I’ve expressed my disagreement with Kohei Saito’s Gradual Down and Marx within the Anthropocene in earlier posts. I welcome Huber’s and Phillips’s critique of Saito at Jacobin. They get a lot proper of their criticism of Saito’s Utopianism and implicit primitivism however they share with Saito a elementary misreading of Marx. This misreading relies on a speculative interpretation of a stirring however ambiguous passage in Marx’s Preface to his 1859 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economic system:

Within the social manufacturing of their existence, males inevitably enter into particular relations, that are impartial of their will, specifically relations of manufacturing applicable to a given stage within the growth of their materials forces of manufacturing. The totality of those relations of manufacturing constitutes the financial construction of society, the actual basis, on which arises a authorized and political superstructure and to which correspond particular types of social consciousness. The mode of manufacturing of fabric life situations the final strategy of social, political and mental life. It’s not the consciousness of males that determines their existence, however their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a sure stage of growth, the fabric productive forces of society come into battle with the present relations of manufacturing or—this merely expresses the identical factor in authorized phrases—with the property relations throughout the framework of which they’ve operated hitherto. From types of growth of the productive forces these relations flip into their fetters. Then begins an period of social revolution. The adjustments within the financial basis lead eventually to the transformation of the entire immense superstructure.

The misreading of the above turned canonical because the “classical Marxist idea of historical past” as expounded by Lenin, Stalin, and a number of Second Worldwide luminaries. As Georges Sorel complained already in 1908, although, “many liberties have been taken with this preface, which so many males cite with out ever having studied it significantly.” Not solely had they not “studied it significantly,” they didn’t but have entry to a for much longer and extra traditionally particular elaboration of the “fetters on the event of the forces of manufacturing” Marx had labored out in unpublished notebooks from 1857 and 1858.

On web page 415 of the 1973 English translation of the Grundrisse, Marx enumerated 4 contradictions that impose inherent limits to capital, each from the standpoint of accumulation and of growth of the forces of manufacturing. 

The levels of manufacturing which precede capital seem, regarded from its standpoint, as so many fetters upon the productive forces. It itself, nonetheless, appropriately understood, seems because the situation of the event of the forces of manufacturing so long as they require an exterior spur, which seems concurrently their bridle. … These essential limits are:

(1) Mandatory labour as restrict on the trade worth of residing labour capability or of the wages of the commercial inhabitants;

(2) Surplus worth as restrict on surplus labour time; and, in regard to relative surplus labour time, as barrier to the event of the forces of manufacturing;

(3) What’s the identical, the transformation into cash, trade worth as such, as restrict of manufacturing; or trade based on worth, or worth based on trade, as restrict of manufacturing.

That is:

(4) once more the identical as restriction of the manufacturing of use values by trade worth; or that actual wealth has to tackle a particular type distinct from itself, a type not completely equivalent with it, with a view to turn out to be an object of manufacturing in any respect.

Martin Nicolaus, translator of the 1973 version, had earlier commented on these limits in his 1968 essay, “The Unknown Marx”: 

Whereas a correct evaluation of the implications of those reasonably cryptic theses would require a e-book, it’s instantly obvious that these 4 ‘limits’ characterize not more than completely different features of the contradiction between ‘forces of manufacturing’ and ‘social relations of manufacturing’.

What Nicolaus described as cryptic theses in 56 years in the past have turn out to be extra intelligable over the many years as there have been extra research of Marx that get away from the fetters of the classical Marxist critique. I contemplate probably the most coherent discussions to be Derek Sayer’s Violence of Abstraction, which instantly confronted Gerald Cohen’s protection of what he referred to as “the old school historic materialism.” 

Huber and Phillips additionally adhere to what they extol because the classical Marxist critique, which they construe as “Marx’s thesis that socialism would launch manufacturing from the fetters of capitalism…” They go on to state their view that:

It was elementary for Marxists that at a sure level within the growth of the forces of manufacturing (principally scientific data, know-how, labor, land, and pure assets), they turn out to be constrained by the relations of manufacturing (the way in which that manufacturing is organized, which below capitalism means, roughly, house owners of capital promoting commodities on markets for revenue and hiring house owners of labor energy in trade for wages).

As Sayer identified, “[p]roductive forces are… an attribute of human beings in affiliation, their collective capacities, not a set of issues as auch in any respect.” Machines will not be productive forces. Applied sciences will not be productive forces. Pure assets will not be productive forces. Even skillls will not be productive forces. They “solely turn out to be productive forces in as far as they tackle social traits.” To miss that is, in Sayer’s phrases, to fetishize the notion of productive forces.

This raises a reasonably daunting query, if our fetishizing habits of thought lead us to fetishize even essentially the most coherent makes an attempt to remedy us of our fetishing habits of thought, how can we escape the dilemma? Marx posed the reply in his third thesis on Feuerbach. Whether or not it’s a passable reply is difficult to say.

The materialist doctrine regarding the altering of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are modified by males and that it’s important to coach the educator himself. This doctrine should, subsequently, divide society into two components, one in all which is superior to society.

The coincidence of the altering of circumstances and of human exercise or self-changing could be conceived and rationally understood solely as revolutionary follow.

How do Huber and Phillips conceive of revolutionary follow? 

…humanity is already at all times and in every single place surrounded by pure limits, by constraints on what we are able to presently do.

It’s science and know-how, shackled to egalitarianism (or as midcentury Marxist Hal Draper put it, “Prometheus plus Spartacus”), that permits us to beat these limits.

Prometheus Sculpture at Chernobyl

Curiously, Draper didn’t tether Prometheus to “science and know-how” as implied by Huber and Phillips’s parenthetical quotation. In truth, Draper solely talked about science as soon as and know-how under no circumstances. He additionally acknowledged that “Prometheus scarcely seems once more in Marx’s writings…” and elaborated in a footnote {that a}  notable exception is in Poverty of Philosophy the place Marx ridiculed Proudhon’s enlistment of Prometheus to play the a part of Robinson Crusoe:

To begin with, Prometheus rising from the bosom of nature awakens to life, in a pleasant inertia, and many others., and many others. Prometheus units to work, and on this primary day, the primary day of the second creation, Prometheus’ product, that’s, his wealth, his wellbeing, is the same as 10. On the second day, Prometheus divides his labour, and his product turns into equal to 100. On the third day and on every of the next days, Prometheus invents machines, discovers new utilities in our bodies, new forces in nature…. With each step of his industrial exercise, there is a rise within the variety of his merchandise, which marks an enhancement of happiness for him. And since, in any case, to devour is for him to supply, it’s clear that every single day’s consumption, utilizing up solely the product of the day earlier than, leaves a surplus product for the subsequent day.

What did Marx need to say about M. Proudhom’s Promethean pantomime? 

This Prometheus of M. Proudhon’s is a queer character, as weak in logic as in political financial system. As long as Prometheus merely teaches us the division of labour, the applying of equipment, the exploitation of pure forces and scientific energy, multiplying the productive forces of males and giving a surplus in contrast with the produce of labour in isolation, this new Prometheus has the misfortune solely of coming too late. However the second Prometheus begins speaking about manufacturing and consumption he turns into actually ludicrous. …

Marx dissected this ludicrousness to Proudhon’s pretention that he has “proved by idea and by details the precept that each one labour should have a surplus.” To which Marx scoffed in reply, “The ‘details’ are the well-known progressive calculation; the idea is the parable of Prometheus.” 

Huber and Phillips ludicrously make their Promethean fable “extra concrete” by invoking the progressive calculation of “science and know-how”:

…one of many Stockholm Resilience Centre’s planetary boundaries is a restrict to the quantity of greenhouse fuel that we are able to emit, largely on account of the usage of fossil fuels for power, earlier than inflicting common international temperatures to exceed these optimum for human flourishing. … This energetic restrict is all too actual, however additionally it is contingent. Once we absolutely shift to wash power sources corresponding to nuclear, wind, and photo voltaic, that climate-related restrict on power use can have been transcended. The one true, completely insuperable limits that we face are the legal guidelines of physics and logic.

The restrict on power use “can have been transcended” by the “shift to wash power sources” with none logic as to how that shift will happen or any scrutiny of the legal guidelines of physics concerned in setting up and working “nuclear, wind, and photo voltaic” manufacturing of power. It’s maybe unfair to check Huber and Phillips to Proudhon. M. Proudhon did not have the posh of being knowledgeable by Marx’s critique of his Promethean fable and he did not invoke a “classical Marxist critique” as the inspiration for his ludicruous fable. Huber and Phillips do not have that alibi.

Till now I’ve been fairly harsh on Huber and Phillips, except for acknowledging on the outset some worthwhile criticisms of Saito and degrowth. To conclude, I ought to point out one other a part of the article I applaud. In a submit on X [nee “tweet”], Matt Huber says that his favourite contribution to the article was the road, “Degrowthers constantly misdiagnose the core drawback of capitalism as ‘development’ when in truth it’s the lack of social management over manufacturing and funding choices.” I agree 100% and cite Marx’s virtually equivalent assertion from his Inaugural Deal with to the Worldwide Working Males’s Affiliation: “social manufacturing managed by social foresight, which kinds the political financial system of the working class.” The primary a part of that sentence can also be noteworthy, so I will quote the entire passage:

This wrestle in regards to the authorized restriction of the hours of labour raged the extra fiercely since, aside from frightened avarice, it informed certainly upon the good contest between the blind rule of the availability and demand legal guidelines which type the political financial system of the center class, and social manufacturing managed by social foresight, which kinds the political financial system of the working class. Therefore the Ten Hours’ Invoice was not solely an ideal sensible success; it was the victory of a precept; it was the primary time that in broad daylight the political financial system of the center class succumbed to the political financial system of the working class.

Not solely a sensible success however the victory of a precept. To not be missed is the context of that victory, the wrestle over the restriction of the hours of labour.

Almost two years later, in directions to the delegates to the Internation, Marx wrote, paraphrasing English Manufacturing unit Inspector, R. J. Saunders, “A preliminary situation, with out which all additional makes an attempt at enchancment and emancipation should show abortive, is the limitation of the working day.”

If there appears to be a standard theme rising right here, contemplate Marx’s argument from quantity 3 of Capital that people should “wrestle with nature to fulfill his desires… in all social formations and below all doable modes of manufacturing.” Past this realm of bodily necessity, although, “begins that growth of human power which is an finish in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, nonetheless, can blossom forth solely with this realm of necessity as its foundation. The shortening of the working-day is its primary prerequisite.”The shortening of the working-day is a primary prerequisite for getting into the true realm of freedom. The limitation of the working day is a preliminary situation for all additional makes an attempt at enchancment and emancipation. The authorized restriction of the hours of labour is the victory of the precept of social manufacturing managed by social foresight. I’m wondering if there’s someplace that Marx defined the evaluation behind these confident and constant declarations? He did so in pocket book VII of his 1857-58 manuscripts (Grundrisse, 1973, p. 708), which was a continuation and amplification of study he had begun in pocket book IV (pp. 397-423):

The creation of a giant amount of disposable time… seems within the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for just a few. What capital provides is that it will increase the excess labour time of the mass by all of the technique of artwork and science, as a result of its wealth consists instantly within the appropriation of surplus labour time; since worth instantly its function, not use worth. It’s thus, regardless of itself, instrumental in creating the technique of social disposable time, with a view to cut back labour time for the entire society to a diminishing minimal, and thus to free everybody’s time for their very own growth. However its tendency at all times, on the one aspect, to create disposable time, on the opposite, to transform it into surplus labour. If it succeeds too effectively on the first, then it suffers from surplus manufacturing, after which essential labour is interrupted, as a result of no surplus labour could be realized by capital. The extra this contradiction develops, the extra does it turn out to be evident that the expansion of the forces of manufacturing can now not be certain up with the appropriation of alien surplus labour, however that the mass of staff should themselves applicable their very own surplus labour. As soon as they’ve carried out so – and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one aspect, essential labour time will likely be measured by the wants of the social particular person, and, on the opposite, the event of the facility of social manufacturing will develop so quickly that, despite the fact that manufacturing is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will develop for all. For actual wealth is the developed productive energy of all people. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any method, labour time, however reasonably disposable time.

I’ve bolded the phrases that appeared in English in Marx’s authentic manuscript. Undoubtedly, the English phrases allude to the supply of Marx’s fascination with disposable time and its relationship to surplus worth, the 1821 English pamphlet, The Supply and Treatment of the Nationwide Difficulties.The above passage is the end result of an evaluation that begins in pocket book IV with a citation from The Supply and Treatment and concludes in pocket book VII with one other citation from The Supply and Treatment.

On web page 398 of the Grundrisse, Marx acknowledged, “The entire growth of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time.” He then commenced a dialogue of “the event of the productive forces.” On web page 708, he echoed that assertion in regards to the growth of wealth with the proclamation, “The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any method, labour time, however reasonably disposable time.”

Marx’s repeated statements in regards to the limitation of working time being a essential situation for the realm of human freedom weren’t humane gesture or concessions to up to date commerce union struggles. They had been integral to his critique of political financial system and his evaluation of capital. Each Saito and Huber and Phillips cite or paraphrase passages the place Marx insisted on the discount of working time however elide particularly that demand.


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