[Marxism] Re.: Marx was right?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Feb 7 13:28:53 MST 2004

Ken Ranney wrote:
>Louis Proyect seems to be calling me a neo-utopian.  I do not consider 
>this to be a downer, for I have never understood what was wrong with 
>utopianism.  I do not think that Marx really made the case for his 
>condemnation, other than to say that before him, everybody was wrong.  Had 
>his concept of class struggle eliminated capitalism he might have been 
>shown to be right, but, as capitalism is now well ensconced, he has not.

To start with, a procedural note. Ken, you just reposted my entire article 
on utopianism. We should not do this. It is a waste of bandwidth. Many 
Marxmail subscribers are in 3rd world countries where dial-up costs are 
nearly prohibitive.

Turning to matters of substance.

A concept of class struggle does not eliminate capitalism. People organized 
in revolutionary parties do. The problem with utopianism is that it does 
not address political tasks. It is a form of idealism, as is 
anarchism--it's frequent companion. To put it bluntly, you seem more 
interested in philosophy than politics.

>He also says: "I am opposed to the market".  I quite agree, for the market 
>is an immoral institution.  The market is ruled by a profoundly selfish 
>principle: that A will not give to B unless B returns something which A 
>regards as of at least equivalent value to A.  This means that, if, for 
>example, B is starving, but has no money, A feels no reluctance to 
>withhold food, even if A has food in excess.  Such immorality may not be 
>due to the market as such, but rather a result of the ethics induced by 
>the market society.

For more on how this kind of abstract exercise in ethics, stemming from 
philosophers such as John Rawls, has influenced/disoriented analytical 
Marxists, see my article on John Roemer. Generally speaking, analytical 
Marxism and market socialism of the kind that Ken favors are out of favor 
in the academy. I haven't heard arguments such as these except on PEN-L in 
the mid 1990s.


When we turn to the specifics of Roemer's methodology, we become strangers 
in a strange land indeed. Those of us who have read Eduardo Galeano's "Open 
Veins of Latin America", Walter Rodney's "How Europe Underdeveloped Latin 
America" or Engels on the working-class of Manchester in 1840 must make a 
big adjustment when we confront the naked ahistoricism of Roemer. There is 
no history there, just laboratory experiments based on rational choice 
players who are either hirers of labor, laborers or peasants. In addition 
to people of these various types, there are the means of production which 
consist of corn, farms and factories. He simply postulates their existence 
but has no interest in addressing the question of how they came into 

Look how he tries to explain the inadequacy of the labor theory of value 
with his parlor game. He puts the following pieces on the board. There is a 
population which is divided between those who hire labor and those who are 
hired. The hired are 1/3 of the population.

The hired portion of the population spends a four hour portion of its day 
working with seed corn that it already owns. The result of such labor is 
the production of 1/2 bushel of corn.

Then these souls go out and hire themselves out to other souls who also own 
some seed corn. One individual might hire himself or herself out to three 
hirers. In the process, the hired person works four hours for each hirer, 
produces 1/2 bushel of corn, and receives 1/4 bushel for a wage. The hirer 
retains 1/4 bushel as profit.

This process takes place throughout society using all available seed corn. 
This arrangement finally exhausts all seed corn since there is two to one 
ratio between hirer and hired. Each hirer has gained 1/4 bushel in profits 
while each worker manages to eke out the 3/4 bushel he or she needs, which 
requires 12 hours labor on the farm. So everybody ends up with a bushel of 
corn, the minimum daily requirement for a member of this society.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/analytical_marxism/roemer.htm

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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