What is at stake with the Labour Theory of Value

Image of Labour Bund campaign against child wage slavery.Marx has been getting a lot of media attention recently, with articles exploring his relevance in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Time Magazine, Forbes and many others. A quick search on Google trends for “was Marx right” shows a blip after the crisis but a stream of mentions since 2011.

As Marx is known as having given a powerful and substantive critique of capitalism, it’s natural that whenever it is suggested that capitalism may have endemic problems, that his name will be invoked.

Many economists, including Greenspan, were claiming that crisis was permanently a thing of the past. New Labour famously proclaimed on their advent to power in 1997 that they would put an end to the cycle of “boom and bust” capitalism, only to preside over the biggest bust since the Great Depression.

Marx’s critique, by contrast, held that in fact crisis is inherent to capitalism. With two centuries of periodic crisis it’s clear that any analysis which can claim to be predictive is going to have to account for these crises.
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Strategy of Attrition: Part II

Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

(Outside of the Church there is no Salvation)


In order for strategies to become more permanently established they need to be theorised.

Just as the Anarchists theorised the workers councils as the vehicle of liberation, Kautsky and the Marxist Centre theorised the mass socialist-labour organisations as the agents of socialist transformation.

The view was brought out in the debates between Otto Bauer and Kautsky over the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. Bauer argued that there could be a Russian road to socialism; that the backward conditions found there facilitated the crash-course of industrialisation which would pave the way for socialism in the future.

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The Strategy of Attrition: Part I

Conquest or Destruction of the State?

Citizen Engels

St Paul preaches to the Victorians

Right from its beginnings in early 19th century, socialism has been bedevilled by debates over strategy in a way that right-wing ideologies have not.

Would salvation come, as Fourier dreamed, from wealthy benefactors funding new communist colonies or maybe, as Proudhon envisaged, through workers founding their own mutualist enterprises and bypassing politics altogether?

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Democracy and the role of the party

Democracy in Crisis

“In sharp contradiction to the belief that democracy is only a way to Socialism is another viewpoint which is also quite popular in Socialist ranks, namely, that true democracy is possible only in a Socialist society and that what we have now as democracy is an illusion and has only a formal character.”
–Karl Kautsky

Petrograd Soviet, 1917Everywhere in Europe, but with special intensity in Spain, a strong distrust of politicians, parties, and to a certain extent representative democracy, is gaining currency as the feeling of the vast majority. Expressions like “they’re all the same” or “voting is useless”, which were never unheard of, are nonetheless acquiring the social imprimatur of common sense, although paradoxically many of those most likely to utter them will, when it comes to the crunch, show up at the polling station and have a care for what ballot they put into the urn. It’s undeniable, though, that there is a crisis of legitimacy, and the belief that those who in theory represent us for the common good are in fact looking to their own sectional interest (or that of their patrons) not just first, but exclusively, is increasingly widespread.

There are many responses to this situation: resignation (it is inevitable that someone must rule and that they will be corrupted in so doing), depoliticisation (what is required is a neutral, capable, non-ideological government by technicians), relativism (my party is bad but it is not as bad as your party), and of course a number of more rupturist views. The general thrust of these is that what we have right now is not truly democratic, and that some formal or procedural change is required to introduced so-called real democracy. That was the name of one of the primary movements during the 15M, Democracia Real Ya (Real Democracy Now). Likewise, the structure of parties such as Izquierda Unida (United Left) or the PCE is regarded as undemocratic because of their internal structure. Some of these claims have some merit, but many are ultraleft wishful thinking dressed in liberal language.

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Working Class Hero

Proletarian swinging a pickThere is a fairly widespread argument concerning the working class that goes something like this:

The Working class is now only a small fragment of the population. The old class politics is therefore permanently dead and can not be resuscitated. Instead we need a focus on freeing the expression of various groups and protecting the most vulnerable in society. These include many different groups of which the working class is only part of this vulnerable section.

The first part about the working class no longer existing, I have for a long time found a fascinating subject. That this view is almost invariably given to me by people who sell their labour power in the market in order to subsist, causes me to shake my head in a mixture of confusion, horror and amusement.
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What is Historical Materialism?

Art by Stephanie McMillan

Art by Stephanie McMillan

When we are born we see the world without preconceptions. The sense data from the world flows into our brains without systematic categorisation.

For this reason the world seems a nonsense. We can not understand it and we can hardly move properly. Only the most critical system functions, such as breathing and eating, are organised by a more primitive instinctive part of the brain.

Later we learn to take specific sense data and to abstract it, to form generalities, to find objects that repeat themselves and to find what manner of active control we can exert on the world.

An adult human has very sophisticated theories of the world. They have models in their minds of people, places, objects, possibilities of action, and methods of communication.

Much of the structure of these theories is formed not simply by the individual, but is the result of communication. Humans engage in a collective social process of formulating understandings of the world, of themselves, of social roles, of collective activity, and of how individuals should fit into it.
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Disrupting Democracy

riotIn that last few years there have been numerous mass demonstrations which lead to changes of government, including in Egypt and the Ukraine. During this period the United States has been a major player in attempting to destabilise democratically elected parliaments or presidents.

The recipe for destabilisation of a democratically elected government can be seen from documents regarding Venezuela and the Ukraine 1 2 3

a) Build up a narrative of general discontent based on real grievances of the population – (ironically many of these grievances are directly the result of capitalist policies).
b) Facilitate mass demonstrations using NGOs and funding of various mobilising groups to give voice to these grievances in order to delegitimise the government.
c) Use press releases and connections in the media to create a barrage of sympathetic media.
d) Use paramilitary or military connections to ensure sufficient “hard” backing to the soft power, increasing the likelihood of the current government stepping down.
e) Have a shadow government in waiting for the replacement of the current one.

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Anti-Capitalism: The Musical! – Interview with Deirdre Murphy, writer and director.

Capitalist standing on the shoulders of a prole.AC:TM is a crowdfunded project to produce radical theatre in Ireland. If you’d like to donate, their funding page is here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/anti-capitalism-the-musical

Tell me about Anti-Capitalism – what is it and what is it intended to accomplish?

AC:TM is an acrobatic musical theatre piece – a fairytale set in a near-future political reality that is similar to our own.

It’s intended to give a particular spin on a lot of events that have been kicking around the world lately, to inspire a little lateral thinking about how we interact with power structures, and ways in which we could restructure.

Give me an outline of the plot and setting.

Without giving away too many spoilers – the play is full of plot twists and turns, assasinations and intrigue, agent provacateurs, trials, and tribulations! The world is one where the line between magic and advanced technology is indistinguishable. There’s a trimvirate of powerful Fairy Godmothers who act as a narrative voice, a Superhero Group who double as minions, and of course – the Emperor Group.

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Podemos: what is it?

Puerta del Sol in Madrid during the 2011 Spanish protests

Puerta del Sol in Madrid during the 2011 Spanish protests

Podemos is a new political option in the Spanish state. For now it is not much more than an idea, and it will go for elections for the first time for the European Parliament, a contest wherein–for reasons I will discuss later–the left has certain advantages. It’s been compared to other movements in different countries, such as the Italian Five Star Movement or SYRIZA. However, these comparisons are not adequate to characterise what I will argue is a new strategic approach to organisation.

In order to understand Podemos, one must understand some facts of the spanish economic and political conjuncture, so I’ll have to describe some of the key differential factors at play.

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The tragedy of Walter White


In The Death of Tragedy (1961), George Steiner argued that tragedy was not possible in the modern world. The liberal worldview, he argued, is incompatible with tragedy, circumscribing the irrational and unjust suffering with an optimism for reform and justice. The combination of the brutal and the fickle found in Ancient Greek and Jacobean theatre became impossible for writers imbued with the sense of progress typical of post-Enlightenment thought.

Marxists, he thought, were typical of this tendency, citing Soviet Commissar for Education Anatoly Lunacharsky’s assertion that in Communism there would be no tragic drama. “The tragic theatre,” Steiner says, ” is an expression of the pre-rational phase in history; it is founded on the assumption that there are in nature and in the psyche occult, uncontrollable forces able to madden or destroy the mind.” It can be treated as an historical relic because “tragedy can occur only where reality has not been harnessed by reason and social consciousness.”

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Spontaneity, control and socialist organization

In this article I wish to write down some of my thoughts on socialist organization, more specifically on spontaneity and control within the working class and how this relates to socialist organization(s). The thinking underlying this article starts with the realization I had some time ago that no matter how much socialists claim or have claimed to truly represent or even be the working class, there is a sort of universal tendency within left-wing history to be outmanoeuvred precisely by this same working class. This socialist lack of control over the workers is an interesting starting point for some notes on the positioning of socialist organizations in relation to the ebb and flow of spontaneously erupting politics.
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How do we get from here to there? Socialist strategy and political participation

Two men in a truck looking alternately puzzled and determinedIs there a clear path to a better world? All too often, the route is set from a single fork in the road; the old polemical division – reform or revolution. For those who emphasise immediate reforms, we go via policy, driven by a competent and committed party, skilled at crafting reforms and winning support for them. For revolutionaries, the vehicle is a movement powerful enough to overthrow capitalism and institute a new society in its place, accompanied by a party to guide them there. For this camp, reforms are, at best, waystones in the development of a revolutionary movement; at worst, dangerous diversions that instill a false faith in the malleability of capitalism.

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Socialist Party Resignation Statement

9 Irish Socialist Party PostersThis statement has been drawn up by the following recently resigned members of the Socialist Party: Andrew Phelan, Megan ni Ghabhlain, Richard O’Hara, Pamela Rochford, Stephanie O’Shea and Jimmy Dignam.


Tragically, Rob Ryan passed away before this statement was completed but he played an important role in the debates that took place around the process of its writing. He repeatedly expressed agreement with the key issues contained within this statement and we feel it is vital that we acknowledge his contribution. We have included links to articles that elaborate further on some arguments made within this document as many of the topics described have been written on extensively before.

After our recent resignations it became clear to us that whilst differing on some issues there were some core reasons behind all our resignations. We hope that this document can be a contribution to the debates currently taking place around what kind of mass Party is needed to rebuild the workers’ movement and play a crucial role in overthrowing Capitalism. While not claiming to have the answer to this question we feel it is important for us to offer our criticisms not just of the Socialist Party or the Committee for a Workers International but Trotskyism4 as an ideology.
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The Transition

Butterfly emerging from its chrysalis The period of transition between our current capitalist economic and social system and a socialist economy is a very controversial subject among socialists. Maintaining an active dialogue and critique of this period is absolutely critical to our strategic and tactical understanding of how to achieve a socialist society. Nothing springs from the naked void fully formed5. We need to examine the best avenues open to us for changing our current social direction into a society we would like to bring into existence.

The Juncture

Capitalism is like a hot ember placed on a flammable object – the fire consumes the body in patches and gulps, some areas taking longer to catch, some areas exploding with flame and some areas quickly charred and brought to heel. Yet capitalism smouldered for a long period before catching fire. An economic, social and political regime can appear to remain stagnant while an apparent marginal economic activity moves towards dominance and finally erupts. Capitalism, which was once a marginal approach to economic activity, exploded onto the scene of history with dynamic force; a force which in a few centuries almost completely eliminated feudalism. A theory of social change will have to take into account the conditions which allow new social systems to ignite. It must also recognise that societies can exist in an admixture of various different economic systems. For this reason studying the entrance of capitalism onto the political scene is deeply important. Its genesis can give us clues to its demise.
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Posted in Economics, Politics | 4 Comments