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Anarchist Economics, Marxist Economics, and Pareconist Economics

category international | economy | opinion / analysis author Friday June 29, 2012 23:00author by Wayne Price - personal opinionauthor email drwdprice at aol dot com Report this post to the editors

In support of anarchist goals, and to understand how capitalism works, it is useful for anarchists to use Marx's economic theory. As an illustration, three essays on the economics of capitalism as developed by theorists of Parecon (Participatory Economics) are critiqued. [Italiano]

Anarchist Economics, Marxist Economics, and Pareconist Economics

When discussing radical economics, really two different, if related, topics are meant. (1) The nature of the economy which might be created after the overthrow of capitalism (whether called socialism, communism, or anarchism). And (2) the nature of the existing, capitalist, economy—how it works and what its future development will be.

This leads to my two part proposition: (1) The best theoretical approach to proposing post-capitalist, post revolutionary, economies comes from the anarchist tradition, as well as other, non-Marxist, varieties of libertarian socialism (guild socialism, Parecon, distributionism, etc.). But (2) the best approach to understanding capitalism is Marxist economics (more precisely, Marx’s critique of political economy).

I write this even though I identify with the overall program of revolutionary class-struggle anarchism. This is why I think that the two parts of the proposition must not be reversed. Marxism must not be used as the basis for a vision of a new society. Admittedly, there is an aspect of Marxism (of Marx’s Marxism) which points to a libertarian-democratic and humanistic society, a society of the free association of individuals. This has attracted a minority to an anti-statist version of Marxism. But there are also authoritarian aspects of Marx’s Marxism, such as its centralism or its determinism. In practice, Marxism as a movement has repeatedly ended up as authoritarian, oppressive, and (to be precise) massively murderous.

In this essay, I will focus on proposition (2), the usefulness of Marx’s economic theory. For illustration, I will counterpose it to the economic theory of Parecon. This does not cover point (1), for which the theory of Parecon is most well known: its model of a post-capitalist society, managed by a federation of workplace and community councils, with democratic economic planning, without a market or centralized planning (Albert, 2003; Hahnel, 2005). This is a very interesting topic, but instead I am discussing Pareconists’ views of capitalism today, as compared to an anarchist view which uses Marxist insights.

The founders of “Participatory Economics,” or “Parecon,” were Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel. Originally they regarded their approach as “unorthodox Marxism” (Albert & Hahnel, 1978). Currently Hahnel calls his views “libertarian socialism” (Hahnel, 2005), while Albert completely rejects the label of “socialism” (Albert, 2001). Now Parecon is presented as an “anarchist vision” (p. 327).

I take up this strain of libertarian thought not because it is particularly bad, but for the opposite reason: because it is relatively strong and developed. It has much more of an economic theory than most other anarchists or libertarian socialists. It is therefore worth examining. I will focus on three chapters on Pareconism which appear in a book on “Anarchist Economics,” edited by D. Shannon, A.J. Nocella II, and J. Asimakopoulos (2012). This is an excellent book for its range of views. (I have a chapter in it, on topic [1], post-capitalist anarchist economies, not the topic discussed here.) There is a chapter each by Hahnel and Albert, the co-founders of Parecon, and one by Chris Spannos, who has edited a book advocating Pareconism (Spannos, 2008).

Chris Spannos’ Anarchist Economics

Spannos’ essay is “Examining the History of Anarchist Economics” (pp. 42—63). It is worth reading, as a good brief overview of the history of anarchist economics, much of it on topic (1), post-capitalist economies. But he writes some things about the functioning of capitalism (topic [2]), which need responding to.

He insists that “Marx’s work overwhelmingly emphasizes a two-class theory based on ownership relations…” (p. 47)—that is, the bourgeoisie (capitalists) and the proletariat (modern working class). However, he claims, Bakunin recognized the existence of a third class, which today has been called the “professional-managerial class” or (the term used by Pareconists) the “coordinator class.” This class supposedly has its own interests opposed to both capitalists and workers. It came to power, replacing the bourgeoisie, in the former Soviet Union and Maoist China (Pareconists call these societies “coordinatorist,” although Spannos also uses “state-socialist”). These societies supposedly use either “central planning or markets” (p. 43).

Actually they attempted centralized planning but were always dependent on markets. Workers sold their ability to work to the bosses; they produced consumer commodities which were sold on the market and means of production which enterprises sold to each other; as well as buying, selling and borrowing on the world market. As a result, their economies showed a drive to continually produce, accumulate, and expand.

The existence of this middle layer is a fact, but the Pareconist analysis is superficial. What is really central to Marx’s analysis of capitalism is not private property or even markets by themselves. It is the capital/labor relationship in the process of production. (I am ignoring Marx’s analysis of landlords as a third major class alongside the capitalists and workers. It does not effect the argument.) This is a particular form of exploitation, distinct from that of slavery or serfdom or any imagined new form of exploitation. The workers’ commodity of their ability to work is bought by the capitalists who work them as hard as possible and pay as little as possible, working them beyond the point where they have produced the equivalent in value of their wage, thus gaining hours of unpaid-for labor in the production of commodities. This surplus production serves a drive for continual accumulation of capital—the self-expansion of value.

What makes the bourgeoisie capitalists is not private property as such but that they are the agents of capital in the process of accumulation. “…The capitalist is merely capital personified and functions in the process of production solely as the agent of capital” (Marx, 1967; p. 819).

Marx expected small businesspeople, independent professionals, and small family farmers to decline in number, as the capitalist economy became ever more centralized, concentrated, monopolized, and statified. But this process would also expand the middle layer of managers, bureaucrats, and supervisors. “An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), which…command in the name of the capitalist. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function” (Marx, 1906; p. 364). Marx discusses “the development of a numerous class of industrial and commercial managers” (Marx, 1967; p. 389).

Let me repeat: contrary to Spannos, Marx describes the “development of a class of managers.

The capitalists and proletarians are the two polar classes because of their relations in the process of production and for no other reason. “Marx’s political economy does not reduce the class structure to that of capital and labor. On the contrary, other classes are located in relation to capital and labor, whether as an essential or contingent part of the capitalist mode of production” (Fine & Saad-Filho, 2010; p. 148).

The managerial class exists to aid the capitalists in their extraction of surplus labor from the workers. It has conflicts with the capitalists, which is no surprise in this conflictful, competitive, economy. Under exceptional circumstances, a section of this class may temporarily replace the traditional, stock-owning, bourgeoisie as the agent of capital--as it did in the Soviet Union. (Marx and Engels did imagine the possibility of complete state-ownership, yet the total replacement of the traditional bourgeoisie by a collective bureaucracy was not foreseen by Marx but was by Bakunin, as Spannos correctly says.) Then the managers (bureaucrats, coordinators, whatever) become the collective personification of capital in the capital/labor relationship. So long as this is the case, the society remains capitalist (state capitalist).

There is another peculiarity of Pareconist theory. Discussing “compensation,” Spannos claims that “Under capitalism bargaining power determines incomes….Workers have little bargaining power with capitalists or the state…” (p. 51). Again, this is superficially correct. What is left out is that the workers are exploited! that a certain amount of work is unpaid labor producing surplus value for the capitalists. Since the Pareconists reject Marx’s labor theory of value and the analysis which follows from it, they have no theory of where profit comes from (unless we assume profit comes from increased production of useful goods, ignoring the issue of monetary value altogether). Therefore they have no theory of exploitation, except that the workers are in a weak bargaining position. Would this also apply to the slaves and serfs of ancient societies? Were they exploited or were they just in weak bargaining positions?

Robin Hahnel’s Liberal Libertarian Socialism

“The Economic Crisis and Libertarian Socialists” by Hahnel (pp. 159—177) was a speech given in Greece in May 2010. It discusses the Great Recession and the response of the ruling classes in the U.S. and Europe. The essay is the original speech plus a short update.

Considering that the speech was given by a libertarian socialist to an “anti-authoritarian” conference, it is remarkably disappointing. Except for a brief introduction, there is nothing in it that Paul Krugman could not have written, or any other liberal Keynesian. His statement of “the principle causes” of the crisis includes “economic inequality” and “reckless deregulation of the financial sector” (p. 161). The only background to these factors are “a steady increase in corporate power” and a reciprocal weakening of the power of “workers, consumers, and governments” (p. 161). This makes the Great Recession sound like an accident. He does not mention that there has been a long decline in capitalist profits in the real economy (where real goods and services are produced) since about 1970. This has been compensated-for by an expansion in the financial (paper) economy (what Marx called “fictitious capital”). This has been shown in the work of Brenner (2006), Foster & Magdoff (2009), Kliman (2012), and Mattick (2011), among others.

His proposals—presumably to be raised by libertarian socialists and anti-authoritarians--are merely left-liberal. He advocates greater regulation of the capitalist banks and firms and a massive economic stimulus. But if there is a long-term decline in capitalism, the bourgeoise is likely to fight tooth-and-nail against any such liberal program, particularly against any financial stimulation which improved the lot of the working class and poor. And even if such a program were to be implemented, the long-term downward trend would only be temporatily modified, not turned into a new prosperity.

Hahnel makes no suggestion for a libertarian socialist transitional program. He does not advocate calling for a massive public works program, under the control of workers and local workers’ communities. He does not call for workers to occupy factories and workplaces which close down or stay “open” by firing most of its employees—occupy and run such enterprises, in coordination with other self-managed workplaces and public works sites. He does not advocate repudiation of national debts and expropriation of big businesses. As the crisis worsens (as it will, over time), such demands could demonstrate the practicality of a revolutionary anarchist program. But it is not for Hahnel.

Hahnel has written a book on economics (2002), which has the great virtue of clarity of writing. His theoretical approach is left-Keynsian and Sraffian. I will not get into this book, which would require a whole review. At one point he makes an argument for rejecting Marx’s concept that the rate of profit tends to fall. (This is consistent with his ignoring the long term decline in capitalist real production for the last 4 decades.) Without detailed discussion, I note that his argument makes precisely the error which was pointed out by Kliman (2007). (See footnote,)

Michael Albert’s Porous Strategy

As an “Afterword” to the volume, Albert’s chapter is “Porous Borders of Anarchist Vision and Strategy” (pp. 327—343). He begins with a defense of Parecon as a “sufficient anarchist revolutionary vision” (p. 327). This is not my topic here so I won’t go into it. He makes no mention of how capitalism works, how it pushes some people toward a new society, or how it tends to hold others back.

Then he gets into a discussion of “Anarchist Strategy.” He argues for flexibility in strategic thinking, as opposed to those anarchists who advocate a specific strategic orientation. For example, some anarchists believe that a revolution will be needed to overturn the state and other institutions of capitalism. They believe that the working class will be needed as a central part of such a revolution, in alliance with all other oppressed groups. To this end, they encourage mass actions of struggle by workers and others against the capitalists and their state wherever possible. I agree with this strategic view. I think it follows from an historical anarchist analysis of capitalist society as well as with Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism.

On the contrary, Albert argues, “…there is virtually no such thing as a strategic commitment, positive or negative, that is a principled touchstone and therefore unbridgeable in all times and places, a priori” (p. 338). On one level this is a platitude (if outer space aliens invade the planet, all bets are off), but what he means is that he rejects certain specific strategic ideas held by revolutionary class-struggle anarchists. More specifically, he has been influenced by Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela. Albert wants to appeal to anarchists while being a statist pro-Chavista at the same time.

He specifically denounces those who say “presidential politics is actually verboten for anarchists” (p. 338). In the past he had argued that leftists should vote for Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party and, in 2008, that Greens should not oppose Obama in “swing states.” Sometimes, he says, there might be relatively good presidential politicians (presumably like Chavez) who should be supported. In all this he does not once mention the class issue. Unlike Bakunin and other anarchists, Marx wanted the workers to vote, but to vote for a workers’ party—a party which had broken with bourgeois politics. (Bakunin disagreed, and in my opinion has been proven right by history.) Marx would not have been for voting for pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, parties, such as the U.S. Democratic Party, nor for nationalist parties which maintain capitalism in oppressed nations, as in Venezuela. But this class question does not arise for Albert.

Even more astounding, he writes that in some circumstances it might be right “if we use the army to discipline and if need be to replace the police” (p. 341), again referencing Venezuela. He is talking about the existing army under the existing state. He is not referring to an army which has been split between reactionary officers and self-organized, mutinying, working class soldiers (in such a case, anarchists might indeed use the rebelling part of the army against the police—and the officer corps).

What is totally lacking here is a class analysis of the state. Revolutionary anarchists believe that the existing state is completely an oppressive, capitalist, institution. It cannot be reformed into anything else. This does not mean that demands may not be made on it or that it may never do something good for the people (for its own reasons). But it remains the state of the capitalists, bureaucrats, and politicians. However formally democratic, it is still what Marx called the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.”

Therefore it must be overturned and dismantled completely. It must be replaced by something else: a non-state federation of workers’ councils and community assemblies, associated with an armed working class and other oppressed people. (Again, this is consistent with a libertarian-democratic interpretation of Marxism, if not with reformist or Marxist-Leninist versions.) There is a long history which supports these conceptions (Price, 2007; 2010). Albert’s views on the state and on elections are quite far from the mainstream of the anarchist tradition.

Incidently, Marx regarded the original Bolivar as an authoritarian misleader of national liberation movements in Latin America (Draper, 1992). For a current anarchist analysis of Chavez’s politics, see Uzcategui (2010).


My goal was to illustrate why Marx’s economic theory was most useful for anarchists when it comes to understanding how capitalism works. I illustrate this by a critique of three recent essays by leading advocates of Parecon. They have developed their own theory of capitalist economics as well as a vision of a libertarian socialist economy. I think that this brief analysis has shown that, while they have insights, their attempt to develop their own economic theory is quite weak. It is superficial and limited in its analysis of the existing economy, of class relations, of the capitalist state, and of the current crisis. The programmatic conclusions which they draw are liberal and reformist. There is no alternative to anarchists using Marxist economic theory in pursuit of our vision and goals.

Footnote: The error is: The model he uses to refute the falling rate of profit theory has monetary values (prices) stay the same despite increased productivity. In reality, increased productivity causes prices to decrease (commodities to get cheaper, or—under inflation—for their prices to rise slower than the general rate). This is what we would expect, following the labor theory of value, when commodities are produced with less labor.


Albert, Michael (2001). “Is Socialism Still on the Agenda?” New Politics. VIII, No. 2. Pp. 123—137.

Albert, Michael (2003). Parecon: Life after capitalism. NY: Verso.

Albert, Michael, & Hahnel, Robin (1978). Unorthodox Marxism; An Essay on Capitalism, Socialism, and Revolution. Boston MA: South End Press.

Brenner, Robert (2006). The Economics of Global Turbulence: The Advanced Capitalist Economies from Long Boom to Long Downturn, 1945—2005. London UK: Verso.

Draper, Hal (1992). “Karl Marx and Simon Bolivar: A Note on Authoritarian Leadership in a National Liberation Movement.” In Socialism from Below (E. Haberkern, Ed.). Atlantic Highlands NJ: Humanities Press.

Fine, Ben, & Saad-Filho, Alfredo (2010). Marx’s “Capital” (5th Edition). London UK: Pluto Press.

Foster, John Bellamy, & Magdoff, Fred (2009). The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences.
NY: Monthly Review Press.

Hahnel, Robin (2002). The ABCs of Political Economy. London UK: Pluto Press.

Hahnel, Robin (2005). Economic Justice and Democracy. NY: Routledge.

Kliman, Andrew (2007). Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. London UK: Lexington Books.

Kliman, Andrew (2012). The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession. NY: Pluto Press.

Marx, Karl (1906). Capital; A Critique of Political Economy (Vol. I); The Process of Capitalist Production. NY: Modern Library.

Marx, Karl (1967). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Vol. III); The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. NY: International Publishers.

Mattick, Paul, Jr. Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism. London UK: Reaktion Books.

Price, Wayne (2010). Anarchism & Socialism: Reformism or Revolution? Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: thoughtcrime ink.

Price, Wayne (2007). The Abolition of the State: Anarchist & Marxist Perspectives. Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse.

Shannon, Deric; Nocella, Anthony J., II; & Asimakopoulos, John (2012). The Accumulation of Freedom: Writings on Anarchist Economics. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Spannos, Chris (2008) (Ed.). Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century. Oakland CA: AK Press.

Uzcategui, Rafael (2010). Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle (C Bufe, trans.). Tucson AZ: See Sharp Press.

*written for

author by Tompublication date Mon Jul 02, 2012 01:28Report this post to the editors

Wayne gives an account of exploitation that is common among some (but not all) Marxists but it's inadequate. On this view exploitation is simply the fact that some of the value produced through workers' labor goes to capitalists. This is not an adequate theory of exploitation. This would imply that under a socialized economy workers are exploited if some of the product of their labor goes to the infirm, aged, children, those not working. It leaves out the fact that the capitalists are able to suck down profits only due to their domination over the working class. In ordinary language exploitation means that someone gains unwarranted benefits from others through some relation of domination, some relation that enables them to "take advantage" of others.

The dispossession and subordination of the working class is necessary for exploitation to take place. Although the main way this happens in capitalism nowadays is through being forced to work for capitalists for wages, there are other ways the working class are exploited and other forms of the relation of domination that existed in earlier capitalism and to some extent still do exist. Workers are exploited by landlords, by price gouging by monopolies, by usurious interest charged by check cashing outfits, etc. These all happen due to the social domination of the capitalists as a class over the working class. Dispossession of the means of production was historically & still is a basis of this domination. David Harvey is a Marxist who lately has emphasized the other ways profit is extracted other than thru hiring wage-workers. For example a key way that profit was built up in North America historically was through dispossession of the Indians of their lands and massive land speculation built on that.

A recent book "Power & Markets" by a radical economist unrelated to the participatory economics people also uses a similar approach to exploitation as Albert & Hahnel. The idea is that there are various structures that give certain actors in the economy more power than others. The power of capital over labor is one such relation, but there are also differences in market power between capitalists thru forms of monopoly or monopsony (such as Walmart's monopsony power in relation to its suppliers).

Wayne makes a big deal of the fact that Marx says there is a "class of managers." But this misses the point of the critique offered by Hahnel & Albert (developed most fully in their essay in the anthology "Between Labor & Capital"). The point is: What is the basis of this class? It's not just a class of "managers." There is a class who have a relative concentration or monopolization of the levers of decision-making & expertise pertaining to that decision-making, other than ownership. This is the basis not only of the bureaucracy in the corporations (managers & high end professionals) but also in the state. Bakunin's prediction, alluded to by Wayne, of a future "dictatorship of savants" was his recognition that part of the power of such a class is based on relative monopolization of expertise. Bakunin points out that the administration in the state & the monopoly of the means of destruction (army & police) is as much a material basis of class power as monopoly over the ownership of the means of production. Nor is this reducible to the power of capital, contrary to what Wayne says. That is an overly reductionist view of the state.

author by Waynepublication date Mon Jul 02, 2012 11:18Report this post to the editors

Tom responds to two of my arguments:

(1) On exploitation. He charges that, in my "view exploitation is simply the fact that some of the value produced through workers' labor goes to capitalists. ... It leaves out the fact that the capitalists are able to suck down profits only due to their domination over the working class." I am not sure how he gets this interpretation of my very, very brief statement. Mainly I criticized Spannos; statement (and the view of pareconism) for not having a meaningful theory of where profit comes from or of how workers are exploited. My only statement of Marx's (and my) view was one half sentence, "a certain amount of work is unpaid labor producing surplus value for the capitalists." How this is done was not discussed. I certainly do not disagree that the capitalists hold domination over the workers! This domination is due to the workers being propertyless while the capitalists own capital. Domination operates through the market and the process of production, and is backed up by the state and by a whole ideological apparatus. The capitalists pay the workers for their ability to labor (the commodity labor power), work them to the point where they have produced the equivalent in value to their wages, and then continue to work them for extra time, producing surplus value, the basis of profit. That is exploitation. We have a moral objection to this, but in itself it is not a moral judgment, unlike Tom's view of exploitation as "someone gains unwarranted benefits from others."

Under socialism, individual workers will not get back the equivalent of all they produce in a day; there will be the need for a collective fund for the aged and infirm, etc., and for replacing and expanding means of production, etc. But since the economy will belong to the entire population (at first just to the former working class and oppressed, but eventually all classes will be dissolved), then the "extra" will still be going to the people and not to an exploiting minority.

Since the capitalists dominate the workers, they share the surplus value so that--by various mechanisms--it goes to landlords, bankers, merchants, checkcashing bosses, monopolists, etc. Marx calls this "capitalist communism." I cannot go further into this here (see upcoming book or previous version of book which is on PDF), but this does not refute the existence of surplus value (the product of unpaid labor) which is extracted from the workers.

Marx discussed in detail the nature of "primitive accumulation," the original capitalist amassing of wealth through land-grabbing, robbery, slavery, empire-building, dispossession of the peasants, etc. That is how it came to be that there was a propertyless working class. As Harvey and Luxemborg (and others) point out, this continues to this day and is even increased in this epoch of imperialism and capitalist decay. Through this destructive process, wealth is created which is then treated as though it were part of the rest of the economy, as though it too had been created by labor. In today's world this is especially true of the financialization of the economy, creating a mountain of (what Marx called) fictitious capital. Anyway, this does not disprove the exploitation of the workers in the process of production.

Tom writes, "The power of capital over labor is one such relation, but there are also differences in market power between capitalists thru forms of monopoly." Yeah, but the wealth of society, the sum totals of value and surplus value, is not produced by monopolists. They parasitically get an extra share of the overall pool of surplus value. It is divied up differently than if there were only a purely competive capitalism. But the *production* of the commodities and services which bear the values *only* comes from "the power of capital over labor" and from no other form of domination!

(2) The managerial class: I am not sure what Tom's point is here. I was demonstrating that, contrary to Spannos and other pareconists, it is not true that Marx did not see the growth of a class of managers, etc. I could have pointed out that he also saw the rise of bureaucracy in the state, as appears in his discussions of "Bonapartism"--see his 18th Brumaire, among other works. Of course, there are reasons for this phenomena, which I did not go into. It is valid to criticize Marx for not forseeing that this class might (at least for a period) replace the traditional capitalist class, as in the Soviet Union. This error is connected to his centralism and other fundamental flaws. I do not deny it.

But my main point, which Tom does not respond to, is that this class serves the process of capital accumulation. It is an agent of capital in the capital/labor relationship. This is true under traditional, stock-owning, capitalism (where it serves the bourgeoisie), and it is true under state capitalism (where it rules alone, as a collectivity).

author by Tompublication date Tue Jul 10, 2012 03:30Report this post to the editors

Wayne says: "But my main point, which Tom does not respond to, is that this class serves the process of capital accumulation. It is an agent of capital in the capital/labor relationship."

Wayne doesn't define what an "agent" is. If an agent of X is someone who takes orders from X and looks out for their interests, this is not sufficient to define the bureaucratic class. First, workers could also be regarded as agents of capital since we are hired to do the work they want us to do. What we do is in the interests of the capitalists. This also doesn't explain what is distinctive about the managers & high end professionals as a dominating class, with an antagonistic relation to the working class.

There is an even bigger problem with this in that it makes Wayne's view of the state absurdly reductionist. The state cannot be understood as merely a direct expression of capital. States can be, and often have been, a means to enrichment and privilege for the people who run it. This can be an independent source of class power. This brings me to one of the errors in Engels' book "The Origin of Private Property, the Family and the State." In that book Engels suggests that first classes emerge and class conflict and then the state to contain that conflict. But anthropologists who have looked at the origin of the first states don't see it that way. Class did not already exist before states. On the contrary, the class system emerged out of the early states, as the people running the state were separated off from the masses, and gained privilege and power from their control of the state. The early states may have emerged out of earlier tribal systems of leadership, where chiefs gained agreement to build up a more extensive system of control over things like distribution and organization of defense, and the relations between a group of tribes. This may have happened in order to control important resources like irrigation or to have a better defense against rival tribes.

Once the territorial state exists, and a class system with it, states will continue to exist as long as the class division exists, because the state is needed to defend the growing class differentiation and power of the dominating classes.

In regard to exploitation, Wayne makes another absurd statement: "That is exploitation. We have a moral objection to this, but in itself it is not a moral judgment, unlike Tom's view of exploitation as "someone gains unwarranted benefits from others." "

The word "exploitation" is an ethical word. If there is exploitation there is injustice. Therefore it logically follows that if you say workers are exploited, this is in fact a "moral judgment." Moreover, a sense of injustice is itself part of the motivation of struggles against it. People find it necessary to feel that they are justified in their actions, in their demands. And the moral illegitimacy of the worker/capital relation is part of that. In recent decades Marxist thinkers have debated whether Marx thought capitalism was unjust. I think he did. If he didn't, he shouldn't have used the word "exploitation."

Wayne also says: "Yeah, but the wealth of society, the sum totals of value and surplus value, is not produced by monopolists. They parasitically get an extra share of the overall pool of surplus value. It is divied up differently than if there were only a purely competive capitalism. But the *production* of the commodities and services which bear the values *only* comes from "the power of capital over labor" and from no other form of domination!"

Wayne has admitted that for example the theft of the Indians lands was a way that wealth was amassed. So not all profit is from exploitation of labor. Also, another way that profit is extracted is through cost shifting, as with pollution. Since costs are shifted onto working class communities, this is a way that profit is obtained by using up our lives, but not merely thru our labor in workplaces. Moreover, the domination of the bureaucratic class over labor is necessary in contemporary capitalism to produce commodities with labor. So "the power of capital over labor" is not the only form of class domination that is involved. Some members of the bureaucratic class are pretty much purely "guard labor" (supervisors are needed to ensure that people work diligently etc) but some of the necessary work of production is also done by some members of that class.

author by Waynepublication date Tue Jul 10, 2012 10:53Report this post to the editors

Robin Hahnel writes a response to my essay, and I respond to him at:

Which brings out the odd fact that Tom does not comment on my criticisms of Hahnel and Albert. If he did, he (as a revolutionary) would have to explain what about their "Parecon" concept led them (each on his own) to a reformist program. I believe it is the moralist method they use and which he defends. The model of Parecon is built on a basis of abstract ;moral standards, from which criteria for a good society are deduced and then the model of such a society was worked out. It is completely devoid of an analysis of what tendencies in capitalism are developing toward the possibilities of a new society and how they can be built on. Such an approach can be presented amorally (socialism is inevitable and whatever develops is socialism) but it does not have to be--fi we use moral criteria to chose which trends in capitalism we want to build on and which to oppose.

On another point: What do I mean by saying that the professional-managerial class is an "agent" (the "personification") of capital? Aren't workers also agents of capital?? Well, Tom shoiuld be able to distinguish beween, say, slaves and their overseers. The oversers were agents of the slaveowners. Their job was to get the maximum of labor out of the slaves, in the service of the slaveowning class and the slaveowning societiy. They, like the slaveowners, lived off of the slave's surplus labor (beyond what little went to sustain the slaves).

This does not deny that the overseers also carried out the necessary task of coordination, which even a collective of freed slaves would still have needed to get done. Similarly, the capitalists and/or their manageers carry out the necessary tasks of coordination --alongside of, and integrated with, their main task of exploitation and modern slave-driving. (To the extent that they do this necessary coordination, Marx sayis, they are part of the "collective laborer.")

Without getting into the Marxist theory of rent, the land stolen from the Native Americans did not become capable of producing profits until it was taken and integrated into a market place where commodities are bought and sold, including human labor power, i.e. capitalism, fundamentally based on the exploitation of that labor power. No doubt profits can be squeezed out otherways, but it is still the shifting around of value (Ilabor time), as when workers's wages are taxed or taken by landlords. Where did the wages come from?

Tom writes, 'Moreover, the domination of the bureaucratic class over labor is necessary in contemporary capitalism to produce commodities with labor. So "the power of capital over labor" is not the only form of class domination that is involved.' Um, doesn't this demonstrate that the domination of the bureaucratic class over labor" *is* an example of the "power of capital over labor"?!That is what capital is, forcing the workers to produce commodities, and using the surplus value produced to accumulate ever more capital (to force the workers to produce even more commodities, etc., etc.). Those who carry out t his task are the agents of capital. See?

author by Tompublication date Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:31Report this post to the editors

says Wayne: "Which brings out the odd fact that Tom does not comment on my criticisms of Hahnel and Albert. If he did, he (as a revolutionary) would have to explain what about their "Parecon" concept led them (each on his own) to a reformist program. I believe it is the moralist method they use and which he defends."

Wayne is confused here. By the "moral method" used by Albert & Hahnel he must mean their attempt to find ethical principles from which they defend their libertarian socialist model by deducing it from those principles. I do not use that aprioristic method anywhere, so Wayne is being gratuitous.

Workers self-management as an aim, and the development of this conception of a society beyond capitalism, came out of the syndicalist wing of the labor movement going back to the First International. The concept of workers self-management had been developed and put in practice in struggle by the workers movement in USA and Europe in the mid-1800s. In that era equipment & tools were not too expensive and often a way that workers would fight in a strike was they would form a cooperative to continue making a living. This was a common labor movement tactic in the mid-1800s and thus was the origin of the cooperative vision of the Knights of Labor for example. But as capital became more expensive and large scale industry became more the norm, this became impossible and the coop orientation of the mid-1800s shifted to the revolutionary syndicalist conception of the struggle as a struggle to take over the whole the economy through a complete revolutionary transformation.

But throughout this period the workers movement was also animated by moral concepts, which you would have to acknowledge to explain why they came to these conclusions. Self-management itself is a conception of positive, collective freedom, arrived at by the critique of class oppression of workers by the dominating classes. But this is itself a form of practical moral reasoning. Being a form of practical moral reasoning it takes account of the actual social reality of the situation in capitalist society and the real movement of resistance and opposition, as providing the force or way of realizing the ethical aim.

author by Waynepublication date Wed Jul 11, 2012 00:50Report this post to the editors

A brief clarification: I did not say that you used this moralistic, "aprioristic method," Tom. I said that Hahnel and Albert did, and that this at least contributes to their (not your) coming to reformist political conclusions.

Incidently, people may be interested in further exploration of Robin Hahnel's politics in my review of his book, Economic Justice and Democracy, at

author by Tompublication date Wed Jul 11, 2012 04:41Report this post to the editors

Well, Wayne, you say I "defended" their moral method.

I think a moral critique of capitalism is necessary and inevitable. Oppression & exploitation are primary forms of injustice. When people fight against various forms of oppression & exploitation, these are "struggles for justice" or "freedom struggles." When people feel that what's going down isn't "right", that the power over them is illegitimate, this provides a motivation for struggle. Thus part of the critique of capitalism is that it's a system of oppression & exploitation, that the profits & power of the dominating classes are not legitimate.

Oppression and self-management are opposites. Self-management is positive freedom, having the power to control the decisions that affect you. One of the things capitalism did was to convert production to industrial systems that require large groups of people to work together and coordinate to produce the things we want. We're not going to go back to household production and individual farms & workshops. So that's how worker militants who reflected on their oppression at the hands of employers, bosses, came to the conclusion that collective self-management was the answer, was needed for working class liberation.

So, from reflexion on the conditions of our oppression under capitalism, and its illegitimacy, that was how the project or ideal of workers self-management was developed. Also, if our subordination & exploitation are illegitimate then our overthrow of that condition is legitimate, that is, that we have the right to revolution.

So there is this moral dimension to the ideology of liberation. On the other hand, that doesn't tell us how that liberation is to come about. Reflecting on the class struggle, the capacity to win concessions and have an impact through collective forms of action, of using our numbers and our ability to halt production, leads of course to an emphasis on the class struggle, and a worker-run class movement as the method to achieve our liberation..."the liberation of the working class is the work of the workers themselves." This kind of thinking is strategic thinking about how liberation can be brought about, the method or strategy. Nonetheless, it does assume of course the legitimacy of this struggle, and of our "right to revolution."

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