Reply to Jurriaan and Julio

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Fri Dec 13 23:21:44 MST 2002

Mark Jones says: "Both Julio and Jurriaan share a productivist,
ricardian-sraffian reading of Marx which is highly contentious, not to say

With all due respect, I will only speak for myself.  Mark Jones' labels do
not help clarify the issues.  Let me get into the substance.  Mark rejects
this assertion:

"The main argument of Marx against capitalism is that, as human productive
forces expand under capitalism, this social order becomes intolerably
inefficient -- wasteful of productive force, wasteful of social labor,
wasteful of human life.  The argument of communism is both that humans can
do MUCH better at managing their productive force and that the very
development of productivity induced under capitalism ENABLES them to do so.
Without THIS argument, communism has NO material case.  If capitalism were
so efficient managing human productive powers, then why would intelligent
human beings want to overthrow it?  Mark's argument leads to abandoning the
main argument against capitalism."

He says it's based on the German Ideology, which espouses a mechanistic
materialism.  Suppose the German Ideology was flawed, is that a refutation?
Don't Gründrisse and the prologue to the Contribution (1859) -- documents
written at the top of Marx's intellectual game -- supply an argument exactly
along these same lines?  Doesn't the preface to volume I of Capital (1867)
also hold these very views?  Doesn't the volume III of Capital (whose
manuscript was actually drafted before the publication of volume I) also
emphasize the need for a highly productive material basis for communism?
How about the Critic of Gotha's Program?  If Mark doesn't answer these
questions satisfactorily, then he's probably expressing a discomfort not
with any mechanistic argument for communism, but with the materialist view
of history.

But what is most important, in my view, is not whether Mark or anyone else
holds views that conform or not to codified historical materialism or to
young or old Marx's ideas.  What matters is whether Marx's views hold water
in our times -- 140 years later -- or if we should replace them with
something better.  If they need replacement, then maybe Mark is on the right
track and communism doesn't require as its material basis the "universal
development of productive forces."  Maybe communism can be built on some
idealistic basis.  But I don't think so.

Mark says that I attempt "to assimilate Marxian value theory and Marx's
equilibrium theory to neoclassical theories based on concepts of utility."
He doesn't bother to show evidence of his assertion.  He cannot show
evidence because in what I said I'm firmly on the grounds of Marx's labor
theory of value.  If not, in my allusions to modern economics, what
specifically adds up to an attempt to assimilate Marx to the neoclassical

In my opinion, Mark's remarks only indicate that he hasn't thought carefully
about Marx's labor theory of value and about the structure of modern
economic theories.  So he doesn't see where they really clash and what it
takes to understand and critically overcome modern economic reasoning.  I do
not claim to have the ultimate critique of economics, but what I can ask is
that -- if I'm wrong -- Mark or whoever points out the error refutes it.

Mark says I stopped reading Marx when I got to his 1845 writings.  But then
Mark rejects my allusion to a rational allocation of social labor.  I said
that Marx, in Gründrisse (1857), clearly stated that communism is subject to
the "economy of time."  I'm including Marx's citation below.  And it is more
forceful than I remembered it:  Marx says that it is "the first economic
law" of communal production!  "[L]aw to an even higher degree.")  In fact,
if Marx hadn't written that in Gründrisse, the idea would be clearly
implicit in Capital.  More colloquially, Marx presents the same idea in the
letter to Kugelman I referred previously (11 July 1868).  (I'm also
including the quote below.)

Mark says that I have made the allocation of social labor based on the rule
of marginal return equalization into a "transhistorical" rational rule.
Well, it's not me.  That we people tend to think ahead and try to shape the
world according to our desires is an essential human trait.  That trait
predates capitalism and will certainly stay with us if we get to build
communism.  The notion that human life is the ultimate "resource" lies at
the core of any humanistic doctrine.  Mark thinks that this rule is
contaminated by the "neoclassical marginal utility theory," but that may
only indicate that he has not stopped to reflect on the topic sufficiently.

Mark insists that the rule of equalization of marginal returns is only valid
under "modern industrial capitalism."  Let me show it is not so: If human
life is the ultimate resource for humanists and communist producers are
humanistic, then -- obviously -- these rational producers, freely organized,
would want to avoid wasting any quanta of human life (labor time) when
producing what they wish or when trying to accomplish something.  These
producers will want to make sure that the extra ("marginal") benefits of
using labor in all alternative task are equalized.  Why?  Because if they
are not equalized, that simply means that producers can do better by adding
more labor to the task that yields a higher extra benefit and subtract labor
from the task that yields a smaller extra benefit.  They will stop switching
labor from one task to another when the extra benefits obtained from using
one unit of labor yields the same return in all tasks.  Otherwise, why not
switch more labor to producing the high-return task and get the extra
benefit at no additional cost?  So, rational communist producers will not
want to waste these additional benefits because that would entail a waste of
labor.  As I said, this follows from the law of the "economy of time."

The key issue here is the contrast I drew with Mark's remarks.  I emphasize
that the qualitative difference is made by the specific goals humans are
trying to accomplish and to which they devote foresight and effort.
Needless to say, the specific goals of rational labor-time allocation are
inseparably tied to the means used in the task and, more generally, to the
concrete historical conditions in which the effort is made.  That's why -- I
insist -- there's not one single kind of "efficiency."  Efficiency is always
predicated on specific goals, which are historically conditioned.  That
frontally refutes Mark's thesis that what is inefficient under capitalism
will not be efficient under socialism.

Mark's long digressions about the transformation of values into prices (in
fact, direct prices into market prices), macroeconomics, etc. as well as the
political demonization of those who disagree with him are irrelevant in this
context.  As far as I'm concerned, these are decoys to divert and confuse
the issues.


*  *  *

This is the "productivist" quote in Marx's Gründrisse (the Chapter on Money,
Part II) I've been alluding to:

"On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of
course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat,
cattle etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental.
Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development,
its enjoyment and its activity depends on economization of time. Economy of
time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to
distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production
adequate to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his
time correctly in order to achieve knowledge in proper proportions or in
order to satisfy the various demands on his activity. Thus, economy of time,
along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various
branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of
communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree.
However, this is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values
(labour or products) by labour time."

And this is the "productivist" cite in Marx's letter to Kugelman (11 July

"As for the Centralblatt, the man is making the greatest concession possible
by admitting that, if value means anything at all, then my conclusions must
be conceded. The unfortunate fellow does not see that, even if there were no
chapter on 'value' at all in my book, the analysis I give of the real
relations would contain the proof and demonstration of the real value
relation. The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value arises
only from complete ignorance both of the subject under discussion and of the
method of science. Every child knows that any nation that stopped working,
not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And
every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the
differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined
amounts of society's aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this
necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is
certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can
only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at
all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing
conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form
in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state
of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as
the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the
exchange value of these products."

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