Productivism

Julio Huato juliohuato at hotmail.com
Sun Dec 15 07:32:45 MST 2002


Mark Jones wrote:

<<[...] a point about Julio's misreading of the Gründrisse.

<<Marx's letter to Kugelmann which Julio cites was written 11 years after
Marx wrote the Grundrisse. It therefore reflects Marx's mature views as
these were first elaborated in the Grundrisse. In the latter, Marx is at
pains to show how the capitalist mode of production sets the stage for the
liquidation of ALL economies based on the allocation of labour-times.>>

This began because I claim that (1) even in the 21st century a high
productive basis will still be an indispensable condition for socialism and
communism and that (2) the efficiency of a socialist transition or of
communism building is not the same as -- but in a sense, the opposite of --
capitalist efficiency.  I have also said the obvious thing that there are
also different capitalist "efficiencies."

It's good to get the references right, recognize who said what first, and
make sure our interpretations of Marx and others are well supported by text
and context.  But let's admit that Mark is diverting us from the original
dispute -- whether or not techniques of production that are inefficient
under capitalism are also inefficient under socialism.  Mark has now made an
issue of my "productivism."  Some light should come out of this.

Mark has not defined the term "productivisim" yet.  So, I suppose
"productivism" is the assertion that communism requires a highly productive
basis.  Or, maybe that any workable society, including communism, is subject
to the economy of time, including the rule of equalizing the returns on
labor time allocation.

I am, of course, aware of the passages in Gründrisse that Mark quoted at
length in one of his last postings.  The readers may verify by themselves
that such quotation don't support the view that communism will be
constrained by lower productivity.  On the contrary.

Moreover, although Mark has not mentioned them, Karl Marx made interesting
allusions in Capital, volume III, to a communist society where the "realm of
necessity" shrinks and the "realm of freedom" expands.  The Gründrisse were
drafted in the mid 1850s and Capital was drafted in the 1860s.  So, if Mark
claims that under communism the economy of time doesn't matter and he is
looking for an argument of authority, the passages in Capital, volume III,
part 7, chapter 48, could serve him better.

But it is clear in Marx's reasoning in Capital III-7-48 that such expanding
freedom has to be "paid for," in the sense that it will be based on a highly
developed productive force.  I have not argued, and will not argue now,
that, the wealthy cannot afford more waste than the poor.  Of course they
can.  That's one of the prerogatives of wealth.

So, of course, if an advanced association of cooperative producers wishes to
deliberately "waste" social labor, then they'll be perfectly capable of
doing such silly thing because their huge surplus-product will afford them
to do that.  But notice the type of "waste" Marx has in mind for these
producers.  Not that they dump wheat in the ocean, but that they allow
themselves to enjoy more free time!

That scenario makes my very point.  As I said, in contrast to what Mark has
forcefully claimed, rationality or efficiency in labor allocation is always
predicated on the specific, historically conditioned, goals each society
sets for itself.  If free producers set the strategic goal of granting
themselves a larger amount of their time in a way they can use and enjoy
freely, how is that "waste" with respect to their goal?

Moreover, we don't have to believe in an universal "efficiency-wage"
argument of the type advanced by modern post-Keynesians to realize that, by
enjoying more free time, the producers could become even more "productive"
at executing the dreary tasks still confined to the "realm of necessity."
Hence, more able to cut themselves additional slack.  Any calculated move to
shrink the "realm of necessity" translates itself into an expansion of the
"realm of freedom."  How can that be "waste"?  Notice that expanding the
"realm of freedom" is mathematically equivalent to shrinking the "realm of
necessity."  Mark cannot deny that shrinking the "realm of necessity"
requires observance of the economy of time, or can he?

Therefore, from this there's no way we can draw the conclusion that the
economy of time doesn't hold under communism.  All we can say is that an
economy of time SUBJECT TO THE ECONOMIC GOALS IMPOSED BY NECESSITY, or by
compromises with a still backward productive basis, will not hold under
advanced communism BECAUSE the producers under advanced communism will have
ANOTHER GOAL: FREEDOM.  This will truly be a society that works to live, not
the other way around.  But it'll be a society that works most consciously
and rationally to live well.

In any case, our 21st century societies will not reach such a high level of
productivity and social organization, and then sustain them, if they don't
follow strictly (and even perfect) the rules of rational labor-time
allocation.  Again, there's simply no way to expand the "realm of FREEDOM"
without paying the NECESSARY price.  In my view, that's evident in Marx's
passages.  But I include the whole citation below and the readers can draw
their own conclusions.

It is interesting to note that whenever Marx referred to the future society
in his mature writings, he tended to talk about the early stages of
communism, where output could not yet be distributed in accordance with
needs.  In ALL cases, Marx said that more advanced stages of communism
required ever higher productivity.  Again, no society can get there by
ignoring the economy of time and there's no way that Marx can be interpreted
in the sense of Mark Jones, for whom communism is characterized by stark
tradeoffs under a reduced productive force.

Let me now respond to Mark's claim that my quotes and allusions to
Gründrisse are a distortion.  Mark asserts categorically that Marx's
<comments on "communalism" do not refer to the future but to the
precapitalist past. Marx clearly states in the Gründrisse his view that
capitalism will "blow sky high" the use of labour time as the "measuring
rod" of  social activity.>  Mark gave us a long quote of Gründrisse to
support his assertion.  I ask the readers to read it carefully and decide
whether my assertions should be modified based on it.  I'm also including
below the relevant paragraphs of Gründrisse that contain my previous
quotation.

Granted, in the Gründrisse's passages below, Marx did not make unequivocal
that he was talking about a future society.  The previous and following
paragraphs don't give an uncontestable indication either.  However, the
clues in them seem clear enough to me.  Readers will judge by themselves.  I
do not read German.  So I have no way to tell whether this English
translation (posted on <marxists.org>) is faithful to the original or not.
I studied the Gründrisse, the Chapter on Money included, back in the 1980s
(in a Spanish version).  It's always seemed obvious to me that Marx refers
here to an alternative future society.

I doubt Marx is referring to primitive communities here.  First, in
Gründrisse Marx did refer to the future society.  Second, because no direct
allusion to historical facts is given.  No historical references given.
Third, because Marx begins the paragraph with the clause "On the basis of
communal production, the determination of time REMAINS, of course,
essential" and the verb "to remain" must refer to something that will happen
in the future.  If I say, "I'll remain poor," that cannot count as an
allusion to my past.

Fourth, the syntax is that of laying out the logic of a hypothetical but
feasible way of managing labor time ALTERNATIVE to advanced commodity
production (i.e., capitalism).  It seems to me that, if the contrast he drew
here was between a market society and primitive communities, then the
"would-bes" would not have been necessary.  Simply, a historical description
doesn't need the use of the subjunctive mode.

Fifth, and more importantly, in my view, attributing to primitive
communities the strict economy of time that Marx describes here would border
on an idealization of such societies -- something Marx was just not inclined
to do.  That would be contrary to the way Marx repeatedly referred to those
communities in Gründrisse.  Most likely primitive communities administered
their collective labor time in an intuitive way, sanctioned by customs and
culture, which was possible because their needs evolved very slowly.

I could mention more clues in the text that support my interpretation, but
again without knowing German they are speculative.  So, each reader can make
her own judgment.

Finally, I will also argue that Marx's choice of the term "communism" to
refer to the future society was not accidental.  Marx believed there were
commonalities between primitive communities and the productively
sophisticated society of the future.  So, if these passages refer to the
economy of time of a "communal" society without further qualification, then
it's not unnatural to interpret them as applicable to future communism as
well.

But there's a passage in Capital, volume I, where Marx clearly refers to a
communist society albeit not the most advanced one.  Clearly, Marx means
here to draw a contrast between two alternative forms of the economy of
time: (1) value and (2) direct allocation of labor.  So, in this case,
there's really no doubt that he refers to a communist society that strictly
abides by the economy of time.  The citation is given below.  Again, this
was written in the 1860s while the Gründrisse date from the 1850s.

Julio

*  *  *

The citations don't have page numbers because I grabbed this material off
the amazing site <marxists.org>.  The comments in brackets are mine.

>From Gründrisse, Chapter on Money:

"The labour of the individual looked at in the act of production itself, is
the money with which he directly buys the product [the use of the verb "to
buy" here is clearly to reason along the lines of Adam Smith, who uses the
metaphor of exchange to refer to production, whereby people "pay" with "toil
and trouble" what they get from nature], the object of his particular
activity; but it is a particular money, which buys precisely only this
specific product [so, again, Marx is using the term 'money' here as a
metaphor for labor]. In order to be general money directly, it would have to
be not a particular, but general labour from the outset; i.e. it would have
to be posited from the outset as a link in general production. But on this
presupposition it would not be exchange which gave labour its general
character; but rather its presupposed communal character would determine the
distribution of products [in the terms he uses in Capital, labor is directly
posited as social labor]. The communal character of production would make
the product into a communal, general product from the outset. The exchange
which originally takes place in production -- which would not be an exchange
of exchange values but of activities, determined by communal needs and
communal purposes -- would from the outset include the participation of the
individual in the communal world of products. On the basis of exchange
values, labour is posited as general only through exchange [here is the
contrast: under commodity production, private labor becomes social post
festum, mediately, through exchange]. But on this foundation it would be
posited as such before exchange; i.e. the exchange of products would in no
way be the medium by which the participation of the individual in general
production is mediated. Mediation must, of course, take place. In the first
case, which proceeds from the independent production of individuals -- no
matter how much these independent productions determine and modify each
other post festum through their interrelations -- mediation takes place
through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value and through
money; all these are expressions of one and the same relation. In the second
case, the presupposition is itself mediated; i.e. a communal production,
communality, is presupposed as the basis of production. The labour of the
individual is posited from the outset as social labour. Thus, whatever the
particular material form of the product he creates or helps to create, what
he has bought with his labour is not a specific and particular product, but
rather a specific share of the communal production. He therefore has no
particular product to exchange. His product is not an exchange value. The
product does not first have to be transposed into a particular form in order
to attain a general character for the individual. Instead of a division of
labour, such as is necessarily created with the exchange of exchange values,
there would take place an organization of labour whose consequence would be
the participation of the individual in communal consumption. In the first
case the social character of production is posited only post festum with the
elevation of products to exchange values and the exchange of these exchange
values. In the second case the social character of production is
presupposed, and participation in the world of products, in consumption, is
not mediated by the exchange of mutually independent labours or products of
labour. It is mediated, rather, by the social conditions of production
within which the individual is active. Those who want to make the labour of
the individual directly into money (i.e. his product as well), into realized
exchange value, want therefore to determine that labour directly as general
labour, i.e. to negate precisely the conditions under which it must be made
into money and exchange values, and under which it depends on private
exchange. This demand can be satisfied only under conditions where it can no
longer be raised. Labour on the basis of exchange values presupposes,
precisely, that neither the labour of the individual nor his product are
directly general; that the product attains this form only by passing through
an objective mediation by means of a form of money distinct from itself.

"On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains
[NB], 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 [NB] economy ultimately reduces itself.
Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way [NB], 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 [notice the
verb] law, there, to an even higher degree. However, this is essentially
different from a measurement of exchange values (labour or products) by
labour time [the implication here is not that under communal production
labor or products don't need to be measured, but that the measurement won't
be performed via exchange values -- it'll be performed directly]. The labour
of individuals in the same branch of work, and the various kinds of work,
are different from one another not only quantitatively but also
qualitatively. What does a solely quantitative difference between things
presuppose? The identity of their qualities. Hence, the quantitative measure
of labours presupposes the equivalence, the identity of their quality."

>From Capital, volume III, part 7, chapter 48:

"The actual wealth of society, and the possibility of constantly expanding
its reproduction process, therefore, do not depend upon the duration of
surplus-labour, but upon its productivity and the more or less copious
conditions of production under which it is performed [is Marx being
"productivist" here?]. In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only
where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations
ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of
actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to
satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man,
and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of
production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as
a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which
satisfy these wants also increase [NB]. Freedom in this field can only
consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating
[NB] their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control
[NB], instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and
achieving this with the least expenditure of energy [NB] and under
conditions most favourable [NB] to, and worthy of, their human nature [NB].
But it nonetheless still remains [NB] a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins
that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm
of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of
necessity as its basis [NB]. The shortening of the working-day is its basic
prerequisite."

>From Capital, volume I, chapter 1:

"The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms. They are
forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and
relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz.,
the production of commodities. The whole mystery of commodities, all the
magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they
take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to
other forms of production.

"Since Robinson Crusoe's experiences are a favourite theme with political
economists, let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be,
yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful
work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats,
fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since
they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much
recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour,
whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and
consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human
labour. Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately
between his different kinds of work [NB]. Whether one kind occupies a
greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the
difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in
attaining the useful effect aimed at [the tradeoffs]. This our friend
Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and
pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a
set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that
belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly,
of the labour-time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an
average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that
form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be
intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those
relations contain all that is essential [NB] to the determination of value.

"Let us now transport ourselves from Robinson's island bathed in light to
the European middle ages shrouded in darkness. Here, instead of the
independent man, we find everyone dependent, serfs and lords, vassals and
suzerains, laymen and clergy. Personal dependence here characterises the
social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of
life organised on the basis of that production. But for the very reason that
personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity
for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their
reality. They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in
kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour,
and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general
abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is
just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every
serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite
quantity of his own personal labour-power. The tithe to be rendered to the
priest is more matter of fact than his blessing. No matter, then, what we
may think of the parts played by the different classes of people themselves
in this society, the social relations between individuals in the performance
of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal
relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between
the products of labour.

"For an example of labour in common or directly associated labour, we have
no occasion to go back to that spontaneously developed form which we find on
the threshold of the history of all civilised races. We have one close at
hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn,
cattle, yarn, linen, and clothing for home use. These different articles
are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between
themselves, they are not commodities. The different kinds of labour, such as
tillage, cattle tending, spinning, weaving and making clothes, which result
in the various products, are in themselves, and such as they are, direct
social functions, because functions of the family, which, just as much as a
society based on the production of commodities, possesses a spontaneously
developed system of division of labour. The distribution of the work within
the family, and the regulation of the labour-time of the several members,
depend as well upon differences of age and sex as upon natural conditions
varying with the seasons. The labour-power of each individual, by its very
nature, operates in this case merely as a definite portion of the whole
labour-power of the family, and therefore, the measure of the expenditure of
individual labour-power by its duration, appears here by its very nature as
a social character of their labour.

"Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free
individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common,
in which the labour-power of all the different individuals is consciously
applied [NB] as the combined labour-power of the community. All the
characteristics of Robinson's labour are here repeated [NB], but with this
difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced
by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore
simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a
social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains
social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of
subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently
necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive
organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development
attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a
parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each
individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his
labour-time [allocation not according to needs, but according to labor
time]. Labour-time would, in that case, play a double part. Its
apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan [NB] maintains the
proper proportion [NB] between the different kinds of work to be done and
the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a
measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of
his share in the part of the total product destined for individual
consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard
both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple
and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to
distribution."

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