Recently, I posted some excerpts from Proudhon, Engels, and Marx. Proudhon came to my notice by a piece signaled and posted by James Corbett and that you can find ‘here.’
My preference, when time allows me, is to wrestle directly with sources rather than have someone else tell me what these sources said or may conceivably be interpreted to mean. My interpretation, rightly or wrongly, is not always that of another, and often what another finds interesting or telling in what he interprets and recommends is not always what will strike me as interesting or telling.
And so it is that I came upon Chapter IV of Proudhon’s ‘What is Property?’ The thing that impressed me about that chapter was the similarity between it and what, for lack of a better term, I will call the ‘debt-free-money-movement.’
Both Proudhon and the ‘debt-free-money-movement’ recognize that the ‘interest’ or ‘rent’ charged for the use of ‘money,’ to either private individuals or public institutions, does not really serve any ‘vital’ purpose in our economy and, consequently, that it could easily be eliminated in practice without in the least impairing ‘trade-and-production’ concerns, but rather and in fact, that if it were eliminated, the immediate short term effect would be highly stimulating to the economy, immediately beneficial to everyone, and in the long term, the ‘system’ would be, at least ‘in principle,’ more equitable in its distribution of remunerative opportunities. I think that there is no serious question as to whether this would be the result, at least in the near to medium term, given our current economic and social context (see, for example, the works of Ellen Brown, Michael Hudson, American Monetary Institute, Positive Money and Michael Rowbotham for a more complete discussion of the issue).
And yet the Marxists, people like Engels and Marx, find fault with this Proudhonist proposal. Let me as best as I can boil it down for you, and then if you want, you can go and wrestle with Engels and Marx (and you can start with the two excerpts that I posted) to see if my paring down of the prolixity of their argument fails to do justice to the points of their objection:
- while it is true that euthanizing the rentiers along with Bill Still’s ‘money masters’ would ‘liberate’ the industrial and merchant fractions of capitalism from the stranglehold of the financial fractions, the working class itself, the overwhelming majority of humankind, would yet remain enslaved. For according to Engels and Marx and others who think along similar lines, profit is nothing other than that portion of the workday for which a working person is not paid, and the long term consequence of that is that ‘labor,’ that portion of society which provides the brains and the muscle to produce society’s goods and services, never has the ‘cash equivalent in hand’ to purchase the goods and services at the ‘market price’ that the capitalist wants for ‘his’ wares. Neither do you need to be Marx or Engels to understand this nor did Marx or Engels need to write so much and so turgidly to get their point across: no capitalist goes into business to sell a product or a service for the money it cost him to procure it for himself; consequently, in a capitalist market, all employees are paid less than the market value of what it is that they produce. If ‘E’ represents what all employees collectively ‘earn,’ and ‘P’ represents the aggregate price of the product of what the employees produce for their capitalist enterprises, which includes the capitalist’s ‘costs of production’ plus the ‘for-profit-markup,’ then clearly the truth of the matter can be summed up thus: ‘E’ < ‘P’ . Note, however, that ‘E’ represents ‘all’ the ‘money’ that ‘all’ employees receive and that they therefore have in their possession with which to ‘purchase’ anything at all. And this ‘E’ is always less than ‘P.’ And as it happens, and as already clearly implied, ‘all’ the employees are also ‘all’ of the consumers in the economy in so far as they are both the majority and the people at whom the capitalists target the sale of their production. But if ‘E’ is always less than ‘P’, it doesn’t require an in depth study of Das Kapital ‘to get’ that there is an insurmountable problem with ‘for profit production’ as the ‘basis’ of an economy. And very obviously, Proudhonism or the ‘debt-free-money-movement’ does not resolve this particular and, for capitalism, most grievous flaw in both its primary logic and dynamic.
- while Proudhon and the ‘debt-free-money-movement’ proposal may at first blush appear to be ‘radical,’ it is anything but because it fails in its analysis to comprehend the true ‘pivot’ of the tension between wealth and poverty within the capitalist framework. Furthermore, its mode of analysis, as underscored by Marx, is ahistorical. It doesn’t deal with or examine the ‘cultural’ (read, ideological and political) dimensions of ‘capitalist society’ that taken together are ‘the material matrix,’ so to speak, that is to say, ‘the glue’ that stabilizes and ‘fixes’ the system as a ‘persistent structure of social relations.’ It is not enough to grapple with and come to an ‘analytical’ comprehension of the flaw in the system (i.e., ‘E’ < ‘P’); one has also to develop a comprehension of ‘why,’ in the face of cyclical disaster, capitalist society doesn’t seem to be able to ‘fix’ so simple a flaw. For Marx, it comes down to recognizing in a deep historical sense that ‘classes’ exist and that these classes have deeply antagonistic ‘economic’ interests, and until the ‘ruling’ class — in our particular instance, the ‘capitalist’ class — is stripped of both its political rule and extensive ideological primacy and control over the whole of society, nothing, but absolutely nothing, gets fixed in any real or substantive way.
Yes, I’m oversimplifying. But I’ll wager, not by much.