Forum Replies Created
February 23, 2023 at 3:53 am in reply to: Russian Tensions #240752
ALB (#240721), you are of course right to regard Putin’s depiction of the Russian war in Ukraine as “crap” when he adverts to threats posed by “decadent” Western cultural and religious values etc. But when you say that “he (Putin) departs from the real reasons behind the war”, are you making a comparison here, and implying that these “real reasons” are not crap (not false) and that Putin is giving a reasonably objective account of the origins and purposes of the war? I ask because in his speech at that rally of patriotic flag wavers in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium recently, he made it clear what he thought about the origins and his purposes of Russia’s conflict. He said “The West was responsible for war in Ukraine. It was they who unleashed the war and we used, and continue to use, force to stop it.” Fairly clearly, Putin sees his war against Ukraine as a defensive war in which the West poses an existential threat to Russia. Most everybody, apart from Russophiles and like nationalists, regard Putin’s view as utterly delusional.February 3, 2023 at 2:14 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #239967
AJJ, I have looked up the earlier post you mention (# 228121?) and assume you are referring to Yanukovich reneging on his initial intention to sign the trade and cooperation deal with the EU, and it was this that triggered the Maidan protests in 2013 and the eventual overthrow of Yanukovich. You refer to Ukraine oligarchs as “divided” – some looking to the EU, others to their industrial assets in the Donbas. But what has this to do with the current Russian war in Ukraine? There are always economic factors in play in any war, but that doesn’t make Russia’s war in Ukraine a capitalist war fought in the interests of capital as I believe you are inferring. To me, the most significant thing about the events you mention is the impact they had upon Putin. Putin saw it as a devastating loss to which he quickly responded by taking over Crimea and annexing it to Russia – a decision which made him a hero in the eyes of just about evervone in Russia. Perhaps this emboldened him in believing he could achieve the same when he invaded Ukraine a year ago. It’s turned out to be an error of catastrophic proportions.February 3, 2023 at 3:55 am in reply to: Russian Tensions #239956
Leaving aside your shrill rhetoric Robbo, I am wondering if I have read you correctly regarding your view that workers defending their common life against an invader are all “deluded patriots” who would show more common sense if they simply fled from the conflict. The fact that they don’t is to you “dumb beyond comprehension”. It had me thinking that what you find so wrong and incomprehensible is not that they are fighting as such, but that they are fighting under a national flag as a military arm of the state, and it is that which you find so appalling. This is a view I would associate more with anarchists than socialists, but that’s not important here. So what would you say if workers self-organized, independently of the state, to form fighting groups in a defensive war as in Ukraine? I am thinking of organized resistance fighters in France fighting against German invaders in ww2. Or what about anarchist militias in the Spanish Civil War? It’s a question that has particular relevance regarding the Russian war in Ukraine because Ukraine has a fairly impressive record of worker self organisation and political activism. Clearly, such non-State fighters would not be “deluded patriots” fighting under a “tacky cloth called a flag”. So what would they be in your view, and how would you evaluate their behaviour in terms of your socialist beliefs?February 1, 2023 at 10:53 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #239932
In trying to understand something as complex as war I guess there will always be many different meanings given to it. Robbo for example gives his own unique account in seeing Russia’s war with Ukraine as merely “a squabble between capitalists”, or “a squalid capitalist war” fought by “equally obnoxious regimes” headed by “equally repulsive, corrupt capitalist war lords”, “corrupt business men” and “sociopathic warmongers”. Could it ever be worse? I can only imagine he gets to this position because of an immovable conviction that the state in a capitalist society is a capitalist state, run by capitalists or agents of capitalists. And since the interests of capitalists are always dead opposite to the interests of workers (the class war after all), therefore the workers fighting in the Russia- Ukraine war are not acting in their own interests but only in the interests of capitalists. In this scenario, Robbo is bound to view Putin as a capitalist and of course Zelensky has to be a capitalist too. In fact neither are capitalists. Nor is there any credible evidence that they are acting at the behest of capitalists or in the broad interests of capital. This is what comes of a crude reductionist reading of Marx’s materialism and class analysis, where everything political is determined by economics.
Every Marxist I know of has long ago accepted that political regimes in capitalist societies have an autonomy that cannot be reduced to class interests, class conflict or other socio-economic tensions. Politics produces evils of its own, specific to the exercise of power – something amply demonstrated by Putin and his “power vertical”. Zelensky is no paragon of liberal democratic virtue, but it is absurd to see Zelensky in the same light as Putin. The upshot of all this is that Robbo’s analysis serves to put out of sight the most basic fact about the war in Ukraine on which judgment about its rights and wrongs must rest: Putin made an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Putin was the aggressor, Ukraine the victim of that aggression. No doubt Robbo would say that it was the Ukrainian state that was attacked, and because it is a capitalist state it’s not worthy of the support of the workers (people of Ukraine). But when states are attacked it is individuals (workers) who are challenged, not just in their lives but in the things they value most, including their political associations whatever we may think of them.
Always consistent, Robbo finds it “dumb beyond comprehension” that workers risk losing their lives, becoming seriously wounded, or having their homes destroyed, all for the sake of a “tacky cloth called a flag”. Here again, the only meaning Robbo gives to workers taking up arms to defend their common life is to say that they are “heeding the call of a capitalist regime”. Maybe they are. But they may also be heeding the call of their conscience in believing it right to defend their lives when it’s their lives and the lives of others that are directly threatened. What’s incomprehensible about that?November 6, 2022 at 2:28 pm in reply to: We are all African apes. Nationalism is nonsense. #235762
AJJ, the problem I have with your views on nationalism is your insistent belief that the only “true”
identity of workers in any nation state with a capitalist economy is that of a wage slave – one who owns nothing but labour power and is therefore exploited (according to Marx’s LTV). As you say: “Wage slaves we remain despite the colour of our passports”. On this view, identities based on gender, ethnicity, religious and political beliefs, occupation, community association, have no significance, except to confuse workers as to their “true” identity (as defined by the SPGB).
The same point can be made in regard to your post (#235534) which reproduces a piece published by the SPGB in 1929 about Arabs and Jews in Palestine (at the time of the British Mandate) where it makes the extraordinary assertion that the suffering of Arabs and Jews has nothing to do with race, religion, national independence and patriotism, but only with their shared identity as workers “(who are) therefore exploited.” And this at the time when the foundations of the Zionist state were being laid down at the expense of the Arab Palestinians! As you say AJJ, the SPGB can’t be accused of inconsistency. No, but you can be consistently wrong.
Otherwise, I agree with many of your general statements about nationalism which reflect the seminal ideas of Benedict Anderson (and, I might add, the Marxist historian E J Hobsbawm). All here would agree I am sure that modern nationalism is a nineteenth century invention with many key assumptions based on myth. But the assumption that national or communal identities are irrelevant to the working class is also a myth. You seem to agree, since you recognize that “belonging and patriotism” can be genuinely felt, “exactly the same as religion, which is an opium to deaden the pain of daily drudgery”. But do you really believe that a worker’s identification with family, ethnic group, community association etc. is also the same as a religion – a mere opiate that deadens? I can’t see that at all. And it’s an important thing to ask, because these collective identities are independent of a national identity which is the object of your strong and persistent opposition. Do you not accept that a worker can have strong sense of collective identity (including “class consciousness”) while at the same time sharing a sense of belonging to the place where he lives, in the country where he has a common life in what is called a nation state?November 4, 2022 at 1:10 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #235637
AJJ, you say that “Workers have no land to fight and die for”. Yet they do don’t they, as we are seeing every day in Ukraine. But its not the “land” as such that they are fighting for. It’s the common life they have made on that piece of land (it has to be made somewhere, in some physical space). The right of a people not to be invaded derives from that common life they have made and not from any legal title to property they hold or don’t hold. By common life I mean the shared experiences, the co-operative activity of many different kinds, the common culture, the things people value most including their political associations. Most people will defend their common life in the same way they they defend their homes, even those they don’t own. When a country is attacked, as Russia has attacked Ukraine, workers will naturally want to defend their common life. From what I have read and seen of the conflict, even allowing for inevitable propaganda distortion, that’s what Ukrainian workers say they are doing. I think they would find it incomprehensible if they were told that they have no land to fight and die for. No doubt you would say they had been duped by the bourgeois media or whatever.October 14, 2022 at 1:28 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #234553
Robbo, I can’t match your declamatory style in speaking of the capitalist state. If you can’t accept that there
is a fundamental difference between the aggressor and the victim of aggression, or between the conqueror and the conquered, the oppressor and the oppressed, with regard to conflicts between capitalist states, then there’s nothing I can say to take this discussion further. However, there is one thing I would like to ask in case I have misunderstood you. When you say that “the most pacific and isolationist capitalist state is founded upon the aggression of class rule etc.” it leaves me thinking that perhaps your views regarding differentiating an aggressor state from a victim state would not apply if the victim state were a democratic state like, say, the UK. I was thinking retrospectively of the case of those working class airmen who fought against and eventually defeated Goering’s Luftwaffe over the UK in 1941. And from what I have read from military historians, that ended Hitler’s plan to invade Britain.
The Nazi state would clearly fit your description (re Russia and Ukraine) as a “corrupt, revolting, authoritarian, rightwing capitalist regime.” But not even your extreme distaste for all capitalist states could have you believe that the UK state in 1941 was morally on a par with Nazi Germany. I’m sure you don’t. So how would you regard the war fought in the air by British workers in the Battle of Britain? Do you think they fought a “just war”? Or do you think they were mere cannon fodder for the British capitalist state (as you views otherwise suggest)? (AAJ would say I think that they should not have fought because no war can justify the spilling of a single drop of working class blood, but this is a pacifist view, not a socialist one specifically).October 13, 2022 at 2:15 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #234517
Bijou calls the war between Ukraine and Russia a “gangster turf war”, likening it to the war between Al Capone and Bugs Moran, thus continuing the line of argument put here consistently by SP members: that there is no essential difference (no difference that matters) between Russia and Ukraine, thus wiping out any distinction between the invader and the invaded or between aggressor and the victim. You say they are both capitalist states, autocratic and corrupt, with “two sets of baddies”, Zylensky as bad as Putin (or maybe not quite as bad given Robbo’s description of Putin as “a scumbag sociopathic capitalist”). Then follows the inevitable reckoning: “a plague on both their houses.” There is a certain logic about it, I have to admit. If both sides are equally bad, there can be no talk of a “just war” on either side since it is a war between aggressors and aggressors, not between aggressors and victims. But does the SPGB really believe that Ukraine and Russia are both aggressors in this sense? I thought it was Putin who invaded Ukraine, to which Ukraine responded with military resistance once aggression began. Ukraine was the victim in this case, no matter what you think of Zelensky, and no matter how you recast this war as a “proxy war” between Nato/US and Russia.
Bijou says that his is a Marxist viewpoint because the problem (of Russia-Ukraine war) is the social system (capitalism) “from which war derives”. How this is supposed to help in making judgements about the rightness or wrongness of the war between Ukraine and Russia I have no idea. When Marx spoke about the actualities of war he had no problem distinguishing the aggressor from the victim. At the end of the Franco-Prussian war, with Germany the victor and the second empire of Napoleon III overthrown, Germany invaded France to annexe Alsace-Lorraine.
Marx saw this as an act of aggression against the people of the two provinces and against the territorial integrity of France. In doing so, he fell back on a domestic analogy in stating that the aim of the IWMA (and I would argue, of socialists) was to “vindicate the simple laws of morals and justice, which ought to govern the relations of private individuals, as the laws paramount of the intercourse of nations.” The simple laws of morals and justice explain why so many workers support the people of Ukraine in defending their common life against Putin’s invasion.
(I note that Yanis Varoufakis, a socialist, expresses a similar view, on the other thread on this site (posted by AAJ at #234500).July 24, 2022 at 3:32 am in reply to: Russian Tensions #231529
“Putin is a darling of the left and individuals like Noam Chomsky are supporting him.”
How is it possible that you can believe that? Here is a sample of words Chomsky has used concerning his views about Putin and his invasion of Ukraine:
“The invasion itself was a criminal act, a criminal act of aggression, a supreme international crime…”
“Putin and his circle didn’t try (to bring France and Germany into an agreement without military alliances). They reached for the guns right away. It was a criminal decision…an utterly stupid decision”.
“What the Russians did in Ukraine is, of course, criminal. I have to applaud the New York Times for quoting the Nuremburg principles and pointing out that Russia violated them by committing the ‘supreme international crime’,..
It’s all here if you want to read it:
Noam Chomsky: A Left response to the Russian invasion of UkraineMarch 23, 2022 at 12:18 pm in reply to: Russian Tensions #228175
DJP: You are right to say that “the world doesn’t split into nice defined geographical areas where everyone within them form a nice distinct group that share the same interests, identities or desires.” I don’t know of any state that doesn’t contain regional and sectional differences among its population, though there may be one or two. But people sharing the same identities don’t necessarily have the one identity. Most groups I know of have more than one, and some, multiple identities. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One identity doesn’t exclude the other. In Australia for example, there are several groups who identify themselves in terms of a foreign country like Vietnam and strongly defend their Vietnamese cultural identity and their Vietnamese kinship group. Many also identify as Catholics. But they also identify themselves as Australian citizens. The unity of nations is defined by what they have in common as against other groups, and not by their internal homogeneity.
I think because you have made much of the separation between the state and its subjects, you may have missed the fact that many workers identify with a nation state as citizens, not as mere subjects. This has occurred where they have been integrated (incorporated, assimilated) into the dominant political institutions and its system of rules, as has happened I think in most advanced capitalist countries with broadly democratic political systems. Where I live, workers generally support their dominant political institutions (representative government etc). Their class identity, ethnic identity, religious identity, has not prevented such workers from seeing the place they live in as in some sense “their country (or nation)”. Class identity etc. did not prevent English, French or German workers from seeing Britain, France and Germany as in some sense “their country” in World Wars I and II. Tragic it surely was, but it’s an historical fact.
The history of the twentieth century shows that national identity has been politically dominant and class identity has been secondary, and that working class consciousness (eg, TU collectivism) is secondary to other kinds of consciousness. Which is not to say that this must always be the case, or that we shouldn’t strive to bring about a truly world-wide society with no nations or national boundaries, as implied in your position that “the working people have no country.” But it is an ideal yet to be realized, and therefore has limited relevance to what’s going on now in Ukraine where what you call “illusory ideas” of nationalism are very much real in the minds of those who hold them and thus help explain why Ukrainian workers, including many ethnic Russians, fight in the name of “their country” against a primordial nationalist like Putin.
PS. Thanks for the reference to gegen-kapital. It’s very long and I haven’t had time to read it yet.March 22, 2022 at 2:27 am in reply to: Russian Tensions #228120
AJJ: You refer to the current war in Ukraine as a “capitalist conflict”. How is that so? It’s not enough to say that Putin is a capitalist, or that he acts on the orders of capitalists or that he acts in the interest of a capitalist class. You would have to show that he invaded Ukraine because he is a capitalist … etc. Like showing that he wants to secure markets or trade routes or gain access to scarce resources, all in the pursuit of profit. But where is the evidence for this? There is (unusually) almost universal agreement that Putin invaded Ukraine in order to incorporate it within the Russian nation state just as it was in Imperial Russia. What’s that got to do with Russian capitalism? Putin believes that Ukrainians and Russians have a common cultural identity and therefore have, or should have, a common state identity. He blames Lenin for having given Ukraine the semblance of a separate nation state. Putin is an extreme Russian nationalist in the tradition of nineteenth century reactionary Slavophils (he reminds me a bit of Nicholas I who saw himself as the saviour of Christian communities under Ottoman rule and ended up triggering a war. Just like Putin seeing himself as the saviour of ethnic Russians in Ukraine).
You ask “Who cares which parasitic class claims to own which patch of dirt?” I imagine the Ukraine workers fighting against Russians don’t give a damn. And I can’t imagine that they are consciously fighting for what you call “the nation state of Ukraine”. Surely they are fighting to defend their own “patch of dirt” because it’s where they live, in their houses, where their children go to school, where their parents, aunties and uncles and friends live, and like all normal people they don’t like someone coming along and blowing it all up and threatening to rule over them rather than themselves deciding who they want to rule. Your advice that Ukraine workers should “flee to safety” rather than resist the invaders would I guess be greeted with derision if you were to say it directly to Ukrainian workers. The idea that they would all be better off advocating socialist ideas is too silly for words, particularly coming from the SPGB which has been advocating socialist ideas for more than a century without apparent effect.
DJP: You suggest that when Ukrainian workers defend their patch of dirt (as above), what they are really doing is “defending the state”. Given your particular theory of the state, I guess that’s a fair assumption. But do you believe that this is what Ukrainian workers defending their patch actually believe? Or even think about? As an advocate “of clear- headed analysis”
I fail to see that your clear separation of the Ukrainian state and its subjects advances understanding of the reasons why Ukrainian workers fight Russian invaders or what motivates them to do so. Surely one can agree with the proposition that the state in capitalist Ukraine is a capitalist state and also believe in defending one’s “patch of dirt”. And what if the workers’ defence doesn’t advance the movement for socialism? It doesn’t advance the movement for liberalism or any other ism either, because that’s not what workers are fighting for.
Robbo says that “Just because a worker says something is in her interest does not make it so. It is called false consciousness.”
When someone says that, the first thing to ask is “what then is true consciousness?” Robbo’s answer can only be – a socialist (SPGB) consciousness. This effectively makes what workers interests ought to be displace their actual empirical interests as they profess them. In making judgments about the rights and wrongs of Ukrainian workers fighting Russian invaders, like Andrew Kliman I’ll listen to what they say, not what anyone believes they ought to say.
If you (DJP, ALB) find the “right to self-determination an incoherent concept” why not change it to “the self determination of peoples”? The Palestinians do not have a nation but they are surely speaking coherently when they call for the self determination of the Palestinian people, and it’s not hard to figure out what they mean. When Ukrainians call for “self-determination” they are merely asserting their right to live in a place which they regard as their own, and having the right to choose their own government rather than having one imposed on them by Putin. Arguments about contradictions in the use of terms like nation and nationalism and national self-determination are arguments about the use of concepts and provide no serious foothold of criticism when making practical judgements about the conflict in Ukraine. Save a few minor disagreements, overall I think Andrew Kliman’s piece in MHI is very good.March 20, 2022 at 5:42 am in reply to: Russian Tensions #228043
DJP, in your comments on Andrew Kliman’s piece in MHI, you say: “My view is that it is in the interests of the people living in Ukraine that the conflict stop right away by whatever means necessary even if this means the Ukrainian state losing territory and influence”.
You represent this as a socialist view. But how is it different from a pacifist view?December 3, 2021 at 12:47 pm in reply to: Taxing the rich October article #224889
Me: “the unstated premise here is that labour power always exchanges at its value (the so-called Law of Value)”
ALB: “In challenging this you are challenging a key concept in Marxian economics – that labour power is a commodity whose price reflects its value”.
What is this “challenge”, and with respect to what exactly? My post (#224800) where the above sentence is found doesn’t challenge anything you said, in fact it implies agreement. I have always argued that the application of the LTV to explain how a change in tax can trigger a proportionate change in money wages via the operation of the law of value and the collective action of workers such that wages are restored to their real pre-tax level, in which case the tax burden initially on the worker is transferred to the capitalist, is a coherent position. While there are caveats I would want to add to that, I believe it is deducible from Marx’s LTV in relation to real wage determination. But if you read again what follows immediately from what I said on that para. you will see that the same argument cannot logically support the standard SP claim that “in the long run taxes are a burden on the capitalist only”. That is simply not true in relation to the full amount of tax which workers are obliged to pay to the tax people. I gave the example of a weekly wage of $1700 which bears tax of $400. You haven’t explained yet how it is that the $400 which comes out of the worker’s pay and is thus a burden on him, eventually becomes a burden on the capitalist only. It’s a real mystery, which SPer’s dispose of by treating the worker’s gross wage, from which the worker’s tax obligation is paid, as “theoretical” (“A to Z of Socialism”) which makes his gross wage and the tax paid from it appear unreal, thus removing them from view.
In saying that the value of labour power is only what is “necessary” to keep a human alive, I was considering the 1909 article you posted – “Where Labor is Robbed” – where that word is used. I said that the “necessary” cost of reproducing workers’ labour power was equated to the “subsistence” cost, around which “wages always hover”. So I took the view that the author held the subsistence theory of wages. However, I am aware that talking of “necessary costs” within a Marxist context can carry an expanded meaning, by including an historical/social/moral component in addition to the physiological minimum subsistence level. And given the significance in Marx’s model of the role of the reserve army of labour in pushing the price of labour power down towards its value, then the long-run equilibrium price of labour power or its “necessary cost” will be fairly near to its value. This is Marx’s model of wage determination in the context of early capitalism, and I see it as broadly agreeing with your statement that “(labour power) tends to (exchange) at its value in the long run etc. etc.” But since Marx’s time there has been a massive increase in real wages (at least regarding countries of advanced capitalism) and as a result the price of labour power need no longer correspond with its value. The possibility ought at least to be considered. But this cannot be done if the value of labour power is defined in terms of the level of real wages. It reduces Marx’s theory of wages to a tautology.
I have no interest in entering into a long debate on Marx’s theory of wages nor the LTV which has always raised problematic issues given the unique character of the commodity labour power. And in any case, in this debate on tax, I don’t see a need for it. You have already shown how by quoting from a non-Marxian economist in Investopedia who notes the obvious link between wage levels and the cost of living. Nothing unusual there! And no need to talk about the value of labour-power. You can’t say anything definitive about the relationship between wages, taxes and the cost of living without using money quantities. So let me repeat my numbers: an average worker on $1700 pw pays $400 in tax, leaving $1300 as the net wage. Question: Is $1300 pw enough to cover his cost of living, commensurate with social norms of what it means to live in modest comfort in a modern civilized capitalist state? Answer: Yes. So how is it that the $400 becomes a burden only on the capitalist?
I am still hoping that you can tell me why you think that workers “just don’t get it” (the SP position on tax). The answer given by Wez (#224814) is that workers are “manipulated and conditioned” by capitalist propaganda “within a bourgeois culture which is dedicated to normalizing the sick ideology of capitalism”. All I can say to that is that if true, it makes the workers look less than bright, if they can so easily be manipulated and conditioned. Not very encouraging of the prospects for socialism.November 29, 2021 at 12:46 pm in reply to: Taxing the rich October article #224800
ALB, aren’t your first two paragraphs repeating the standard SP case of what happens when there is an increase or a decrease in the direct or indirect tax paid by the worker? You say “An increase or decrease in a worker’s income tax will affect the money wages paid”. Yes, a direct tax increase on income will lead to a reduced after-tax wage (net wage). You then say that this won’t necessarily affect what workers consume or their standard of living. To any ordinary person this will surely sound counter intuitive. Like, if disposable income is now reduced, wouldn’t this affect a worker’s level of consumption and therefore standard of living? Same thing if the indirect tax paid on consumer goods goes up, wouldn’t this also affect the level of consumption and standard of living, assuming no change in his money income?
Your answer is in the second paragraph where you say that the standard of living will not be permanently increased if direct or indirect taxes are reduced or removed, as money wages will eventually adjust to the decreased money cost of living. Of course the unstated premise here is that labour power always exchanges at its value (the so-called Law of Value), so that money wages must always adjust directly to changes in a tax impost, leaving the worker no better off. The same applies where tax is increased – it will eventually lead to a proportionate increase in the worker’s money wage. So in either case, an increase or a decrease in the tax eventually means a return to the status quo.
But what is the status quo here? It is a prevailing level of taxation in a tax structure which is the product of a long period of contestation and class struggle which has established a fairly stable consensus on what is fair and reasonable regarding individuals’ tax obligations. So when there is a change in tax, as in your example of a tax increase or a tax reduction, all wage negotiations and contestations occur within that context. Returning to the empirical example I gave before (#223996), the “prevailing level of taxation” is $400 from a gross wage of $1700. The tax increase of $33 pw is a change in the prevailing level. It is the increase of $33 which is the target of worker contestation, not the $400. And regarding that increase, the SP model as you have applied it (and let’s all remember, it is but a model!) makes sense. It may cry out for empirical evidence to back it up, but as far as a model goes it is logical and internally consistent. The problem is that the SP doesn’t make clear that when it talks about tax, it’s only talking about a change in tax, as in a situation where tax reform so-called is part of a public political debate. And so people will continue to wonder what you mean when you say that in the long run the worker’s tax falls only on the capitalist, because they will be thinking of their prevailing level of tax (in my example, $400) which certainly doesn’t fall upon the capitalist.
Re your last paras. The phrase ‘“necessary” cost of reproducing labour power’ was taken from the article you posted (#224691). It belongs to a subsistence theory of wages, as held by Ricardo and Marx whose views are often cited by SPers today to prove the case about taxes falling only on the capitalist. The subsistence theory of wages hardly has any traction in today’s world of advanced capitalism because average wages are well above a subsistence level. I’ve taken “subsistence” to mean what it meant to Marx and to the writer of the article and to Fitzgerald amongst others, as the minimum required to reproduce the aggregate of a worker’s mental and physical abilities exercised in the production of use values. Returning to my example of a real life contemporary wage level, yes, I am saying that the wage of $1700 pw is well above a subsistence level, which means that the tax people can take $400 out of it, leaving the worker with more than enough disposable income to maintain this modern worker’s labour power.
That’s it for me ALB. But I would like to ask you: given awareness of the failure of workers to understand the SP position on tax – I refer again to the FAQ “The Tax Argument” Parts 1 and 2 where the lead speaker says “workers just don’t get it” etc. – can you tell me why workers don’t get it? My answer is that workers don’t get it because the argument is unsound (illogical, misplaced context etc.) but for you it must be something else. Like, a problem of communication for example. So what is it in your view?
Thank you.November 27, 2021 at 6:17 am in reply to: Taxing the rich October article #224723
If, as ALB says, “our (SPGB) position on taxes and the working class was held by others..” I am wondering why I cannot find in the posted article any explicit reference to the SP central proposition – that which started this thread – that the burden of taxation falls on the capitalist only. In the penultimate paragraph, the writer says that the great majority of workers don’t pay tax because they have nothing to tax. John Keracher said the same thing twenty-six years later when I imagine worker’s real wages were higher than in 1909. Simple common sense I’d call it. Nothing about burdens or tax incidence there. The second sentence in that paragraph refers to a worker who possesses a “small property” (not many of those I think in 1909!) and so may pay tax in the form of rates. These taxes “enter into the cost of living, and, again, the necessary cost of living determines the wages.” He doesn’t define what he means by “the necessary cost” but his general statement in the first paragraph makes it fairly clear: “wages always hover about the cost of subsistence”. So the necessary cost is the cost of reproducing labour power just sufficient to ensure that the “(employer’s) wage slave is in working condition”. Just like the farmer’s horse that needs hay. So a rational capitalist must increase the worker’s wage to cover the tax impost which has reduced his wage below the level where his labour power can be reproduced. What capitalist is going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg? So in the case of the worker who pays rates, likewise the worker who has to pay rent, the cost of housing is usually included in official measures of standard of living. Fair enough.
But what if the “necessary” cost of reproducing labour power is well below the average wage, as it is in most countries of advanced capitalism today? Marx suggested it could be because of an historical/social/moral component in determining the cost of re/production of labour power. Which makes labour power an exception to the “law of value”. If the worker’s wage is set well above the “necessary cost” of reproducing labour power, then the State can take a chunk out of the worker’s wage but not so big a chunk obviously that the after- tax wage is reduced to bare subsistence level. Since the State doesn’t produce any wealth or income from its own activities it can only get funds to pay for what it does from those who do receive income and/or own wealth. So the worker’s income is taxed, the capitalist’s income is taxed, the landowner’s income is taxed, the financier’s income is taxed, all bar the worker’s tax coming out of profits, rent and interest, the money equivalents of surplus value. But the worker’s tax (income tax) comes out of his/her wages which are paid out of variable capital, and they are not transferred or redistributed to fall as a burden on the capitalist.
I’ve just been reading a piece by Jack Fitzgerald, published in 1904, called The Bogey of the Taxes. It reads very well despite being written 117 years ago. Again, I can’t find anything in it which suggests that the burden of taxation falls upon the capitalist only. Fitzgerald’s argument seems to be that tax imposts (he’s talking about a tax on consumption goods)
do not have a determinate relationship to prices. He uses empirical evidence to make his case. Eg: “articles that are easily produced are often taxed without affecting the retail price at all, as shown in the taxes on beer, tea and spirits”. And “when duty was removed the wholesale price of corn rose”. What I found significant is that Fitzgerald’s argument at heart is that workers should forget about taxes because whether high or low, they have no effect on the worker’s wage because “subsistence is all that upon average he obtains”. The upshot of all this is that the tax issue obscures the only real issue that matters, which is that while the worker produces all the wealth in existence, he only gets a small share of it – the rock-bottom socialist argument. Forget so-called tax robbery, this is the real robbery, so “tax reform” is not something that workers should concern themselves with. This is much the same as the conclusion in the posted article “Where Labor is Robbed” (last para). And when I listened to Parts 1and 2 of the FAQ on taxation, I began to think that this was the main point being made. One of the participants suggested that if workers get concerned about the inequities or whatever of the tax system, they are prone to believe that they “have a stake in the system”. But according to him, workers don’t have a stake in the system. OK, I can accept all that, but why stick with a crappy theory about tax burdens falling only on the capitalist, using a blinkered reading of Marx’s LTV, when it’s unnecessary? You already have an appropriate response to tax reform etc. under the SP’s common policy on reforms and reformism. Why build a sound socialist political strategy on bad theory? I guess I’ll never understand it.