Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wobbly times number 174






AUTUMNAL REFLECTIONS



Nakedness is good, but as we get older, we appreciate more clothing.... for ourselves anyway.



Disturbing the constant noise of industry via overflying jets. Our electric lives will be much quieter, not to mention cleaner.  Just think of the air you’re breathing.  When will this environmentally benign future become the norm?


My glasses are showing spots.  Must clean them.  That’s one thing I have power to accomplish. Yeah sure, we recycle the tissue used in the ‘yellow bin’.  We also flush the toilet.  Well, some of the tissue gets recycled.  What happens to the sewage?  Make it into drinking water?


Meanwhile, the jet fuel trails spread tiny, tiny droplets on the lawns and roofs of ‘our’ part of town. Gravitation’s like that.  


I sit on the back veranda.The voices from over the taller-than-I-am fence are mostly not in English. The family next door has young children.  The tone is gentle from ‘over there’, except that day when I heard the monologue of a phone call.  The man was expressing his anger at being called something he didn't like and being threatened.  He was irate.  But that whole conversation only lasted a couple of minutes. Other than that, the family sounds from next door are quite happy, especially issuing out of their child and her friends.

The autumn breeze blows from the south.  Temperatures are again warm, not scorching.  It’s March 20th, the equinox as I write this paragraph. The sound of a stick being used to hit a rock comes from over the fence separating me from my neighbour. The tiny lizards are no longer present in number. The sandgroper has stopped ‘singing’ in that darkly insistent cicada way. Our backyard sandgroper sang every hot summer evening ‘round 7:30 and he didn't charge a cent; just sang away into the night blackened sky, undercover of the vegetation.




Maybe, it's better to be undercover for awhile, especially when you're attracting attention. Then again, maybe being undercover is part of the reason why there are so very few sandgropers, at least around where I live. A lot of fossil fuel being burnt in these parts and that means 'modern man' worming his way into ever greater expanses, filling up terra nullus with the stench of private property without constructing the necessary infrastructure to promote sustainability.  


I'm told capitalist women amount to a handful of that class and there are certainly very few landlords amongst them. Negative gearing gives them hope though. Of course, this situation will have to be remedied. Glass ceilings will need smashing! Then, after a period of time, the equality under the law, which we all (NB: privilege i.e. men) seek, shall be theirs as well. Bourgeois democracy will be in full bloom.


And now, on to more important things like whether you've been able to shit today or how clean the clothes look, blowing around on the line in the Sun. But, you're dominated. You know that when most of your time awake is devoted to serving someone else's needs, that's servitude. Of course, you do this within monogamous family couplings when you care for children. All fine and dandy, although I think there are better ways to organise the caring act of child rearing so that less time would be needed to be taken out of the parents lives. None of that will happen until we gain control of what we produce. All of which brings us back to the question of time domination and how that is related to freedom.





So, off we go, like knights errant, into the world to set things right. Our nobility shines so brightly that we don't need armour. Is the old "Onward Christian Soldiers" hymn roiling around our my mind?


Whew!

Not me. I'm a realist so, I don't do anything other than to think about doing things. The thought of attending some mass event of the masses in some ways makes me feel tired. Tired of the endless complaining about the lack of left-liberal heft in the government programs due, of course, to a perceived lack of morality amongst some policy makers. Ditto, foreign policy. Tired of holding those damn signs while singing 'follow the leader' chants: "They say cut back/We say fight back!" or another of my really old favourites, "Prisons are concentration camps for the poor!"...with emphasis on the 'fight' in the first chant and pretty much the word 'prisons' shouted most loudly in the second.  


But, at the end of the day what happens? Bed and another day of normality, however normality is constituted for you at this moment in the historical continuum. One has paid for one's sins--fifty amp fuses have been blown. Forgiveness is forthcoming. Time to blow some gauge. Onward to the next demonstration and, the one after that, while in between going to work, playing cog in the soft machine. 


Well, you have to "play your role" now, don't you. No question. Otherwise, you're liable to fall off the rails and we wouldn't want that to happen now, would we?


Where are we going on these rails? It might be a good idea to ask that question every once in a while, as that journey eats up so much of our time. What is the 'good life' other than time well spent?  


"Trained free!" to the tune of "Born Free" bounces 'round my mind.


And so it goes. Another day and night of cookie cutter-like sameness. Our choices have been made in advance by people we don't know, who are basically only in it for the money and the political power over us which goes with it. They now only need advertising time from us in one way shape or form--pour those ads into our eyes and ears, direct connections to the mind. Yes, market share, that's what IT'S all about.


Well, that and family, of course. Caring is so often missing outside and all too often, inside the family. Well, caring deeply, let's say. Caring whether the relative lives or dies for example is sure sign of familial caring. The first rung, really. The top rung, of course, would be to live within a loving family, for caring is actually quite important in terms of well-being, not only of the individual; but the social i.e. between individuals, which create what I conceptualise as 'social relations'. The more caring spreads, the better, the healthier society will become. But not the false caring of buying stuff to satisfy our commercially induced wants.


Alas, in this day and age, the family structure itself is becoming problematic in terms of well being in general and particular. As more individuals have time to become aware of the dangers in terms of their future abilities to exercise freedom, the more wariness grows in terms of the monogamous family structure both before and after marriage. Thus, the marriages become more shallow, brittle and short. 


Still, the societal imperative remains : Meaning in life is defined as 'raising children well'. A good goal, to be sure; but one which is increasingly fraught with difficulties rooted in the very social psychological character structure we are told from the year of our birth to accept: The prime directive of that character structure is for the individual to lose sovereignty to the social relational power structure which exists between masters and servants. The French have this saying, "To understand all is to forgive all."


Ok. So, how does this come about? Well, our social relations, the way in which we interact with each other are profoundly determined by how much power each individual has. The question is: Where does this power emanate from?


In the beginning (currently being pegged at 195,000 years ago), whenever that was for the human race, we had a lot of sex.  It was a survival adaptation which we had used with great success.  It must be remembered that the human race/homo sapiens nearly became extinct more than once; the last time being from 70,000 years ago to about 18,000 years ago when the great ice age ended.  We didn't have to wait around for some annual hormonal signal which told us it was time to reproduce, as our animal kingdom cousins, the gorillas did.  No, sexually, we were closer to our other cousins, the bononbos. In the process, we'd gone beyond that fetter on reproduction.  We reproduced during the entire year in any month we lived as adults.  Saved us as a species. Nature was a dangerous place to live in during the palaeolithic age. And after all, self preservation is the main drive amongst living things, plants and animals alike.  Our near constant sexual desire combined with our superior ability to reason make us the dominant species on the planet today.  And yet, nowadays and really, since the advent of private property and class domination, we fight our sexuality everyday using our reason. Makes us a bit neurotic and may lead to stimulating more acute mental problems.  


You see, our reason is tied psychologically to what Freud called our superego. And our superego is formed by the mores within the cultures we are brought up in and those cultures are all dominated by the social relations of unequal power amongst individuals.  All power between individuals is political by definition. 




I currently speculate that the roots of the whole imbalance in political power between the genders are to be found in the revelations which would have become conscious amongst humans as they first engaged in animal husbandry, which I'm pretty sure occurred in time before the advent of agriculture circa 10,000 B.C.  My hypothesis is that for what seemed an  eternity to homo sapiens, it seemed that children, the lifeblood of the clan, came from women.  Men had no role in this miracle. Women gave birth. And they gave birth to children who resembled clan members. Our extended family's survival depended on women.  The mystery and power of women were worshipped.  




And then came the knowledge of how to domesticate some of the wild animals existing around us in nature. Granted, some spots on our planet didn't have animals which could be domesticated. The same went for agriculture e.g. wheat, rye and oats weren't to be found just anywhere on Earth. However, a very large part of our developing knowledge of animal husbandry would have involved KNOWING that without males, no females would give birth.  I think that knowledge would have been a real, shall we say, scientific revelation to men and women.  Traditional matriarchal religions, based on the notion that women were the saviours of the clan or tribe, would have begun a slow decay and eventual collapse in their importance to the human mind after the advent of our discovery that animal husbandry was a possible survival strategy beyond mere hunting and gathering. But, how would this knowledge develop in terms of social relations and how would that tendency be strengthened with the advent of the discovery of agriculture as another science of our survival?  

I think that the combined developing, scientific knowledge concerning sex/gender and reproduction played into the reorganisation of human society on the basis of property ownership. This really took hold after a long transition going from about 8,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C. in the Middle East. Debt, caused by farming failures of one sort or another, led to domination of one person over another. The seeds of the social revolution from classless tribalism to class domination is firmly based on the appropriation of the product produced by through collective labour time of the producers be they the debt slaves of 3,000 B.C., the serfs of feudal times or contemporary wage-slaves.  Thus, the political State is born, the governing engine of class rule, the rule of the appropriators of the collective product of social labour time.  

The smell of cloves is in the air.  Someone is smoking clove cigarettes over the fence. A woman's voice, probably speaking on the phone as I hear nobody else. English is not being spoken.  

Why do Australian sports' stars have to wear uniforms adorned with capitalist ads? American sports' stars are not forced into this ignominy.  Check it out.  It's 2014.  Who's ahead in the game?  Could it be that Australians are even more sold on commodification than Americans are?  No, I doubt it.  It's just that the emphases are different within each class dominated capitalist oriented culture.

Imagine a culture where the commodity was not king.  Even better, imagine how sports or any other endeavour could manifest itself without the buying and selling of commodities being associated with it, a culture built around the principle of social and individual need.  A culture where team players weren't traded like commodities in the marketplace; but were just attached to their teams through loyalty. 

Our first task as we imagine such a place would have to be to define our social needs.  What are they?  Well, we need food, shelter and well, why reinvent the wheel?  Let's just use Maslow's old hierarchy of needs.



                                                                      


Let's look at the basic needs at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid.  Breathing, for instance. How do we fulfil this social need?  Well, it would seem that we do so by providing air.  But, we don't provide air.  Air is a given of nature.  What we do to the air is another matter.  If we introduce toxic pollutants into the air, it becomes unbreathable. So, according to the principle of providing air as a social need (as opposed to commodifying it for sale in a society based on buying and selling), as a rule of thumb, we do not put toxic pollutants into our air. Right now, we can't decide to do this because we don't have control over the introduction of toxic pollutants into the air.  The State does; but the State is class ruled and the class which rules has a lot of toxic which we help produce in exchange for the wages we need to make a living. These commodities are sold and go into the air. And the commodities to be sold grow and 'growth is the ideology of the cancer cell' and capitalism and its apologists worship cancer. Thus, the Earth has cancer and that cancer is a system which must be uprooted.


However in a commodity free society, a society based on the principle of producing wealth merely for use and need, we democratically decide that we need to breath non-toxic air. After all, we are born with a drive to survive so it all fits.  Will we recognise that our survival depends on realising this in the practice of our daily life?

What about those commodities though?  Didn't they fulfil some human need?  Otherwise, how could they even be marketed?

Let's take coal, for instance.  Coal fulfils human needs by providing us with energy to heat our homes and power our electricity producing plants.  Of course, there are other needs it fills; but let's focus on those two.  

We can break them down into two questions: 1. Can we heat our homes without coal in some other manner i.e. do we need coal to produce what we need, energy? 2. Can we produce electricity without using coal?

The answer to both questions is obviously, yes.  But that yes must be filled in with content. And the content is found within the sorts of means of producing electricity and heat. What other means of producing electricity and heat do we have at our disposal, ones which do not put toxic substances into the air or indeed the environment as a whole?  

And so the public discussion begins, a discussion which can only have a limited effect in the society based on buying and selling commodities.  Why?  Because that society will become class dominated as it was beginning to be in 3,000 B.C. and is now, under the rule of Capital, and the interests of society as a whole will not be given as much political weight within the State as those of the people who own lion's share of the wealth being produced, some of which is tied up in the production and sale of coal.  

Let's say we decide democratically to produce our heat and energy using wind and solar power. Next, we have to determine whether we have the resources and know-how to carry out such a transformation. In the meantime, we'll have information about how much energy we can use over the transition and adjust our need accordingly. Next, we have to determine whether the negative effects of using wind and solar can be dealt with without harming our general needs.  


See. It's easy. So, why aren't we doing it?

Our immersion in social relations of power is the short answer: power which is mostly over us, gets into our minds and produces a sense of 'norm'. We adapt to our cultures and our cultures are all based on dominance and submission by us to our masters within the totality of societal dynamics. This totality is composed of the family, the workplace and the laws of the State. And so totality goes, until the system breaks down. In the final analysis, the reason why we're not changing the mode of production is bound up with the conservative impulse tied to survival summed up through shallow, commodified reason by that old aphorism: "If it's not broke, don't fix it."




Monday, January 13, 2014

Wobbly times number 173

a speech given by Karl Marx to citizen members of the International Workingmen's Association in September, 1865


By way of introduction, I think I should provide a bit of the historical context in which this speech/debate took place.  The links above and below in blue will take you to original documentation.

 The Minute Book of the General Council of the International Workingmen's Association
on August 1, 1865.

When Marx is addressing Citizen Weston and his arguments in this speech, he is also making a critique of Ferdinand Lassalle's theories which were having a great influence in some circles of the workers' movement. Lasalle accepted the idea, first posited by the classical economist David Ricardo, that wage rates in the long run tended towards the minimum level necessary to sustain the life of the worker and to provide for his reproduction. In accord with what he called, "The Iron Law of Wages", Lassalle argued that individual measures of self-help by wage workers, such as strikes and organisation into unions, were destined to failure and that only producers' cooperatives established with the financial aid of the political State would make economic improvement of the workers' lives possible. From this, it followed that the political action of the workers to capture State power was paramount and the organization of trade unions to struggle for ephemeral wage improvements was more or less a diversion from the primary struggle.

As I give voice to Karl's speech to workers (aka 'citizens') organised in the International Workingmen's Association, you will hear Citizen Weston's name mentioned quite a bit, especially in the first few segments. Weston's arguments were influenced by Lasalle's theory that there is an 'iron law of wages' to wit: that the amount workers can get from the economic pie is fixed and that the class struggle over that pie in terms of improving wages and working conditions is  futile. All of Weston's arguments are still being promoted today and are still being accepted by most workers as 'commonsense' e.g. that high wages cause high prices etc.

"Value, Price and Profit" remains the best introduction to Karl Marx's CAPITAL that you'll ever find.  Listen to what Marx had to say here and you will have a head start on grasping his critique of political-economy in CAPITAL volumes I-III and THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE which form what might be called the fourth volume of CAPITAL. Read "Value, Price and Profit" again, after having read CAPITAL and you will truly appreciate what a brilliant speech it  was and how relevant the topics Marx addressed are to the economic and political issues being spoken about and debated today.  You will also discover a Marx most on the left and right have never heard of, a Marx focussed on the primary issue facing workers, their self-emancipation from the wage system, a feat which cannot be accomplished other than through workers themselves becoming class conscious enough to grasp just how enslaved they are.  And now, on to the "Value, Price and Profit", which I have divided into 19 eight or so minute segments.











Monday, December 16, 2013

Wobbly times number 172

"THE RULING CLASS"

In honour of Peter O'Toole who died on this December day in 2013 at the age of 81 after a long life of joie de vivre and being an irreverent imp.






"Many years ago I had a beloved leather jacket... and I never 
wanted to throw it away. I sent it to the cleaners because it 
was covered in blood  and Guinness and scotch and Corn 
Flakes, the usual. It went off to the Sycamore Cleaners and 
it came back with a thing pinned on it: 'It  distresses us to
 return work which is not perfect' - so I want that on my
 tombstone."  Peter O'Toole

Friday, November 8, 2013

Wobbly times number 171




  • WHICH CLASS ARE YOU IN?



    There are four, possibly five basic classes in modernised industrial societies:  

    The biggest, most numerous class in modernity is the working class. The working class and their dependents make up about 90% of the population in industrialised States. These people are defined by their need to sell their labour power to an employer, including the political State, in order to make a living. They cannot make a living from merely using their savings or what they own in terms of land or capital. Most of the time the working class possesses only one commodity they can use to make a living: They MUST market their skills to employers for a price in order to buy the necessities of life, in exchange for which, their employers become entitled to the product of labour.

  • Second, you have those people who have a skill but who sell directly to a customer unmediated by an employer e.g. a doctor could do this or a tailor or a prostitute. This is the class of independent professionals. They make up about 2% of the classes engaged in wealth production/appropriation. Co-operatives based on the sale of goods or services where the sale of the product of co-operative labour is divided more or less equally amongst its producers, fall into this class. Of course doctors, tailors and prostitutes and so on e.g. 'sole traders', could also be caught up in wage labour like workers. Sometimes, they move back and forth between classes. The class they're in depends on whether they sell the product of their labour, their goods or services, directly to a customer or whether they're employed by a pimp or a capitalist for a sum of money and this employer keeps the lion's share of the sale of the good or service they to the consumer/customer. For instance, in many countries, some doctors are paid a salary by the State to service clinics and hospitals. Many other examples could be given, including most obviously, other employees of the State.
    Third, there are the landlords. The landlord class is made up of people who own land or buildings and rent them and/or sell the properties they own in order to make their living--about 2% of the population.
    Lastly, we have the capitalists. The capitalist class owns the product of labour (the goods and/or services) which they receive ownership of in exchange for buying their employees' labour power for its market price--wages. This is as true for capitalists engaged in officially recognised criminal business practices as it is for capitalists engaged in legal forms of exploitation. The capitalists market the product of labour and realise profits. That's how they obtain the wealth they need to live. They keep and sell the product of labour. The capitalist class makes up about 3% of the population of industrialised States.
    Much talk is made about the 'middle class'. Most often the people being identified and who self-identify as this 'middle class' fall into: the more highly paid members of the working class, the people who market their goods or services directly to a customer, petty landlords and small business people. Others include the class of independent professionals.
    There are many members of modern industrialised society who belong to none of the above classes because they are not directly engaged in wealth production and are only partly engaged in appropriation. Amongst them are: students, stay at home partners, children, retirees, drop outs, prisoners and the physically/mentally challenged. Still, many in this class go to and fro between and in and out of the above classes e.g. the hobo who gets a lawn mowing gig or the student who must find employment to get financially through school. Other examples abound. People in this class are many times dependent for a living on members of the other classes or the wealth which capitalist political State has at its disposal. Most people in this class, especially those financially dependent on wage-workers, are absolutely essential to the reproduction of society as a whole. As previously mentioned: "The working class and their dependents make up about 90% of the population in industrialised States."




Monday, October 21, 2013

Wobbly times number 170

What is socialism aka communism?





Socialism is not based on the wage system even a transitional 'socialist' wage system. Socialism isn't even about an equality of wages. To paraphrase Marx-- Where there is wage labour, there is Capital.  Capital is fundamentally a social relation of power, the power of the appropriator to own and control the product of labour.  This power is codified and enforced by the bureaucracies of the political State e.g.: the police, the military, the courts and the prison system.  

Socialism is based on the producers' common ownership and grassroots, democratic management of the collective product of their own labour.  Production is carried out for use and distributed on the basis of need.  Production is carried out in such a way as to ensure that the classless community can live in harmony with the Earth.  As with labour power, the Earth is no longer a commodity to be bought and sold as it was under the rule of Capital.  In fact, commodity production itself ceases to exist.

Under the wage system, the producers market their labour power to employers for the price of the skill any particular producer is selling.  These skills differ in their price in money depending on: their value i.e. how much socially necessary labour time is embodied in them e.g. education/training; what the supply/demand dynamics of the labour market are for the particular skills and on the relative strengths of organised labour verses those of the organised capitalists. Capitalists control most of the wealth and therefore are able to dominate the political State.  The State is primarily the organised political expression of the ruling capitalist class and their allies in the landlord class.  The more organised power the workers are able to bring to bear against the capitalists in the struggle over the wealth the producers create, the more political power they are able to exert and the better their working conditions, the shorter their hours of labour and the higher their wages will be. 

Under communism, the associated producers plan what they want to enjoy in terms of goods and services, knowing that it is their labour time which will go into creating the total social store of the wealth they own in common. They also know that each producer can withdraw goods and services from the common store of wealth on the basis of how much socially necessary time the individual producer has put into wealth creation, regardless of their particular skill, as it is obvious that the production of this wealth could not be accomplished without every producers' participation in the necessary division of labour in an industrialised democracy.  Of course, there will have to be deductions from this time-based access to wealth to allow for those who are unable to participate in production e.g. children, invalids, the sick and those still undergoing training for skills needed in the society to have their needs met. As such, the wage system is abolished as soon as socialism has been established. 

In a socialist society, gains in productivity will translate directly into increases in free-time. Freedom like this could be used to spend more time with family and friends or just doing whatever an individual wants e.g. artistic activity, sports or just plain relaxing.  

Under capitalism, productivity gains left in the control of employers allow for greater and greater accumulations of capital (the wealth workers produce) and power for the employing class.  As the capitalists politically press to lower wages and working conditions in order to achieve higher rates of profit, productivity gains made by the working class lead to redundancies, insecurity and servility.  All talk amongst workers of organising to legally shorten the work day is met with cries of horror from the capitalist class and their hirelings in the corporate and State media. Imperious pleas for increasing productivity multiply as the blame for whatever current economic slump capitalism is undergoing is laid directly at the 'lazy', 'pampered' workers' door. Unorganised workers tend to be bullied by employers into doing unpaid overtime.

Only the workers acting as a class for themselves can establish socialist self-managed governing structure.  As the history of the 20th century has demonstrated, socialism was never able to be established, although many attempts were made. Parties claiming to have established 'actually existing socialism' for the workers through capitalist State action and 'communist' wage systems have utterly failed to do much more than maintain class rule over the producers and further fetishise the social relation of Capital.  


  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wobbly times number 169



My mother died yesterday.  I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with her on the phone a few hours before she passed away.  The essence of what we spoke about is encapsulated in these reflections.


I'M HER SON





Lieutenant Recharda Benson WWII U.S. Army Nurse 


That's why I love you
That's why I want you to be free
That's why I hate the sadists
That's why I'm a democrat
That's why I'm sympathetic with the poor
That's why I want kindness to replace hatred
That's why I don't care about riches
That's why I care about animals' welfare
That's why I go for the underdog
That's why I love the vivacity wild things exhibit
In short
My mom's the reason I care
In short
she's the reason I'm focussed on elan
not tied down to property and status
She's the reason 
I've declared war on cruelty 
ever since I was born
And why I think 
It's nobody's business but my own
if I ride tear-filled waves of grief today 


 Recharda with her sisters and a friend late 1930s
 My mom and I Christmas, 1949
 My dad and I in the same place, 1949
 Me, my mom, Bruce and Grandma Benson late 50s San Diego train station
 My step-dad, Bruce, mom and me early 70s East Lansing
On my last visit to the USA in 2009




RECHARDA BENSON
April 1, 1919-August 24, 2013




Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wobbly times number 168

          LET'S MAKE KARL DISAPPEAR.









An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital
By Michael Heinrich
(translated by Alexander Locascio)
New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012, 240 pages, $15.95 paper.

This book might more properly be titled, AN INTRODUCTION TO MICHAEL HEINRICH'S INTERPRETATION OF WHAT MARX MEANT BY: VALUE, PRICE, PROFIT AND THE SOCIAL RELATION OF CAPITAL.  As much I appreciate Heinrich's effort on Marx, all too often, the man irritates me. For instance, right off the bat, he faults Engels as having a lack of understanding of Marx which led to the errors Heinrich perceives amongst the Marxists who would take up the cause of socialism in the 20th century. He's just plain wrong about this, as Marx would have had discussions with Engels over the supposed theoretical shortcomings in Engels' work, prior to his own death.  It wasn't like Marx never spoke honestly with Engels about political-economy. It's more the case that Heinrich, like so many graduate student Marxists after the death of Engels, tries to replace Fred as the better interpreter of Marx with Michael.   Is he?

For instance on page 15 he writes:

"In precapitalist societies, the exploitation of the dominated class served primarily the consumption of the ruling class: its members led a luxurious life, used appropriated wealth for their own edification or for that of the public (theater performances in ancient Greece, games in ancient Rome) or to wage war. Production directly served the fulfillment of wants: the fulfillment of the (forcibly) restricted needs of the dominated class and the extensive luxury and war needs of the ruling class.  Only in exceptional cases was the wealth expropriated by the ruling class used to enlarge the basis of exploitation, such as when consumption was set aside to purchase more slaves, to produce a greater amount of wealth."

What Heinrich neglects to add, to his otherwise cogent observations, is that war itself was a slave generator thus, an expansion of Empire in the ancient world was largely founded on the accumulation of slaves, in short, of wealth producers as well as the wealth they produced. 

Yet, there are parts of Heinrich's approach to Marx's critique of Capital which I do like and appreciate--many in fact.  For instance, his hard headed approach to capitalism and the question of the morality of the capitalists themselves.  On page 16 he writes:

"The fact that earnings do not primarily serve the consumption of the capitalist, but rather the continuous valorizastion of capital, that is, the restless movement of more and more accumulation, might sound absurd.  But the issue at hand is not an individual act of insanity.  Individual capitalists are forced into this movement of restless profiteering (constant accumulation, expansion of production, the introduction of new technology etc.) by competition with other capitalists: if accumulation is not carried on, if the apparatus of production is not constantly modernized, then one's own enterprise is faced with the threat of being steamrolled by competitors who produce more cheaply or who manufacture better products."  

Of course, a similar relation between the accumulation of wealth and the possession of political power by the few in the ruling class over other human beings pertains to pre capitalist societies.  More slaves meant more wealth and more slaves and wealth were part and parcel of the expansion of the empires of the ancients.  Heinrich doesn't point this out.  In his pretty good attempt, he demonstrates that capitalism is not based on moral choices, rather that capitalists are being forced to accumulate wealth as Capital in order to maintain political power over the producers of wealth and over their competitor capitalists in the arena, the marketplace of commodities.  But,  he fails to get beyond properly labeling this, the victory of abstraction, the victory of exchange-value over human beings, especially the producers of wealth.  The problem with Heinrich's approach is that it makes pre capitalist exploitation look substantially different in content when it is actually only different in form.   Slaves were commodities too.  The product of slave labour time belonged to the slaves' owners.  Surplus wealth in one area of class rule was traded for surplus wealth in another.  The surplus wealth, whether from the application of labour power or the mere possession of natural resources becomes private property in class dominated society.  Trade makes commodities of these use-values of wealth whether theses useful values are slaves, perfume, cattle or gold.  The use-value of the commodity is, of course, both necessary and that necessity is perceived by the human subject/buyer i.e. in the eyes of the beholder in the marketplace of commodities.

Heinrich seems to me to continually put labour power i.e. the human producer in the backseat of the drive to accumulate wealth/capital.  While he is spot on when he says, "..a critique that takes aim at the 'excessive profit-seeking' of individual capitalists but not at the capitalist system as a whole.." because that is too 'narrow', his outline of the system as a whole fails to give credit where credit is due--to its producers, its wage labourers.  After all, without wage labour there can be no Capital.  But Heinrich wants his readers to focus on how value becomes 'valorized', not how it is produced: how it becomes an abstraction in his version of exchange-value (essentially price), as opposed to the moral shortcomings of individual capitalists.  Fair enough on the critique of liberal moralism, even radical liberal moralism.  But in his paragraph describing how the system works, he writes things like:

"By capital we understand (provisionally; we'll get more precise later) a particular sum of value, the goal of which is be 'valorized,' which is to say, generate a surplus." p.16  How does an abstraction generate a surplus?  Where does the surplus come from?  It comes from the capitalist employing labour for wages, the price of the worker's skills in the labour market.  But the price itself is not the living socially necessary labour time, the energy embodied in the finished, marketed good or service.  That living labour time is what constitutes its value. The price of a commodity is determined outside the production process by consumer' demand in the market.  The price fluctuates around the value of the supply of the produced commodity on the market and value is the socially necessary labour time embodied in those commodified goods and services.

But what does Heinrich say?

"The surplus can be obtained in various ways.  In the case of interest-bearing capital, money is lent at interest.  The interest thus constitutes the surplus.  In the case of merchant capital, the products are purchased cheaply in one place and sold dearly in another place (or at another point in time).  The difference between the purchase price and the sale price (minus the relevant transaction costs) constitutes the surplus." p.16

This sort of historical mystification is typical in Heinrich's INTRODUCTION TO THE THREE VOLUMES OF KARL MARX'S CAPITAL. Transaction costs?  Like the socially necessary labour time of the sailors, the ship builders and others who use their skills to get the commodity bought, transported and profitably sold in the market?  

No.  These are near invisible to Heinrich.  What he makes visible is the price which is in reality the abstraction. What he makes invisible is the producer who sells a skill to an employer for a wage and who thereby agrees to give up control and ownership of what s/he produces, i.e. the surplus wealth created within the labour time applied by the worker.  

I point out these flaws, not because I want to nit-pick my way though Heinrich's book; but to demonstrate that the good professor neither has the grasp of Marx's critique of political-economy that Engels had, nor is he able to come up with a totally reliable application of Marx's theories of surplus value to the 21st century.   

Heinrich just doesn't get the point that socially necessary labour time (snlt) is embodied in ALL commodities, including the individual worker's skills, skills which are being sold to an employer for their market price. He does see that commodities are exchanged on the basis of their snlt; but his emphasis on the act of exchange makes him deny the fact that without snlt the good or service would not exist in the first place to be compared for exchange. Thus, he does not take into account the fact that an electrical engineer's skills sell for a higher price than a worker who has no skills and only a high school education because the engineer's skills have more socially necessary labour time embodied them than the unskilled high school graduate does. This error leads to many, many errors in his INTRODUCTION TO MARX'S THREE VOLUMES OF CAPITAL.  He seems to confuse the abstraction of price with value, the socially necessary labour time embodied in a commodity, pretty consistently.  

"The owner of labour-power is mortal. If then his appearance in the market is to be continuous, and the continuous conversion of money into capital assumes this, the seller of labour-power must perpetuate himself, “in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation.” [8] The labour-power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear and death, must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labour-power. Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the labourer’s substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market. [9]

"In order to modify the human organism, so that it may acquire skill and handiness in a given branch of industry, and become labour-power of a special kind, a special education or training is requisite, and this, on its part, costs an equivalent in commodities of a greater or less amount. This amount varies according to the more or less complicated character of the labour-power. The expenses of this education (excessively small in the case of ordinary labour-power), enter pro tanto into the total value spent in its production."

"The value of labour-power resolves itself into the value of a definite quantity of the means of subsistence. It therefore varies with the value of these means or with the quantity of labour requisite for their production." Karl Marx CAPITAL 

Heinrich claims Marx intends the first chapter of the first volume of CAPITAL as purely theoretical and that the analysis of the commodity therein can't be placed in historical context. I think he is wrong. Socially necessary labour time can be seen in traded commodities during earlier, first modes of production and exchange-- C-M-C under class rule.   A peasant knows about how much time it takes to produce something he wants to trade for something he is willing to trade from his own work. Generalised commodity production under the rule of Capital M-C-M' is generalised wage labour and this combined with the ubiquitous money commodity obscures, indeed fetishises the source of wealth and the socially necessary labour time embodied within it in the modern age.  All of which is why Marx attempts to explain how all this snlt in commodities ends up being represented in the money commodity, even in the fetishised world of generalised commodity production and sale under the rule of Capital:

"The value of a single commodity, the linen, for example, is now expressed in terms of numberless other elements of the world of commodities. Every other commodity now becomes a mirror of the linen’s value.[25] It is thus, that for the first time, this value shows itself in its true light as a congelation of undifferentiated human labour. For the labour that creates it, now stands expressly revealed, as labour that ranks equally with every other sort of human labour, no matter what its form, whether tailoring, ploughing, mining, &c., and no matter, therefore, whether it is realised in coats, corn, iron, or gold. The linen, by virtue of the form of its value, now stands in a social relation, no longer with only one other kind of commodity, but with the whole world of commodities. As a commodity, it is a citizen of that world. At the same time, the interminable series of value equations implies, that as regards the value of a commodity, it is a matter of indifference under what particular form, or kind, of use value it appears."  (Emphasis mine)

"The universal equivalent form is a form of value in general. It can, therefore, be assumed by any commodity. On the other hand, if a commodity be found to have assumed the universal equivalent form (form C), this is only because and in so far as it has been excluded from the rest of all other commodities as their equivalent, and that by their own act. And from the moment that this exclusion becomes finally restricted to one particular commodity, from that moment only, the general form of relative value of the world of commodities obtains real consistence and general social validity."

And further on in the same chapter of CAPITAL volume I, Marx writes:
.
"The particular commodity, with whose bodily form the equivalent form is thus socially identified, now becomes the money commodity, or serves as money. It becomes the special social function of that commodity, and consequently its social monopoly, to play within the world of commodities the part of the universal equivalent. Amongst the commodities which, in form B, figure as particular equivalents of the linen, and, in form C, express in common their relative values in linen, this foremost place has been attained by one in particular – namely, gold. If, then, in form C we replace the linen by gold, we get, 
D. The Money-Form
20yards of linen=
1coat=
10lbs of tea=
40lbs of coffee=
1quarter of corn=
2ounces of gold=
½a ton of iron=
xCommodity A=
    = 2 ounces of gold


In passing from form A to form B, and from the latter to form C, the changes are fundamental. On the other hand, there is no difference between forms C and D, except that, in the latter, gold has assumed the equivalent form in the place of linen. Gold is in form D, what linen was in form C – the universal equivalent. The progress consists in this alone, that the character of direct and universal exchangeability – in other words, that the universal equivalent form – has now, by social custom, become finally identified with the substance, gold.


In my opinion, Heinrich is just plain wrong about socially necessary labour time not being materially embedded in commodities. The finished commodity is the crystallisation of applied snlt.  I think of snlt as energy which is equal to and embodied within the material object or service.  E=Matter embodied in the Commodity through Time, if you will. 

"In general, the greater the productiveness of labour, the less is the labour time required for the production of an article, the less is the amount of labour crystallised in that article, and the less is its value; and vice versâ, the less the productiveness of labour, the greater is the labour time required for the production of an article, and the greater is its value. The value of a commodity, therefore, varies directly as the quantity, and inversely as the productiveness, of the labour incorporated in it."  CAPITAL 

Other than that, Heinrich does a pretty good job of explaining many of the intentions and conceptual formations which Karl Marx put forward in his three volumes of CAPITAL. I especially enjoyed reading his critique of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall.  So many self-described Marxists (NOT ALL) are wedded to interpreting this tendency as an unbending principle of Capital's inevitable self-destruction. Still, even here, his analysis is flawed because of his inability to adequately differentiate between the abstraction of exchange-value in market price and its concrete expression as socially necessary labour time embodied in goods and services at the point of production.

Yet, Heinrich does write with flashing brilliance at times.  Here's an example:

"Wages, profits, and rent thus seem to be nothing other than the portions of the product's value that can be traced back to the functioning of wage-labor, capital, and landed property.  At the same time, the transformation of the value of labor-power into the 'value of labor' (see section 4.5) is fundamental: precisely because the wage appears to compensate the 'value of labor,' the remaining components of newly added value, profit and rent, must emanate from the remaining two 'factors of production', capital and landed property.  Since commodities are not exchanged at their values but rather at prices of production, this semblance cannot be resolved with regard to a single commodity.  There does not appear to be any sort of connection between the expended labour on the one hand, and the average profit and rent on the other: profit depends (under normal conditions) upon the size of the capital employed, regardless whether many or few laborers are employed, and rent depends upon which land and how much of it is used." p.184

He follows that paragraph up with this zinger from Marx:

"..the mystification of the capitalist mode of production, the reification of social relations, and the immediate coalescence of the material relations of production with their historical and social specificity: the bewitched, distorted and upside-down world haunted by Monsieur le Capital and Madame la Terre, who are at the same time social characters and mere things" Marx CAPITAL

One more aspect of Heinrich's work which I would like to draw your attention to is his problem with reading Engels when it comes to the question of the political State.  To Michael Heinrich, the modern bourgeois democratic State is not as much the political expression of class rule as it is an independent entity which mediates the abstractions of capitalism while attempting to control the periodic disruptions which erupt between workers and capitalists and between capitalists in the marketplace.  Engels, and Marx for that matter, saw the State as the political expression of class rule through history.  In no way did they see the State as being the same governing structure, whether ancient, feudal or the modern bourgeois democratic State. But when one reads Heinrich, one gets the impression that they did, especially Engels.

"Under capitalist social relations, direct political force is not necessary for the maintenance of economic exploitation: it is sufficient for the state as a force standing above society to guarantee that all members of society behave like owners of private property.  However, the state must be a discrete, independent force, since it has to compel all members of society to recognize one another as private owners." p.204

Both Marx and Engels realised that capitalist democracy was not the same as the monarchist absolutism of feudalism or slave owning dictatorships of class rule.  Why else would they be so keen on promoting the Social Democracy of their day and age?  And while the capitalist class would like the State to appear as an independent force, cementing civil society together 'fairly', the reality is, as Marx put it in when he was in his 20s, "The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery." 

Young Marx's observation aside, Heinrich sees the governing structure of capitalist class rule like this: "The state does in fact conduct itself as a neutral instance with regard to its citizens; this neutrality is in no way merely an illusion.  Rather it is precisely by means of this neutrality that the state secures the foundations of capitalist relations of domination and exploitation. The defense of property implies that those who possess no relevant property beyond their own labor-power must sell their labor-power." p.205

Neutrality? Must is more like it. Tell it to the workers on the picket line, Professor Heinrich, especially when the police are sent in to defend the scabs crossing said picket line.  To be sure, the political expression is more about class mediation than say the absolutism of the old feudal State. But the modern, industrial political State is not neutral; it is profoundly partisan defending the class interests of those who own and control the natural resources and the collective product of labour in either companies or via the State itself.  Of course, many workers are under the illusion that government is neutral that is, until they have a run in with the armed bodies of men and women who are hired by the State to defend the property rights of the capitalists. When do the police arrest the capitalists for violating the rights of the workers to the product of their labour?

"This shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and really democratic state is described in detail in the third section of The Civil War. But it was necessary to dwell briefly here once more on some of its features, because in Germany particularly the superstitious belief in the state has been carried over from philosophy into the general consciousness of the bourgeoisie and even to many workers. According to the philosophical notion, “the state is the realization of the idea” or the Kingdom of God on earth, translated into philosophical terms, the sphere in which eternal truth and justice is or should be realized. And from this follows a superstitious reverence for the state and everything connected with it, which takes roots the more readily as people from their childhood are accustomed to imagine that the affairs and interests common to the whole of society could not be looked after otherwise than as they have been looked after in the past, that is, through the state and its well-paid officials. And people think they have taken quite an extraordinary bold step forward when they have rid themselves of belief in hereditary monarchy and swear by the democratic republic. In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at the earliest possible moment, until such time as a new generation, reared in new and free social conditions, will be able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap-heap.
"Of late, the Social-Democratic philistine has once more been filled with wholesome terror at the words: Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the Dictatorship of the Proletariat."
Frederick Engels
London, on the 20th anniversary
of the Paris Commune, March 18, 1891

So yes, do read Heinrich's INTRODUCTION TO THE THREE VOLUMES OF KARL MARX'S CAPITAL. But please remember that wealth, no matter which historical era it is produced in, whether it be produced by slaves, peasants or wage-slaves, that commodified product of social labour can be sold or traded for something perceived as being of equal socially necessary labour time and that is what makes a good or service or labour power exchangeable.  In fact, I'd say that Marx's own speech to workers in 1865 is still the best introduction to CAPITAL.  It's now called "Value, Price and Profit". Keep in mind as you read Heinrich's work, the fact that private ownership of wealth is, in itself, a political power over those who produce it. Socialism means the collective product of labour is owned and controlled by labour itself and the end of class rule and its political State.

In future, the perception of the subject-object relation is what I would have had Heinrich put more focus on: humans and their mental perception of their own and their fellow producers' labour time and what that labour time results in.  Engels wasn't wrong with his interpretation of Marx's critique of political-economy.   Heinrich just can't read Engels in historical context.  Yes, Heinrich is spot on with his observations on the failures of mainstream Social Democrats and Marxist-Leninists to grasp the philosophical depth of Marx's dialectical analysis in CAPITAL.  No, Heinrich does not give his readers an adequate explanation of what socialism meant to Marx and Engels, a socialism which could begin with labour vouchers based on socially necessary labour time--to make the relationship between the product and the producer transparent.  This proposal is something which Heinrich rejects by associating it with socialist schemes which retain commodity production and exchange (see for example Proudhon).

"In Marx's time, this question was not a merely academic one. Various socialist tendencies, in devising alternatives to capitalism, aspired to a society in which private commodity production would continue to exist, but money would be abolished and replaced by certificates of entitlement to good or slips denoting hours of performed labor." p.57

Yet, contra Heinrich and his constant attempt to decouple socially necessary labour time from value embodied in goods and services, Marx suggests using labour time vouchers under a communist mode of production and exchange more than once:

The following is an excerpt from the first chapter of the first volume of CAPITAL by Karl Marx.

"Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time. Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution."


"Within the co-operative society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labor employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of total labor. The phrase "proceeds of labor", objectionable also today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

"What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, 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. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

"Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

"Hence, equal right here is still in principle -- bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.

"In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. 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 these 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!"



"On the basis of socialised production the scale must be ascertained on which those operations — which withdraw labour-power and means of production for a long time without supplying any product as a useful effect in the interim — can be carried on without injuring branches of production which not only withdraw labour-power and means of production continually, or several times a year, but also supply means of subsistence and of production. Under socialised as well as capitalist production, the labourers in branches of business with shorter working periods will as before withdraw products only for a short time without giving any products in return; while branches of business with long working periods continually withdraw products for a longer time before they return anything. This circumstance, then, arises from the material character of the particular labour-process, not from its social form. In the case of socialised production the money-capital is eliminated. Society distributes labour-power and means of production to the different branches of production. The producers may, for all it matters, receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate."

CAPITAL Volume II, chapter 18, page 358

Finally, there is no doubt that the credit system will serve as a powerful lever during the transition from the capitalist mode of production to the mode of production of associated labour; but only as one element in connection with other great organic revolutions of the mode of production itself. On the other hand, the illusions concerning the miraculous power of the credit and banking system, in the socialist sense, arise from a complete lack of familiarity with the capitalist mode of production and the credit system as one of its forms. As soon as the means of production cease being transformed into capital (which also includes the abolition of private property in land), credit as such no longer has any meaning. This, incidentally, was even understood by the followers of Saint-Simon. On the other hand, as long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, interest-bearing capital, as one of its forms, also continues to exist and constitutes in fact the basis of its credit system. Only that sensational writer, Proudhon, who wanted to perpetuate commodity-production and abolish money, was capable of dreaming up the monstrous crèdit gratuit, the ostensible realization of the pious wish of the petty-bourgeois estate. 

CAPITAL Volume III, chapter 36, page 607


Thus, Marx proposes to demystify the relations which occur with money and generalised commodity production. Marx and Engels hoped that this beginning for socialism would be developed by the producers, democratically organised in free association and as they shed the the scars of class society (e.g. the free-rider syndrome among others), the distribution of the collective produce of society would morph into one based purely what humans needed while gaining maximum sovereignty for the individual to decide what to do with their lives and free-time.