Practical political importance of LTV

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Nov 3 09:12:24 MST 1994

On 2 Nov 1994, Paul Cockshott wrote:

> I see it as having 2 linked political messages.
> Firstly, the exposure of the nature of exploitation provided the
> moral basis of classical socialism and for the struggle against
> exploitation.

I agree that the reality of exploitation--that most profit comes from
forced surplus (value) transfer--is the real message of the LTV. But that
reality had better not depend on the LTV, because the theory is a mess. We
can talk in terms of value, and even labor values if we like. After all it
is true that commodities produced by workers have a labor content. There
is some socially necessary labor time required to produce them. And
capitalists take some of that value, which is embodied in their profits.
But we do not need a price theory to make this point. I guess that was the
point of Doug's query about the relevance of the transformation problem today.

> Secondly a classic demand of socialism was for the worker to recieve
> the full value of their labour ( before taxes for social services etc ).
> This provides a distinct alternative to the liberal reformist ideas
> of a minimum wage or guaranteed basic income.

I do not think that we should demand that workers receive the full value
of their labor. We can attack capitalist apologetics that capitalists are
morally entitled to their profits because of their alleged contribution
without buying into a contribution-based desert theory. Ad hominem we can
argue that capitalists do not contribute. They own, which is something
different. So on the terms of contribution theory, they are not entitled.
But workers are not entitled because they contribute, but because all
should have enough.

I don't buy into the Rawls original position apparatus for defending a
theory of justice, but he seems on solid ground to me when he insists that
the social product does not come pre-divided into entitlement portions.
One reason for this is that children, the disabled, and the aged should
have enough to live well, and not on grounds of charity. Another reason is
that, as Marx and Rawls insist, difference in natural abilities to
contribute is arbitrary, so that making entitlement contribution based
makes merely natural and morally irrelevant differences a basis for life

Basic income is not the same as minimum wage. The former does not imply
or presuppose wage labor. The basic income demand is just that all
should have enough. This is a deeply anti-capitalist demand. If liberals
maintain it, they hold something fundamentally at odds with any
pro-capitalist convictions they may have.

> The labour theory of value leads to the demand that we dont want the
> crumbs, or even a slice of the cake, but the whole thing.

We should demand this--"The theory of the Communists can be summed up in a
single expression: Abolition of Private Property!"--but we do not need the
LTV to do demand it. In the document quoted the case for that abolition
does not advert to the LTV, for example.

--Justin Schwartz


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