MARX ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PRODUCTIVE FORCES
There has been so much written on environmentalism vs 'Brown
Marxism' that I would like to stick to just one issue, for clarity's sake, and that is
Marx's view of the development of the productive forces. I don't say that this ought in
any way be decisive for our attitude today, but it does seem to me undeniable that Marx
favoured the extension of the productive forces, and that his critique of Capital is
precisely that it fails to develop them beyond a certain point.
This is of course a theme in Marx's writing since he wrote the Communist Manifesto at age 28. There he argues that, like feudalism before it, capitalism has become a fetter on the further development of the productive forces: 'The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to the further development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered' (p40, Peking ed). 'And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? ... by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces' (ibid).
It has often been argued that this early counterposition of forces and relations of production is naive on Marx's part, that he recognised and dispensed with it. But in fact this theme is consistent throughout Marx' work.
The development of the productive forces is the means by which the realm of human freedom is enlarged, as the realm of necessity, of human labour is reduced to a minimum. In the rough draft for Capital, the Gurndrisse, Marx wrote:
'Real economy - saving - consists of the saving of labour time (minimum (and minimisation) of production costs; but this saving identical with development of productive force. Hence in no way _abstinence from consumption_, but rather the development of the power, of capabilities of production, and hence of the capabilities as well as the means of consumption.' 711
In Capital Volume one, Marx is scathing about the barriers to mechanisation that arise from Capital's undervaluation of labour power. He points out that as long as labour is paid less than the value it creates that will make the introduction of technology less attractive than the use of cheap labour. 'Hence nowhere do we find a more shameful squandering of human labour-power for the most despicable purposes that in England, the land of machinery' (p372)
And in the penultimate chapter Marx reprises the 'naive' formulations of the Manifesto: 'The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder' (p715)
(I think it must have been written as the final chapter, it being clearly the climax of the work, and the bit on Wakefield added as an afterthought)
Marx continues in this vein in volume three, published by Engels after Marx' death. In a discussion of Ricardo and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, he makes this telling point:
'Development of the productive forces of social labour is the historic task and justification of capital. This is just the way that it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production.'
Marx continues that the falling rate of profit is only an indicator that capitalist social relations are historically redundant because they have become a barrier to the further development of social productivity.
'It comes to the surface here in a purely economic way - ie from the bourgeois point of view ... - that it has its barrier, that it [Capital] is relative, that it is not an absolute, but only a historical mode of production corresponding to a definite limited epoch in the development of the material requirements of production.' P259
Now, I must admit that I had thought that this was all ABC to socialists, but I guess that the disorienting effect of the current period are profound...
James H reprises some of Marx's more "productivist" statements about how capitalism fetters the productive forces after it develops them and how one great advantage of socialism is that it will unfetter them and develop these forces more effectively than capitalism.
I do not know if Marx's views about fettering can be sustained. The theory must be a comparative one. We can say that feudalism fettered the productive forces in comparison to capitalism. Allowing free alienability of land and labor power certainly opened up incentives to investment, and market mechanisms provided an incentive to technological development that was largely lacking in feudalism. The results are around us.
But does capitalism fetter the development of the productive forces in comparison to socialism? This is not clear. If socialism lacks markets, the question is, what's the incentive to innovate? If you say, well, the workers in power will want to work less and will develop technology to lighten their labor, there's also the countervailing point that planning tends to block innovation because innovation is unanticipated and disruptive. Planners, even the workers in power, will face a choice of tearing up the plan or rejecting the innovation. This will create incentives not to innovate.
If socialism has markets, they will be of a different sort. If workers in a market socialism manage their own enterprises, these will tend to be slow-growth because labor is not a cost--Labor "costs" are worker profit shares. Such firms will grow only to the point of economies of scale and will not take on new workers beyond the point at which that reduces the per capita share of those in the enterprise.
The point is that on either plausible alternative view of socialism, the dynamic mechanisms which promote technical development and increased production in capitalism are apparently lacking. GA Cohen and others who have thought about this have had to reconstruct the remarks about fettering to mean something other than increased technical development under socialism. Cohen thinks it will mean increased free time, but not a higher level of material production.
James H reprises his point about it being selfish and narrow to talk about the problems of increased production when so many people lack the necessities that production would bring them. It seems to me that he is being, pardon my saying so, undialectical: that's one side to increased production. The other is ecological damage, pollution, and using up nonrenewable resources. It would also be undialectical to emphasize those aspects exclusively. What we obviously need is a kind of increased production different from what we have that will be less wasteful and ecologically harmful. I cannot imagine that any socialist seriously disagrees with this proposition. Now, what kind of increased production is that and how do we change (a) capitalism and (b) socialism to get it? That is what we in America call the $64,000 question, for reasons I do not know.
1. There is no doubt about it, Marx's ideas about fettering cannot be sustained. That is why for the most part he did not hold those views.
2. If one is going to argue with "marxism" on this point, elementary scholarly honesty would compel one to acknowledge the existence of major marxist thinkers who deny this productivist form of marxism, one being Ellen Meiksins Wood. I am finding it increasingly difficult to argue with those (marxists or anti-marxists) who do not even acknowledge, probably have not even read, her *Democracy Against Capitalism* and the series of articles preceding and following it which buttress its political implications.
Regarding the discussion of the fettering metaphor below:
I think the fettering metaphor works and is used by Marx in The Manifesto. Recall that PRODUCTION includes production proper and circulation , so to the extent new markets are discussed in the Manifesto that includes production and productive forces. But Marx and Engels , I believe, also mention production proper and the forces of production proper - simple cooperation, manufactory and then industrial production - as forces of production , and the first two were in the overlap period between capitalist prevalence and feudalist prevalence. Feudalist relations of production were fetters on the forces of production which were the organization of production as cooperation and manufactory. Notice Marx and Engels say the bourgeoisie are constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, which is developing the forces of production. But of course they are saying that these revolutions occur all within the capitalist mode without mechanically, technologically transforming to the socialist mode of production. So this is a complex theory of the relation between the change in forces of production and the change in the relations of production they propose. Objectively, for them capitalist relations of production have long been a fetter on the forces of production created by these nonetheless revolutions in the forces of production. The objective contradiction is overripe. It is subjective initiative that has failed.
Charles says objects to my argument against the proposition that for Marx production cannot include circulation because SV is produced only in production and circulated in circulation. He alludes to the fact that the subtitle of Capital 3 is "the process of capitalist production as a whole." Of course this is Engels' subtitled on his edited version of Marx's very rough notes, which is what C 3 and to a lesser extent C2 really is. I think it is not a good subtitle, as it doesn't describe the contents of C3. What C3 is not a study of the process of capitalist production as a whole, but several studies of how various sectors of the ruling class distribute the various subcategories of SV, with treatments of particular issues like the rate of profit, especially the supposed tendency of same to fall, interest being capital, rent, and so forth. It doesn't address production at all, bur presupposes it.
I had an off-line exchange with Mark Jones who showed me that I may have been unclear in explaining the notion that for the purposes of fettering Marx treats the productive forces as socially neutral. The idea is that he must abstract from class in talking about how the productive forces determine the class relations, because if he doesn't we get the circular idea that the class relations determine themselves. But this doesn't mean that technology is socially neutral and classless for Marx, on the contrary. It's just that for the purpose of explaining the fettering condition as an objective condition of revolutionary change, he abstracts for class. In other contexts, for example in discussing the real subsumption of labor to capital, he properly insists that the form technology takes is class-loaded. This, however, does not bear on fettering.
I think there is more to the unfettering argument than Justin does. Leaving aside the historical questions of whether and how correctly Marx posed the question of "unfettering" in the transitions from feudalism to capitalism and from capitalism to socialism, both because I haven't read some of the books people think one has to have read and because they lead into other complex directions [for example, Justin's argument about trade is based on a narrow definition by Marx of "production" which I personally think he was wrong about], I think that, nevertheless, in today's world the relations of production clearly DO fetter production, and the capitalists almost know it and say it themselves.
I am referring to the whole Deming/Juran/etc. literature on Total Quality Management/Continuous Quality Improvement. These ideas achieved almost social-movement status in the management field in the 1980's and early 1990's, particularly in the healthcare field, where they were seen as the key to cost-cutting. They were supposed to be the key to the economic miracle of Japan. However, they have largely been abandoned in the 1990's, for the simple reason that their application is incompatible with capitalist relations of production.
There are two strands in the CQI/TQM literature which are in some tension with each other. People are probably most familiar with the strand that involves reduction of variation, use of measurable outcomes, etc., which if taken one-sidedly (as it almost always is) leads to a sort of hyper-Taylorism with the idea of cutting jobs. However, the other strand involves cooperation, planning innovation, team rewards rather than individual rewards, mutual trust, sharing of data, involving the user in the design of the product, and so on. This strand is socialist in its applicability and its implications. The data is supposedly out there which proves that the approach of cooperation rather than competitiveness improves productivity on the level of the enterprise. The implication is quite obvious that it would do this even better on the level of the social system. In the pursuit of profit, the capitalists have fostered the development of a body of management science which has disproved all their hype about the benefits of competition and the market.
In the firm where I am employed, we had a TQM effort which ran for several years but which has mostly run aground. I am looking at a relic of this effort, a workbook put out by Joiner Associates Inc. The firm paid thousands of dollars for these workbooks and the accompanying videos. Here is an outline of the principles of "Fourth Generation Management", according to Joiner, and the Deming and Juran stuff is pretty much equivalent. There are three principles and some subprinciples:
A. Quality - Develop a passion for delighting customers - Develop a passion for eliminating waste
B. Scientific Approach - Use data to speed up learning and development - Develop process and system thinking - Optimize the system as a whole - Learn to hear the signal through its noise - variation
C. All One Team - Treat everyone as if we are all in the same boat together - Practice win-win - Believe in people - Focus on releasing people's intrinsic motivation
A, B, and C are supposed to be mutually interdependent. Watching the video on the "All One Team" concept was a strange experience. There was a playlet in which the workers have come up with a process improvement, and now the boss comes in and lays off one of them. This is portrayed as a completely self-defeating thing to do, because it utterly sabotages the desire of the workers to improve production. I am sitting there saying: But of course the boss will do it ANYWAY. And they HAVE done it anyway, in Japan now and wherever else this has been applied, and so of course TQM doesn't work under capitalism. But if there were not class antagonisms involved, the system would be a virtual blueprint for organizing production, which, btw, would also speak to Justin's objections about "what will promote innovation, if not greed for markets?"
In my firm's TQM effort, the different divisions were supposed to watch the videos together, both management and staff, and then discuss them. The discussion of the "All One Team" module was SO bizarre. The topics included "mutual trust". My boss says, "We have mutual trust in our division, don't you think?" This is the guy who framed a close co-worker of mine and fired him a week before Christmas, not six months before the date of this conversation. "Sure we do," I say. But then we get to the parts about how workers shouldn't be laid off for improving production, and how bonuses for individual high performance are counterproductive, and how intrinsic motives work better than material rewards, etc., and my boss says, "This sounds like Communism to me!" I swear to God.
So of course TQM went bust at our firm and everywhere else, because it really DOES depend on that kind of cooperation and worker initiative, which cannot, however, be fostered in class society.
TQM technology cannot even be applied on the level of the individual enterprise, because of the class relations. But the "fettering" goes even further than that. If competition AMONG workers in a division, competition AMONG divisions of a firm, etc., impairs the process of production, creates waste, and has no countervailing benefits, then it is obvious that competition AMONG FIRMS is an even greater "fetter" and cannot have any countervailing benefits either. Yet I wonder how many people have drawn the clearly communist implications from what was one of the dominant paradigms in management science for several years very recently?
I think that Louis Paulsen has hit upon an important area where it does make sense to say that capitalist relations do fetter production, the fettering of labor as a force of production. Paulsen hit upon one important aspect of
this in his description of Total Quality Management/Continuous Quality Improvement techniques which in practice proved incompatible with capitalist relations of production despite their effectiveness. Another way in which capitalist relations of production can be said to fetter labor as a force of production is in the tendency of capitalist labor markets to underinvest in human capital. Indeed, in recent years this issue has become a concern of bourgeois economists who have sought to develop policies that would overcome the disincentives inherent in capitalist labor markets that discourage corporations from investing in training and education for their employees.
I have noticed this from my own personal experience. I have just recently completed a training course in C++/Windows software development. In my class there were some COBOL programmers and people with other types of programming experiences. One might think that these peoples's employers would have been willing to pay for this training (which would update their skills in software) but one would be wrong. In every case in my class these people were paying for their training out of their own pockets. Most of them had to leave their previous jobs to get this training which would presumably make them more productive. Probably one reason that employers are unwilling to invest in such training is the fear that retrained employees will leave in pursuit of better salaries elsewhere. Therefore, the employer will not be able to recoup the investment made in retraining. Thus, the normal functioning of the capitalist labor market can be seen as fettering labor as a productive force despite the fact that such development is in the interests of capital.