Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A Reply To Mike McNair Part II

Mike sets out the process whereby after the fall of Capitalism a process is set in place whereby the remaining petty producers – of which as set out in Part I he includes the owners of “intellectual property” – are absorbed into the proletariat as workers skills, and management advance. On this basis the workers need a State as means of coercion until this process is complete. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat is a Dictatorship over the State bureaucracy, and petty proprietors keeping both in check.

I think there are a number of things wrong with this formulation, but I don’t want to spend too much time on it. Firstly, as I said I think the term “intellectual property” is dangerous. The bourgeoisie in imparting blame to workers for their lack of a job, poor wages etc. frequently speak of the fact that it is the result of workers not investing in their own “human capital”, meaning they have not studied hard enough, trained or educated themselves. It is put on the same level as any other business that runs into problems because it has failed to invest. But, there is no such thing as “human capital”. There are workers who have greater skills than other workers, their labour is what Marx terms complex, rather than simple labour, but it remains Labour Power not Capital. The workers themselves as a result of their higher wages, their lifestyle etc. might be petty-bourgeois, but that is a function of those secondary features rather than their actual relationship to the means of production. There is more I’d like to say about that, but there are more significant issues I want to move on to.

The second thing I would say briefly is that in the concepts I have been developing following Marx as opposed to Lenin – the systematic development of Co-operatives within Capitalism – some of the issues raised here are already dealt with. In developing Co-operatives, workers here and now develop the skills of management etc. A look at what Marx and Engels said about the Lancashire textile co-operatives showed that not only were workers able to develop those skills, but they were able to bring back former owners as Managers on significantly reduced wages, and were able to control those managers. The Marxist view of socialist transformation has at its heart that development of those skills, alongside the development of the corresponding class consciousness, AND the corresponding democratic forms – not just in the factory, but in the community and society at large – which will be fundamental to the operation of socialism.

Yes, this still means that workers require a State, BUT as Marx points out in the “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, and Lenin accepted – in theory – in “State and Revolution”, this State is not like any other state, it is from the beginning a semi-state. Why, because the main function of this State is NOT the suppression of other classes, but effectively a means of administration, and a protection against foreign intervention. Because, the bourgeoisie will attempt to block by whatever means the peaceful transformation of society through the systematic extension of co-operative economy, workers will require a Workers party, will need to continue to engage in a class struggle against the bourgeoisie through the Trade Unions, and other Labour Movement bodies, with the Co-operatives being a necessary part of that struggle – as for example is the case now in Argentina – will have to confront, the bourgeoisie industrially, economically, politically and ideologically entering into combat with it even on its own ground of bourgeois democracy, but in addition the economic and social strength developed by the workers through ownership of their own means of production, the democratic and political forms developed by the workers in correspondence with that – which necessarily leads to the creation of workers parliaments or soviet type bodies – provides added strength to the workers class struggle, poses from the beginning an alternative to bourgeois democracy, and an alternative form of State. The need to put down the capitalists’ slave holders revolt will mean that a political revolution is necessary to consummate the social revolution that has occurred, and that political revolution effectively puts an end to bourgeois political rule, and to the bourgeois state, replacing it with the workers state that has already developed alongside it.

That couldn’t happen in Russia because the workers were a small minority, and lacked the necessary class consciousness. I doubt it could happen anywhere else because what is lacking is the latter, the necessary class consciousness. Look at Britain or any other country. Few workers even go to their TU meetings, few even socialists use the potential they have to vote and control the Co-op or other Co-operative and mutual organisations. As I have said in a different post, the consciousness to be really pissed off with capitalism due to some crisis, and to want to bring it down is not the same as a socialist working class consciousness that knows what it wants in its place, and is prepared to actually build it. Marx’s view of the development of Co-operatives, means that that kind of socialist transformation is possible ONLY when workers have that real socialist class consciousness – at least in their majority – when they are not only prepared to overthrow what exists, but are already actually owning and controlling enterprises, engaging fully in the process of building anew society.

But, on that basis the normal conception of the State is NOT necessary the workers as a matter of routine already fulfil those functions. The greater efficiency and power of the co-operative enterprises forces the petty proprietors into the background, forces them to either co-operate themselves, or to join forces with existing co-operatives. The direct democracy of the workers organised in large numbers, the co-operative ownership and management of estates and communities, means that attempts of petty producers or right-wing elements to organise against the co-operators is prevented from the beginning.

So the Dictatorship of the Proletariat is NOT a dictatorship over the bureaucracy because the bureaucracy itself, is already a fully integrated aspect of the proletariat its functions have already become routine for the proletariat in its development of an alternative method of production and distribution.

Mike’s argument here then holds sway ONLY if you view the process of transformation in traditional Leninist terms, whereby the proletarian social revolution is seen to occur AFTER the political revolution. The premise of that is that workers class consciousness can only become socialist on the basis of socialist property relations, and socialist property relations cannot arise piecemeal – because socialist property relations are seen as synonymous with state not co-operative property, and such state property could only be created by a reformist government dismantling capitalist property piecemeal – and so a political revolution is required first, which then transforms those property relations wholesale.

But, the problem with that is that it assumes a considerable amount of voluntarism. It assumes that those workers who today cannot be bothered to go to their TU meetings, who have been brought up on a diet of “leave it to someone else” will be transformed by the revolution. That is a big gamble that the facts do not seem to support. Look at the way French workers voted after May ’68. Take any big strike, the number of workers who remain politicised for any length of time afterwards is very small. Indeed, the evidence from Russia was that particularly after such a traumatic event, ordinary workers simply want to get back to work, and enjoy a peaceful life. That was the groundswell of opinion that made the turn to “Socialism in One Country” possible. So, the most likely consequence of a Leninist type political revolution is that ordinary workers will sink back quickly into their normal routine, will continue to seek the easy life, and the more organised – those in the Leninist Party, and those in the middle class whose life is built around a certain amount of self-sacrifice for personal advancement, are not shy to push themselves forwards – will be the ones who take up the positions, and will quickly arrange things to maintain themselves in them. That is what happened in Russia. If we look at all the Trotskyist organisations we see a similar thing, largely petty-bourgeois in composition, and with the same people dominating them for decades. It would be even more likely where such an organisation has the power of the State at its disposal.

“If Marxism is scientific socialism, we are bound to learn through trial and error modifying theoretical predictions. In the long historical perspective, therefore, the fall of the USSR is merely the failure of a state form which, though proletarian in its inception, proved insufficiently strongly tied to the proletariat to resist re-capture by the bourgeoisie. We do not abandon the project of the dictatorship of the proletariat (working class rule) but learn the lessons and go on.”


I agree, but we cannot continually experiment on the historical scale of the Russian revolution. To do so would be likely to exhaust the potential of the working class for struggle. We can, however, experiment here and now with different organisational forms, different political and democratic structures, which arise spontaneously, and in accordance with the economic base by developing Co-operatives, and Co-operative forms within workers communities, and analysing the way in which workers develop them arising from such organisations. Just look at the way Credit Unions have developed in many countries in working class communities to deal with the question of debt. Workers continue to respond spontaneously through this form to the economic problems that confront them. The biggest roadblock on the road to a stronger development in that direction has been the hostility of Leninists to such solutions as being utopian and reformist.

Go to Part III

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

(1) On skills and intellectual property rights. I do not think that the concept of "complex labour" as a way of addressing this question is useful.

(a) looked at from the point of view of output,

(i) a worker who lacks a skill who attempts to do a task which requires the skill will in general be not merely less productive, but fail to produce altogether (except in the context of training, which is the transmission of the skill from one to another). The skill therefore functions like a necessary tool.

(ii) in any case in any complex (internal) division of labour in a factory, etc., productivity is an attribute of the aggregate labourer, not of the individual labourer. The skilled toolmaker produces less concrete material output than the unskilled tool users. Value output is the output of the plant as a whole and the cooperative effort of its workforce.

(b) From the point of view of input, i.e. the cost of reproduction of labour power,

(i) From the point of view of the individual worker, the cost of acquiring the skill is a one-time cost, like the cost of buying a tool. Maintaining the skill has no cost, since it is merely maintained by exercising it. The cost of day-to-day reproduction of skilled LP is therefore identical to the cost of day-to-day reproduction of unskilled LP.

(ii) From the point of view of the employer, the cost of reproduction of skilled LP is the cost of the one-time training of skilled workers aggregated across the total number of skilled workers required. This may be (A) internalised through the employment of apprentices/ trainees, or (B) externalised on other employers if it is cheaper to pay a premium wage to entice away skilled workers than to emply trainees, or (C) externalised on the general taxpayer through the state education system. It is only in case (B) that value considerations affect the skilled worker wage.

Skilled worker differentials are therefore mainly a price, not a value, phenomenon. This price phenomenon reflects a rent element. The skilled worker is like a worker who brings to his work tools which he owns, which the capitalist is unable to expropriate or replace, so that the capitalist has to pay a rent for these tools above the normal wage.

I will post separately on the strategy of building cooperatives, as this is already long.

Mike

Anonymous said...

On the strategy of building cooperatives.

I agree that the working class building its own voluntary organisations within capitalism, including cooperatives, is the key to present-day strategy.

But I think the emphasis you place on cooperatives is one-sided. Your Marx quotes are extracted from context so as to bring the line closer to Proudhon and leave out *Marx's* constant emphasis on working class *political* action.

Cooperatives are *part* of building the working class movement, mass working class self-activity, self-education and collective democratic self-management, which has to march alongside trade unions, the party, etc - and, in fact, the workers' political party is the spinal core which can tie the various forms of voluntary organisation together as an alternative to capitalism.

Worker Cooperatives have become *less* prominent over the 20th century. This is only indirectly a product of statism. The underlying problem is that capitalist concentration increases entry barriers.

The Europe of Marx's day in which worker cooperatives were prominent was one in which *industry* was still predominantly composed of workplaces which had relatively low fixed capital and organic composition of capital. In this world, low-capitalised worker cooperatives were a plausible alternative. But there were no worker-cooperative railways or shipping lines; and the amount of fixed capital and organic composition of capital in modern industry, or, indeed, agriculture, is closer to that of the 19th century railways than that of the 19th century engineering industry or even parts of Sheffield steel production.

In this world, worker cooperatives are only likely to arise in relation to insolvent businesses. But these then experience more or less severe difficulties obtaining commercial credit.

It has to be added that in Britain and the US at least, company law - i.e. the regulatory intervention of the state - contains rules which are designed to *force* bureaucratic management of cooperatives and similar bodies. The EU is, I gather, contemplating legislation which will attack cooperatives as 'market-distorting'.

In other words, the central state power intervenes against worker self-activity. There is nothing new about this: the late feudal central state power intervened to 'regulate' capitalist enterprises, i.e. bring them within the state/ guild system, and to support manorial courts, etc; the late antique state intervened against proto-feudalism in the form of landlord private military forces and certain sorts of patron-client relations.

Just as trade unions need the support of a political party to back strikes with the solidarity of non-strikers, so cooperatives also need the support of a political party against the regulatory efforts of the state.

They also need the support of a political party (or a state, once the working class has taken political power) to deal with coordination problems: who will supply? to whom will the product be sold? and so on).

The economic historians and students of business practices are now clear that capitalist businesses do not function wholly in abstract arms-length impersonal 'markets' but also through networks of personal interactions, often involving relations of 'trust' in the economic sense. The belief that such relations belonged to the pre-modern past is now disproved: they continue to exist today.

In other words, the class solidarity of the capitalist class is part of the functionality of real existent capitalist business. A worker cooperative can only become part of thee networks of solidarity to the extent that its managers are specialist bureaucrat-managers who can participate in these networks as if they were businessmen (sic: there is continuing gender bias in these networks).

Decisions are, moreover, partially taken on a political basis. Carruthers, City of Capital (1999), establishes this for dealers in finance markets in the City of London in the 1690s-1700s; it is also clear from the detail history from the British side of issues about Russian credit transactions in the 1920s.

A mass workers' party can partially overcome this problem, to the extent that it becomes a political commitment to e.g. shop and bank at the Co-op (not that the Co-op can really be said to be the sort of thing Marx was talking about in relation to workers cooperatives) even though better deals are on offer elsewhere.

But a party of the Labour Party type, i.e. one which is tied to the existing state through willingness to form a government, won't do: it is necessary for the movement as a whole to think of itself as opposing the capitalist order as a whole and attempting to create an alternative, in order for it to support the mass culture which will support cooperative projects.

Mike

Anonymous said...

A final comment on this section of your reply. You write that:

"Mike's argument here then holds sway ONLY if you view the process of transformation in traditional Leninist terms, whereby the proletarian social revolution is seen to occur AFTER the political revolution."

In this formulation you follow Bakunin:

“All the German socialists believe that the political revolution must precede the Social Revolution. This is a fatal error. For any revolution made before a social revolution will necessarily be a bourgeois revolution - which can lead only to bourgeois socialism - a new, more efficient, more cleverly concealed form of the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie.”
(‘A critique of the German Social-democratic programme’ (c. 1870) http://libcom.org/library/a-critique-of-the-german-social-democratic-program-bakunin.)

Bakunin may, of course, be right ...

My understanding of this issue is somewhat different. It seems to me that there are two grounds in Marxism for supposing that the proletarian revolution is on the historical agenda. The first is that the bourgeoisie raises up its own gravedigger, the working class. In this context building the workers' movement - trade unions, cooperatives, political party, etc, within capitalism is the appropriate strategy.

Capitalism raises up the working class not merely by the extension of wage labour at the expense of small family production but also by the ability of workers to win improved wages and working conditions, free time, retirement pensions and so on though collective action; and through education and the mass market in culture, etc.

These have inter alia the effect that there is a tendency for the intellectual property which forms the basis of bureaucracy as well as of other skills to be socialised and devalorised. It is increasingly possible, though not yet wholly possible, for ordinary workers to walk into managerial and bureaucratic jobs and take over without further ado.

Hence, if in the 21st century (a) capitalism does not destroy the world through ecological crisis or nuclear war, and (b) the working class does not take over at the level of politics, there will be at some point be a new world hegemon replacing the US and a new cycle of material growth, like 1950-70, which will issue in a new and more powerful working class offensive round control issues, like 1965-75. If in the meantime we have built a mass movement which seeks to - as you correctly say - make the *masses* conscious, not just some 'vanguard', this will issue in the proletarian revolution as arising out of the advance of the working class as a class and nothing more.

However, the other ground in Marxism for supposing that proletarian revolution is on the historical agenda is that the forces of production escape the control of the capitalist class and turn into forces of destruction - visible generally in the poverty arising out of abundance of the down leg of business cycles.

Where these conditions become extreme, as in 1914-18 and 1939-45, for the working class to take political power is a matter of *self-defence* and not any sort of ultraleftist 'policy of the offensive'.

1917, in fact, I think is just such a case of self-defence. Faced with near-starvation, Petrograd workers took to the streets in February *against the war*. Until the Kornilov coup attempt, the Bolsheviks did not have a majority on their side: but the Pre-Parliament followed by Kornilov showed that Kerensky would be merely the antechamber to another rightist military coup, and therefore convinced a majority that it was necessary to take power.

In fact, under these conditions, working class class consciousness, self-activity and organisation massively and very rapidly advances. (True also elsewhere, including e.g. in Britain in 1939-45).

In Russia in 1917 the material conditions for workers' power did not exist: too many peasants, too large a skills shortage in the working class, underlying weakness of capitalist development, too much of a 'dependent' economy within the world-system (Kagarlitsky, Empire of the Periphery). In Europe as a whole, it is just about *possible* that they did exist.

But it is not a matter of *our* choice to "experiment on the historical scale of the Russian revolution". The experiment was forced on the working class by the acute crisis of the capitalist world order caused by the decay of the British world-hegemony.

Mike

Boffy said...

Mike,

On skills and property rights, I'm afraid I do not find your argument at all convincing.

1) I see nothing in the points you make that at all contradicts Marx's concept of complex labour.

2) Even unskilled workers/machine minders have to learn to some degree in order to produce.

3) This skill or knowl;edge is not at all the same as the possession of a tool or some other form of property. Let me give two obvious reasons why not:

a) a tool like any other form of property is transportable it can be sold as a commodity, handed down through inheritance, a skill or knowledge cannot.

b) a tool represents Constant Capital, a skill represents Variable Capital. A tool can merely pass on its Value to the end product whereas a skill creates new value. If you doubt that look at the enhanced value of gems after they have been cut by an expert jeweller, or look at the output Value of David Beckham as opposed to some Fourth Division slogger.

3) Your point ii) seems to contradict your argument. If productivity is an attribute of the aggregate labourer - and I would argue this is only partially true - then surely it makes no sense to talk about skills possessed by the individual worker as being individual property. Surely, on the basis of this argument you should speak of those skills being collective property of the aggregate worker.

4) I don't accept that the cost of acquiring skills is a one-off. You are an educationalist, do you never need to upgrade your skills? My father was an engineer he had to learn to use new types of machines etc. My Father in law was a Draughtsman and had to spend considerable time reading books on new techniques etc.

5)Even were we to accept that this cost is a one-off your argument fails. One of the arguments for students going to University is the fact that the skills acquired there will enable them to earn higher wages, but looked at from the point of the students the only reason to lay out the cost - both a real cost today in terms of student fees etc, and the Opportunity Cost of lost income etc. - is the fact that they will be able to recoup that cost. If that becomes clearly not the case then at least on economic grounds workers will not incur that cost and those skills will not be gained.

I agree that it is necessary to distinguish between this Value of Labour Power, and the Value of the output of this complex Labour. The former is an objectively determinable quantum, whereas as Marx sets out the latter can only be determined post factum via the value the market places on this output. There is, however, clearly a relationship between the two which materialises through the interaction of Supply and Demand. For instance, the Value of the Labour Power of an Economist and an Accountant may be identical. But if the market determines that the Value of the output of the Accountant is 1.5 times that of the Economist this will determine the market price of the output, and thereby will cause Capitalists to seek to lower Economists wages. But, the consequence of this is that fewer students will seek to become Economists in favour of becoming higher paid Accountants. Th supply of Economists will fall and Accountants rise bringing about a corresponding equalisation of wages.

6) I think your way of looking at this is dangerous for a socialist society. I raised this matter some time ago with martin Thomas who made something of a similar mistake. It is not the Day to Day cost of maintaining any particular Labour Power that is relevant, but the total cost spread over the working life. If you proceed on the basis of Day to Day cost you will grossly underestimate the cost of producing certain types of Labour Power, and a corresponding misallocation of resources will arise.

7)Your point ii) is also completely wrong. If the employer (A)internalises the cost then this cost is merely another aspect of the Variable Capital laid out to employ a particular type of skilled labour. It simply represents the employer in the here and now covering that cost as a separate payment from the wage as opposed to the worker bearing the cost and recovering it later in the form of higher wages. If (b)the employer pays a market rate to be able to employ already skilled workers this amrket rate of itself reflects the fact that the cost of producing this type of skileld labour is higher than for unskilled labour. Finally, in (C) where the State pays for the cost of training this accepts that such a cost DOES exist, and the State does not cover this cost with funds that it magics out of thin air. The State only spends funds taken from elsewhere in the economy. Ultimately, unless wages are depressed below Value the taxes raised by the State come out of Surplus value, and are merely one aspect of it alongside Profits, Rent, and Interest. In other words Capitalists collectively cover this cost, and in an Ideal model those capitalists which employ this Complex Labour make correspondingly higher profits as a result and pay correspondingly more in taxes.

Having said all that I would agree that for some types of Labour wage rates can be seen as largely a price rather than Value phenomena - for example David Beckham, pop stars etc. But does that mean that the skills they have are property? I don't think so for the reasons given above.

Boffy said...

Mike,

On Co-operatives I actually agree with pretty much everything you say in this reply.

1) Without going back and reading exactly what I said I can only say that if I did not make it adequately clear that the role of Co-operatives can ONLY be seen as part of an overall class struggle this was because of trying to achieve at least some degreeof brevity in the response. In pretty much every other posting I have made on the issue of Co-operatives over the last few years including those here I have stressed precisely that point, and the point that worker co-operatives were they to remain as indovidual enterprises would ecessarily fail and/or be transformed into straightforward Capitalist enterprises.

2)I do not wholly accept the Capital barier to entry argument. For two reasons: Firstly, as I have argued severl times workers pension funds represent soemthing like £500 billion or the capitalisation of more than hal of the FTSE 100. Were the Trade Unoins to lead a campaign to bring these funds alone under democratic management there is more than enough to buy up important sections of British industry. Were we to argue for the democratisation of the State pension scheme to have access to those funds, and to negotiate better Pension contributions from employers the resources available for workers would be very substantial. The same is true for most developed Capitalist states. Secondly, as I have argued in a number of places the nature of the most important sections of modern industry does not conform to Marx's argument about the concentration of Capital. The greater part of consumption is now on Leisure and Entertainment. Look at TV and film. The cost of Capital due to new technology has plummeted and the trend is to small independent producers - indeed the News now encourage viewers themselves to provide the news via their phone cameras etc. I saw some time ago that in California Porn Actors had created their own Co-operative both to control their work, ad to make sure they retained the profit from it. Porn is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in the US alone. Or take software production for many applications there is no great economies of scale,and in some ways small work teams can be more efficent. Virtually no Constant Capital is required only the variable Capital of the highly skilled workers. Again Linux was the product of a Co-operative venture.

On agriculture the Co-op is the biggest farmer in Britain.

3) I do agree and have made this point several times that if Co-operatives do what they need to do to be succesful - for instance by combining etc. - then the bouregois State will take action against them in the manner you describe e.g. using anti-monopoly legislation etc. That is why it is necessary to combine such action with other aspects of class struggle including the developmemnt of a Workers Party. It would be possible for example for opposition by the State to the combination of Co-operatives, to be met both by industrial action by workers in support of those Co-operatives, and by Political action by a Workers party in heir defence both through parliamentary and extra-parliamentary activity.

4)I do not agree with your argument about the need for a State to take over and co-ordinate the activities of Co-operatives. Workers in Co-operatives run businesses for themselves. Workers can combine their activities in a number of Co-operatives in exactly the same manner. They can even under Capitalism make voluntary agreements amongst themselves about what nd how much is to be supplied and at what prices. They can open the books to each other and share best practice. None of this requires the intervention of a State. At some point, however, the bouregoisie will respond to the workers growing power, the workers will need a State to put down the armed rebellion of the slave owners. At some further point it will be necessary for workers to hand over the deeds of collective property to that State, a State now not like any other and highkly circumscribed in its sphere of activity.

In short I see the role of a Workers State as being in the classical sense of putting down the slave holders revolt whereas the economic functions are merely administrative and continue for some considerable time to be administered by workers themselves through their own economic and community organisations. Political power flows from economic power. Workers should not cede that economic power to some State until such time that they can ensure that they have full political power and control of the State.

Anonymous said...

Arthur: 1) I see nothing in the points you make that at all contradicts Marx's concept of complex labour.

Mike: If I am correct, then the concept of ‘complex LP’ is (a) redundant (b) in the form stated (complex LP = simple LP * N, where N is some function either of added output or of added input) fails to be predictive.

Arthur: 2) Even unskilled workers/machine minders have to learn to some degree in order to produce.

Mike: True but wholly irrelevant. What is relevant is that they have to learn less, relative to the general knowledge of all members of society, in order to produce. This is a result of the tendency of capitalism to socialise skills, on the one hand by incorporating them in machines, and on the other hand by raising the general level of education etc.

Arthur: 3) This skill or knowledge is not at all the same as the possession of a tool or some other form of property. Let me give two obvious reasons why not:

a) a tool like any other form of property is transportable it can be sold as a commodity, handed down through inheritance, a skill or knowledge cannot.

Mike: False. (1) Skills are routinely transmitted through inheritance: this is a substantial part of what the family does and why it is an integral part of class orders. The phenomenon is reduced in capitalism relative to prior class orders (because capitalism tends to socialise the process through education, etc., but still persists. (2) Both the apprenticeship contract, and the education contract, are contracts for the sale of skills as IPRs. The fact that skills are incorporeals in no way prevents their sale. The fact that they share the general character of IPRs, i.e. that I can sell the commodity while retaining it myself, does not mean that they are not saleable.

Arthur: b) a tool represents Constant Capital, a skill represents Variable Capital. A tool can merely pass on its Value to the end product whereas a skill creates new value. If you doubt that look at the enhanced value of gems after they have been cut by an expert jeweller, or look at the output Value of David Beckham as opposed to some Fourth Division slogger.

Mike: The first sentence begs the question. Expert jeweller - this does not contradict the proposition that the skill of faceting is a tool and can in principle be replaced by a computer-controlled mechanical faceting tool. These produce less accurate cutting, but then it is also true that craftsman-produced furniture can be more accurate, and therefore more beautiful, than mechanically produced furniture. Beckham - this is at a very considerable distance from skills in the materially productive economy.

Arthur: 3) Your point ii) seems to contradict your argument. If productivity is an attribute of the aggregate labourer - and I would argue this is only partially true - then surely it makes no sense to talk about skills possessed by the individual worker as being individual property. Surely, on the basis of this argument you should speak of those skills being collective property of the aggregate worker.

Mike: Does not follow. Suppose, as was not uncommon in the 19th century and is not unknown today, production is fragmented into small parts whether under a putting-out system or a factory merely as a common space, and the tools used are owned by the individual worker. It is still the case that productivity can only be assessed over the aggregate output of the firm or factory, and this has no bearing on ownership. My point about aggregate productivity is directed against the idea that (complex LP = simple LP * N), above.

Arthur: 4) I don't accept that the cost of acquiring skills is a one-off. You are an educationalist, do you never need to upgrade your skills? My father was an engineer he had to learn to use new types of machines etc. My Father in law was a Draughtsman and had to spend considerable time reading books on new techniques etc.

Mike: Skills upgrading is acquisition of new skills, not maintenance of an existing skill. It flows from the tendency of capitalism to produce technical innovation, which means that skills tend to be devalorised, so that it becomes necessary to acquire new skills.

(My own work - teaching law and legal history - is even further from being productive labour than Beckham’s, since the universities are not profit-making institutions but live more or less entirely from redistributed profits. The core techniques of teaching law have been stable since the 14th century; the technique of lectures & tutorials leading to examinations used at my current workplace has been largely stable since the 19th century.)

Arthur: 5) Even were we to accept that this cost is a one-off your argument fails. One of the arguments for students going to University is the fact that the skills acquired there will enable them to earn higher wages, but looked at from the point of the students the only reason to lay out the cost - both a real cost today in terms of student fees etc, and the Opportunity Cost of lost income etc. - is the fact that they will be able to recoup that cost. If that becomes clearly not the case then at least on economic grounds workers will not incur that cost and those skills will not be gained.

I agree that it is necessary to distinguish between this Value of Labour Power, and the Value of the output of this complex Labour. The former is an objectively determinable quantum, whereas as Marx sets out the latter can only be determined post factum via the value the market places on this output. There is, however, clearly a relationship between the two which materialises through the interaction of Supply and Demand. For instance, the Value of the Labour Power of an Economist and an Accountant may be identical. But if the market determines that the Value of the output of the Accountant is 1.5 times that of the Economist this will determine the market price of the output, and thereby will cause Capitalists to seek to lower Economists wages. But, the consequence of this is that fewer students will seek to become Economists in favour of becoming higher paid Accountants. Th supply of Economists will fall and Accountants rise bringing about a corresponding equalisation of wages.

Mike: This ought to be the case if there were no constraints on the supply of skilled labour other than those given by demand for it. In fact, however, the skills are collective property in the hands of the group holding the skill, so far as it is able to organise itself as a group. This branch of the labour market is therefore oligopolistic or monopolistic. Thus, for only a single example, the Law Society and Bar consciously limit the number of training places in order to prevent ‘over-supply’ of lawyers. Similar practices are found in other fields. Even in the universities, we do not allow the supply of undergraduate places in particular subjects to rise to meet demand.

In addition, precisely because what the market tests in the formation of ex post values is the productivity of firms, which include a complex division of labour, the ‘real contribution’ of the particular skilled worker to value is not assessable. The skill premium on wages is thus almost entirely a matter of bargaining under (partial) monopoly conditions. Some element of the cost of production/ transmission of the skill enters into the underlying value of the skilled LP, but it is relatively marginal to the price effects.

Arthur: 6) I think your way of looking at this is dangerous for a socialist society. I raised this matter some time ago with martin Thomas who made something of a similar mistake. It is not the Day to Day cost of maintaining any particular Labour Power that is relevant, but the total cost spread over the working life. If you proceed on the basis of Day to Day cost you will grossly underestimate the cost of producing certain types of Labour Power, and a corresponding misallocation of resources will arise.

Mike: My reference to the day to day reproduction cost is merely concerned to emphasise that we have to aggregate over the whole working life, and that in this case the additional cost of reproducing the skill is a small proportion of the total reproduction cost of skilled labour, much the larger part of skill differentials being a price effect arising from collective monopoly of the skills (i.e. a technical rent).

In relation to “dangerous for a socialist society”, I agree with you entirely if what you mean by “a socialist society” is the dictatorship of the proletariat. Under the conditions we will probably inherit from capitalism, the division of labour (in the sense of long-term specialisation of function or specialisation on particular skills) persists, though the underlying tendency of capitalism itself is to socialise and devalorise particular skills and therefore undermine this. It is therefore necessary to pay skills premiums in order to motivate the acquisition of skills. But this is merely a special case of the more general point (on which, I think, we agree) that the dictatorship of the proletariat will not immediately dispense with the market.

I would add that just exactly how important the pay differentials are as motivation not entirely clear. Shortly before the time I worked at BL Cowley in the 70s, the local T&G had for 15 years been operating a ‘second to none’ policy, i.e. that if the skilled workers wanted differentials, they had to be differentials downwards from the rate paid to the line-workers. The factory did not suffer from a shortage of skilled workers as a result. In 1980 I was working at Metal Box Hackney as an ‘unskilled’ packer and moved onto a job as a ‘semi-skilled’ machine-minder: the pay improvement was marginal and was a marginal incentive compared to the improvement in the nature of the job.

In contrast, if what you mean by “a socialist society” is communism, I am with Marx and Engels (German Ideology, Critique of the Gotha Programme) in thinking that this involves overcoming the division of labour: i.e. the utility of specialist skills is transcended in favour of general transferable and problem-solving skills. I think that a tendency in this direction is already present in capitalism and will necessarily extend itself further in the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Arthur: 7) Your point ii) is also completely wrong. If the employer (A)internalises the cost then this cost is merely another aspect of the Variable Capital laid out to employ a particular type of skilled labour. It simply represents the employer in the here and now covering that cost as a separate payment from the wage as opposed to the worker bearing the cost and recovering it later in the form of higher wages. If (b)the employer pays a market rate to be able to employ already skilled workers this amrket rate of itself reflects the fact that the cost of producing this type of skileld labour is higher than for unskilled labour. Finally, in (C) where the State pays for the cost of training this accepts that such a cost DOES exist, and the State does not cover this cost with funds that it magics out of thin air. The State only spends funds taken from elsewhere in the economy. Ultimately, unless wages are depressed below Value the taxes raised by the State come out of Surplus value, and are merely one aspect of it alongside Profits, Rent, and Interest. In other words Capitalists collectively cover this cost, and in an Ideal model those capitalists which employ this Complex Labour make correspondingly higher profits as a result and pay correspondingly more in taxes.

Mike: My point is entirely that (complex LP = simple LP * N) is redundant and unpredictive. The cost borne by aggregate capital, redistributed through any of (A)-(C), is the working-life cost of reproducing the aggregate skilled labourer and this is a low proportion of the working-life cost of reproduction of LP and does not explain more than a small part of the skill premium on wages.

Arthur: Having said all that I would agree that for some types of Labour wage rates can be seen as largely a price rather than Value phenomena - for example David Beckham, pop stars etc. But does that mean that the skills they have are property? I don't think so for the reasons given above.

Mike: See above. More generally, I take it that your concern over this issue is to avoid what you see as Martin Thomas’s error, or perhaps some sort of fetishism of unskilled and semi-skilled workers as the only ‘real proletarians’. I don’t share this view.

But I do think, with Hal Draper (KMTR ii, The Politics of Social Classes) that social classes very substantially overlap with one another, and in this context the proletariat overlaps with the small proprietors (clearest in various aspects of the building trade, where people can move from wage-work to independent business and back again dependent on economic conditions.

In this context, understanding skills and information as de facto IPRs is in my view important to understanding the - blindingly obvious - phenomenon of the existence of micro-labour bureaucracies in small far left groups. I think it is also superior to the idea of complex LP in explaining the actual dynamics of markets in skilled labour under capitalism.

Boffy said...

“In this formulation you follow Bakunin:”.

No I don’t. Bakunin, as your quote shows argued that any such revolution would be bourgeois. I do not deny the proletarian nature of the Bolshevik Revolution any more than I deny the Bourgeois nature of Cromwell’s Revolution. The class nature of the revolution is determined by the classes fighting it, and the political aims of those leading it. What I deny is that any political revolution that takes place prior to the necessary social revolution can be durable. That was true of Cromwell’s Revolution, of the Peasant War in Germany, of the Great French Revolution, of the revolutions of 1848, of the Bolshevik revolution, and every other subsequent proletarian revolution or transformation. But, it is particularly the case in relation to the proletarian revolution for the reasons I have previously outlined. The creation of a socialist society requires that the vast mass of the working class engage in the active running of society. I simply do not believe that the consciousness that leads to such a situation arises overnight as the result of a political revolution. It probably requires decades of actual ownership and control of the means of production, and other aspects of daily life for that to become entrenched. Long before that had happened a privileged bureaucracy would have developed fulfilling that function, and would use its position to entrench itself, would discourage workers from taking an active part prior to actually preventing them from doing so.

“My understanding of this issue is somewhat different. It seems to me that there are two grounds in Marxism for supposing that the proletarian revolution is on the historical agenda. The first is that the bourgeoisie raises up its own gravedigger, the working class. In this context building the workers' movement - trade unions, cooperatives, political party, etc, within capitalism is the appropriate strategy.”

I agree, but this begs the question of what this revolution is. If it is the Leninist concept of a Political Revolution it is either very mechanical or else it is utopian. If what you mean is that Capitalism necessarily drives workers to overthrow Capitalism and replace it with socialism then it is mechanical. There is no such necessary development. It requires workers to develop the necessary consciousness of what Socialism is, and a desire to bring it about. If on the other hand you mean that yes, that is necessary so it is required that we develop the Trade Unions etc. to engage in “class struggle”, and that in the process we will educate workers about what Socialism is, and they will then agree with us and overthrow Capitalism, take over the means of production etc. then I think this is hopelessly Utopian, and unMarxist. It is precisely the recognition of the fact that its impossible to win over the Majority of workers to a full socialist class consciousness by such means that led Lenin to develop his ideas of the revolutionary party and the Vanguard as the means by which to carry through the revolution.

“Capitalism raises up the working class not merely by the extension of wage labour at the expense of small family production but also by the ability of workers to win improved wages and working conditions, free time, retirement pensions and so on though collective action; and through education and the mass market in culture, etc.”

Actually, Marx argues that workers do not win improved working conditions and pay through collective action other than in the very short term. Rather the improvement of wages etc. is part of what he calls in the Grundrisse, “The civilising mission of Capitalism”, it is a necessary corollary of the development of the productive forces, and the need of Capital to sell an increasing range of Use values to workers who make up the bulk of consumers. It is, however, as you say, and as Marx sets out in the Grundrisse the basis for workers to acquire the necessary levels of education and culture, to become the new ruling class. The two things together show the fallacy of the “immiseration” theories supported even by many Trotskyists, and the continued definition of the working class as a slave class in modern society.

“These have inter alia the effect that there is a tendency for the intellectual property which forms the basis of bureaucracy as well as of other skills to be socialised and devalorised. It is increasingly possible, though not yet wholly possible, for ordinary workers to walk into managerial and bureaucratic jobs and take over without further ado.”

I would argue that those doing most of these jobs already are workers.

“Hence, if in the 21st century (a) capitalism does not destroy the world through ecological crisis or nuclear war, and (b) the working class does not take over at the level of politics, there will be at some point be a new world hegemon replacing the US and a new cycle of material growth, like 1950-70, which will issue in a new and more powerful working class offensive round control issues, like 1965-75.”

Or not. The end of the 19th century, which I would argue the current period parallels saw the decline of Britain as world hegemon – which rather like the last period ensured a period of relative peace during most of the 19th century – did not see the rise of a new hegemon, but of a number of competing powers – France, Germany, Britain, US, and indeed its this fact that leads to WWI and II. I would argue the current period is a mirror of that, and we are already a third of the way through the period of boom, which is why we are seeing increasing worker combativity around the globe. But, I disagree that these struggles are about control or that they were in the 1960’s. They are purely Economistic, which is why in such periods the political trends that gain are those of reformism and syndicalism. I think it is a big mistake to see industrial struggles as class struggles. Largely they are not unless they reach the level of General Strikes. They are partial struggles, sectional struggles waged solely on the grounds of bourgeois not socialist ideology – in fact quite clearly so in many ways because who loses out often during industrial disputes it is other workers. Only for example, during the May Events of ’68 where workers DID raise the issue of control, did ensure that production went to ensure that hospitals and homes had power etc. do such struggles transcend pure bourgeois limits.

“If in the meantime we have built a mass movement which seeks to - as you correctly say - make the *masses* conscious, not just some 'vanguard', this will issue in the proletarian revolution as arising out of the advance of the working class as a class and nothing more.”

But, what I deny is that such a mass movement can be simply built on the basis of ideological struggle, or even Trade Union struggle. It may well be possible to build a mass movement against the iniquities of Capitalism, but that is not the same as a movement FOR socialism in the true meaning of the term. I am sure its possible to build a mass movement for reforms of Capitalism for better wages, better conditions, a bit more welfarism, a bit more state control but that is not socialism. I see no evidence as yet that any vast number of workers could even be won to the idea of a large extension of State control – which in my mind is actually a good thing – let alone any recognition that they could run such a society rather than as now leaving it to be run by just another better set of politicians and enterprise managers. As I said before it was not the repeated clashes of peasants against Landlords that led to the replacement of Feudalism with Capitalism it was the development of Capitalist relations of production. It will not be repeated clashes of workers against Capitalists each time temporarily raising the class consciousness of a few which will bring about the necessary transformation of workers ideas, and of society it will be the extension of Co-operative relations of production and Co-operative forms within the existing society, and the ideological struggles around there extension etc. which will do that.

“Where these conditions become extreme, as in 1914-18 and 1939-45, for the working class to take political power is a matter of *self-defence* and not any sort of ultraleftist 'policy of the offensive'.”

I agree, and I have argued previously that I understand entirely the reasons why the Bolsheviks felt they had to do what they did, and I would have supported them at the time. I merely point out that such ventures are doomed to failure, and cannot form the basis of creating a socialist society.

“In fact, under these conditions, working class class consciousness, self-activity and organisation massively and very rapidly advances. (True also elsewhere, including e.g. in Britain in 1939-45).”

Self-activity certainly increases, but do you really believe that class consciousness advances rapidly too? I seriously doubt it. Workers in Russia in 1917 massively supported the Mensheviks. Their horizon was still firmly fixed within bourgeois limits. Had the Mensheviks and SR’s been a bit more politically savvy, had the young Russian bourgeoisie had the nouse of say the British then the provisional Government would have done what many other Social Democratic governments have done in the past, what FDR did in the US. They would have sued for peace, they would have agreed to the 8 hour day etc., and the workers and peasants would have continued to support them, and bit by bit the bourgeoisie would have clawed it all back apart from the necessary land reforms to weaken the power of the Landlords. A rapid development of class consciousness? No, simply a recognition that the only people offering to even fight for their demands that remained entirely within the confines of bourgeois society were the Bolsheviks. Britain in 1945 is an even clearer example of that.

“In Europe as a whole, it is just about *possible* that they did exist.”

But it is not sufficient that the necessary forces of production exist, it is that the development of those forces of production has led to new relations of production on which arise new dominant social classes, and new dominant ideas. Here socialist revolution is different to some degree from the rise of feudalism or Capitalism. Under feudalism and Capitalism it is easy to see how individuals acting out of self-interest decide to acquire property as a means of acquiring wealth and power, though I am sure that for a long time even potential Capitalists felt more secure remaining within the confines of the Guild System – which is probably why the Capitalists tended to develop from outside it. It is not at all obvious for individuals fed on a diet of individualism to break out of that idea to accept the idea of establishing co-operative enterprises etc. Even winning individuals to collective Trade Union action is no easy matter or even to persuade them to set aside their individual interest and join a Trade Union. It does happen, and there are more Co-operatives than one might at first think, but like most things in relation to the working class it requires organisation and leadership. The reality is that ever since the death of Engels not only has the Marxist movement NOT argued in favour of the development of Co-operatives it has often actively argued against it. The Second International having adopted a perspective of Socialism from above via Parliamentary Reform was not going to advocate Co-operatives whose entire logic contradicts such a philosophy both because they rely on direct workers self-activity, and because they transfer the locus of activity to extra-parliamentary channels, whilst the Bolsheviks adopting large swathes of that statist approach simply lumped the development of Co-operatives within capitalist society in with its criticism of all forms of reform short of revolution. Most Marxists today, simply focus on Marx’s attack on the Owenites and Utopian Socialists, and decry Co-operatives as Utopian or Proudhonist disregarding the central role within the overall class struggle that both Marx and Engels gave to them. It is no wonder that there has been little development of the Marxist idea of Worker Co-operatives, when the Marxists themselves decry the idea, and when the reformists see only a need for them as some kind of sop for workers facing redundancy.

“But it is not a matter of *our* choice to "experiment on the historical scale of the Russian revolution". The experiment was forced on the working class by the acute crisis of the capitalist world order caused by the decay of the British world-hegemony.”

I agree, and other such situations may well be forced upon us. I have no problem in such situations supporting the revolutionaries, whilst recognising the likely outcome. But, the point is that here in Britain and elsewhere we do have other alternatives, we do not have to have situations forced upon us. It is possible to argue for and organise around a Programme of developing the working class as a more powerful social class, a class which owns and controls its own means of production through Co-operative enterprise, and in so doing reduces the likelihood that its actions are the product of external circumstance rather than conscious design.

Boffy said...

A Reply To Mike McNair on Intellectual Property

“True but wholly irrelevant. What is relevant is that they have to learn less, relative to the general knowledge of all members of society, in order to produce.”

Not at all irrelevant. If the only differentiation is on the amount of learning required then all Labour Power becomes nothing more than more or less valuable property capable of obtaining a greater or smaller Rent. The consequence of that is to abolish Marx’s definition of labour power as a Commodity, and to remove the vital distinction between Labour and Labour Power a consequence that your further argumentation also leads to.

“(1) Skills are routinely transmitted through inheritance: this is a substantial part of what the family does and why it is an integral part of class orders.”

How, when? Picasso could pass down his brushes and easel to his descendants, he certainly could not pass down his unique skill in using them!!!! My Father could not pass down to me his skill as an engineer. Picasso could use his skill to teach others to paint, but he could not give his skill away or sell it. If I own a car and sell it I no longer possess the car, if I use my skill in some field to teach someone else to develop that skill that does not leave me bereft of that skill, I have not sold or transferred that property. And those who might have been taught to paint by Picasso themselves have to expend some cost if only in time, time which could have been used earning from some other use of their Labour Power. From the perspective of society, which is the only perspective the cost of producing any commodity, including Labour power, that is relevant, the use of Picasso’s time teaching rather than painting is also a cost. We arrive back at having to define what that cost is by viewing his Labour power not as some simple Labour, but as something more valuable than that – complex Labour.

In fact, skill is no more separable from the individual worker than is Labour Power itself. If we introduce the idea that this skill is a property and can be bought and sold in the same way as any other form of property then we undermine the concept of Labour Power as separate from Labour. The only way that Picasso’s skill could be bought is if the human being within which that skill resided could be bought, because it is impossible to separate the two. We turn Picasso into a slave.

“Both the apprenticeship contract, and the education contract, are contracts for the sale of skills as IPRs. The fact that skills are incorporeals in no way prevents their sale. The fact that they share the general character of IPRs, i.e. that I can sell the commodity while retaining it myself, does not mean that they are not saleable.”

There is a considerable difference. Firstly, not everything that is saleable possesses Exchange Value. Land has no exchange value, but is saleable and has a market price. I believe that Intellectual Property Rights are of a similar nature and the price derives from a Monopoly ownership. But, an apprenticeship contract or education contract is not of this order. The teacher or Master does not say to the apprentice I have this skill and I will sell it to you – for the reasons I have given above it is impossible for him to do so – what he sells is his labour time for a specific period during which he transfers not his skill to the apprentice/student but the output from that labour-power in the form of an educational learning experience. That is completely different from the sale of IPR’s through which the purchaser does get to actual use for themselves the Intellectual Property itself, and not merely the product of it. In fact, this can be understood if you think about it. Suppose Picasso offered you a year’s tuition. How much would you be prepared to pay for that tuition? I guess that depends partly on how rich you are, how good a painter you are/think you could become etc. Whatever, I suggest that the figure would be considerably less than if you actually did purchase the use of Picasso’s skill itself for a year during which time instead of teaching you he painted a masterpiece.

“The first sentence begs the question. Expert jeweller - this does not contradict the proposition that the skill of faceting is a tool and can in principle be replaced by a computer-controlled mechanical faceting tool. These produce less accurate cutting, but then it is also true that craftsman-produced furniture can be more accurate, and therefore more beautiful, than mechanically produced furniture.”

This seems to accept the point I am making! All labour-power can be replaced by machinery this does not make all labour power simply a tool. The proof of the nature of the skilled Labour Power as Variable as opposed to Constant Capital is the Rate of profit derived. If the skill component of the Labour Power expended is really no different from being a tool then it would have to be accounted for as Constant Capital. This in itself poses a problem. Constant Capital in the form of tools, machinery etc. corrodes, its Value is used up. Skills rather tend to improve with use. But as Constant Capital this has consequences for the Organic Composition of Capital, and the Rate of Profit. But, there is lots of evidence that firms that employ mainly skilled labour also enjoy correspondingly higher surplus value. The reason for that is simple although the Labour Power employed is paid a higher wage than that for unskilled Labour the amount of time that Labour is employed is the equivalent of multiples of the time employed by simple Labour. A simple example.

1) A firm employs Constant Capital 100, Variable Capital 200, and has a 100% Rate of Surplus Value = 200, Total Value = 500, Rate of Profit = 40%.

Now assume we account for the skill as a tool and part of Constant Capital let us say this skill is the equivalent of 100. We then have:

2) C = 200, V = 100, S = 100, Total Value of product 400, Rate of profit 25%.

Finally, let us treat the skill as a tool owned by the worker for which he is paid a rent of 100.

3) C=200, V=200, S=100, Total Value = 500, Rate of Profit = 20%.

In this last example S is only 100 because it can only be calculated on the Labour Power component of V and not on the total 200, which includes the payment of 100 as rent for use of the skill. If this is thought about logically it is entirely possible to envisage many situations in which highly skilled Labour Power in being paid a rent for skills would lead to situations in which it is impossible to make any reasonable profits of enterprise, because the Surplus value could only derive from the value of the simple labour Component of Variable Capital, and would be swamped by the rental payment required by the skilled Labour Power! I would suggest that the evidence is that enterprises that employ highly skilled labour, also make large profits despite the high wages paid to the skilled labour, they do so because the Surplus Value is created by the whole of the Labour Power as Complex Labour, and it is this fact that gives the end product its relatively higher value.

“Beckham - this is at a very considerable distance from skills in the materially productive economy.”

And your point is? Marx uses examples of actors and theatres in defining productive labour. The Capital employed by a Theatre owner laid out as C in the form of buildings, costumes etc,, and as V in wages to the Actors is just as much productive Capital as are looms and weavers, the Surplus Value produced by the Actors as a result of their output sold to consumers just as much a part of the process of reproduction and expansion of Capital. Football clubs, and footballers are merely one type of modern day equivalent. Moreover, it is you that is basing your argument on the uncorporeal IPR’s.

On the upgrading of skills etc. I disagree, but this is not particularly relevant to the discussion so I won’t pursue it.

“This branch of the labour market is therefore oligopolistic or monopolistic. Thus, for only a single example, the Law Society and Bar consciously limit the number of training places in order to prevent ‘over-supply’ of lawyers. Similar practices are found in other fields. Even in the universities, we do not allow the supply of undergraduate places in particular subjects to rise to meet demand.”

But, this objection would fall if measures were introduced which removed that condition of oligopoly/monopoly. In fact in recent years Alan Greenspan in Congressional Testimony has argued that the gap between skilled and unskilled wages in America is too great because skilled wages are too high – in which he includes Administrative/lower managerial positions. His argument – improve education and skills training in order to increase the supply of skilled workers.

“Some element of the cost of production/ transmission of the skill enters into the underlying value of the skilled LP, but it is relatively marginal to the price effects.”

I think its true that its difficult to isolate what is Value and what is price i.e. what is a consequence of Demand and Supply. That does not change the underlying function of Value.

I do mean the D of P, and yes I believe that the D of P cannot abolish the market quickly. I do believe, however, that the greater the role of Co-operatives prior to the revolution, the greater the degree to which these Co-operatives are able to integrate their activities, the sooner the market will be replaced, because the overall groundwork of developing a decentralised planning framework will already be in place.

I also think that were Co-operatives developed on a large scale then the issue of differentials would in large part already be addressed. It is certainly the case that Co-operatives can and do reduce Management costs considerably.
“Mike: My point is entirely that (complex LP = simple LP * N) is redundant and unpredictive. The cost borne by aggregate capital, redistributed through any of (A)-(C), is the working-life cost of reproducing the aggregate skilled labourer and this is a low proportion of the working-life cost of reproduction of LP and does not explain more than a small part of the skill premium on wages.”

I think it is very difficult to make this assessment because all wages as prices differ from wages as exchange Values as do all other prices of every other commodity. Additionally, many other factors in relation to the things you have referred to such as restrictive entry mean that wages as prices cannot at all be related to the Exchange Value of labour power in any meaningful way. But, by the same token the prices of commodities sold by monopolistic firms can be discussed in the same way. Does this invalidate the underlying understanding we have of how the Capitalist Economy works as exposed through the Labour Theory of value? In my opinion absolutely not. A short time ago there were teachers becoming plumbers because the wages were higher as plumbers. Was this because the cost of acquiring the skill of a plumber was greater than the cost of acquiring teaching skills? No. Was it a sign that plumbers had skills that constituted Property for which they could charge a rent? No, it merely represented the fact that there was a higher demand than available supply of plumbers forcing up wages/charges, a situation remedied by importing Polish plumbers.

“Mike: See above. More generally, I take it that your concern over this issue is to avoid what you see as Martin Thomas’s error, or perhaps some sort of fetishism of unskilled and semi-skilled workers as the only ‘real proletarians’. I don’t share this view.”

1) If you measure the labour-time of Brain-surgeons as having the same value as that of a machine minder then you will find few people under the D of P will choose to become brain surgeons. Moreover, as it costs far more social labour-time to produce a brain surgeon than it does a machine minder then charging for the product of the brain surgeon at the same rate as the output of the machine minder will mean that insufficient resources are accumulated in the necessary fund to train brain surgeons. Such a society will on two counts then produce too few brain surgeons and too many machine minders.

2) I think the left does have some kind of fetishism for unskilled workers as being true proletarians, worse I think its acceptance of immiseration theories means that it has retained a concept of the working class which is out of date, and its propaganda and programme is directed accordingly towards a small section of the class which conforms to its description. It transfers a large part of the working class effectively into the middle class, and alienates it as a consequence – taxation policy is a good example.

“But I do think, with Hal Draper (KMTR ii, The Politics of Social Classes) that social classes very substantially overlap with one another, and in this context the proletariat overlaps with the small proprietors (clearest in various aspects of the building trade, where people can move from wage-work to independent business and back again dependent on economic conditions.”

I think most theories of class are inadequate. Marx himself had considerable difficulty with the concept. I think the concept implied in your comment above is far too determinist. It is I think necessary to view matters more in line with Engels letter to Bloch. That is a concept in which what we have is a mass of individuals with competing individual interests and wills, but which form agglomerations of interest some more permanent than others, some more homogenous than others. Classes then are such an agglomeration based on shared economic, social and political interest.

“In this context, understanding skills and information as de facto IPRs is in my view important to understanding the - blindingly obvious - phenomenon of the existence of micro-labour bureaucracies in small far left groups. I think it is also superior to the idea of complex LP in explaining the actual dynamics of markets in skilled labour under capitalism.”

I don’t see what skilled Labour has to do with the development of bureaucratic leadership of microsects or any other organisation. I think the dynamics of markets for skilled labour under Capitalism are in fact best understood simply in terms of the interaction of Supply and Demand in the short run. In the long run Capital will only pay the cost of production for any particular type of labour, because workers even skilled workers in the long run can exercise no effective monopoly for skilled labour any more than for any other type of Labour e.g. the Polish plumbers.

My objection is not because of my fears of the error of Martin Thomas, or of some fetishisation of unskilled workers. My objection is that I believe your position is just wrong.

Boffy said...

Two further points.

1) Further on the Picasso example. He might have great skill as a painter but crap skills as a teacher. I am crap at woodwork, but I could probably teach it, because I'm trained as a teacher, and although I am crap at the practical application I have a good understanding of the theory.

2)On IPR's. When they are sold the owner does not retain them undiminished. If I am a writer I can sell my book at a higher price to a single Publisher than to several. If I produce a Computer programme that effectively predicts race horse winners I can get more for it by selling it on a restricted basis than if I sell it to everyone, because with each sale its retained value is reduced.

Boffy said...

A Philosophical Note Re. Property.

Property can only exist as a thing alienated from the force which created it. For example Land is created by the force of nature. As Land it is not property but simply Land and an integral part of Nature. Only when it is alienated from Nature can it become Property in the form of owned Land. As simply land it has no Exchange Value only Use value. It cannot be bought or sold though as Rousseau points out it can be claimed and fought over. Only human intervention and the creation of Law that asserts the Right to ownership can create it as Property that can be bought and sold or transferred.

The same is actually true of Intellectual property. I have the power (skill) to think. But the ideas I produce are not the equivalent of this power they are its product. Only at the point that I take one of these ideas and alienate it from me, by writing it down for example, does it become property that can be bought sold or transferred. But, at no point does or can my power, (skill) to think become alienated from me. The only way that power can be bought, sold or transferred is if I myself am bought, sold or transferred, and even then it depends upon my consent to allow someone else to access that skill. Which is why slavery, serfdom and other such methods of production that rely on unfreedom are inefficient.

Boffy said...

Addenda to the Economic Example above.

It could be argued that the higher rate of profit derived is a result of the transformation into prices, the share of a large Capital being greater than that of a smaller Capital. This objection can eb overcome. The average rate of profit applies over industries not between firms in the same industry, which maker greater or lesser profits depending upon their efficency etc.

Compare then the example once more of a football club. Football clubs in the Premier League can be seen to have players with far higher skills than those of a Third Division club. If your argument were correct then the players in the Premier League would receive a very high rental payment for their skill, whereas the Surplus Value would arise only on the Value of Labour Power, which would be the same as that for a player in the Third Division. We would see then Premier league clubs making only the same amount of Surplus Value as Third Division clubs, whilst setting out more money in Capital, bcause in addition to paying the Wage to cover the cost of the Labour Power, they would pay a high rental also to the player for their skill!

Yet, in reality Premier League clubs make - usually - large profits, and a higher rate of profit, whereas lower division clubs struggle to survive.

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