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Democracy for Whom

Started by Richard Mellor, August 10, 2008, 12:44:48 pm

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I want to thank Mr. Mellor for his thoughtful reply to my comments. As in all his work, his passionate concern for, and fervent commitment to, Justice for working people come through loud and clear. I hope he will try to keep forefront in his mind how much I respect and admire him for that. Perhaps he will try to keep in mind that Justice for working people is my primary concern as well.

Judging from his comments in his reply to my remarks, it does not appear that he gave much attention or consideration to my argument. I can find no other explanation for the bizarre conclusion that he draws when he writes, "Zwarich denies the existence of surplus value if I understand him right". I think it is very clear in my argument, as written, that I do NOT deny the existence of surplus value. The crux of the discussion here is not the existence of 'surplus value', but rather the source of, and resultant definition of, 'surplus value'. I argued that Mr. Mellor thinks in circles to prove himself right. His arguments are rooted in the same postulates that they seek to prove.

To consider the example that is central to this whole discussion, he previously argued that "labor, (actually he used the term "labor power", which he now complains that I confuse with 'labor', but he does not elaborate, or attempt to relieve what he calls my 'confusion', referring me instead to the works of Marx), "is the only commodity the use of which adds value to other commodities".

I pointed out (in my argument) that this is absurd, since we all can see quite plainly that the application of capital to labor adds value to labor, at least similar to, (although not necessarily equal to), the value that labor adds to capital.

I also pointed out that there is a crucial third 'commodity', (Mr. Mellor's term), in the equation of the production of surplus value, 'expertise', which I briefly defined as the ability to organize and run the enterprise that applies capital and labor for the production of goods and services, and 'surplus value'. (There are other 'commodities' that contribute to the equation of production as well, such as raw materials, social infrastructure, etc, but for the purposes of this discussion, let's keep it simple).

Somehow Mr. Mellor handily misread my entire argument to respond that I denied the EXISTENCE of 'surplus value'. In his response he also (again) completely ignores the value that the commodity 'expertise' contributes to the production of 'surplus value'. Will he argue that 'expertise' is also the theft of 'unpaid labor', or will he simply continue to ignore this commodity, since it doesn't fit into his simplified, (and simplistic), equation?

It is very common that workers who have never run a business have no conception whatsoever as to how excruciatingly demanding and challenging a task it can be. I have worked for over thirty years doing daily hard labor, (I am a carpenter by trade), and I have run a business as well, (and at the same time, to sell my own labor in the marketplace, and to organize jobs for other workers, and to sell their labor in the marketplace). We, (my fellow carpenters and I), worked out in the elements, in the oppressive heat and humidity of summers, and in the cutting north wind of sub-freezing, (and even sometimes sub-zero), January. The work we did was heavy, constantly painful, and often dangerous, (working on scaffolds at great height, etc). In our trade, one's pain threshold is a crucial factor that determines one's ability to succeed in the trade. It is a very rugged way to make a living.

Yet of these two distinct tasks, organizing and running the business, and working for myself providing labor to the business, the pain involved in heavy labor always seemed easier to bear than the 'headaches' involved in running the business. (A person lacking in the requisite physical strength to bear the pain of labor might think differently). Indeed, many times over these decades I have asked other carpenters who have chosen to work side by side with me in my business, why they didn't choose to run their own business? (The capital requirements in that business are not all that great, and I made many an offer to 'stake' a young and talented carpenter). Some had tried to run their own businesses before, and either were not successful or didn't like it. Some eventually did make the effort to "go out on their own", (and I often helped them get started). But the most common answer, (by FAR), was, "I don't want the headaches".

Yet in his closed-loop system of circular thought, Mr. Mellor completely ignores this crucial factor of the commodity 'experise', the ability to organize and run an enterprise to facilitate the application of the commodities 'capital' and 'labor', in the creation of 'surplus value'. He instead 'proves' that 'all surplus value is unpaid labor' simply by repeating the postulate that his argument is based on, which is, (handily), that 'all capital is unpaid labor'.

So......In his closed-loop system of circular thought, he ignores the existence (let alone the value) of 'expertise', (and therefore no portion of 'surplus value' is 'unpaid headaches'), and labor is 'the only commodity that adds value to other commodities', because it is the ONLY commodity, period, (since capital is 'past unpaid labor'). Thus...... His argument is, "Everything is unpaid labor because everything is unpaid labor".

Anyway............At this point I am not sure that this discussion promises to hold any further or ongoing value. I do appreciate and greatly respect the passion that Mr. Mellor holds for his convictions. This discussion is of great interest to me, (it goes quickly to the very heart of the belief system that is called 'Socialism'), but I have no way of gauging the interest level of any other participants in the CL News forum.

I do know that I grow weary of being constantly subjected to socialist proselytizing, of the sort that started this discussion. The fact that I get tired of it does NOT, and should not, affect anyone's perfect right to profess their beliefs, (which should be needless to say). But if we are to be subjected to this proselytizing on the CL News forum, but this is an 'open forum' intended for the discussion of Justice for working people, an 'open forum 'in the sense that participation in the forum is not limited to 'true believers' in derivations of Marxist Socialism, then we might presume, (if it is truly a 'democratic' forum), that discussion of that which is proselytized is (or should be) welcome.

If participation IS limited to, or intended to be limited to, 'true believers' in derivations of Marxist Socialism, then one wonders what the purpose of the proselytizing could possibly be, (other than 'preaching to the choir' for the sake of hearing one's own voice), but in that case discussions of the basic postulates, or the manner of belief, of the 'belief system' itself, would not be appropriate here. (I would not contribute to a forum for evangelical Christians, for example, to argue against the divinity of Jesus).

In younger days I called myself a 'socialist', but that was before I really knew very much about the way the world's economies and political systems work. I simply put my faith and belief in the poetically heroic tenets on which Socialism is based.

Now that I no longer 'believe in' Socialism, I have learned from long experience that discussing Marxist Socialism, (or any other derivative of 'marxism'), with an adherent to that 'belief system' is very much like discussing a religion with a 'true believer' in that religion. A 'belief system' is a 'perfected closed loop' of logic. Adherents to a 'belief system' are, by requirement and necessity to be an adherent, blind to the circles of logic that comprise this 'perfected loop', (the logic of which is based on the same postulates it seeks to prove).

Mr. Mellor accepts and believes (apparently) that 'all surplus value is the theft of labor', (or some such), the way that a Christian believes that Jesus was the son of God. It is simply a matter of faith and belief, and I certainly do not begrudge him, (or a Christian), their perfect right to their freedom of faith and belief. Quite the opposite, I greatly respect both, in spite of the fact that I agree with neither.

I believe that objectivity and scientific skepticism are vital keys to the advancement of our knowledge and thought in any science. Social science, (to call it that), is no exception. Religiosity, unquestioning adoption and adherence to a 'belief system', is the polar opposite of scientific skepticism.

It was interesting to read the excellent James Cannon article, (adapted from a speech he gave in 1957), posted to CL News by Roland Garret a few days ago, entitled 'Socialism and Democracy'. This richly textured article, (which presents many ideas with which I avidly agree), is heavily tainted by this socialist religiosity, to such a heavy-handed and obvious extent that he refers to Marx and Engels as "the great teachers", (a term he uses as the words 'prophet', or even 'messiah', are used in other religions), and to their followers as "true disciples".

Witness that in his remarks here, Mr. Mellor suggests that I should study the 'bible' of his belief system, the works of the same "great teachers" (prophets) to whom Cannon referred, to clear up my 'confusion'. (Why is homosexuality an abomination, according to the closed-looped, (and I would argue logically perverted), thinking of an evangelical Christian? Because the Bible says so, that's why. No logic, however clear, or evidence, however strong, will deter adherents to such a closed-loop system from their convictions.

It is very unfortunate that it is so difficult to discuss the tenets of this particular belief system (Socialism) objectively with its adherents. It is even more unfortunate that its adherents, (like all religious zealots), have a heavy tendency to demonize 'non-believers', branding them with considerable contempt as 'liberals', or 'social democrats', or, as Mr. Mellor does me, (in the pointed insult he delivers in his closing), as a "small business man", and "self employed entrepreneur", whose remarks, (because of my identity as such), are "not even worthy responding to".

During my thirty odd years of daily hard labor, (mentioned above), I wore out MANY tool belts, (the salt from your sweat rots the leather), but because I was self-employed in my labors, and because I organized jobs for other workers who either were not capable of organizing their own, or chose not to, I am no longer the beneficiary (apparently) of Mr. Mellor's concerns, (as an avowed Marxist Socialist), for 'the workers'. Instead, and in spite of those decades of hard labor, he now fashions me as an object of contempt, whose remarks "are not even worth responding to". I am, according to his belief system, 'excommunicated' from the class that is the object of his concerns and beliefs, and my remarks therefore have no value.

This 'religious' tendency to demonize anyone who varies from the 'one true path' of faithful belief in the ideas of whatever "great teachers" one becomes a disciple of, has been the bane of the Left ever since there has been a Left, and it is certainly a major cause of the American Left's inept weakness. We, on the American Left, cannot find the means to forge common cause because so many of us hold that anyone who does not believe EXACTLY as we believe, anyone who does not adhere to our 'religion', (lock, stock, and barrel), must be 'demonized' as a heretic, an 'infidel', and ultimately, as an enemy.

At any rate.........I will choose to ignore Mr. Mellor's pointed insult, (that my remarks are "not worth responding to"). I will continue to respect and admire his passionate convictions, (even those with which I may disagree), because I know that they arise from his passionate concerns for the well-being of working people, and that he desires above all else that we find the way to forge a society that provides Justice to all its citizens.

And I will thank him again for his remarks.


PS: I would suggest, (if any, unlike Mr. Mellor, think that my remarks are worth responding to), that the tens of thousands of autoworkers who were offered several $BILLIONS of dollars in immediate liquid capital (cash) to leave their jobs, did not even so much as consider the possibility of pooling their capital to start their own enterprise(s) because they did not have the 'expertise' to do so. My purpose in posing this question was to point out (Socratically) the crucial nature of this 'commodity', expertise, in the equation of production. These autoworkers had a HUGE and ready supply of 'capital', and they obviously had plenty of the commodity 'labor', but they did not have the slightest capability to organize and manage a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

Though we, as leftists, recognize the evils of unbridled corporate power, if we look at the form factor of 'the corporation', (with our vision untainted by the evil behavior of the powerful corporations that we detest), we can see that it is inherently a democratic form. The bylaws of a corporation are the 'constitution' of the organization, and those who write those bylaws can do so in any fashion that they wish, within certain statutory requirements that are all geared to ensure (NOT limit) the quality of democracy that the bylaws define.

In these existing corporations that have destroyed our democracy, and are cruelly exploiting working people all over the globe, the bylaws are written in such a way that gives NO representation to those who work for the corporation. These bylaws only provide for democratic representation for those who own the corporation, (and even then, this representation is stilted in such a way that most of the de facto power lies in the hands of corporate officers).

But there is, and has been, absolutely NOTHING preventing a group of workers, however large or small, from forming a cooperatively owned and democratically run corporation to engage in collectively owned and democratically managed enterprise. They can write this corporation's constitution (its by-laws) in any fashion that they see fit as shall affect and guarantee both their individual and collective interests. We do NOT need what people call 'Socialism' to allow this to happen, (NOR does Socialism necessarily cause it to happen).

If someone thinks that the various state laws, (corporations are chartered by states), somehow prevent this from happening, could they please cite those laws? Workers can be granted, (by 'constitutional' right, in the bylaws), whatever rights and powers that those who write the corporate bylaws deem just and necessary for the most advantageous functioning of the corporation.