The winter 2018 issue of US based magazine Jacobin “The Health of Nations” includes an interview with Bernie Sanders, whose campaign for the Democratic Party nomination was supported by its editor Bhaskar Sunkara. In the short interview Sanders discusses his campaign for Medicare for All, his support from the unions and his version of “democratic socialism”: building on the legacies of Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King and “the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have” in protecting the interests of workers. As the Jacobin editorial notes, electing Sanders to office to implement even modest reforms (which they see as a distinct possibility) will provoke resistance from a hostile congress and “tremendous pressure from elites”. Therefore, there is a need to “build movements beyond the Sanders campaign”.
The Jacobin website also contains much of interest, including a report by Cathy Kunkel of the successful strike of West Virginia teachers and school service personnel in March. Kunkel shows how teachers were able to keep the public on side during the strike, including by organising to provide food for children normally reliant on free school meals: https://jacobinmag.com/2018/03/west-virginia-teachers-wildcat-strike-peia
The January issue of Monthly Review (which came out after we went to press with our previous issue) includes a major article by John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark on social reproduction theory. They see this body of work as addressing a gap in Marx’s analysis, his lack of attention to the role of work in the home in reproducing labour power. As the authors demonstrate, this silence is partly accounted for by the fact that 19th century women usually carried out some form of waged labour. But, they say, it is also a reality of the capitalist system that housework—as well as resources expropriated from nature—are treated by capital as “free gifts” and that these processes are external to the “inner circuit of value” that Marx initially sought to uncover. Foster and Clark conclude by calling for “a struggle that will challenge capital’s subjection of reproductive labor, its colonisation of the people of the planet, and its degradation of the earth itself”. Go to https://monthlyreview.org/2018/01/01/women-nature-and-capital-in-the-industrial-revolution/
Monthly Review’s latest issue (April) contains articles by Martin Empson on Marx’s developing awareness of ecological ideas during his lifetime, Ricardo Antunes on precarious workers and Riccardo Bellofiore on the labour theory of value.
Marx’s theory of value is also the subject of a major exchange between two leading Marxist political economists, Michael Roberts and David Harvey, on Roberts’s blog—https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/marxs-law-of-value-a-debate-between-david-harvey-and-michael-roberts/. Roberts is responding to a paper of Harvey’s with the provocative and misleading title of “Marx’s Refusal of the Labour Theory of Value”, but the argument goes back to their disagreements in the plenary session of the “Capital.150” conference at King’s College London last September. For Roberts the key issues are the primacy of the capitalist process of production in the critique of political economy and Marx’s rejection of underconsumptionism, which explains economic crises by a lack of effective demand. Harvey replies vigorously. He seems quite busy with debates at the moment, since he’s also responded (http://roape.net/2018/02/05/realities-ground-david-harvey-replies-john-smith/) to a critique of his theory of imperialism by John Smith on the blog of the Review of African Political Economy (http://roape.net/2018/01/10/david-harvey-denies-imperialism/) and Smith has replied to his reply (https://roape.net/2018/03/19/imperialist-realities-vs-the-myths-of-david-harvey/). Whatever side you take in these arguments, they are a sign of the vitality of contemporary Marxist economic theory.
In Science and Society (volume 82, number 2), Joseph Choonara, drawing on the work of Jacques Bidet, proposes a solution to the “reduction problem”. The problem concerns how to account for “complex labour”, a form of skilled labour that requires workers with specialist education or training. Marx implied that the value created by this labour could be measured in multiples of the value created by simple labour. But, as Bidet argues, “we cannot a priori determine how much more value”. Complex labour is rare and exceptional, and because it creates problems for capitalism, it tends historically to be eradicated in favour of “simple” labour.
AC & CR