The Marxian Theory of Exploitation: A Critique


The Marxian Theory of Exploitation:
A Critique

Richard Garner

Economic Notes No. 115

ISBN 9781856376631
ISSN 0267-7164 (print)
ISSN 2042-2547 (online)

An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance,
Suite 35, 2 Lansdowne Row, Mayfair, London W1J 6HL.

© 2013: Libertarian Alliance; Richard Garner

Richard Garner was a libertarian philosopher and a frequent contributor to the Libertarian Alliance and the Society for Individual Freedom until his premature death in 2011 at the age of 33. This pamphlet is an edited version of one that appeared on his personal blog on the 6th March 2008 and which first appeared in hardcopy in the September 2013 issue of The Individual, the journal of the SIF.

The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers.

FOR LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY

Marxian “exploitation” versus reality

Socialists have railed against the market economy as inherently exploitative. One of the most well known and influential examples of this is in the writings of Karl Marx. This theory was developed most completely in his massive three-volume economics treatise Capital, but is neatly summarised by Arthur P. Mendel:

The entire argument in Capital rests on the labor theory of value. As was the case with virtually all the parts that Marx fused into his system, this concept was borrowed from earlier writers, in this case from the ‘classical’ economists such as Adam Smith and, especially, David Ricardo. It is primarily a price theory, according to which ‘commodities’ should exchange on the basis of the ‘socially necessary’ labor time devoted to their production. In other words, the amount of time a laborer works to produce a particular item determines its “exchange value”: two products of equal labor value would thus be exchanged for one another.

Having incorporated the labor theory of value, Marx derived from it a second step in his demonstration: the theory of ‘surplus’ labor value. According to this theory, the worker does not receive in wages an amount equal to the value of the goods he produces. We must keep in mind that the influence of the “pessimistic economists” still prevailed, as did the conditions promoting their pessimism. Drawing their conclusions from their own observations and from official government reports on working-class conditions in England during the industrial revolution, economists like Malthus and Ricardo argued that an “iron law of wages” existed that would keep wages down to a minimum necessary to meet the workers’ basic needs. Marx accepted this and drew the conclusions he desired: on the one hand, the labor theory of value argued that labor created all the value of the goods sold by the capitalist; on the other hand, an ‘iron law of wages’ kept the laborer’s income down to a subsistence minimum consequently, it must follow that the workers were not receiving the full value of their labor, that there was a ‘surplus’ kept by the capitalist owner of the means of production.1

Our first response to this argument is to look at the “Iron Law of Wages.” This theory is clearly false, for numerous reasons. The theory is, basically, that if wages rise for a time above enough to pay for mere subsistence then population will increase, resulting in increased competition for jobs amongst workers, resulting in lower wages. If, on the other hand, wages are lower than subsistence, fewer children are born, malnutrition kills off a certain percentage of the population, so competition for wages falls, and wages rise. Thus, it is argued, wages will always tend to a mere subsistence level.

It was in the nineteenth century that Malthus, Ricardo and Marx held to the theory of the Iron Law of Wages. However, in that century wages doubled and population increased over two and a half times. Rising real wages after 1850 did not lead to a rise in the birth rate, but the exact opposite: the birth rate fell from 35 per thousand in 1850 to 28.7 per thousand in 1900.2 So empirical evidence doesn’t back up the Malthusian argument.

Secondly, the Iron Law of Wages only approaches the question of what determines the price of labour from the perspective of supply and not demand (and then only crudely, for it doesn’t recognise that the worker is buying a wage at the same time as selling their time, and thus take in the relative value they place on their uses of it). For instance, it is likely that a rise in population will result in a rise in demand for labour, so if population were to rise as a result of higher wages (as the Iron Law says it would), there is not necessarily a reason to expect a fall in wages as a result, because of an increase in demand for labour. This is, in fact, why an increased population as a result of free immigration or an absence of state control of reproduction will actually be likely to increase wages in the long term: increased population means more mouths to feed, means more demand for workers to feed them, means higher wages. Indeed, the Iron Law of Wages doesn’t even take account of how productive a worker is. Surely, an employer would offer more to a skilled and dedicated worker than a talentless layabout, because the former will get more work done than the latter. If so, then, at least to that degree, wages will reflect productivity.

Thirdly, the phrase “subsistence level” is so ambiguous as to be almost useless. Cave men subsisted on a lot less than the average UK worker – or even the least paid UK worker – so why haven’t UK wages fallen to the level needed to provide subsistence to a cave man? Workers in today’s Britain live a lifestyle many would have thought luxurious by the standards of one a hundred years ago.

Therefore, the “Iron Law of Wages” doesn’t hold water. Given this, Marx’s presumption that wages will always tend to be less than the true value of the labour spent producing becomes untenable, and, if this is the case, his claim that capitalism is exploitative looks shaky too.

The value of labour

However, we may go further. Having disposed of the theory about what determines how much value a capitalist gives a worker, let’s turn to the theory about how much value a worker gives to the capitalist. This theory, as stated above, is “…primarily a price theory, according to which ‘commodities’ should exchange on the basis of the ‘socially necessary’ labor time devoted to their production. In other words, the amount of time a laborer works to produce a particular item determines its ‘exchange value’: two products of equal labor value would thus be exchanged for one another.” In short, the exchange rate, or price, of one hour of socially necessary labour time, in a free market economy, would be another hour of socially necessary labour time: an hour of work from a farmer will buy an hour of work from the builder. Hence the belief, also iterated above, that “labor created all the value of the goods sold by the capitalist.”

However, it is obvious that labour doesn’t create all the value of the goods (remember that the argument isn’t that only labour creates goods, but that only labour creates the value of those goods, or, in other words, only labour gives those goods value). Surely if a group of identical workers spent an identical amount of time building an identical house next to a landfill site or sewage works as they did building one next to a site of great natural beauty, the latter would fetch a higher price than the former. Isn’t this obvious? If so, then it must also be obvious that the exchange value, the price, of each house is not solely determined by the labour put into producing it but also by the geographical position and by the attractiveness of that position to those who would live in the house. Hence it is the utility, the preference satisfaction derived from owning that house, which determines its price.

An old complaint against the traditional labour theory of value (as stated by Adam Smith and David Ricardo) was that it implied that useless labour would fetch an equal price as useful labour. For example, an hour’s worth of delicate and life saving brain surgery would buy an hour’s worth of digging holes and filling them in again. This is obviously not the case, so the price of a good cannot be determined by the amount of time spent working on it.

However, this was not Marx’s claim. As Robert Nozick points out,

Marxist theory does not hold that the value of an object is proportional to the number of simple undifferentiated labour hours that went into its production; rather, the theory holds that the value of an object is proportional to the number of simple undifferentiated socially necessary labour hours that went into its production.3

This claim is backed by reference to Marx’s own words in the first volume of Capital.4 The point is that Marx qualifies the traditional labour theory of value by also requiring that labour hours be socially necessary, and this, he believes, saves him from the above argument.

Marx writes that, “Nothing can have value without being an object of utility. If a thing is useless so is the labour embodied in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.”5 However, even accepting the condition that an object has to be of some utility, there still remain some problems. For instance, what if a worker works for 893 hours on something that is of only very slight utility. This satisfies the condition that it must be of some utility. So, should we now believe that here on in only the time spent making it matters, that only the amount of labour matters, so that now that it is of some utility it will buy 893 products that are of incredible utility but only took an hour to make? No, because, as Marx says, “…the labour spent on them (commodities) counts effectively only in so far as it is spent in a form that is useful to others.”6 In other words, the 893 hours of labour are only valuable insofar as they are of utility to those that consume them, as is the hour of the other goods mentioned, which implies that the value of a good depends on its degree of utility to its consumer, that the labour embodied in it is only as valuable as it is of utility to its consumer.

Marx even claims that “Whether that labour is useful for others, and its product consequently capable of satisfying the wants of others, can be proved only by the act of exchange.”7 In other words, the only way to tell if a commodity is valuable or not, or even if it has value, is by observing the action of the market process – the act of exchange. This is a hell of a concession! But what becomes clear is that, by tacking on the qualifying condition that labour need be socially necessary in order to have value, Marx has in fact ended up with something very different from a labour theory of value. He has claimed, in effect, that the value of a product is determined in so far as it is useful in satisfying the preferences of the consumer and not by the amount of labour time spent producing it at all!

Marx the market enthusiast

However, we can approach this from a different direction. Imagine that things are being produced as efficiently as they can be, but that too many of them are produced to sell at a certain price. The price at which the market clears is lower than the apparent labour values of the products: a greater number of efficient hours went into producing them than people were willing to pay for. Does this show that the number of average hours spent making an item of sufficient utility doesn’t determine its value? Marx’s answer to this question is to say that if such overproduction occurs that the market won’t clear at a certain price, then the labour devoted to making an object was inefficiently used – less of the thing should have been made – even though the labour itself was efficient. Thus, not all those efficient labour hours constituted socially necessary labour time. The product does not have less value than the number of socially necessary labour hours expended on it, because there were simply fewer socially necessary labour hours expended on it than meets the eye.

Suppose that every piece of linen in the market contains no more labour than is socially necessary. In spite of this, all the pieces taken as a whole may have had superfluous labour-time spent on them. If the market cannot stomach the whole quantity at the normal price of 2 shillings a yard, this proves too great a portion of the total labour of the community has been expended in the form of weaving. The effect is the same as if each weaver had expended more labour-time upon his particular product than is socially necessary.8

Robert Nozick neatly sums up the consequences of this view:

Thus Marx holds that this labour isn’t all socially necessary. What is socially necessary, and how much of it is, will be determined by what happens on the market! There is no longer any labour theory of value; the central notion of socially necessary labour time is itself defined in terms of the processes and exchange ratios of a competitive market.9

So on one hand Marx concocts a theory about prices that actually tells us that prices are not determined by labour, and then on the other he tells us that workers are exploited because all the value of the product they create is determined by labour. This is simply intellectual dishonesty!

Utility and explaining value

The classic labour theory of value is clearly wrong because it cannot explain why a sawdust sandwich won’t buy a cheese sandwich when they both take the same amount of time to make. In fact, the labour theory of value is not even useful in economics because it cannot explain what goes on in an economy. For instance, I can buy cola in one-litre-bottles, and I can also buy it in two-litre-bottles. However, the price of a two-litre-bottle is not twice that of the one-litre-bottle even though it holds twice the contents. Why is that? Modern economics, abandoning anything approaching a labour theory of value, can answer this, but the labour theory of value cannot.

In terms of modern economics, it is easy to explain. It is less important to me that I get a second litre of cola than it is that I get a first. Once I have one litre, I care less about getting the second; the marginal utility of a second litre is lower than the first. Thus, if the company wanted to sell me a second litre, they have to make it cost me less than the first, because it is less important to me than the first. This is why the two litres of cola in a two-litre bottle will not be the same price as the two litres in two one-litre bottles.

But the amount of labour time spent producing the second litre was exactly the same as that spent producing the first litre. Therefore, the labour theory of value cannot explain why two-litre bottles of cola are cheaper than two one-litre bottles. Marx’s changes to the labour theory of value lead us further and further away from an account of exploitation, because he would have to say that the labour embodied in the second litre in the two-litre bottle was less “socially necessary” than that of the first, but can only do so on the grounds that the market for cola wouldn’t clear if it was twice the price.

However, we can reject the Marxist theory of exploitation without even rejecting the labour theory of value. David Gauthier sums up the Marxist argument:

Marxism offers a direct challenge to our account of the Market which, if sustained, would refute the claim that market interaction is impartial. For the Marxist insists that private ownership of the means of production, a fundamental presupposition of the market, is necessarily exploitative. The argument is simple. Under private ownership, nothing can prevent the emergence of a situation in which some individuals (capitalists) own the means that others (workers) need if they are to engage in productive activity. These others are then compelled to sell their labour power to the owners of the material means that production requires. This sale is exploitative. For the essential and distinctive characteristic of labour is that it produces more than the cost of its own production; labour thus reproduces itself and in addition produces what in Marxist thought is called surplus value. Now labour power is bought and sold, as any other commodity, at a price sufficient to cover its cost of production. Hence the buyer of labour necessarily receives the surplus value, since he pays the worker a wage equal to the cost of producing the labour power sold, and receives a price equal to the value of what that labour power produces. The market systematically favours the buyer of labour power over the seller; hence its operation is in principle partial to the capitalist.10

Gauthier begins studying this position from the claim that the market price of what labour produces is greater than the cost of its own production. Imagine that the price of labour power was equal to the cost of producing it. It is obvious that under these conditions there would be a demand for more labour, because buyers (capitalist employers) profit from the difference between the price they pay for labour power and what they receive in exchange for its product, which, under these conditions, would be nothing (because price equals cost). This demand for more labour power would continue until the marginal product of an additional unit of labour power is equal to the marginal cost of producing that additional unit. However, at this point the price of labour – the wage paid – is equal to the price that is received for its product. There can be no surplus value when the supply of labour is brought into equilibrium with the demand for it. “The worker receives a wage equal to the marginal difference her labour power adds to the total product” – workers are paid according to their marginal productivity.

Marxists attempt to escape from this conclusion by denying that supply and demand come into equilibrium. The claim is that the buyer of labour power is able to keep its price, the wage, below the price he receives for its product, because the supply of labour will always exceed demand for it because of what Engels called “The reserve army of the unemployed.” However, we have just seen that if the wage is below the price received for the product of labour, then there will be an effective demand for more labour – demand will be greater than supply. So the Marxist is trapped in a contradiction: The buyer of labour power is able to derive surplus value from labour – to pay the worker less than he receives for the product of labour – only if labour exceeds demand. But if there is a surplus to extract then this creates amongst capitalists a demand for labour in excess of the existing supply. As Gauthier says,

Or, to put the matter another way, if the supply of labour exceeds the demand for it, this can only be because the cost of producing labour exceeds the price that can be received for its product. So there can only be surplus value if supply exceeds demand but if supply exceeds demand there can be no surplus value.11

So, if, as Marxists suppose, labour power is a commodity, then the operation of a competitive market must bring the supply of labour into equilibrium with the demand for it. Thus, at equilibrium, there can’t be any surplus value for the buyer of labour power to extract, and so there can be no exploitation of the seller of labour power – the worker. Thus, in a competitive market, there can be no exploitation of workers, at least in the Marxist sense.

Notes

(1) Editor’s note: Unfortunately, Richard did not reference this passage in the original blogged version of the essay and I have been unable to source it. All that I can say is that the late Arthur P. Mendel was an American professor of history at the University of Michigan. He wrote widely but specialised in Russian intellectual history.

(2) John L. Hanson, A Textbook of Economics, Macdonald & Evans, 1966, p. 311. Editor’s note: Again, I must apologise. This a guess on my part. Whilst he cited the author, book title and page number, Richard did not cite the edition of the book.

(3) Robert Nozick, ‘Anarchy, State and Utopia’, p. 118, in Kory Schaff (ed.), Philosophy and the Problems of Work, Lanham, MD, 2001, pp. 109-122.

(4) Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 1887/2010, p. 45. The version referenced here can be found at the “libertarian communist” website: http://libcom.org/library/capital-karl-marx, retrieved 28th June 2013.

(5) Marx, ibid., p. 28.

(6) Marx, ibid., p. 49.

(7) Marx, ibid., p. 50.

(8) Marx, ibid., p. 80.

(9) Nozick, op. cit., p. 120.

(10) David Gauthier, Morals by Agreement (new ed.), Clarendon Press, 1987, p. 110.

(11) Gauthier, ibid, p. 112.

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8 responses to “The Marxian Theory of Exploitation: A Critique

  1. In some ways it is a very old fallacy – older than the Labour Theory of Value of David Ricardo (which was in turn based upon some confused thinking by Adam Smith in his old age – tragically forgetting what Adam Smith himself had known when younger).

    The fallacy goes all the way back to Aristotle himself – with his belief that an exchange must either be equal, or be to the advantage of one party or the other (not both – at the same time).

    Antony Flew was fond of pointing out (and, most likely, Richard Garner well knew) that this error of Aristotle can be found in many later thinkers – from Voltaire to Hegel (and from Hegel to Karl Marx).

    The idea that two parties in a trade (say of money for labour) can BOTH profit by the trade – seems counter intuitive, but it is true.

    No economic good or service (including labour) has an objective value – its value is subjective, DIFFERENT to the buyer and the seller.

    To give an historical example – Bavarian Law was correct and the law of Charles the Great of the Franks was wrong.

    The only “just” price (for goods or services) is the market price.

    • I love Aristotle and his empiricist philosophy, but he did indeed make a number of errors. I think, though, that unlike many others, Aristotle would have been willing to listen and change his mind in response to evidence that he was wrong.

  2. I had several lively debates with Richard, and was very saddened by his sudden death. I never found out what the cause was. Is it now long enough ago that it is reasonably polite to ask?

  3. Unfortunately, this writer, probably a good libertarian, knows almost nothing about Marx’s views. I will comment in order as things come up in the ramshackle post above:

    1. Marx did not say that goods would or should exchange on the basis of the labour time incorporated in them. [How could anyone tell or calculate this?] Marx said the opposite – that goods would NOT exchange on the basis of the labour time incorporated in them, or if they did so, it would be by accident.

    2. The surplus value – well, the best way to approach this is to point out that in ALL economies there has to be a surplus for investment. There was in the Soviet Union too. No surplus=subsistence economics of cave men.

    3. The Iron Law of Wages was only quoted by Marx as what he saw as an incorrect Lassallean view (see http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx//works/1875/letters/75_10_12.htm for Engels’ condemnation of the adoption of the phrase by the German part he was involved with). Marx did, however, believe in the **relative** worsening of the position of the proletariat in relation to the growth in capital. He of course believed in the incorrect counterposition of labour and capital as opposing interests – in fact both of these should be freed and have a common interest in opposing rentierism.

    4. Marx did not support Malthus’ views and his belief in the immiseration of the proletariat was not based on demographic developments, such as undulations in the pattern of malnutrition and infant mortality. Marx described Darwin’s theories as refuting Malthus’ views of the “arithmetic” increase in food output and the “geometrical” increase in population. Unfortunately, Garner knows NOTHING AT ALL about Marx’s views, which is painfully evident. He says empirical evidence did not back up Malthusianism -but that’s what Marx pointed out too.

    5. Supply and demand for labour – are covered in Marx’s works. Wages reflecting productivity, etc – all covered. Incorrect assertions are made in this article about Marx’s views on nearly everything.

    6. “Marx’s presumption that wages will always tend to be less than the true value of the labour spent producing becomes untenable, and, if this is the case, his claim that capitalism is exploitative looks shaky too”. ??? Apart from the meaninglessness of the sentence (“the true value of the labour spent producing wages”???), in all forms of economy, there has to be a surplus. To label is “exploitative” is to intrude a moral issue in what is just an economic fact. No one is going to pay someone £100 to add only £100 of value. I think there are statistics on gross value added in manufacturing – and the number is not the same as total wages. Unless Garner is saying that capitalism produces for a loss, then this article is of no value.

    7. His long quotation about exchange value is not from Marx – and is not a correct summarisation of Marx’s views. Marx most certainly did not believe that the price of anything reflected the amount of socially necessary labour in it.

    8. “The price, of each house is not solely determined by the labour put into producing it but also by the geographical position and by the attractiveness of that position to those who would live in the house”…. er… but Marx did not say that or anything like that. He was emphatic that the price goods exchanged at did not reflect labour time – geographical position, what people are willing to pay etc, are what determine the price – along with other factors.

    9. This clown who wrote this article confused value and price all the way through. Marx made a clear distinction. His approach was to start abstract in volume 1 and paint in more details in volume 2 and 3 of Capital. So he starts with value – but by volume 3, he makes clear that value for him is just an abstract category and that price is the concrete visible phenomenon. What is the connection between the two? And why does he say goods don’t exchange at what their abstract “value” is? Or to put it another way, why is value a useful category if it is only abstract and does not determine prices? He argued that you could start by looking at just one enterprise and discussing labour values, but one the free market is painted in, it creates a “capitalistic communism”, whereby all goods go for whatever they can get – marginal utility theories would therefore describe the real price action. Marx did not deny this, despite the claims of the libertarian clown, Ian B. So why is he interested in his theory of labour values if he says they have no connection with price achieved? He believed that labour values only work on a whole-economy basis – ie that the total labour values of all the products would equal the total prices in aggregate (abstracting from inflation, as his approach of ‘ascending from the abstract to the concrete’ was to start abstract and paint in more features of reality, so arguments by Garner from Vol 1 are clownish, because they don’t take account of Marx’s gradual concretisation by the end of Volume 3). The “capitalistic communism” means that the market tends to – only a tendency – to more equal profit rates than labour values would indicate at least in so far as any business can sell its products for whatever it can get. The problem with the labour theory of value – at least as Marx has it – is that it becomes unfalsifiable, as no observable phenomena are asserted as corresponding to it. Marx said that if goods exchanged according to their labour values, it would be purely accidental. So what is labour value DOING in this theory if he denies that value=price, something Clown Garner didn’t realise? The significance of labour values to Marx was that he argued that the move into higher and higher tech wold lead to a higher ratio of capital to labour, and that the rate of surplus value – something not measurable at a single-company level due to the capitalistic communism that converts value into price (something Marx called “the transformation process”) – over the economy in aggregate would fall, eventually producing slumps, requiring restructuring before resumed growth and eventual rinse and repeat. Clown Ian B then rushes along and asserts that Marx believed value equals price and goods exchange at labour values!

    10. “In other words, the only way to tell if a commodity is valuable or not, or even if it has value, is by observing the action of the market process – the act of exchange. This is a hell of a concession!” It’s not, because Marx’s theory is precisely that value diverges from price in nearly all circumstances. He is ONLY interested in the way that a theory that labour values underly the economy in aggregate – read those words again – in aggregate – affect the total-economy rate of profit.

    11. “Marx has in fact ended up with something very different from a labour theory of value”. Er… yes… but read to the end of Capital, and you’ll know why. I’m not saying Marx is right – he is specifically wrong for counterposing the interests of labour and capital, and his own work talks extensively of “countervailing tendencies” to the falling rate of profit, making it unclear, even from his own work, whether he has established a falling rate of profit as a necessary trend.

    12. “He has claimed, in effect, that the value of a product is determined in so far as it is useful in satisfying the preferences of the consumer and not by the amount of labour time spent producing it at all!” Once again, confusing value and price – which is the WHOLE point of Marx. Marx said exactly this – once the word “value” is replaced by “price”.

    13. Margin utility theory – is talking about price and is not in contradiction to Marx’s views.

    14. “It is obvious that under these conditions there would be a demand for more labour, because buyers (capitalist employers) profit from the difference between the price they pay for labour power and what they receive in exchange for its product, which, under these conditions, would be nothing (because price equals cost).” Er… Clown Garner says this here – but it contracts what he said (see point 6) above! Of course, there has to be a surplus in all economies other than pure subsistence. Once agriculture developed in the Middle East, the possibility of producing a surplus was achieved: in real terms, not 100% of everyone’s labour had to be devoted to mere production of food. One 90% of people could feel 100% of the population, there was a surplus, allowing for others to be deployed on investment projects like canals, irrigation, road etc. Production of a surplus is not exploitation – it is just a necessity as Clown Garner realises here.

    15. Workers paid for marginal productivity – this is talking about wages, which is a price (see Marx’s abstract value-price distinction). Marx did not deny any of this.

    There is nothing but buffoonery in this article.

  4. Mr Webb the economic value of something is indeed NOT the price – the economic value to the seller is LOWER than the price, and the economic value to the buyer is HIGHER than the price.

    Yes – the economic value of the good or service (be it gold or labour) is different for the buyer than it is for the seller.

    And NO the amount (or effort) of the labour in something does NOT determine the value.

    Karl Marx was wrong – flat wrong.

    The economic ideas of Karl Marx (and everything built upon them) are false.

    Even as early as 1832 the falseness of the Labour Theory of Value was so exposed that Richard Whately deals with it in an aside.

    See pages 252 – 255 (Lecture Nine) of Whately’s “Introductory Lectures on Political Economy” (1832).

    Yes the foundation of the economic thought of Karl Marx was refuted before Karl himself wrote a word.

    If you wish a longer English language work on the matter from the same period – then see Samuel Bailey.

    For work overseas see the Say family in France, Ferrara in Italy, and Rau and Goseen in Germany.

    The Labour Theory of Value is false – and everything based upon it is false.

  5. As for Karl Marx’s theory of history……..

    Let us see how it stands up in a specific case – the land now known as Norway.

    When was the “Primitive Communism” “economic stage” in the land now known as Norway?

    There is no evidence of any such “economic stage”.

    And when was the “slave based mode of production” stage in Norway – there was slaves in some periods certainly, but no “slave based mode of production”.

    And when was the “serf based mode of production” stage in Norway?

    There never was a stage when production was dominated by Serfs in some such “mode of production” – it just did not take place.

    Unlike economics (which is universal and based upon the principles of logical reason), history is SPECIFIC – if is about a specific place and a specific time

    Yet when Karl Marx’s theory of history is TESTED against a specific place- it falls apart.

    So it is not just the economics of Karl Marx that is nonsense (and it is nonsense), his theory of history is nonsense also.

  6. By the way I would dispute the importance given to slaves in the Classical World – I believe that (for example) ordinary farmers were more important in the Roman Empire (as a whole) than vast slave worked estates, However, others dispute this – which is why I choose the less contested example of the land now known as Norway.

    My own view is that Marxism collapses even if one applies it to Sean Gabb’s native Kent.

    I do not believe there was ever a “primitive Communism economic stage” in the land now known as Kent, or a slave based “mode of production” (hence the argument over the relative importance of slavery in the Roman period in Kent),and there certainly was no serf based “mode of production” in Kent in the Middle Ages.

    Again – Marxism only “works” till it meets real history (when it meets real history – the Marxian theory of history collapses).

  7. “Just because the economics of Karl Marx is nonsense, and his theory of history is nonsense – does not mean his philosophical theories are nonsense”.

    Is anyone going to say that? Please do – make my day.