Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Marx And Commentators On Marx On The Justice Of Capitalism (Part 1 Of 3)

One might read Marx as suggesting workers deserve what they produce. And that capitalists get a return to their capital because they unjustly take some of what the workers make. Marx says, according to this reading, that things will be different after the revolution. Workers will get all that they make.

This series of posts documents that this reading of Marx as engaged in unambiguous and wholehearted bourgeois moralizing is contradicted by the readings of a wide range of Marxist writers. Notice that the writers I choose are not from just one tendency or one time period in Marxism. I quote first from Marx, and then, in reverse chronological order, from various Marxists. In The Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx explicitly argues against arguing for communism on the basis of the unfairness or fairness of distribution:
"What is 'a fair distribution'?

Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is 'fair'? And is it not, in fact, the only 'fair' distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones? Have not also the socialist sectarians the most varied notions about 'fair' distribution?" -- Karl Marx (1970b)
Furthermore, in Capital, Marx argues that rights are respected in the market for labour-power:
"This sphere,...within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all." -- Karl Marx (1965, Chapter VI)
This last quote from Marx has less to do with justice or fairness. Nevertheless, I suspect some may be surprised to see that Marx agrees that market transactions are made to the mutual advantage of both sides engaged in the transaction:
"So far as regards use-values, it is clear that both parties may gain some advantage. Both part with goods that, as use-values, are of no service to them, and receive others that they can make use of. And there may also be a further gain. A, who sells wine and buys corn, possibly produces more wine, with given labour time than farmer B could, and B, on the other hand, more corn than wine-grower A could. A, therefore, may get, for the same exchange value, more corn, and B more wine, than each would respectively get without any exchange by producing his own corn and wine. With reference, therefore, to use-value, there is good ground for saying that 'exchange is a transaction by which both sides gain.'" -- Karl Marx (1965, Chapter V)
  • Marx, Karl (1965). Capital, V. 1, Moscow: Progress Publishers
  • Marx, Karl (1970b). Critique of the Gotha Programme, Moscow: Progress Publishers

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