The New Deal: DeLong Smackdown Watch
Could This Be True?

Your One-Stop Shop for Historical Materialism Blogging

A comment informs me that Duncan Foley is on the loose, complaining among other things that Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program is too friendly to capitalism, that Marx is too fuzzy in his thought, and as a result Foley thinks Marx's vision of communism is "unintegrated" and Foley is "uncertain" what Marx thinks of the social division of labor.

Here's Foley:

Radical Notes - The Meaning of Adam's Fallacy: An Interview with Duncan K Foley: Marx had a lively sense of the damage capitalist institutions can do to human personality and the potential for human development.... [But] I am not convinced that Marx completely integrated this vision into his... socialist alternatives.... [In] Marx's [Critique of the Gotha Program]... [w]orkers receive compensation in proportion to the labor time they expend, but after the "deduction" of funds for social purposes... [This] look[s] more like capitalism, than, say, traditional agricultural society. Marx may have acknowledged this contradiction in separating the concept of "socialism" as a transitional system from "communism" as a somewhat utopian vision....

This leaves us uncertain as to Marx's attitude toward the division of labor. Does he think socialism or communism can sustain a complex division of labor without the deleterious effects capitalist social relations have on human relations and personality? Or does he believe that society can somehow do without the division of labor altogether, or that it can be sustained by some kind of conscious central direction?

This makes me despair. Somebody has to put their foot down here and defend Marx, and that foot is me.

Marx can be mightily obscure. But not in Gotha. There he is clear as a bell. What Marx thought about these issues when he wrote Gotha is not hard to puzzle out. He doesn't leave unybody uncertain. This is what he thinks:

  • Yes, after the revolution there will still be a lot of capitalist-looking features to the economy, but they are regrettable consequences of the new society's being "still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges"; and they are temporary.
  • Yes, but in the new society the division of labor will not be humanity's destructive master, but rather humanity's servant.
  • No, the new society will be rich enough that nobody will think that efficiency requires that anybody will be turned into a full-time cog in a big machine.
  • No, the new society will be rich enough for us to ultimately get rid of all of the bad habits inherited from capitalism. Ultimately we shall advance beyond the narrow horizon of bourgeois ideas of "rights" and inscribe on our banners: "from each according to her ability; to each according to his needs!"

Here's German Charlie: What we have to deal with here is a communist society... as it emerges from capitalist society... still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society -- after the deductions have been made -- exactly what he gives to it.... [T]he same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities [under capitalism].... The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time.... This equal right [in the first phase of communist society] is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right....

[T]hese defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

And Foley speaking of Marx's "somewhat utopian vision" of full communism. Somewhat. That's like calling Wal-Mart somewhat profit-seeking, or Dick Cheney somewhat warlike, or Osama bin Laden somewhat murderous.

If you had asked Marx in his old age how this utopian future he foresaw would work, really, on the ground, in detail, he would have answered that he did not know--and that nobody should expect him to know. Would it have been fair to ask a twelfth-century peasant or knight to lay out how the twenty-first century social division of labor that we have functioned and regulated itself? The questions a twelfth-century peasant would have asked about twenty-first century economics institutions would have been things like:

  • Who will be my master?
  • On whose demesne will I work, and for how long each week?
  • How will land be redivided in the village if I have three sons who survive to adulthood?
  • Will my master have the High Justice, or just the Middle and the Low?

The questions a twelfth-century knight would have asked about twenty-first century military institutions would have been things like:

  • What share if a typical lord's mesnie will be made up of household knights, and what share of sub-tenants?
  • How will bailiffs be selected for manors and other honours that the lord has retained and not granted in sub-fief?
  • Will auxilliary troops--bowmen, spearmen, et cetera--be primarily mercenaries or primarily members of knights' households?
  • Will the Truce of God cover just Sundays alone, or extend from Sunday to Wednesday?
  • The crossbow: overrated toy or dangerous menace?
  • Will there be a place for light cavalry on the twenty-first century battlefield?

Marx would say that we can take a look at the line showing the progress of human wealth and liberty from ancient to feudal to capitalist modes of production, extend it, and be confident that in our communist future people will be astonishingly rich and astonishingly free. But he would also say that the questions we formulate today about the full communist future are as silly and as missing-the-point as the questions of the twelfth century peasant and knight are about our social arrangements.