The MIM debate summary
Maoist Internationalist Movement
mim3 at nyxfer.blythe.org
Tue Oct 3 00:39:37 MDT 1995
[tons of stuff cut from Chris Burford's post, throughout this article]
Without conceding any points of principle, perhaps Pat can
think about this problem and consider how to deal with
differences of theory allowing for the possibility that
individuals may occasionally change their political position,
independently of their economic position in society.
MIM replies: That is why in our last post and previous ones we referred to
"enlightened labor aristocracy workers," though necessarily a minority,
nonetheless existing. In earlier posts we argued against Louis Proyect for a
mechanically demographic approach to explaining SWP history and
said that Engels was a capitalist, Lenin a lawyer, Mao a peasant and so on:
let's get over it.
People are offended by a tone of struggle, but as we have pointed out in
previous posts it's the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie who are offended
by being lumped in class analyses. They are also the same classes with an
interest in a level tone in conversation, because they believe there is no
state of emergency. We on the other hand see our class and society being
pushed off the cliff by imperialists and we fight and scream like people with
"nothing to lose but their chains."
I had intended to say, "to revolutionary politics".
MIM replies: That's what I meant too, that the labor aristocracy is lost to
proletarian politics as a class, not as individuals who may or may not see
something about what we say on the environment, feminism, war and anti-
2. The related fact that the working class of the developed countries
are able to purchase much more commodity use-value
than the working class of the less-developed countries, seems to
me also to be totally uncontroversial.
3. What is controversial is
a) the political conclusions to be drawn from this.
b) the reasons deduced for this inequality, and whether they
include a theory that this inequality is at least in part because
the metropolitan working class enjoys the benefits of sharing in
the exploitation of the oppressed countries.
4. I welcome Doug continuing to cross swords with Pat on these
points. I would suggest however that refining the statistics of who
exactly is the labour aristocracy may not solve the issue. There has been
debate already on this list about Lenin's "Imperialism, the Highest
Stage of Capitalism", and observations have been made that
it is really a political statement rather than a fully watertight
economic statement, even for that time.
MIM replies: Well, after all Marx said the value of labor-power was
"culturally determined." We can only go so far with a physics like approach
without checking up on the assumptions from time to time.
I would express it slightly differently: To have an unwavering overall
international perspective, and to emphasise a broad movement for
democratic rights within countries and globally.
However here we come closer to points of serious demarcation.
I may have skimmed Pat's posts too quickly but I am not sure
from the latest one, whether MIM does not confuse an all too-
easily confused theoretical point.
I find it counterintuitive, but the texts are clear that Marx talked of
productive labour as labour productive of *surplus value*. I think the
debate between Pat and the critics of the MIM position needs to move on
to clarify whether the economic unit within which the extraction
of suplus value is being considered, is the USA or the world.
Did you think Marx was necessarily talking about just England or Germany
in Capital? I read Capital as a series of factual statements, propositions and
conclusions relevant in certain cases or situations. If workers enjoy a free
market for labor-power, then we can talk about certain repercussions. If
they don't, but there is still wage-labor, then there are other repercussions
that weren't as famous, but nonetheless described in Capital. This has
nothing to do with borders unless those borders coincide with differing
So I don't see this relativism in Marx, where the answer is one thing if you
are talking within U.S. borders and another thing on a world scale.
Both standpoints are legitimate in their own terms but if
they are confused it may be difficult to resolve the dispute.
MIM replies: They are intentionally confused by labor bureaucrats and the
labor aristocracy in order to make use of the international proletariat for
their own ends. It's been going on for generations, and so we need to say
it's conscious by now, things like the AFL-CIO foreign operations, AIFLD.
I have little doubt that well paid skilled workers in chemical engineering
factories in the USA are *both* exploited of surplus value
within the USA economy, *and* have spending power that would
make them gentry in the developing world.
MIM replies: This is what I mean by relativism. Did you read Marx to say
that he used "surplus labor" as an inexact term simply referring to a certain
employment relationship? Or don't you think that one is either a net
appropriator of surplus-labor or one is not?
The debate has IMO therefore to be joined more precisely about
the nature of the inequalities between the oppressor countries of the
world and the oppressed countries. Is Lenin's political analysis right
that it is colonialism and rentier superprofits? Is there "unequal exchange"
And in what sense. Is it all done by the comprador bourgoisie of the
oppressed nations? Is it all a matter of inequalities in international
trading relations as the champions of North South reform argue?
Or is it an empirical smorgasbord of all these factors some more dominant
than others in different concrete contexts?
Correct, this is something this list should be good for--all these questions.
People get lost in the semantics of the "unequal exchange" debate, but it is
about appropriation of labor. Let's just say (as do Wallerstein and Frank),
that we see free labor in the metropoles, but not generally. According to
Wallerstein, the day capitalism succeeds in establishing free labor is the day
it will die and we will have socialism.
The compradors you mention are the tentacles on the octupus of
imperialism. They are more than tails on a dog, but not much more. If we
keep in mind the fundamental political conditions by which imperialist-
backed military dictatorships superexploit Third World labor, we won't
quibble whether you call that "unequal exchange" or "trading relations" or
"colonialism." As long as we understand the underlying institution of unfree
wage-labor, then we understand why not everything can be explained in
terms of one case of one labor market described in one part of Capital.
There should be one labor market, and we aim our class struggle toward that
end, but reality is labor markets separated by military institutions.
I sense that Pat may have confused the question of productive and
unproductive labour, with whether the workers produce tangible use
values. He (she?) implied IMO that many of the non-material
frills of capitalist commodity production, like baseball, are part of
the extra privileges in the imperialist countries arising from
the exploitation of the oppressed countries.
However I would like to draw attention to the fact that in I think
the third sentence of Capital, no less, Marx says that a commodity
is something that meets a need whether of the stomach or the
imagination. Most of Marx's examples it is true, are of the production
of material commodities though he clearly says that a teacher
working for a private schoolowner, is productive of surplus value.
So the baseball player who helps the capitalist to sell the
commodity that gives the feeling even for a moment or a day, that
you too can share in the glory of being a New York Giant, is producing
a commodity in the kosher marxist sense, and may be exploited if not
However I may have not grasped a distinction that
MIM make clearly enough but in their own terms.
I would appreciate if Pat could clarify the MIM
use of the word "productive" and any other issues
that he can take forward.
The above set of comments is exactly what I expected to hear three weeks
ago on the Marxism List instead of the range of other issues that arose. It
surprises me that no one attempts to defend themselves with Das Kapital in
hand. (Lisa Rogers also raised the political issues in this.)
We are trying to draw attention to this by pointing out that Lenin, Stalin
and Trotsky all wrote off "office workers," scientists and others of that
category as "semi-proletarian," less revolutionary than peasants. So why
did they think that? What did they read in Capital to make them think that?
Timothy Burke's comments on commodification recently may tie in here
very neatly. He said that culture is commoditized, yes, but there are indeed
pleasurable aspects of consumer society according to Burke.
This reminded me that we Marxists are not so much in the business of
denying appearances as understanding underlying social relations. Does it
do any good to deny that the Sandinistas lost the vote in Nicaragua to more
pro-capitalist, more pro-Yankee forces? No, we don't deny it, but we also
know that the people there have had their arms twisted with Yankee-
backed war for some years before they cried "Uncle! [Sam]" So indeed, we
cannot doubt that the voters "preferred" the candidate more friendly with
imperialism. And they even take some "pleasure" in exercising their choice
in getting out of the war by more thorough capitulation. The marketplace
of free ideas pluralism is what we got in Nicaragua.
Likewise, people working in domestic violence centers will tell you the
battered go back, and they talk about "love" and so on. Only those both
egalitarian-minded and hopelessly trapped in the Liberal paradigm will deny
that the battered return to their batterers all the time, because such left-
leaning Liberals will lie in order to maintain both their egalitarian and
individualist preconceptions. We are willing to drop the individualism and
admit that battered women go back. That doesn't mean we have to give up
our fight against power of people over people. The same is true of
commodities. Something may be a commodity, because someone enjoys it,
but that doesn't in itself tell you where the surplus-labor in it came from,
what is the surplus-labor and what is not.
We Marxists know that there are rewards for adjustment to the status quo.
There is a superstructure that goes with the mode of production and it is all
about adaptation to group oppression and punishment for failure to adapt.
The social-democrats want to yell at us for not being "democratic," for
saying such stuff about not taking people's stated preferences seriously,
because that will lead us to disrespect majority rule and free markets. The
case of the landslide victory of the Sandinistas turning into losses, the case
of battered women, the case of so many people in the world who vote for
one thing one time only to have imperialism come in and make them pay
the price for voting that way--these are all cases of why we can't take
stated preferences in economics or politics too literally and seriously.
Rather we look at what the interests of the world's majority are and we
pursue those interests regardless of the short-run costs thrust on us by the
imperialists. If Chris would like to call that a real fight for "democracy,"
fine, but in the First World, one is likely to be misunderstood. The people
fighting for "democracy" against us communists are usually conservative in
the sense that they believe democracy already exists and needs to be
preserved. By democracy, they mean liberal democracy that takes people
seriously when their arms are twisted behind their backs.
So how do I tie these together? I have seen magazines of ads for sale,
posters made from ads for sale, videos for sale advertising videos for
sale and so on. So if even advertisements can be sold, perhaps Chris is
correct that anything is a commodity, and anything for the imagination for
sale involves production of surplus-value. What is going on there? Are ads
only significant for promoting something else or do they have their own
lives as legitimate commodities containing their own independent
On the other hand, entire spectator sporting events have been created to
boost tobacco sales. (Sorry I lost my reference to an article on that.) Do
salespeople and advertisers produce surplus-value? Not in my reading of
Marx, and not in my sense of any political logic. Do the sporting events
they create to promote their products create surplus-value? I still think not.
You are being sold overpriced hotdogs, sodas, pretzels, beer and
everything that the ball players endorse. That is baseball. The money also
comes from television rights, and what is television but a production of
advertising? If you count baseball as some kind of entertainment service,
the proof being the sales of tickets, the COMINTERN still would have
disagreed with you, because to it, services was a very suspect category of
labor. This was just another decadent aspect of imperialism according to
them, that such jobs would proliferate to a certain extent while people went
homeless and starving.
Now the same with computer programming. How much is really surplus-
value creating? Much of it is tied up with sales again--tons of corporate
programmers doing analysis, collecting database information, for what?
Sales. They are an extension of sales, if not an outright extension of
administration/supervision. Not for nothing they call it MIS.
With these examples, I hope we can push this along further. J. Sakai does
the statistical breakdown of the labor occupation in Settlers: The
Mythology of the White Proletariat. Send $10 to MIM, PO Box 3576, Ann
Arbor, MI 48106
To approach the same question from another angle--an angle of great
importance to internationalists--we need to address the issue of the value of
labor-power, which Marx said is determined by "culture" and class
struggle. What is historically "necessary" for labor-power to reproduce
itself, not what is physically and absolutely necessary.
The class struggle we are seeking to unleash will even out the differences in
cross-national wages. If the proletariat has a hand in "determining" the
value of labor-power, then it seems that the communists should be for
national equality on that score. We see no reason why "cultural and
historical" factors that Marx referred to should be a cover for national
chauvinism saying that First World workers need more use-values for their
higher civilization levels.
Recently someone said to MIM that if labor were the source of exchange-
value, then apes would be wealthier than humans because they are
stronger. Hence, exchange-value derives from scientific work or mental
labor according to our critic.
Such is spoken with the same self-righteousness of all peoples born with a
silver spoon in their mouths. It has more to do with Protestantism than
Marxism. Those who are well-off imagine that they deserve it for some
reason, that God chooses the pre-selected to go to Heaven and gives signs
of that in the prosperity during life of those so chosen. The idea that one
just got lucky and was born into a wealthy family or country is anathema to
those who wish to deny their social existence.
Does anyone really doubt that rice farming in rural areas of China is more
work than playing baseball? What kind of ideological justifications can we
come up with for opposing that?
We can't speak to justice or happiness amongst apes, but maybe what they
are lacking is a class of apes coercing their labor out of them. Hence, they
may live in "primitive communism." They live the good life in their
own way and haven't developed parasitism the way we have here.
For someone to be a computer programmer, someone must be
a farmer first. There also have to be garment workers and carpenters for a
computer programmer to exist. The minute one says that the programmer
is entitled to the returns s/he can get from programming is the minute one
has bought into a property relationship of some kind, a scheme for
appropriaton of labor, just not necessarily on the scale of Vanderbilts or
It just so happens that white-collar kinds of jobs are located mostly in the
same imperialist countries that are repressing wage labor in the Third
World. We are accustomed to speaking of the the appointees of elected
officials, and seeing them as some kind of corruption, when people obtain
jobs through political connections. Yet that is what happens on a global
scale. The political unit one is born into determines one's life chances for
obtaining white collar work. It has very little to do with "merit" or the will
of God in the Protestant version. Such jobs are given out without regard to
their likelihood of creating surplus-value, much the way political appointees
aren't supposed to be the best people for a job. They are just being
rewarded for a political connection whether in crony government or just
the ordinary office in an imperialist country.
Pat for MIM
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