[Editor's Note: Thanks for Doug Lain of the Diet Soap Podcast for weighing in here with his extensive experience with Marxism.]
Mark, Seth and Wes finally arrived at the philosopher who matters most over at the pinko podcast Diet Soap. While I plan on writing a response to their comments, and most especially to respond to the problem of this split between base and superstructure or the difference between thought and action, for the moment I thought I'd contribute by providing some links.
First of all, perhaps the single greatest insight Marx had was on the subject of the Labor Theory of Value. He essentially agreed with Adam Smith and Ricardo, but while they took living labor to be the universal and ahistorical source for all value in the world, Marx understood this value to be an historical value, one that could only arrive on the scene once a class based mode of production arrived on the scene.
It's all very complicated, but Brendan Cooney's youtube channel makes it easy. His Law of Value video series is tremendously helpful. He's got everything a 21st century would want: Fetishism, Crisis Theory, an explanation of the idea of socially necessary labor time, abstract labor, all of it set to music and illustrated with clips of cartoons, US propaganda films, and cheesy homemade computer graphics. Here Marx is presented as a Mashup:
Turning to my own commie efforts I'd recommend my interviews with Andrew Kliman and Brendan Cooney for discussions of Marx himself, and conversations with C Derick Varn, Martin Jay, Adrian Johnson, and Jodi Dean if you'd like to hear conversations on Marx's followers. C Derick Varn and I discussed the madman Althusser, Martin Jay and I talked about the Frankfurt School and Adorno, Adrian Johnson and I circled around Slavoj Zizek, and Jodi Dean and I discussed her own Marxist perspective on Occupy Wall Street.
And if you'd like to mostly listen to me explain Marx's critique of Feuerbach (and mispronounce Feuerbach) to my son Benjamin here's a video wherein I attempt to do that. The Cooney influence is fairly obvious here.
Douglas Lain is a fiction writer, a blogger for Thought Catalog, Tor.com, and Right Where You’re Sitting Now, and the podcaster behind the Diet Soap Podcast. His most recent book, a novella entitled “Wave of Mutilation,” was published by Fantastic Planet Press (an imprint of Eraserhead) in October of 2011, and his first novel, entitled “Billy Moon (a novel)” is due out from Tor Books in August of 2013. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
And don’t forget David Harvey’s lectures on Capital. I know, that Doug and Brendan e.g. don’t share Harvey’s Marx interpretation, but still: the lectures are a great companion if you ever want to read the whole brick.
Douglas Lain says
I concur that David Harvey is a great companion for reading Capital.
Labour theory of value says that the value of a good or service is linked to the labour that went into it.
How can that possibly work? What if people spend ages making products no one wants or so inefficiently the cost is prohibitive… that is why we need prices decided by the subjective value the end buyer places on the good. If not, the buyers will be forced to buy products where there is no incentive for the producer to make efficiently, or even bother innovating as buyers have to pay for their labour input no matter what.
Hang on a second, I take it back.. this post took me about 2 minutes to write and labour theory of value says I earnt that.. I will send you the bill… I jest but you see the problem (as Hitchens did in the article you posted, Marx had no theory on price which is why his whole theory doesn’t work).
Will Yate says
Praxeologue: I’m not in a position to defend or reject the labor theory of value, but Marx does anticipate the specific objection you cite. Labor value is defined for him in terms of “socially necessary labor time,” and this is meant to overcome your objection. The “socially necessary” bit allows him to treat a standard unit of labor as an x that is open to perpetual revision (it’s also meant to sidestep the issue of why, say, an hour of a lawyer’s labor is worth more than an hour of a garbage man’s labor).
I forget where it is in Vol. 1, but he makes a big deal about how innovations in productive capacity (e.g. better machines) give the innovator a temporary edge which he exploits to the max, but which eventually gets normalized and factored into what counts as “socially necessary” labor time. And this story can only get off the ground if he’s aware of your objection.
Thanks for that Will. I will go digging.. but it sounds an awful lot like the market price process to me. Innovators get a high profit until everyone else catches on and profits normalise… think Samsung catching up with Apple’s pretty little devices.
Douglas Lain says
Marx has a pretty solid argument against the idea that exchange can produce profits and argues that only labor produces new value or profits. The argument is simply this. Exchange occurs between equal things. When you go to the market you pay what a thing is worth and not more.
It’s only the fact that the laborer is not paid for the full value of his work that allows profits to be achievable. This is what Marx adds to Smith’s labor theory of value.