Fwd: Re: Anarchism / Marxism debates

Jim heartfield jim at heartfield.demon.co.uk
Wed Aug 18 08:16:47 PDT 1999


I agree with you that progress under capitalism is thwarted and restricted. That to me seems a quite different approach from the one that sees industrial growth itself as the problem (such as Marcuse's which Mattick criticises). As Mattick says, socialism will mean more not less industrial development, 'the freeing of the social forces of production from their capitalist fetters' (p28).

However, where I differ from you is that you seem to want to reject that there is any progress under capitalism (only the basis of progress). But it strikes me that any social theory that sought to deny the real advances in material conditions for the mass of ordinary people, not just in the advanced world but in much of the developing world too, would prove itself redundant. Just choose any simple indicator, from literacy to life expectancy or the elimination of diseases and you can show that, however destructive the set-backs, there is a gradual improvement of human conditions, over, say, the last one hundred years. To deny that, it seems to me, is just self-defeating. Marx's critique does not rest upon an absolute immiseration of the working class, but on the difference between the potential for that development and the limitations that capital puts upon it.

Fortunately for Marx, his theory does not deny the positive and creative aspects of capital, just because it also illuminates the barriers to such growth. Marx clearly indicates that capital tends to the development of humanity directly, not just in the future.

'Capital's ceaseless striving towards the general form of wealth drives labour beyond the limits of its natural paltriness, and thus creates the material elements for the development of the rich individuality which is as all-sided in its production as it is in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself, in which natural necessity in its direct form has disappeared, because a historically-created need has taken the place of a natural one. That is why capital is productive; ie an essential relation for the development of the social productive forces. It ceases to be such only where the development of these productive forces themselves encounters the barrier in capital itself.' Grundrisse, Penguin ed. p325

This is what Marx celebrates in Capitalism, its tendency to increased consumption and the creation of new wants, leading to an all-rounded development of the individual, no less. What he deplores is the barriers to that development imposed by capital, through the narrowing of new production to profitability, and the restriction of consumption to the given value of labour power.

By contrast, the romantic anti-capitalist critique, of say, Herbert Marcuse, Michael Jacobs or Andre Gorz, deplores exactly this that Marx celebrates. For these critics it is the actual increased consumption of working people that is problematic, and it is the growth of society's productive forces that is to be deplored, where Marx saw these as the material basis of socialism. The two approaches are light years apart.

all the best,


In message <v02130500630bdd23b4a7@[]>, Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU> writes
>>But As Mattick writes: 'All social progress is based on the ability to
>>produce more with less labour. Capitalism is no exception.' p31
>>Jim heartfield
>Indeed this is the basis of social progress or greater social wealth but
>not its criterion--and Mattick never said so. Under capitalism, the
>greater productivity of labor means not a reduction in direct labor time
>but more surplus in relation to necessary labor time. While leaps in the
>productivity of labor are indeed the basis of social progress, the actual
>criterion for growing social wealth is a continuous reduction in direct
>labor time--that is, wealth as measured by free time, not labor time.
>"If it were not for captitalist relations of production, the growing social
>wealth would be characterized by a continuous reduction of direct labour
>time, and the wealth of society would be measured not by labour time but by
>free time. So long, however, as exchange value is the goal of production,
>labour time quantities remain the source and measure of capitalist wealth,
>because, as value, capaital cannot be anything other than appropriated
>labour time. 'Although the very development of the modern means of
>production,' Marx wrotes, 'indicates to what a large degree the general
>knowledge of society has been a direct productive force, which conditions
>the social life and determines its transformation,' capitalism's particular
>contribution to this state of affairs consists of no more 'than its use of
>all the media of the arts and sciences to increase the surplus labour,
>because its wealth, in value form, is nothing but the appropriation of
>surplus labour time.'" Critique of Marcuse, p. 47-8
>So as long as the development of the productive forces is governed by value
>relations, production cannot be subject to the true criterion of social
>progress: humanity's own productive powers continue to dominate the direct
>producers--they are weapons in the class rule and exploitation--until
>freely associated producers seize the productive apparatus and set it on an
>unhampered and *different* course according to their own conscious plan in
>which their own needs, so-called externalities and long term problems can
>be rationally considered.
>Yours, RNB

-- Jim heartfield

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