Marxism I

This is the first of a series of posts I intend to make on Marxism and the present state of the hard left. The traditions I personally follow most closely, and as such where my comments will be coming from, are those of the Georgists and of the Anarchists. I am, however, more Henry George than Pierre Proudhon, and don’t advocate the abolition of the state. That is not to say that I don’t take the criticisms of the Anarchists incredibly seriously, so a lot of what I end up saying will probably still resemble them without being from exactly the same camp.

To be more specific, my main objections to Marxian theory and practice are as follows:

  1. It abstracts too heavily from the subject, and grants a wide scope to forcefully impose normative judgements on groups of people who would prefer otherwise
  2. The Marxian labor theory of value (LTV) is an unsatisfactory description of the real world
  3. The Marxian LTV conjures up exploitative relations where they don’t exist
  4. All attempts at creating Marxian economic systems (which I am aware of) run into insurmountable epistemic problems in calculation
  5. Historical attempts to run societies on Marxist principles have failed to match the growth in living standards realised by capitalist contemporaries (or, as this point is commonly known in internet discussions, “something something USSR gulags 200 trillion dead”)

A certain theme here may be quite apparent. Apart from (5), which is a utilitarian argument and 5th for a reason, my main issue is that Marxism appears to remove the subject too hastily. This is obvious in the case of (1). In (2), the reason I consider it unsatisfactory is that it doesn’t incorporate the subject sufficiently. This in turn leads to the creation of point (3), which is exacerbated by Marxists not having a good way of negotiating point (4).

Naturally none of this remotely constitutes a refutation of Marx, which is why this is to be a series of posts. I completely intend to develop all these points in the fullness of time, but am not interested in defending any of them before doing so.

Here, I will start addressing point (3). My main argument is as follows:

  • All material wealth consists of land and labor

If:

  • We assume an equal starting distribution of material wealth
  • Every member of society has an equal right to land
  • The proportion of wealth derived from land can be identified and shared equally between the members of society
  • Every individual has a right to dispose of their own labor and the fruits of their labor as they please
  • Any exchanges involving labor and the fruits of labor must be mutually consented to

Then:

  • Any following inequality in the distribution of wealth is the result of differences in individual productivity of socially necessary labour, and cannot be described as exploitative

Here wealth is definied as “anything that commands a price”. Land is defined as “factors of production that do not consist of labor”, and therefore includes everything from fish to timber to land in the traditional sense. I was initially going to develop this argument in further detail, but realised that doing so would involve pre-empting certain criticisms and leave room for me to pre-empt incorrectly, thus wasting the time of both writer and reader. As such I will leave it here and respond to any actual arguments in a future post.

Finally, to soothe the rage of any Austrian or marginalist who may see this, I am entirely aware of the apparent contradiction in complaining about calculation problems in Marxism before proclaiming that we can simply identify “the proportion of wealth derived from land” and redistribute it. Rest assured I have answers to this problem, though they go beyond my remit in writing this.

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