Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Leisure to Attend to Our Spiritual Business

 

ABSTRACT: Time is central to Martin Hägglund’s discussion of secular faith and spiritual freedom. Time is precisely what is finite in this life and presides over the relationships we value and our risk of losing them. Hägglund adopted the notion of disposable time from Karl Marx’s Grundrisse and reframed it as the more descriptive socially available free time. Following Marx, Hägglund advocates the revaluation of values so that socially available free time would become the measure of value rather than socially necessary labour time.

A close examination of the origin of Marx’s analysis of disposable time suggests that questions of faith and freedom were inherent in the concept as it was expressed in the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties that influenced Marx, in the writings of William Godwin that inspired the 1821 pamphlet, and ultimately in theological views on the doctrine of the calling that Godwin secularized in his pioneering advocacy of leisure as a universal human right.

Marx’s innovation was to show that the creation of disposable time is the basis of all wealth. Under capitalism, disposable time is expropriated in the form of surplus labour time, thereby inverting the relationship between necessary and superfluous labour time – the superfluous becomes necessary (for capital) and the necessary superfluous. Marx’s analysis of the inversion of necessary and superfluous labour time bears close resemblance to Ludwig Feuerbach’s critique in The Essence of Christianity, which had influenced the early Marx, of the inversion of collective humanity and the divine.

Forthcoming in Stasis journal. My pre-peer review draft is at timeworkweb. Final version should be available soon and will be open access.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

The Unknown Unknown Marx

Cover of Unknown Marx
Toward the end of his 1968 essay, "The Unknown Marx," Martin Nicolaus quoted Marx's enumeration of four barriers to production under capital that "expose the basis of overproduction, the fundamental contradiction of developed capital." Nicolaus qualified what Marx meant by overproduction to be "[not] simply ‘excess inventory’; rather, he means excess productive power more generally."

‘These inherent limits necessarily coincide with the nature of capital, with its essential determinants. These necessary limits are:

‘1. necessary labour as limit to the exchange-value of living labour-power, of the wages of the industrial population;

‘2. surplus value as limit to surplus labour-time; and, in relation to relative surplus labour-time, as limit to the development of the productive forces;

‘3. what is the same thing, the transformation into money, into exchangevalue, as such, as a limit to production; or: exchange based on value, or value based on exchange, as limit to production. This is again

‘4. the same thing as restriction of the production of use-values by exchange-value; or: the fact that real wealth must take on a specific form distinct from itself, absolutely not identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all.’

It "would require a book," Nicolaus then observed, to present "a proper analysis of the implications of these rather cryptic theses." In lieu of that analysis, he offered a synopsis that "these four ‘limits’ represent no more than different aspects of the contradiction between ‘forces of production’ and ‘social relations of production’."


Neither Nicolaus nor anyone else has written that book. Nor did Nicolaus again refer to these inherent limits in the Foreword to his translation of the Grundrisse. Instead, he invoked Marx's discussion of "the contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production" in the 1859 Preface to his Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. "The Grundrisse is one long extended commentary upon it; inversely, the 1859 formulation is a summary, in a word, of the Grundrisse." "One could go on and on," Nicolaus added in the subsequent paragraph.

One could go on and on... it would require a book. Although Grundrisse may be seen as "one long extended commentary" on the contradiction between the forces and relations of production, there are shorter passages that are particularly germaine to the analysis of the "rather cryptic theses" at the core of that contradiction. The condensed version -- consisting of pages 397-423, 608-610, and 704-711 -- is less than 5% of the total number of pages. It is bracketed by 'quotations' from The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, on page 397:

Wealth is disposable time and nothing more. ... If the whole labour of a country were sufficient only to raise the support of the whole population, there would be no surplus labour, consequently nothing that can be allowed to accumulate as capital . . . Truly wealthy a nation, if there is no interest or if the working day is 6 hours rather than 12 . . . Whatever may be due to the capitalist, he can only receive the surplus labour of the labourer; for the labourer must live.’ (The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties.

 And on page 709:

‘If the entire labour of a country were sufficient only to raise the support of the whole population, there would be no surplus labour, consequently nothing that could be allowed to accumulate as capital. If in one year the people raises enough for the support of two years, one year’s consumption must perish, or for one year men must cease from productive labour. But the possessors of [the] surplus produce or capital . . . employ people upon something not directly and immediately productive, e.g. in the erection of machinery. So it goes on.’ (The Source and Remedy ofthe National Difficulties, p. 4.)

The first quotation contains a montage of paraphrases from pages 6, 4, back to 6, and on to 22 of The Source and Remedy. The quotation on page 709 sticks with page 4 as Marx had already quoted from page 6 three pages earlier. 

The bracketing quotations come before and after a pair of remarkable paragraphs by Marx. The initial one asserts that "[t]he whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time" and goes on to explain that "[i]n production resting on capital, the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation of superfluous labour time." The paragraph bracketed by the final quote presents an intense analysis of disposable time in which the English term, 'disposable time', appears seven times in Marx's German manuscript, along with three instances of 'surplus labour' in English and two phrases, 'instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time' and 'to convert it into surplus labour.' 

Seine Tendenz aber immer, einerseits disposable time zu schaffen, andrerseits to convert it into surplus labour.

Once the mass of workers have appropriated their own surplus labour, Marx argued, in a passage echoing his earlier assertion that development of wealth rested "on the creation of disposable time": 

...the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.

Real wealth, then, is "the developed productive power of all individuals," which "rests on the creation of disposable time." Disposable time thus is integral to the development of the productive forces and the contradiction with the productive relations rests with capital's tendency to not only create disposable time but to convert as much of it as it can it into surplus labour.

Forces of production and social relations - two different sides of the development of the social individual - appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.

What comes after "the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high"? Four out of five authors who quote that incendiary passage do not mention disposable time. Yet that was Marx's follow-up in yet another paraphrase from The Source and Remedy: "'Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth), ‘but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’"

Marx was quite explicit and repetitive about the relationship between disposable time and the productive forces. Moishe Postone almost got it when he described disposable time as, for Marx, a characteristic of "a possible post capitalist society." It is indeed that but much more. Disposable time is also the medium through which the productive forces are developed in capital

The infamous 'fetters' on the development of the productive forces -- those four "necessary limits" to the development of the productive forces quoted at the beginning of this essay -- arise from the compulsion of capital to convert disposable time into surplus labour time. The four limits are, in fact a single, unfolding contradiction that culminates in the non-identity of real wealth and value, use-value and exchange-value: "the fact that real wealth must take on a specific form distinct from itself, absolutely not identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all."



Saturday, March 9, 2024

Matt Huber's and Leigh Phillips's "classical Marxist critique" of Kohei Saito

I have expressed my disagreement with Kohei Saito's Slow Down and Marx in the Anthropocene in previous posts. I welcome Huber's and Phillips's critique of Saito at Jacobin. They get much right in their criticism of Saito's Utopianism and implicit primitivism but they share with Saito a fundamental misreading of Marx. This misreading is based on a speculative interpretation of a stirring but ambiguous passage in Marx's Preface to his 1859 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or—this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms—with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

The misreading of the above became canonical as the "classical Marxist theory of history" as expounded by Lenin, Stalin, and a host of Second International luminaries. As Georges Sorel complained already in 1908, though, "many liberties have been taken with this preface, which so many men cite without ever having studied it seriously." Not only had they not "studied it seriously," they did not yet have access to a much longer and more historically specific elaboration of the "fetters on the development of the forces of production" Marx had worked out in unpublished notebooks from 1857 and 1858.

On page 415 of the 1973 English translation of the Grundrisse, Marx enumerated four contradictions that impose inherent limits to capital, both from the standpoint of accumulation and of development of the forces of production. 

The stages of production which precede capital appear, regarded from its standpoint, as so many fetters upon the productive forces. It itself, however, correctly understood, appears as the condition of the development of the forces of production as long as they require an external spur, which appears at the same time as their bridle. … These necessary limits are:

(1) Necessary labour as limit on the exchange value of living labour capacity or of the wages of the industrial population;

(2) Surplus value as limit on surplus labour time; and, in regard to relative surplus labour time, as barrier to the development of the forces of production;

(3) What is the same, the transformation into money, exchange value as such, as limit of production; or exchange founded on value, or value founded on exchange, as limit of production.

This is:

(4) again the same as restriction of the production of use values by exchange value; or that real wealth has to take on a specific form distinct from itself, a form not absolutely identical with it, in order to become an object of production at all.

Martin Nicolaus, translator of the 1973 edition, had earlier commented on those limits in his 1968 essay, "The Unknown Marx": 

While a proper analysis of the implications of these rather cryptic theses would require a book, it is immediately apparent that these four ‘limits’ represent no more than different aspects of the contradiction between ‘forces of production’ and ‘social relations of production’.

What Nicolaus described as cryptic theses in 56 years ago have become more intelligable over the decades as there have been more studies of Marx that get away from the fetters of the classical Marxist critique. I consider one of the most coherent discussions to be Derek Sayer's Violence of Abstraction, which directly confronted Gerald Cohen's defense of what he called "the old-fashioned historical materialism." 

Huber and Phillips also adhere to what they extol as the classical Marxist critique, which they construe as "Marx’s thesis that socialism would release production from the fetters of capitalism..." They go on to state their view that:

It was elementary for Marxists that at a certain point in the development of the forces of production (basically scientific knowledge, technology, labor, land, and natural resources), they become constrained by the relations of production (the way that production is organized, which under capitalism means, roughly, owners of capital selling commodities on markets for profit and hiring owners of labor power in exchange for wages).

As Sayer pointed out, "[p]roductive forces are... an attribute of human beings in association, their collective capacities, not a set of things as auch at all." Machines are not productive forces. Technologies are not productive forces. Natural resources are not productive forces. Even skillls are not productive forces. They "only become productive forces in so far as they take on social characteristics." To overlook this is, in Sayer's words, to fetishize the notion of productive forces.

This raises a rather daunting question, if our fetishizing habits of thought lead us to fetishize even the most coherent attempts to cure us of our fetishing habits of thought, how do we escape the dilemma? Marx posed the answer in his third thesis on Feuerbach. Whether it is a satisfactory answer is hard to say.

The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice.

How do Huber and Phillips conceive of revolutionary practice? 

...humanity is already always and everywhere surrounded by natural limits, by constraints on what we can currently do.

It is science and technology, shackled to egalitarianism (or as midcentury Marxist Hal Draper put it, “Prometheus plus Spartacus”), that allows us to overcome those limits.

Prometheus Sculpture at Chernobyl

Curiously, Draper did not tether Prometheus to "science and technology" as implied by Huber and Phillips's parenthetical citation. In fact, Draper only mentioned science once and technology not at all. He also stated that "Prometheus scarcely appears again in Marx’s writings..." and elaborated in a footnote that a  notable exception is in Poverty of Philosophy where Marx ridiculed Proudhon's enlistment of Prometheus to play the part of Robinson Crusoe:

First of all, Prometheus emerging from the bosom of nature awakens to life, in a delightful inertia, etc., etc. Prometheus sets to work, and on this first day, the first day of the second creation, Prometheus’ product, that is, his wealth, his wellbeing, is equal to 10. On the second day, Prometheus divides his labour, and his product becomes equal to 100. On the third day and on each of the following days, Prometheus invents machines, discovers new utilities in bodies, new forces in nature.... With every step of his industrial activity, there is an increase in the number of his products, which marks an enhancement of happiness for him. And since, after all, to consume is for him to produce, it is clear that every day’s consumption, using up only the product of the day before, leaves a surplus product for the next day.

What did Marx have to say about M. Proudhom's Promethean pantomime? 

This Prometheus of M. Proudhon’s is a queer character, as weak in logic as in political economy. So long as Prometheus merely teaches us the division of labour, the application of machinery, the exploitation of natural forces and scientific power, multiplying the productive forces of men and giving a surplus compared with the produce of labour in isolation, this new Prometheus has the misfortune only of coming too late. But the moment Prometheus starts talking about production and consumption he becomes really ludicrous. ...

Marx dissected this ludicrousness to Proudhon's pretention that he has "proved by theory and by facts the principle that all labour must have a surplus." To which Marx scoffed in reply, "The 'facts' are the famous progressive calculation; the theory is the myth of Prometheus." 

Huber and Phillips ludicrously make their Promethean myth "more concrete" by invoking the progressive calculation of "science and technology":

...one of the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s planetary boundaries is a limit to the amount of greenhouse gas that we can emit, largely as a result of the use of fossil fuels for energy, before causing average global temperatures to exceed those optimal for human flourishing. ... This energetic limit is all too real, but it is also contingent. When we fully shift to clean energy sources such as nuclear, wind, and solar, that climate-related limit on energy use will have been transcended. The only true, permanently insuperable limits that we face are the laws of physics and logic.

The limit on energy use "will have been transcended" by the "shift to clean energy sources" without any logic as to how that shift will occur or any scrutiny of the laws of physics involved in constructing and operating "nuclear, wind, and solar" production of energy. It is perhaps unfair to compare Huber and Phillips to Proudhon. M. Proudhon didn't have the luxury of being informed by Marx's critique of his Promethean myth and he didn't invoke a "classical Marxist critique" as the foundation for his ludicruous fable. Huber and Phillips don't have that alibi.

Until now I have been pretty harsh on Huber and Phillips, aside from acknowledging at the outset some worthwhile criticisms of Saito and degrowth. To conclude, I should mention another part of the article I applaud. In a post on X [nee "tweet"], Matt Huber says that his favorite contribution to the article was the line, "Degrowthers consistently misdiagnose the core problem of capitalism as ‘growth’ when in fact it is the lack of social control over production and investment decisions." I agree 100% and cite Marx's almost identical statement from his Inaugural Address to the International Working Men's Association: "social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class." The first part of that sentence is also noteworthy, so I'll quote the whole passage:

This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labour raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.

Not only a practical success but the victory of a principle. Not to be overlooked is the context of that victory, the struggle over the restriction of the hours of labour.

Nearly two years later, in instructions to the delegates to the Internation, Marx wrote, paraphrasing English Factory Inspector, R. J. Saunders, "A preliminary condition, without which all further attempts at improvement and emancipation must prove abortive, is the limitation of the working day."

If there seems to be a common theme emerging here, consider Marx's argument from volume 3 of Capital that humans must "wrestle with nature to satisfy his wants... in all social formations and under all possible modes of production." Beyond this realm of physical necessity, though, "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. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite."The shortening of the working-day is a basic prerequisite for entering the true realm of freedom. The limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition for all further attempts at improvement and emancipation. The legal restriction of the hours of labour is the victory of the principle of social production controlled by social foresight. I wonder if there is somewhere that Marx explained the analysis behind these self-assured and consistent declarations? He did so in notebook VII of his 1857-58 manuscripts (Grundrisse, 1973, p. 708), which was a continuation and amplification of analysis he had begun in notebook IV (pp. 397-423):

The creation of a large quantity of disposable time... appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for a few. What capital adds is that it increases the surplus labour time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus labour time; since value directly its purpose, not use value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development. But its tendency always, on the one side, to create disposable time, on the other, to convert it into surplus labour. If it succeeds too well at the first, then it suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital. The more this contradiction develops, the more does it become evident that the growth of the forces of production can no longer be bound up with the appropriation of alien surplus labour, but that the mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labour. Once they have done so - and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence - then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.

I have bolded the words that appeared in English in Marx's original manuscript. Undoubtedly, the English words allude to the source of Marx's fascination with disposable time and its relationship to surplus value, the 1821 English pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties.The above passage is the culmination of an analysis that begins in notebook IV with a quotation from The Source and Remedy and concludes in notebook VII with another quotation from The Source and Remedy.

On page 398 of the Grundrisse, Marx stated, "The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time." He then commenced a discussion of "the development of the productive forces." On page 708, he echoed that statement about the development of wealth with the proclamation, "The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time."

Marx's repeated statements about the limitation of working time being a necessary condition for the realm of human freedom were not humane gesture or concessions to contemporary trade union struggles. They were integral to his critique of political economy and his analysis of capital. Both Saito and Huber and Phillips cite or paraphrase passages where Marx insisted on the reduction of working time but elide specifically that demand.

 

Monday, January 1, 2024

Lost in translation: Slow Down by Kohei Saito

Kohei Saito's "manifesto" of degrowth communism was BIG in Japan, selling half a million copies in the first year and a half after publication. It's debut in English is already tarnished, though, by a colossal, cringe-inducing Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion error that repeats throughout the book.

The formula for converting Celsius to Fahrenheit is: multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8 and add 32. The addition of 32 is to account for the fact that the freezing point of water is 0° in Celsius but 32° in Fahrenheit. However, when converting a temperature change, such as the IPCC's upper limit of 1.5° C above preindustrial global annual mean temperature, one doesn't add 32. 

In Slow Down, the 1.5°C limit is rendered as 34.7°F, suggesting that the IPCC thinks we would be O.K. with a global annual mean temperature of slightly above 91°F. My advice to the publisher would be to recall the current print run and pulp it.

Aside from that massive error, my main criticism of the book is Saito's creation of a "new Marx" by connecting a few scattered dots from Marx's post-Capital notebooks and a letter he wrote to the Russian activist, Vera Zasulach, shortly before his death. Integral to the construction of Saito's "Marxster" is the depiction of Marx's earlier works as "productivist." 

This depiction cedes ground to earlier environmentalist criticisms of Marx and to traditional Marxism as practiced in the Soviet Union but it begs the question of why anyone should care so much about what Marx may have thought late in his life. In Saito's case, it would appear he has a vision of what communism should be and he wants to invoke his creature's redeemed authority. This is unfortunate because the straw man, productivist Marx that Saito scorns actually articulated many of the points that Saito wants to make and did it better than either Saito or his connect-the-dots post-Marx Marx.

I have already covered some of this material in a previous post, "Growth below zero and the development of the productive forces." A couple of years ago I wrote a series on disposable time as a common-pool resource, which in my view is very relevant to the issues that Saito raises about growth, the commons, and a possible alternative the environmentally destructive imperatives of capital. An even earlier piece, from 2013, Income, GDP Growth and Double Counting touched on some salient criticisms of growth.