The History of Socialism
By Matthew Green at Jan 12, 2008
In my previous blog post, I explained why I thought Humanism results in anarchy. However, I realize that anarchist theory has changed over the years. I have been reading through an anarchist www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/1931/ FAQ. The FAQ argues that capitalism is exploitative because the hierarchy that results from capitalism generates "surplus value" in terms of the labor employed. However, after my first exchange on this forum with Michael Albert, the visionary who helped to create "Participatory Economics", I realize that perhaps the previous arguments against capitalism might be flawed to some extent. Albert did not argue that capitalism doesn't result in the generation of "surplus value" but that it wasn't not even a coherent concept. What does "surplus value" mean? What does it mean to say that capitalism results in the production of "surplus value" and what does it mean to say that workers are exploited because of it? I understand the argument of both Albert and Robin Hahnel in that it is unfair to renumerate people according to contribution and that it is more fair to renumerate them according to effort and sacrifice. I am hoping that in another exchange with Albert, I can learn how the unfair renumeration according to any kind of contribution is exploitative.
I want to learn more about the history of socialism and, in particular, anarchy. One of the books that I am considering reading is the book Marxism and Socialist Theory written by Albert and Hahnel back when they were on friendly terms. I am hoping to glean from this what Marx got right and what he got wrong. Another question I am interested in is the labor theory of value. If I understand correctly, Marx used this theory to critique capitalism. But if I recall correctly with a previous e-mail correspondence with Dr. Hahnel, the labor theory of value is flawed. But the Anarchist FAQ that I have mentioned above not only argues that capitalism results in surplus value, illustrating the exploitation of labor, there is also a section that I have recorded which argues for the labor theory of value and against the exchange theory of value. What I would like to do at this point is engage in a discussion with someone who has an advanced degree in economics. Dr. Hahnel is quite busy, teaching courses at a college in Oregon. I am thinking that perhaps Mr. Albert is a better person to discuss it with but I am hesitant about imposing on his time. If there is anyone else here, at these forums, who has an excellent understanding of economics, perhaps even an advanced degree in the subject, and would be willing to have detailed discussions with me, so much the better!
I want to broaden my understanding of economics and the history of socialism. I want to know what socialists have been arguing for as long as the idea has been around, what socialists have been arguing all this time and what they're arguing today. I want to know what they got right and wrong in their past critiques, what their arguments are today, and which arguments, both past and present, are cogent and which arguments should be abandoned. In the FAQ, obviously written by anarchists alive today, it is argued that capitalism results in the creation of "surplus value" and that the labor theory of value is still valid today. Hahnel says differently. This indicates to me that either Hahnel is right and the anarchists who composed the FAQ above are wrong or both are wrong and perhaps someone else is right, instead.
I also think that there should be some more debate and discussion. I e-mailed AK Press in the UK and asked when they were going to publish the FAQ and I was told by someone named "Alexis" that it was going to be published this year and that AK Press is going through the final proofs. I am trying to urge them to put off publication. If they publish this and this FAQ contains flawed arguments, those who know better and disagree with socialism, will not consider anarchist theory. They will continue supporting capitalism and will not give more equitable alternatives the time of day. If the concept of "surplus value" is flawed or meaningless, for instance, then critics of socialism or people dissatisfied with capitalism will not give any alternative the time of day. Suppose that capitalism is exploitative because, as Albert and Hahnel argue, not everyone can contribute fairly in terms of labor but everyone can put in the same effort and therefore people should be renumerated according to effort and sacrifice and not because of "surplus value"- doesn't the FAQ need to updated so that people will understand this? Suppose that both are right in a sense- suppose that renumeration according to contribution results in "surplus value" and that the existence of "surplus value" illustrates how exploitative renumeration according to contribution is? Shouldn't people looking into anarchist theory and history at least know this?
I think that there should be at least debate. I think that the FAQ should point out that anarchists differ among themselves about how capitalism is exploitative. The FAQ should mention that there exists some disagreement and perhaps even some debate with some anarchists arguing that capitalism is exploitative because it generates "surplus value" and others because contribution-based renumeration is unfair and exploitative. That way, people looking into anarchist theory will at least have different arguments to consider and will know that at least some anarchists are right on target and that even if some anarchists are wrong, there is at least one or more cogent critiques of capitalism. even if all of them cannot be right. I am doing what I can to try and rectify this situation. I want the publishers and authors of the FAQ to know about "Parficipatory Economics" and why its founders, Albert and Hahnel disagree with some of them and that readers should be made aware of this difference.
In the meantime, I plan to keep reading and learning more and more. If I am to continue being an anarchist, I need to be informed and educated on the subject.