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In a recent article Robert Paul Wolff has argued that Marx's theory of capitalist exploitation is incorrect, in that its ground is the premiss that labor is the source of all value.1 This, of course, is a well-rehearsed objection to Marx, but Wolff gives it a novel twist. He notes that the defense of this premise in the opening pages of Capital is inadequate, but he is not troubled by this ‘bad argument,’ for he sees Marx's real argument as something else: the (implicit) claim that unless labor is the source of all value, an adequate account of profit is impossible. In other words Marx is seen to be making a transcendental argument: an inquiry into the conditions for the possibility of profit. Wolff proceeds to argue that Marx goes astray here, but not so far astray that a valid transcendental argument, faithful to Marx's essential insight, cannot be charted.
Professor Arnold's reply to my reply seems not to have touched the substance of my argument. Perhaps I have been unclear. Arnold contends that any form of market socialism, if unchecked by central authorities, would revert to a system essentially undistinguishable from capitalism. Against this contention I have argued that a democratic, worker-controlled, market socialism that generates its investment fund by taxation exhibits no such tendency. Specifically, I argued that in such a society
1. there exists no tendency for socialized property to revert to private property (since workers have no incentive to sell off their firms to private individuals);
2. the ability of private individuals to accumulate vast wealth is sharply curtailed (since interest and stock income are absent);
3. the authority structures within enterprises are much more democratic than under capitalism;
4. intra-firm income differentials will be far more egalitarian than under capitalism.
When the relative importance of the national exploitation from which a working class suffers through belonging to the proletariat diminishes continually as compared with that from which it benefits through belonging to a privileged nation, a moment comes when the aim of increasing the national income in absolute terms prevails over that of the relative share of one part of the nation over the other. From that point onward the principle of national solidarity ceases to be challenged in principle, however violent and radical the struggle over the sharing of the cake may be. Thereafter a de facto united front of the workers and capitalists of the well-to-do countries, directed against the poor nations, coexists with an internal trade-union struggle over the sharing of the loot. (Emmanuel, 1972, p. 180)
Scott Arnold's recent paper, “Marx and Market Socialism,” advances a provocative thesis: market socialists are advocating an economic system that has a strong, internally generated tendency to revert to capitalism. They are, in short, “capitalist roaders” (Arnold, 1987).
These are two interesting, controversial, complementary books. The authors are of different generations. John Perkins is sixty (2005). He was a college student during the Vietnam War who came to oppose the war, then joined the Peace Corps to avoid the draft. Noreena Hertz is thirty-six. She is an academic/activist, a professor of political economy who was tear-gassed at the massive Global Justice protest in Genoa (2001) at which hundreds were beaten by the Italian police and one protestor killed.
There is no more intriguing or provocative argument in the Marxian corpus; it is the theoretical and rhetorical heart of Capital; not surprisingly, it is the locus of endless controversy: capitalist profit is possible, Marx argues, only because the capitalist is able to find on the market a unique commodity that possesses ‘the specific use-value ... of being a source not only of value, but of more value than it has itself.’ This commodity is labor power, the capacity to work, which, Marx insists, must be sharply distinguished from the activity of laboring, since it is precisely this distinction that lays bare capitalism’s essence, revealing it to be —exploitation.
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