Comments on Labor Theory of Value, Productive Labor, Method, Orthodoxy, MIMbook


The following discussion is taken from our discussion on mass line, lumpen organizing in the First World, etc. (1)  The comments are slightly edited:

“2001 MIM Congress: Again on the subject of the ‘masses’ in the imperialist countries by MC5, April 19, 2001

Most calling themselves ‘Marxist’ continue to misapply Marxism to today’s conditions. There are opportunists changing the definition of “proletariat” and abandoning the labor theory of value–usually without explicitly saying so. There are also dogmatists who quote from Lenin more than 75 years ago in Russia on conditions in imperialist countries today, when Lenin himself never quoted someone from 75 years prior to him on conditions in Russia in his day.

One of the trickiest forms of opportunism and dogmatism stems from the concept of the ‘masses.’ Many opportunists use this word to turn Mao into a bourgeois democratic populist. Others use it to justify failing to analyze conditions of today, since the masses everywhere must be revolutionary and exploited forever, or so the dogmatist reasons, and so we do not even have to apply the definition of ‘masses’ today.

In contrast, MIM has said that in the imperialist countries, the population cannot be the principal source of rational knowledge of proletarian politics. This should be obvious from the lack of socialist history or revolutionary class struggle in the imperialist countries. Nonetheless, MIM finds itself having to defend itself against those who do not know how carefully Marx, Lenin and Mao defined the words ‘proletariat’ and ‘masses and how they used them in their context. In particular, there are no timeless ‘tactics’ that apply to the ‘masses’ for all times and places. In this essay, we will distinguish between ‘population’ and ‘masses.’

It is not a mistake that a more ‘top-down’ approach to rational-knowledge is more necessary the higher the percentage of parasites in a population. That is only another way of saying that when behind enemy lines, we communists do not simply ape the enemy in all ways. We are not fish in the sea seeking to blend in with the enemy population when we are behind enemy lines.

Historically, in Mao’s China, there were people who did have to work behind enemy lines, to fight the Japanese or Chiang Kai-shek. There were two main communist complaints about those people who worked behind enemy lines. First, of course, was that such people became so muted that they became indistinguishable from the enemy, the basic problem of working behind enemy lines. (See for example, Mao’s 1944 essay, ‘Our Study and the Current Conditions’)Secondly was that once victorious in revolution, the communists who worked behind enemy lines continued to use the same methods they used when behind enemy lines–excessive conspiracy, lack of reliance on the population and even a lack of outspokennness.

In explaining the Bolshevik differences with Menshevism, Lenin says that worker ‘masses’ are only in the ‘thousands’ in ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.’ In fact, Lenin says that in the beginning of the revolutionary movement, the reference point of the struggle in the use of the word ‘masses’ is only a few thousand people! The following very long quote from a Comintern speech at the Third Congress addressing many imperialist country comrades mentions all the key issues:

‘We must prepare for dictatorship, and this consists in combating such phrases and such amendments. (Laughter.) Throughout, our theses speak of the masses. But, comrades, we need to understand what is meant by masses. The German Communist Workers’ Party, the Left-wing comrades, misuse this word. But Comrade Terracini, too, and all those who have signed these amendments, do not know how the word ‘masses’ should be read.

‘I have been speaking too long as it is; hence I wish to say only a few words about the concept of ‘masses’. It is one that changes in accordance with the changes in the nature of the struggle. At the beginning of the struggle it took only a few thousand genuinely revolutionary workers to warrant talk of the masses. If the party succeeds in drawing into the struggle not only its own members, if it also succeeds in arousing non-party people, it is well on the way to winning the masses. During our revolutions there were instances when several thousand workers represented the masses. In the history of our movement, and of our struggle against the Mensheviks, you will find many examples where several thousand workers in a town were enough to give a clearly mass character to the movement. You have a mass when several thousand non-party workers, who usually live a philistine life and drag out a miserable existence, and who have never heard anything about politics, begin to act in a revolutionary way. If the movement spreads and intensifies, it gradually develops into a real revolution. We saw this in 1905 and 1917 during three revolutions, and you too will have to go through all this. When the revolution has been sufficiently prepared, the concept ‘masses’ becomes different: several thousand workers no longer constitute the masses. This word begins to denote something else. The concept of ‘masses’ undergoes a change so that it implies the majority, and not simply a majority of the workers alone, but the majority of all the exploited. Any other kind of interpretation is impermissible for a revolutionary, and any other sense of the word becomes incomprehensible. It is possible that even a small party, the British or American party, for example, after it has thoroughly studied the course of political development and become acquainted with the life and customs of the non party masses, will at a favourable moment evoke a revolutionary movement (Comrade Radek has pointed to the miners’ strike as a good example[135]). You will have a mass movement if such a party comes forward with its slogans at such a moment and succeeds in getting millions of workers to follow it. I would not altogether deny that a revolution can be started by a very small party and brought to a victorious conclusion. But one must have a knowledge of the methods by which the masses can be won over. For this thoroughgoing preparation of revolution is essential. But here you have comrades coming forward with the assertion that we should immediately give up the demand for ‘big’ masses.

‘They must be challenged. Without thoroughgoing preparation you will not achieve victory in any country. Quite a small party is sufficient to lead the masses. At certain times there is no necessity for big organisations.

‘But to win, we must have the sympathy of the masses. An absolute majority is not always essential; but what is essential to win and retain power is not only the majority of the working class — I use the term ‘working class’ in its West-European sense, i.e., in the sense of the industrial proletariat — but also the majority of the working and exploited rural population. Have you thought about this?’

Historically as a concrete reference point, in 1894, Lenin was giving tactical respect to an enemy that had no army but commanded a few thousand readers and some libraries! Lenin said, ‘However, it should not be forgotten that these slanderers command all the material means for the most widespread propaganda of their slanders. They possess a magazine with a circulation of several thousand; they have reading-rooms and libraries at their disposal.’ (‘What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats’)

Concretely, MIM is fortunate to have Lenin’s writings to know that MIM does indeed surpass Lenin at his earliest stages organizationally, while we too would have to give tactical respect to the type of enemy that faced Lenin in 1894. While Lenin in his day and MIP-Amerika both have large territories to cover, MIM today distributes articles in the five and six digits every month just on its web site alone. Lenin did not have this and his newspaper in the early 1890s was not physically superior to MIM’s in quantity; although we may certainly surmise that his literature gathered greater passion from the population, and perhaps more people handed his newspapers on than MIP-Amerika’s, thus meaning more readers per newspaper. Furthermore, MIM’s prison struggle and prison readership alone is reminiscent of Lenin’s reference point of a few thousand people in early stages of struggle. Hence, anyone comparing MIM with Lenin on the ‘masse’” and finding MIM lacking just did not read Lenin very carefully.

Lenin remembered bitterly in his ‘Lecture on the 1905 Revolution,’ the ‘reformists’ who called him ‘sectarian’ for having only a few hundred organizers and a few thousand people as a reference point. The Liberal leader Struve led the attack along these lines; yet today, people continue to attack MIM along the exact same lines. Lenin stood his ground and believed even such a small element constituted ‘revolutionary people.’

Even in 1915, two years before the revolution, Lenin says he only had 40,000 subscribers. He made a point of saying that the tzar could repress 5 or 10 times that number and still the 40,000 would not be annihilated in influence. (‘What has been revealed by the trial of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Duma Group’)

MIM points to Lenin’s precise conception of masses to refute those trying to pull us in a bourgeois populist direction about what our real political roots are and how science is actually applied. It goes without saying that a party of millions can address hundreds of millions of people, but at earlier stages of revolutionary development the word ‘masses’ can be demagogy, a kind of god that supports nihilism or reformism.

Somehow, with the international proletariat’s luck in drawing enemies in imperialist countries, the Trotskyists and crypto- Trotskyists such as Avakian criticizing us ‘Lin Biaoists’ manage to foul up the word ‘masses’ from another angle, by denigrating the exploited and oppressed masses of the Third World. Against these Trotskyists, the term ‘masses’ must be defended. On the other hand, within the imperialist countries we get the social-democrats and other left-wing elements of parasitism trying to have us worship the enemy population as ‘masses.’ Both ultra-purist Trotskyists and reformist left-wing elements of parasitism use the term ‘masses’ only to denigrate the Third World oppressed and exploited while glorifying the labor aristocracy.

Mensheviks have made too much of Lenin’s and Stalin’s relative distrust of the population compared with Mao’s. Lenin said in ‘What Is To Be Done?’ that Russia was a ‘politically enslaved state, in which nine hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand of the population are corrupted to the marrow of their bones by political subservience.’ For this reason, he thought it might be defensible to have a communist party which commanded loyalty and obedience to itself instead of the state. Thus, some Mensheviks think that for Lenin to say what he did about the labor aristocracy is not surprising, while Mao was more friendly to the ‘masses,’ which includes the labor aristocracy by this line of Menshevik reasoning.

Yet, we must remember that Lenin lived in a semi-imperialist country, one that had ‘Great Power’ status at the time Lenin lived. Mao lived in a country that once had “Great Power” status but was in fact super- exploited and oppressed. Hence, we can say Mao was correct to have more reliance on the population of China than we have on the population of the United $tates or Lenin had in Russia’s population.

This is to leave aside the fact that Mao was careful in defining the word ‘masses.’ When he says ‘mass line,’ it is not an excuse for spontaneity or bourgeois democratic prejudice. Mao’s ‘mass line’ is universally correct, but only if it is universally correctly defined and applied.

Here in the imperialist countries we often fail from step one–defining friends and enemies based on the appropriation of surplus-labor, which is the connection between Marx’s Das Kapital and the political theories of Lenin and Mao. Political theorizing and strategizing in a void without Marx’s labor theory of value is rank opportunism, creating a bourgeois political philosophy of a pre-scientific sort, whether or not it is in the guise of Marxism. There is no meaning to political steering or tactics without the labor theory of value, so any discussion of ‘ultraleft’ or ‘right opportunism’ is completely sterile without an understanding of concrete conditions first. There is nothing permanently politically ultraleft or right opportunist without first defining classes and hence friends and enemies.

Mao himself defined the classes in Chinese society, and specifically Chinese society, in order to define ‘friend’ and ‘enemy.’ In his ‘Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society’ in 1926, Mao talks about many things that are specific to China and even more things that are specific only to semi-colonial and semi- feudal countries. He did not talk about all masses in all countries being the same at all times.

Even in the essay ‘On New Democracy,’ which is not relevant for imperialist country oppressor nations, Mao said, ‘No sooner had the strength of the proletariat and of the peasant and other petty bourgeois masses brought the revolution of 1927 to victory than the capitalist class, headed by the big bourgeoisie, kicked the masses aside, seized the fruits of the revolution, formed a counter-revolutionary alliance with imperialism and the feudal forces, and strained themselves to the limit in a war of ‘Communist suppression’ for ten years.’ Here, Mao contrasted the masses and the enemy. Most references to the ‘masses’ by Lenin, Stalin and Mao speak of ‘exploited,’ ‘toiling,’ ‘working’ or ‘oppressed’ masses–not masses that include substantial enemy sections.

During the Cultural Revolution in China, the ‘Little Red Book’ said the following: ‘The broad masses of the workers, peasants and soldiers and the broad ranks of the revolutionary cadres and the intellectuals should really master Mao Tse-tung’s thought.’ Again, we do not hear the term ‘masses’ used to refer to enemies.

In another context, in his essay, ‘Speeches at a National Party Conference’ in 1955, Mao said, ‘We often say that we should not become conceited because we have done well in our work and that we comrades should remain modest and learn from the advanced countries, from the masses and from each other so as to make fewer mistakes.’ Again, as MIM has always said, there is a distinction to be drawn here. Mao did not lump ‘the advanced countries’ with ‘masses’ here. Let’s also keep in mind he could have said, ‘learn from the masses of the advanced countries’ and he did not. It’s not so simple. There are things to learn from enemies, but we do not refer to it as part of the ‘mass line,’ with ‘from the masses’ and ‘to the masses.’

In truth, if once in a while, ‘masses’ referred to people that included enemies it would not be so bad–if the enemy component of ‘masses’ is the minority. Such was the case in times during the war against Japan led by Mao. Both Mao and Chiang Kai-shek spoke of the ‘entire nation’ opposing Japan–and for a decisive period of time the conflict with Japanese imperialism was the principal contradiction for the Chinese Revolution. Yet, contrary to the image some would like to foist concerning Mao, Mao was even more precise than just counting a few enemies as ‘masses.’

In ‘Is Yugoslavia a Socialist Country?’ Mao said in 1963 what he would later say about the USSR. Some people do not realize that Mao never counted the ‘labor aristocracy’ as anything but enemy: ‘It shows us that not only is it possible for a working-class party to fall under the control of a labour aristocracy, degenerate into a bourgeois party and become a flunkey of imperialism before it seizes power.’ Furthermore, Mao said, ‘Old-line revisionism arose as a result of the imperialist policy of buying over and fostering a labour aristocracy. Modern revisionism has arisen in the same way. Sparing no cost, imperialism has now extended the scope of its operations and is buying over leading groups in socialist countries and pursues through them its desired policy of ‘peaceful evolution.” Hence, Mao always said the question of labor aristocracy is linked to the question of the restoration of capitalism. For a supposed Maoist to ignore the ‘labor aristocracy’ of the imperialist countries is revisionism. For people to talk about upholding the Cultural Revolution and opposing Soviet revisionism without opposing the labor aristocracy as enemy is just pure hogwash.

In this regard, we must note the revisionist efforts of many to smuggle the labor aristocracy into the ‘masses,’ and then the ‘mass line,’ as an excuse for tailing parasitic demands by the imperialist country parasites. MIM follows the ‘mass line,’ but the population does not get to define whether or not it is ‘masses’ or not. MIM uses the definition of ‘proletariat’ and ‘masses’ laid down since Marx and Lenin. Belonging to the ‘masses’ or the ‘proletariat’ is not a question of self-identification. We do not mean conditions are the same as in the days of Marx and Lenin, but it does mean we have no reason to change the very definition of these words, since capitalism and semi-feudalism continue to dominate the world. People who believe MIM is wrong are free to argue that the proletariat of 2001 is less relevant than in 1901, but our critics should not be allowed to change the definition of proletariat and ‘masses’ to include a majority of enemies.” (2)

I do not have time to give a full analysis of every quote in the document. The document seems to have some problems and muddle even though I obviously support the overall sentiment. Some issues though:

In the beginning, the document alludes to MIM’s use of their version of the labor theory of value to paint large segments of the First World as parasitic. The same theory ends up painting large segments of the Third World that do not technically produce value as also parasitic. It seems to me that MIM was so out to prove the First World as parasitic using a certain kind of orthodoxy that they did not look at the implications of that analysis on the class structure of the Third World. Are the rising slum dwelling classes of the Third World also parasitic because they do not create value? Are refugee populations dependent on aid parasitic? Are Palestinians? Landless, declassed ex-peasants? There are also cases where productive laborers in some Third World countries form a relatively privileged sector that will not be the leading force of the revolutionary movement. MIM used to represent its views as orthodox on this topic, but MIM usually forgets to add that Marx assumed commodities are traded for equivalents in order to show that the origin of profit was from unpaid work. If you throw out this assumption, then it kind of undermines Marx’s whole argument for unpaid labor being the source of profit. You don’t need the idea of unpaid labor as a source of profit if you throw out the assumption that commodities trade at their values. And if you don’t throw out that assumption, you are kind of stuck with accepting that First World productive workers are exploited. Or, you have to throw out the orthodoxy and move toward a concept of net-exploitation as myself, Serve The People, Rebel1 explored in the IRTR period. Or, you have to set a bar for exploitation by assigning a full value of labor ala comrade Serve the People, something Marx himself opposed in at least one place — although I don’t have the reference off hand. Or you move in directions I have suggested in numerous articles, abandoning the labor theory of value altogether. IRTR and LLCO explored these directions in order to address some of this. I will also add that I am not saying there might not be uses for the labor theory of value, I am just saying is that it is not without problems and it is not a dividing line between Marxism and revisionism.

My point is that the appeal to orthodoxy (sometimes false orthodoxy) that pervades the document is not only the wrong way to go, but it also misrepresents. For example, it says that Mao defined words like “proletariat” and “masses” in their contexts, when everyone knows Mao and Maoist publications made numerous references to the “proletariat” and “masses” in the First World. MIM often invented all kinds of strange arguments to try to explain away these famous quotes by Mao. My personal favorite MIM argument was when MIM said Mao’s First Worldism was an innocent mistake because Mao did not have experience with the First World, as though the leader of a state that ruled over a quarter of the world’s people was living in a cave with no intelligence on the First World, as though Mao was totally dependent on First World micro-sects for his information on the First World. Any quick look to Beijing Review reveals how disingenuous MIM’s claim was. MIM had access to Beijing Review, but they used to cherry pick and selectively quote articles to make it appear as though Maoist China was more Third Worldist than it was. However, if you actually read the magazines, you will find First Worldism pervasive in Chinese Maoist literature. MIM was counting on people not having access to the original magazines, so they misrepresented the contents. This is just one thing that popped out immediately as problematic. I do not have time to examine every single quote in the article in context or look up quotes by the same authors that may suggest other things. The bigger issue is the methodological problem in part of the document. It seeks to pile up quotes as a way of increasing the legitimacy of its claims. And, in an attempt to do this, it misrepresents things on at least the occasion of Mao. Perhaps it misrepresents elsewhere, I don’t know. The method of seeking to represent oneself as the orthodoxy, misrepresent history, cherry pick, selectively quote, etc. is not a scientific one. It is fine to quote previous communists, it is good to supply information, but there is a kind of appeal to authority going on here too.

MC5 seems to make a good point about how as the level of parasitism increases, so too does the need for a “top-down” approach. I agree with the sentiment here, but not the literal claim. If MIM’s political economy is taken literally, large segments of the poorest sections of the Third World are also parasitic since they consume value, but do not produce it. Do we require a “top-down” approach with them too? Obviously not. Again, this is a matter of MIM painting with too big a brush. In their attempt to paint the First World as parasitic, they failed to look at the implications of their arguments as they applied to Third World populations. I think a better way to say this is simply to say the higher standard of living of a  population, the more of a “top-down” approach is needed.

I like MC5’s line when he discusses the revisionist attempts “to smuggle the labor aristocracy into the ‘masses,’ and then the ‘mass line,’ as an excuse for tailing parasitic demands by the imperialist country parasites.” I am not completely comfortable with the wording, but the assertion is correct. However, then I wonder why MIM focused on the First World oppressed nations? Why did MIM stick to the dogmatic formulation that the principal contradiction is between imperialism versus oppressed nations? It seems like MIM, with its intellectual emphasis on the First World lower strata and oppressed nations, is guilty of exactly what MC5 claims the revisionists do. The conclusion of a more consistent political economy, such as our own, is that the principal contradiction is between the First World versus Third World, the Bourgeois World versus Proletarian World, Exploiter World versus Exploited World. This is the muddle that seemed to pervade in MIM. They had one foot in Third Worldism and one foot in First Worldism with First Worldist practice, tailing of national liberation, pantherism, gender spellings, etc.

Again, I do not have time to give a full analysis of the document. It allowed us to demarcate some differences between MIM Thought and Leading Light Communism. However, these are just a couple of the differences between MIM Thought and Leading Light Communism. Leading Light Communism is a whole package of scientific advances that span everything from epistemology to political economy to history to “deep politics,” etc. Leading Light Communism is the future.