heartlands! Absolute immiseration, the industrial reserve army of labor, the relentless pursuit of absolute surplus value beyond the capacity of life itself is an inextricable part of the system.

    The innovating firm (if that’s what this alleged contradiction is about) does have the value of its particular products lowered. But when it sells its products at a monetary equivalent higher than that value, in effect surplus value is transferred from other firms via fair exchange on the market. This is why there is such a tendency for capitalism to innovate the productive forces, hence the otherwise inexplicable praise for the previous achievements of the now obsolete order in the Manifesto. Increasing the productive forces can and does raise the real wages over time. But also over time, the contradiction you see in Marx is a real contradiction in capital accumulation, leading inexorably to crises, both the industrial/trade/business cycle and socially destructive competition (including your darling imperialism.)
    All these forms of crisis are not, despite your fevered anti-Communist delusions, incidental catastrophes but fundamental to the system. (Which by the way it one proof that China’s deformations have not yet restored capitalism.)

    The quotation-mongering treats “Marx” as if it were Holy Writ. Marxism is not a religion and thus proof texts are not even an argument. This sort of backward nonsense is why you’re not asking questions but arguing against revolution, indirectly defending the permanence of capitalism as nature itself (or whatever irrational nonsense you tell yourself.) At best, you may have discovered Marx making a mistake that editors missed. Big whoop. That sort of thing is why in the long run all scientific investigators need to work in common, to catch that sort of thing. Marx, being a revolutionary, was not just your target but limited in his resources. (Even if Engels was something of a host in his own person, as Jefferson said of Hamilton.)

    A note on “criticism.” Criticism is not reflexive hostility to revolution. Criticism is like science, not gut skepticism. Anti-vaxxers do criticism of your sort. Criticism is as objective as possible, not the attempt to “ask” loaded questions.

    And yes, George Orwell was a piece of crap. You may like the smell but I don’t.

    1. Push-button Steve, in full Kellyanne Conway mode, throws everything against the wall, except I guess the “Bowling Green massacre” and hopes it sticks. It doesn’t. An answer to all of his hysterical accusations would take too much time and space and unfairly divert from Michael’s work.

      I have no problem providing a response off list. You can leave a comment or your email address at

      and I’ll provide you with a copy of my response…gratis.

      I’ll just use this space and time to provide a bit of background: My investigation into relative surplus value and Marx’s use of the term was triggered 5 or 6 years ago by a discussion on this website. In response to the often-asked question– “why are wages higher in developed capitalist countries,” two often offered answers were proposed: 1) “developed countries bribe their working classes by essentially transferring wealth from the less developed” or 2) the labor in developed countries is so much more productive allowing for greater amounts of relative surplus value and therefore the bourgeoisie can pay higher wages.

      I didn’t buy either explanation. I still don’t. Anybody interested in the first stab at reconciling or not productivity and relative surplus value is welcome to look at :

      Meanwhile avoid that stuff dripping down the wall. It’s toxic

      1. Your unspoken answer as to why workers’ wages are higher in developed capitalist countries is of course, capitalism: The wealthier countries have more of it, capitalism is the source of wealth, so all the people, even the working people, are better off. Developing the productive forces is a good thing in general and the great critique of capitalism is that it is becoming a barrier to that.

        You do not have any honest interest in reality however, just an agenda of opposing Marxism. So a criticism of Marxian economics that applies to every economist ever is good enough, so long as you can selectively target your enemy, even if you implicitly support capitalism. You don’t even understand the questions of reality. That’s why it doesn’t matter what you “buy” or not. What matters is what you’re selling, ignorance, indifference to truth, vague and randomly applied epithets, in a single word, stupidity. As somebody once said, stupidity doesn’t help anybody.

        I looked briefly at some of the links. The long depression of the nineteenth century did not start until 1873. (And by the way, not everyone says it lasted till 1896, depends on how you measure.) The term “depression” is in fact a perfectly sensible term for the state of affairs. Even more to the point, using the term “depression” does not somehow normalize capitalism or whatever incoherent objection to the term is. Well, sure it’s a dramatic contraction, but it’s not an expansion, which is why there’s a different word for the contraction phase. True, lots of people think of economics as acts of God, basically, but that doesn’t come baked into the word “depression.” The appeal to authority is a fallacy when the “authority” isn’t. Long quotations from Marx add nothing to someone who can’t even get the dates right.

        In another part the notion that the Bolsheviks were great unity mongers is a piece of historical revisionism wilder than any of vk’s more creative interpretations. The only sense in which Bolsheviks are unity mongers is by insisting on unity in pursuit of the true general interests of the proletariat and humanity as a whole. That commitment to the whole necessary program of revolution is what the vanguard party is. That unity meant Bolsheviks were infamous splitter, notorious across the whole Second International.

  9. Thanks for all the gratuitous personal evaluations, Stalinist hack. Listening to you talk of “marxism” and “science” is like turning to Lysenko for a treatise on genetics.

    Re Bolshevism and unity: I’ve written nothing on Bolshevism and unity, or urging unity between political organizations, so either you’re sparring about the wrong thing, or you’ve mistaken someone else’s post for mine.

    The reason I prefer to call the post Civil War period in the US the long deflation rather than depression is because at the end of the period prices had declined by around 40% but the value of manufacturing output of finished goods had approximately doubled.

    Compare that to the 1929-1939 when the value declined approximately 15%, after “recovering” from the 50% decline to1932.

    You can also compare physical outputs of almost any commodity in the period of the long deflation to the Great Depression, and you’ll find physical output declines pretty much across the board for the 29-39 period, but NOT the post-Civil War period to 1896, 1898, 1899..

    Also, in constant dollars, annual purchases of manufacturing structures and equipment quadrupled from 1873-1896. Those purchases declined by 50% between 1929 and 1939.

    Railroad freight revenues doubled to 1890 but declined by approximately 1/3 between 1929 and 1939.

    See Historical Statistics of the United States, Millennial Edition, Volume 4, published by Cambridge University Press and Bicentennial Edition Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970.

    I call the latter period, 1929-39, a depression but that description certainly doesn’t fit the earlier period

    You think it’s using an euphemism to call the post US Civil War a long deflation? Well, it certainly doesn’t exhibit the characteristics of the Great Depression. In one capital accumulates.. In the other it is destroyed, abandoned, retired, devalued. Hell, the people who compile these statistics refer to the 3 decades following the US Civil War as the “golden age” for US manufacturing.

    But all this– this requires looking at the data, critically, that means without ideological prejudice, which prejudice is all you can traffic in.

    1. The great capitalist power in the long depression of the nineteenth century was England. Capital did not accumulate there in the sense you mean, England lost its overwhelming lead. Oh, yes, the long depression destroyed capital. Your weird belief that it had to be as destructive in the very same way as the depression of the Thirties is arbitrary. Was it meant to glorify nineteenth century capitalism? You’re denying that capitalism is an historically limited world system whose malfunctions would increase over time (as in, from long depression of the nineteenth century to great depression of the twentieth.) Also, by that standard, what happened to the world economy in 2008/2009 should be considered what, a blip?

      Also, it is unsurprising after a moment’s thought that you should fetishize capitalist growth in the US without considering the movement of the proletarianization of farmers, real wages, child mortality, for that matter child employment. The rosy picture you paint is directly contradicted by the huge labor struggles of 1877 and the open use of state violence against labor. The railroads’ exploitation of farmers that forced huge defensive struggle (look up the People’s Party) you hail.

      You are the equivalent of a “scientific creationist” desperately finding contradictions in evolutionary theory while ignoring the overwhelming majority of facts, never daring to even attempt to provide an explanation of reality. That I suppose explains a link that leads to whatever idiot talked about Bolshevik unity.

      You have refused to acknowledge when you’ve been refuted. You have refused even to attempt any rebuttal to any unexpected answers to your phony “questions.” All you’ve had is what you imagine to be the unanswerable insult, Stalinist. That’s good enough for the late J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, von Mises, von Hayek and George Orwell, who played informer for the cops.

  10. SJ: “The great capitalist power in the long depression of the nineteenth century was England. Capital did not accumulate there in the sense you mean, England lost its overwhelming lead. Oh, yes, the long depression destroyed capital. ”

    Do you have any fries to go with that shake, meaning any evidence? My own meager research into that period in Britain, (consisting of papers I can access from Jstor and Academia) indicates that this period saw an overall slowing of growth, but was not a period of negative growth. Total output grew on average 2.1% per year, down from an earlier app 2.4%. and the slowing in growth rates in Britain started before the US Civil War. Output per capita also increase, although very modestly. At the end of that period Germany’s rate of growth exceed Britain’s, but output was still greater in Britain..

    So if you have some data that show’s otherwise, I’d appreciate the reference but I really doubt you have any. Like I said, you think Marx’s legacy is an ideology.

    As for the rest…pointless

    1. The insistence that only negative growth indicates capitalist crisis, while ignoring everything else—even the passage of decades or the conditions of the working class—is arbitrary. It’s the same category of error as thinking only absolute immiseration counts somehow. English capital losing its role in world production, which of course means not just vis-a-vis one single country like the US, did serve as a devaluation. The US hasn’t been undergoing absolute negative growth for the last couple of decades but it’s relative decline in the world system does count. The value of US capital is slowly being destroyed so far as imperialists are concerned. Hence the historic determination to fight Communism.

      1. “The insistence that only negative growth indicates capitalist crisis, while ignoring everything else—even the passage of decades or the conditions of the working class—is arbitrary. ”

        Christ on a crutch, I didn’t say anything about “capitalist crisis.” The issue is what distinguishes “depression” from other periods of capitalism, and specifically from deflation. If you think capitalism was in “crisis” continuously from 1873-1898, then you are a)using the word in a sense Marx never did and never intended b) kidding yourself and/or others.

        “Crisis” can have different manifestations and expressions.

        Each time an answered is offered, you change the original question to which the answer is provided in order to reject the answer. What you don’t and can’t do is offer any evidence behind your bluster, i.e. the “long depression” in Britain.

        Going back to the original assertions that hit your apoplexy button:

        I believe Marx’s explanation of relative surplus value is correct in its origin– that the necessary labor time, creating the necessary value that is the basis of the wage has to decline and has to decline proportionately more that the total labor time declines.

        I think, based on Marx’s own statements in TSV, the Economic Manuscripts, and Capital, Marx introduces a certain ambiguity into the generation of surplus value, equating the introduction of machinery into the production process with automatic increases in relative surplus value. At the same time, in other statements, Marx specifically rejects such “automatic” impacts.

        The explanation Marx gives for improvement in rates of surplus value Marx provides for situations in which are attributable to the improvement in productivity (Capital, 1 chap 12– the discussion of the increase in production from 12 commodities to 24 in the working day) without the drop in the necessary labor time which is represented by “v”– do not show an actual improvement in relative surplus value, but instead show a transfer of existing surplus value, a redistribution of total “s” via arbitrage from less efficient to more efficient. This might explain what occurred AFTER the long deflation in the US– when a tremendous wave of consolidation brought the streams of surplus value into sustained flows to the giant corporations like US Steel, Standard Oil…. which in turn triggers a reaction in the “Progressive Era”

        I also think Marx’s discussion of the “intensity of labor”– as providing more labor and more value in the same time period–is a) antithetical to the establishment of time as labor-time as the basis for exchange value since there is no way to measure, or market, intensity and thus no way for the markets to recognize intensity much less impute different values to products where the labor varies in intensity b) is counter to notions of productivity as a function of technology when the technology itself just as often reduces the “muscle” required for production.

        None of this is to imply or assert that capitalism is permanent, beneficent, linearly progressive, eternal, natural, or not dipped in “blood and filth” daily.

        Nor is it to reject the relation of the OCC to the tendency of the ROP to fall. It does mean that 1) for all the talk about relative surplus value, it plays a much less significant role in offsetting that tendency than we are accustomed to think 2) the bourgeoisie are once and forever blind to source of surplus value. Why can’t they see it? Because it has no COST to them. All the bourgeoisie see in the production process is based on the cost of production and reducing that cost, including the cost of labor power.

        So then the task is to show how the application of technology reduces that cost AND creates the condition where the offsetting of that labor cost is accomplished more quickly, allowing continuous arbitraging of prices, until the technological improvement becomes generalized, not just through a sector, but AMONG sectors, at which point several things occur 1) capital seeks its expansion in greater emphasis on speculation 2) the offset to declining profitability requires another attack on wages. This happened after the 60s and early 70s; again after the “Clinton” expansion of the 90s.

        I think I can show that ability to recapture, or reproduce the cost of “v” in less time via the application of technology (in the abstract), in the freight rail industry in the US, where I worked for many years.

        Bring on the bluster, bring on the s–t slinging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: