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May 23, 2016

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Pinkeen

Does the fact that all avowedly Marxist states have been murderously oppressive not register at all? I realise that most Marxists will reply 'but they weren't actual Marxist states in the true sense of Marxism (our sense)' but for most of us it is a pretty salient issue, even if it commits the sin of induction.

Matthew Moore

" It’s bosses who believe complex systems can be controlled well from the top down, not we Marxists."

If any individual boss is (sufficiently) wrong, the company get bought out or goers bankrupt. There is no such pressure on a state. I would be overjoyed to see Marxist-run companies succeeding - such an institutional innovation would mean an improvement in productivity. But to argue for state-level Marxism is not the same thing. And the fact that we don't see such companies consistently succeeding (in any nation) is strong evidence against it.

"How can you believe guff like the labour theory of value?" This holds up empirically, but it is an equilibrium property, not a rule that holds everywhere. If you can make x value for only y labour, then labour moves in until occupational productivity is equalised in equilibrium. It does not mean that adding more and more labour will everywhere and always create more value. Lucas critique.

“You’re ignoring the fact that capitalism has lifted millions of people out of poverty.” I would strongly rephrase this as - you are ignoring the fact that there are still billions of people who remain to be lifted out of poverty. Denying them the same tools that benefitted us seems like a cruel experiment, in honesty.

"Marxists are the enemies of freedom". Left-libertarians are a small subset of Marxists overall, but I take your point. It doesn't imply being anti-freedom.

Nothing wrong with Utopianism or being non-scientific anyway.

acarraro

This article was quite interesting, but I don't quite understand what economic system you envisage without collective ownership of the means of production. What is the mechanism for efficient allocation? How do you determine/punish bad decisions?
Is current society illiberal due to bad starting conditions? You seem to suggest so when you say that worker should be able to get a fair share of existing capital and leave capitalism. But leave capitalism for what? If you don't believe in central planning and full re-distribution, how would you stop the lucky or clever from accumulating wealth and going back to something very similar to starting conditions? Our current system already implements partial redistribution. Is a Marxian society similar to current society, but with higher tax rates?
Capitalism is not static: it's more similar to natural selection. While some species go down bad evolutionary strategies, natural selection itself seems to keep going. Current IP laws are not a required part of capitalism. They will evolve and change. The basic feature of capitalism is that you can accumulate capital as a way to keep score: people who made good decisions in the past have the right to make more decision in the future (including who should be able to use the capital they accumulated after they die).

Anarcho

In terms of central planning having failed, the claim that "marxists" recognise that is simply not true. Most Marxists attack market socialists as not being "really" marxists and they go into great detail that planning is needed. Look at the attacks on market socialism by McNally, Tiktin, etc.

As for "central planning" being supported "not among Marxists but in company boardrooms. It’s bosses who believe complex systems can be controlled well from the top down, not we Marxists." True, the bosses want top-down central control based on prices -- Marxists want (or used to want) central control without prices (most seem to be okay about money these days) but they thought that this central control could be achieved democratically.

And these Marxists were wrong -- centralised bodies needed for planning would be inherently undemocratic -- and a major threat to freedom. Something Marx never acknowledged (nor did he recognise the informational issues in his vision):

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/anarcho/review-democracy-work-cure-capitalism

"In fact, many of us point to the abundant evidence that worker (pdf) ownership and control increases (pdf) well-being and productivity (pdf) as evidence that a post-capitalist society is feasible"

And I'm sure Marx -- like many marxists today -- would dismiss this as "petty-bourgeois" just as he dismissed Proudhon's self-managed market socialism as that.

"For me, central planning is not a part of socialism."

That is a big bit of Marxism being thrown out there...

In terms of rising standards of living, well, there are two Marx's here -- the Marx of 1847/8 which denied that workers benefited from economic growth and the later Marx which did not.

In terms of "there is a big strand of libertarianism within Marxism: Marxists are far more sceptical about the benevolence of the state than social democrats, for example."

Very true, there have been Marxists who came to anarchist conclusions -- for example, the council communists (whom Lenin dismissed as anarchists!). But Marxism had been predominantly authoritarian -- from the first Marxists (the social democrats) onwards.

"For us Marxists, one of the nastier features of capitalism is that it forces people – for lack of alternatives – into employment relations which are illiberal, coercive and demeaning."

Shame, then, that most Marxists argued for an alternative which was basically state-capitalism.

As for "social engineering" and then notion that "[i]nsofar as government has a role to play in the transition to socialism, it’ll be through a form of accelerationism... encouraging and facilitating democratic libertarian egalitarian alternatives to capitalism", that has never happened. The Bolsheviks in power did the exact opposite: destroy libertarian egalitarian alternatives and replace them with authoritarian, hierarchical ones ("one-man management", anyone?).

The history of marxism in power has been use of the state to impose the marxists' vision of socialism onto the people, not to support popular experimentation.

The history of Marxism, both in opposition and in power, has been authoritarian. Libertarian marxists have been in a small minority. There is a reason for that.

If you are interested in a form of socialism which has been consistently libertarian, which has argued from the start for the things the better marxists do (like workers' self-management of production), then I would suggest anarchism. Visit "An Anarchist FAQ" for more details -- section H discusses the flaws in Marxism (both in theory and in practice):

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secHcon.html

Needless to say, "An Anarchist FAQ" contains the supporting evidence for my claims above.

Luis Enrique

good stuff but some nifty footwork required between the Marxist 'we' and the idiosyncratic 'for me'.

William

This is a reply to Pinkeen (Sorry, I can't find the reply button...)

It's not actually true to say that every instance of Marxism was "murderous," or even a failure. Take for instance the wildly successful kibbutz system that was utilized in Israel. Chile elected a Marxist government that was also very successful and non-murderous.

The problem is that most countries that have called themselves Marxist, were in fact, military dictatorships. And all military dictatorships are murderously oppressive, regardless of their economic policies, like for instance the capitalist Chilean military dictatorship that overthrew the democratic Marxist government, and immediately began murdering people who opposed them. Perhaps someone else can think of a non-oppressive military dictatorship, but I am not aware of one.

Likewise, as socialist countries have pivoted away from their dictatorships, they have become more peaceful (like Vietnam), but those that have remained dictatorial, (like North Korea) remain places you don't want to visit.

chris

@ Matt - I fear competition just doesn't grind finely enough to eliminate bad centrally planned companies. As Bloom & Van Reenen show, there's a long tail of badly managed cos in all economies:
http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp0716.pdf
And there are many successful coops: not just John Lewis, but medical and legal practices; if socialism is good enough for posh folk...
Nor of course do I want to deny to the world's poor the chance of enrichment. The qn is: how to do this? Maybe what lifts folk out of poverty is markets, not hierarchy. And perhaps the slowdown in world trade growth suggests the rate at which capitalism lifts folk out of poverty is slowing. And remember- Marx only wnated socialism AFTER capitalism had developed as much as it could, so it's entirely consistent with Marx to say that socialism would be premature in such nations.

chris

@ acarraro - my personal vision is one of market socialism, in which bad decisions are punished as they are now, by business failure.
The difference would be that, thanks to coops and to state policies to ensure full employment, we'd no longer have the situation whereby workers are punished for the bad decisions of bosses, who wlak away with fortunes.
The issue of the lucky getting rich can be tackled through redistributive taxation.
Yes, a market economy evolves. But why cant it evolve into something less capitalistic?

Simon

meaningful jobs guarantee = magic
Join Lewis is not a Marxist cooperative.

dennis

"The difference would be that, thanks to coops and to state policies to ensure full employment, we'd no longer have the situation whereby workers are punished for the bad decisions of bosses"
How would this work?

ad

Marx explicitly stated: "It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse."

Not "might grow worse" or "will grow worse eventually". MUST grow worse. An inevitable, unchangeable feature of the system.

Well, is the lot of the worker in England or Germany worse than in 1876? If not, he must have been wrong.

Deviation From The Mean

"Does the fact that all avowedly Marxist states have been murderously oppressive not register at all?"

The fact that they overthrew murderous dictatorships often escapes people also. It also escapes people that the most murderous states on Earth are the advanced capitalist ones.

"If any individual boss is (sufficiently) wrong, the company get bought out or goers bankrupt."

Er, WTF!?! The old boss is wrong therefore company dies, boss is right company thrives fairy-tale. Seriously, you actually believe this bullshit?

"There is no such pressure on a state"

Of course there is, it is called budgetary control. In the public sector there is a major re-organisation every 5 to 10 years and very often it is the upper management that get the boot. They can't do a Rebekah Brooks and claim they knew nothing.

It should also be noted that when a nationalised company is privatised usually the first things that happen are a massive increase in pay for upper management and a rationalisation of the people who actually deliver the use values.

"people who made good decisions in the past have the right to make more decision in the future (including who should be able to use the capital they accumulated after they die)."

No they don't!!! No one has the right to make decisions that affect other people without those other people having any say in the matter. A energy company boss who cheats the customer has made the right decision for the company but he has screwed everyone else! The boss who lays off workers has provided the company with some benefits but the cost of that decision impacts others who then have to make decisions on how to deal it. The boss who set sfire to his business may have made a good decision for his company but it ends up a cost to everyone else etc etc etc. So what looks like a good decision from one perspective is a disaster from another.

I think Marx himself was very antagonistic to the state, anyone who has read Marx in any depth can see this. Marx scoffed at the idea of state officials running economies. However Marx believed that some form of economic planning was necessary to control the vast wealth created by capitalism. And not only did Marx believe this every major capitalist economy does it in practice because it is an absolute necessity to have massive state interference in capitalist systems.

So Marx believed in planning but the difference between Marx and his opponents and I guess Marxists and their opponents is that Marx and Marxists believe there is no need for a class of bosses, that it is actually workers who run society and make it work, but a class of parasites exploit workers and take a huge slice of the pie. Whereas opponents of Marxism believe that without bosses we would all be massively worse off because these bosses are great people and the world moves on their great decisions.

When we cut through all the bullshit, mud pies and all, this is the real distinction between Marxists and non Marxists.

William

ad, is there a particular reason you're quoting out of context? I'm hoping you just didn't bother to read or Google the source, and it's not just that you're being deliberately disingenuous.

Full quote: "We saw in Part IV., when analysing the production of relative surplus-value: within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life-time into working-time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of capital. But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes again a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse."

It's fairly clear Marx means "lot" in terms of "position as a laborer" and not "lot" as in "quality of life"

Either way, even if he were wrong, pointing out a single time Marx was incorrect, out of all of his writings, is a fairly inconsequential point. One does not need to believe everything Marx wrote as a die hard fact, he's hardly the only economist in history. I mean, David Ricardo also argued that all wages would eventually stagnate to substance level, and he was incorrect. The fact that he was wrong about something does not dismiss everything else he had to contribute.

Brett

I have a quibble with the link on Labour Theory of Value. He says that "more capital-intensive projects have lower profit rates", and thus is proof of the labor theory of value. But that could just as easily mean that large enterprises are much more likely to be sustained on lower profit rates - Walmart can be a hugely successful corporation on a mere 3% return above operating costs, while a locally owned grocery store earning only 3% above costs might very well be bankrupt because they can't even afford to pay back their debt.

As for privatizations of rail, well, the Shinkansen is a successful example of a profitable rail privatization.

acarraro

@Deviation: I am not really arguing that the capitalism is morally right or fair. But I think it is a basic feature of capitalism that decisions are based on the idea that 1 dollar=1 vote rather than 1 person=1 vote. This is how corporations work. And this basic idea does provide for a reward mechanism: by taking profitable decision I will have more votes and more power. Capitalism also votes much more frequently: all markets vote continuously. When voting correctly gives you more votes, you have an incentive to vote, you don't need to force people to do it.

Democratic system don't have as good a power reallocation system: the power allocation is fairly stable. In theory good results from politicians should convince people to switch from one idea to another, but this seem to happen less than it's optimal. Isn't there a joke that science progresses one funeral at a time: people change their mind too slowly.

When you vote for a bad politician, you don't lose your ability to vote in the future. This means bad decisions are not punished as much as they are in the capitalist system. This means that you have less incentive to vote and little incentive to vote well...

That doesn't mean that capitalism is perfect. At the end of the day it relays on a large set of rules which have to be agreed by everyone. If a large part of the population is not benefiting from the system it will be rejected. But modern societies redistribute a large percentage of production. Wealth doesn't only trickle up, it gets redistributed down regularly with taxes.

I think both extremes are likely to be bad. You need to ensure everybody has a minimum influence in society: you cannot have people that are completely destitute, even if it's largely due to their own bad decision, but you need some reward mechanism to discover and reward good ideas.

Martinned

While you're obviously free to define Marxism any which way you like, generally sensible conversation works better if the interlocutors don't rely on Humpty Dumpty's rule too much. What you're describing here is not Marxism as it is generally understood, and insisting on calling it Marxism gets in the way of meaningful debate.

Martinned

we can say that workers are exploited if they would be better off if they could withdraw from capitalism, taking with them their per capita share of the capital stock

Wait, whether workers are exploited is decided against a benchmark scenario where they get to steal a bunch of other people's stuff?

B.L. Zebub

@Pinkeen

You wrote:
Does the fact that all avowedly Marxist states have been murderously oppressive not register at all? I realise that most Marxists will reply 'but they weren't actual Marxist states in the true sense of Marxism (our sense)' but for most of us it is a pretty salient issue, even if it commits the sin of induction.

I'm a 55-year old male. I work part-time, in a low-pay occupation and I'm verging homelesness. Let me assure you of something: even if your accusation were right ("all avowedly Marxist states have been murderously oppressive"), that isn't a "pretty salient issue" to me and to a lot of people I personally know.

So, who are the "most of us" on whose behalf you speak of> Because you most definitely are not speaking on mine.

Do they know you are their (self-appointed?) representative?


@Matthew Moore

You wrote in reply to Chris:

This holds up empirically, but it is an equilibrium property, not a rule that holds everywhere. If you can make x value for only y labour, then labour moves in until occupational productivity is equalised in equilibrium. It does not mean that adding more and more labour will everywhere and always create more value. Lucas critique.

I'm sorry, but that's not the Lucas critique. Lucas was talking about econometric policy evaluation procedures: in forecasting the effect of government policy, governments fail to take into account that economic agents' decision rules change: thus, the need for microfoundations.

May I suggest you clarify your economics first?

Similar suggestion goes for the rest of your comment.

UnlearningEcon

@Pinkeen

Most capitalist states have been murderously oppressive, too. The U.S. was built on genocide and slavery; the UK had an enormous empire in which it killed and starved many in its colonies; I could go on but I'm sure you know it all...

Britonomist

Gish galloping/spreading is the most annoying argumentative technique of them all, please stop doing it.

Sean Fernyhough

The fatuous one I have seen - courtesy of the blog "Social Democracy for the 21st Century" is that Marx incited the purges in Soviet Russia in much the same way as Charles Manson incited the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends.

Sean Fernyhough

The elected government in the UK decided to invade Iraq in 2003 on a false basis and this contributed to the loss of many thousands of lives. Therefore we shouldn't support electing governments. For me that doesn't work.

Luis Enrique

Britonomist is that directed at Chris or commentators? (I had to google Gish Galloping. Useful)

Stuart

What are the best arguments against Marxism?

The Barefoot Bum

A fine post. I would disagree only in the sense that calling any particular expression of "Marxism" idiosyncratic is misleading. First, I think that naming a body of thought explicitly after one seminal author is objectionable -- Marx is not a prophet and his work is not scripture -- and so socialism is a more appropriate label.

More importantly, looking at socialism (or "Marxism") as a thing about which one can have idiosyncratic or non-idiosyncratic opinions about is a subtle category error. Socialism is a broad categorization of individual and institutional projects. No two people agree about everything, so everyone is idiosyncratic to some extent, and the label loses all meaning.

Socialism is the project of asking the questions: "What's wrong with capitalism?" and "How can we do better?" and coming up with the best answers we can think of, given the current situation and a large body of prior thought. The rest is commentary.

More here: http://barefootbum.blogspot.com/2016/05/what-is-marxism.html

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