MHI has just completed an international Skype class entitled “Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program as New Foundation for Organization.” So that class members as well as other people who could not attend the class can all hear the discussions, we are posting them now.
A description of the class series and the reading list for each session are here.
Study questions based on the readings formed the basis of the discussion at each class; the study questions are here and they are read out in the recordings.
We hope you will continue the discussion with us by leaving your comments or writing to us.
Click the red link below each class title to hear an audio recording of the class discussion:
Class 1. Overview: Philosophy, Economics, Organization
Begins with a brief introduction.
Class 2. Production and Distribution
Class 3. The State
Class 4. Capitalist vs. Communist Modes of Production
Class 5. Organizational Implications: I
Begins with brief remarks about Raya Dunayevskaya.
Class 6. Organizational Implications: II
I’d just like to make a comment regarding Class 2 on production and distribution on The Critique of The Gotha Programme.
You *can* alter distribution in certain ways – e.g. through the welfare state. The Pope has recently come out in favour of large scale redistribution of wealth.
But I think Marx’s point is that ultimately it changes nothing. If benefits are generous enough to have a reasonable standard of living, they always get reduced quickly to subsistence level, often with the support of the rest of workers who feel they were being treated unfairly when benefits were higher. Why, they say, should I work a 10 hour shift when a sponger is getting the same life by being idle? And this is quite right to the extent that morality as well is conditioned by the mode of production – high levels of benefits just are unfair and will always be reduced to what they were intended for – keeping the ‘reserve army of labour’ alive.
So the morality of both the Pope and the welfare state is only evolved by the mode of production – hence it is a dead end. To achieve genuine emancipation from the world of work, the way we labour has to be transformed into something creative, the working day should also be shortened to allow for a fuller development of the individual that can only take place in his or her free time, essentially you have to change the mode of production.
A comment on Class 4, relating to Andrew’s question at 1:08. Labour is ‘indirectly social’ under capitalism because it produces commodities that capitalists intend to sell. It is only at the point of exchange, if it occurs at all, where the buyer gets a use-value, that the original labour has any social meaning. It’s completely indirect.
By contrast, directly social labour, i.e. production for need, is the production of use-values as previously consciously worked out democratically by society at large (and that ‘plan’ is pretty easy to envisage today with the internet, etc.)
I think the tricky thing to get across is why this matters. Some might say ‘who cares if labour is only indirectly social if I still get what I need most of the time?’
The point is that indirectly social labour completely warps the process of production. Yes you might still get what you want under ‘indirectly social labour’, but that process of consumption (the socialising bit) takes place after work, i.e. after your life-activity. What we need to be interested in for full freedom is to overcome the alienated character of work (i.e. that which occupies most of the day), and that can only be done by having directly social labour. It’s about transforming work from a drudgery into something joyous we all like to do.
I can’t remember which class it was on, or even on another of the great recordings on this site, but somewhere Andrew raised the question of how we ‘incentivise’ workers if under the lower phase of communism, one hour’s pay = one hour’s work. So the issue is why should anyone bother to train as a brain surgeon if they can retrieve the same rewards from society if they were a cleaner in the hospital, or some other unskilled form of labour. This is a very important bone of contention because if we want to do away with classes (and therefore the basis of the substantial conflicts and antagonisms in society that make our lives miserable), then we do need to have an equality in the sphere of rewarding equal production. Yet it is also clear that we regard certain labours as more beneficial to ourselves than others. So how to square the circle?
One way I was thinking about was just to think that the brain surgeon will get extra perks indirectly (i.e. not in their ‘credits’, but from other members of society who thank them for saving a child’s life, give them things). But this will not do. To be a brain surgeon, you have to be so skilled, concentrating so much, not be tired, etc., that you can only really operate on one or two brains per day. If this takes 1 or 2 hours, the brain surgeon, under equal ‘compensation’, would actually be WORSE off than the cleaner who does 4 hours a day. Little informal redistribution would not be enough to rectify that defect. Informal redistribution cannot give the incentive we need, therefore.
My proposed solution is to forget about one hour’s work = one hour’s pay. Instead I propose one day’s work = one day’s pay. So the brain surgeon who really can only work 1 or 2 hours per day gets paid the same as an IT worker who does say, 6 hours. Society will need to vigorously debate what kinds of labour it values the most to codify this into a scheme that can be implemented by the workers’ administration, and that’s a good thing. That debate, plus the rewarding character of the work, plus the less time it takes, plus the well-funded training programme, will be enough to incentivise people into becoming brain surgeons. And so it goes with all professions.
Note it is also important to bear in mind that in this lower phase of communism, there will be active efforts on the part of society to liberate people from the degrading jobs like cleaning, through more high-tech robotics and other devices. To the extent drudgerous labour persists, it will be rotated amongst the mass of workers, i.e. those who chose not to train as brain surgeons.
I think if you bear in mind the previous two paragraphs, you can see how the lower phase of communism does, after several years, become the higher phase. By having one day’s work = one day’s pay, and admitting there is a difference in how long that day should be for diffferent tasks, you are already moving towards “each according to their abilities.” And with the humanist desire to abolish drudgerous labour, you have a tendency towards progress, so “to each according to their needs” is achieved when society has reached such a progressive level that all scarcity has been abolished.