Marxism

capital

Marxism provides a description of history as a dialectic between class relations in terms of modes of production. Following Hegel, Marx inverts the primacy of ideas into the primacy of material conditions necessary for survival; such conditions are summarized by relations of productions where members of a society must engage in social relationships as a means towards life. While Hegel’s lord-bondsman is a dialectic of reaching self-consciousness (freedom of will), Marx’s aristocrat-slave, lord-serf, and capitalist-proletariat are dialectics of reaching economic equality (freedom of realization or means of production). Throughout history, the antagonisms between the prevailing class (those who control the means of production) and the under class (those who do not)  have created conflicts that have resulted in the overthrowing of the former by the latter and the synthesis of a new class (class struggle). For example, small tribal societies originally held property in the commons but would eventually acquire slaves to work the lands after the agricultural revolution. Tribes banded together and formed villages that grew into cities where the ruling families became Aristocrats. The growing expanse of territory had to be cultivated by an ever-increasing slave population that exceeded their replenishment; this phase culminated in the fall of the Roman empire which grew too large to be maintained (Barbarians completed the revolution with the sacking of Rome). From the remains emerged local lords who owned land that were occupied by serfs (once freeman); serfs subsist off the land but were required to give a fraction of their produce back to the lord as well as to work on the lord’s other properties. Over time (and land shortage), the freemen were able to urbanize and create a middle-class that became independently wealthy from trade/commerce; this marked the end of feudalism and gave rise to the capitalist class who could hire freemen on a wage to do work.

 

marx

The analysis of modes of production in its most recent form (capitalism) requires a short discourse in commodities. A commodity is a good/service produced from labor to be sold in a market. The value of a product can be expressed in terms of use-value or the utility that it serves, but also in terms of an exchange value for other products. According to Marx’s labor theory of value, the product’s market value ought to be regulated in terms of the average socially necessary labor time required to produce it; a chair is worth more than the wood that it was made from as it contains both the labor of construction and chopping of wood from tree. To mediate the exchange of various types and quantities of products (as to establish an equivalence between the labor of two different things), a third entity (money) is synthesized as to objectivize labor; here begins the disassociation of use-value from exchange value through the advancement of money (capital) and its power to command social labor. For example, money lent on interest produces more money without an antecedent product (and labor).  Money spent on a commodity to be sold at a higher price yields a profit. How capitalism accomplishes this feat is via the exploitation of workers (laborers).

In capitalism, the means of productions (e.g. machinery, material, land) are privately owned by the capitalists who employ workers to labor and produce commodities; workers relinquish their ownership of their product (labor) and given a wage (money). To maximize profit, the capitalist seeks to minimize the wage given the worker (enough that the worker can subsist on as to continue working the next day) and the reap the surplus of labor (anything produced beyond the fixed costs) to be sold on the market. Such relations between capitalist-worker and capitalist-capitalist are obscured by the perceived value of objects on the market which are mistaken for their intrinsic value (commodity fetishism); a laptop has a price tag but it hides the cost of production and those engaged in its transactions. The economic consequence is the appearance of an autonomous market that ascribes prices (and thus labor value) to commodities that are independent of the consumers (use-value).The far-reaching consequences are the pursuit of new markets in different territories (globalization), the development of  new technologies (subjugation of creativity) to more efficiently extract resources (enframing/challenge nature to produce something for standing reserve, Heidegger later) and replace labor, and the alienation between workers.

The social alienation through labor is manifested in several forms. The first form occurs between workers and the products which he/she have no control over the prices of; workers are given little input as to the design of their products (inventions are patented) and  receive little or no share of the profits. Second, Workers through the divisioning of their labor (sake of efficiency), are given repetitive/assembly line tasks that alienates him the total product; this differs from craftsman and serfs from the middle-ages and the Renaissance who produced their products from start to finish. Third in the psychological dimension, the worker loses his ability to objectify his will/intentions; his will is subordinated to the external demands of others for stretches of time. Last, the final form of alienation occurs between workers who are reduced to relations of competition for higher wages; the unemployed for example can threaten to take your jobs at a lower wage.

While alienation is a socially damaging effect of capitalism, Marx stressed that it is the economic contradictions within the capitalist’s mode of production that would be responsible for the next revolution. His immiseration thesis theorized that the worker’s economic impoverishment would deteriorate through the capitalist’s exploitation and greater accumulation of capital (inequality). The thesis is debatable as capitalism, through reforms (government minimum wage, unions) and its drive for new technologies have improved the standard of living (creation of the middle class that benefits the most) for workers; conversely, the average wage has hardly changed in the last forty years. Regardless, such a revolution proscribes to wrest and redistribute private ownership of the means of production back to the workers (socialism) which progresses towards a stateless society without economic classes (communism). Many authors have expounded on the many contradictions inherent to capitalism in more recent times (I recommend David Harvey) and so I’ll leave this discussion for a later time and conclude this blog entry.

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Marxism

Utilitarianism

Utilitarians

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist approach to ethics that attempts to objectivize worth in terms of “utility” (happiness, negation of suffering, pleasure) rather than adherence to universalizing laws (deontology) and motives (virtue-ethics). Classical utilitarianism adopts the Epicurean valuation of pleasure as a fundamental principle sought by all members of a society; pain, aside from masochist/sadist dichotomies, constitutes the opposite or undesirable. The English combined these concepts with the empiricst/Humean principles of cause & effects where the latter is considered social utility.

The two major proponents of this school of thought, Bentham and Mill, equate pleasure with happiness but differ as to how social utility is measured. Bentham quantified the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” as the determination of right/wrong; Mill qualified the determination as the “greatest aggregate happiness among sentient beings” which ranked happiness according to intellectual/moral pursuits higher than that of the physical/body. Mill justifies the assertion with the claim that one would choose the former over the latter if both are experienced; this can be be obviously attacked on the grounds of cognitive biases / variations of temperaments in later history. Intrinsic or not, the valuation implies an inequality amongst “moral goods” and subsequently the individuals who pursue them; such effects would be case-sensitive in the sense that worth is never absolute (for example, fur coat production in Siberia would be worth more than production in Egypt). Thus, codifying such a book of laws on social utility tends to intermingle many practical spheres such as economics and politics.

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Liberty is a central trade-off one makes in the pursuit of personal happiness and the concern with social utility; the “tyranny of the majority” may decree a law that increases their sense of securities whilst marginalizing your freedom (for example, the negation of liberty can be realized in incarceration). The limits of such acts are bounded by the “harm principle” which circumscribes all coercion by the state on an individual to actions that would prevent harm to its other members; one’s incarceration is evaluated by your danger to the public. As for the positive definition of liberty, Mill makes three claims (freedom of speech, taste, and union). Freedom of opinion (truth, half-truths, and falsehoods) in valued in so much that their expressions are necessary in the production of effects to which their moral statuses can be continually re-evaluated. Taste or individuality appeals to the biased ranking of different pleasures which must be experienced to be apprehended. Union is encouraged for the many can obtain greater pleasure for the whole than otherwise the singleton (for example, the shift from artisan crafts to mass-industrialization produces greater material wealth, the social costs are another story). Co-operatives are encouraged as profit-sharing increases the awareness of the common goods (satisfaction from participation with the whole) that counteracts the growing alienation of industrialized labor. Taxation becomes an instrument by the state to evaluate and manipulate social good.

Utilitarianism