Dr. Who, reply to the De Leonist Society of Canada


Dr. Who
letter to the Discussion Bulletin
in reply to the De Leonist Society of Canada
From the Discussion Bulletin
May-Jun 2001 #107, pages 19-20

Brief critique of the De Leonist Society of Canada critique in DB #105

I did not find the De Leonist Society of Canada's critique of Frank Girard's critique of labor vouchers in DB #105 very convincing. I find this lifting of Marx to biblical dimensions, even as one who has been often highly informed by Marx, highly alienating. When reading these endless interpretations as we have read in prior issues of what was meant here in the Gotha Program or there in some other text, I cant help but feel like shouting "so what!" If it turns out that Marx really did feel that labor vouchers were to play a part in socialism (and incidentally, finding a few references on often quoted two or three pages of his entire life's work hardly proves to me that he felt this way on the other 10,000!) this merely reflects Marx's thinking with the data available to him at the time he analyzed them. He was a social scientist, and it is supremely unscientific in my view to demonstrate that his position based on the data he examined "sticks" for afl time thereafter. Those of us who live in the here and now have different data available to us. We examine the numbers from different United Nations bodies, and at times merely speculate based on approximate levels of current resource use and waste of today's class society to conclude that we could support an entirely moneyless, wagetess, society, today.

But the only part of the De Leonist Society letter that actually provided a rationale for maintaining labor vouchers (which seem to me no different than wages when described, and hence more of the hell-like existence we currently face as waged workers) was at the end with the words: "if you throw labor vouchers overboard, how then will you prevent the aforesaid slackers [the old parasite dass] from continuing to take what they want from society untroubled by the necessity of having to work for it?" Now I always imagined (from Marx, now that I think of it!) that our understanding of human behavior was based on an analysis of the mode of production, so that one dass is parasitic (lazy) BECAUSE it lives off rent, profit and interest, while another was highly productive because it has to to obtain the much-needed wages to buy back some of the most essential parts of the wealth it produces for its own survival.

We even assume that socialism will work based on this social scientific hypothesis. We believe that deprived of the minority ownership of the means of production, the drudgery of work (and even within such a system, our natural creativity shapes our work day into as pleasurable and challenging an endeavor as possible) will be replaced by a harmony between our product and our relationship to it In short, we will all want to work as much as possible because the distinction between work and art (or free time) will have been eradicated. Why should this apply only to former members of the working dass and not former members of the bourgeoisie (both of whom are products of dass society), if our social analysis of behavior holds (and as a psychologist by profession, I must say it agrees with all I have studied from social psychology as well)? To postulate the same ongoing lazy behavior for prior members of the capitalist dass would be to force one to summon some other explanation, such as perhaps a biological one? It would be to take on a Hobbesian view of human nature which Marx himself would fiercely object to. (We must also remember that socialism will have forced these prior parasites out of their parasitism, preventing them from living in hundred room mansions on hundreds of acres all to themselves and flying their own planes, so their access to resources will be the same as that of anybody else, insufficient to live quite the same life as they were accustomed to).

But let's face it. Today we have no problem with one quarter of the workforce engaged in socially necessary products and services while the remaining three-quarters either produce unnecessary services such as accounting, banking, ticketing or policing, or are unemployed, or are being massacred in wars, or are dying of illnesses secondary to malnutrition. If a relatively small percent of workers' labor is able to maintain the millions of unemployed, "socially unnecessary" workers, Hi workers, starving workers, or murdering workers, then it will hardly be such a bad thing if all of humanity, now liberated of wage labor forever, sustains an ongoing percent (perhaps even half of the population at a time would be a realistic figure for all we know) whatever class they were in before. In fact, laziness, as Paul Lafargue once argued, should be the ethic replacing the current workaholism. I mean, we want socialism to be free, don't we?

But if we had labor vouchers, how would they be dispensed and who would dispense them? If we had no classes anymore, how to determine whether my two hours of fishing measured up to somebody else's two hours of cleaning the sewers to somebody (say a prior member of the capitalist class) painting the house a new color? Would ail two hours be the same? Without commodity production, it seems irrational. How to measure it all of a sudden if exchange has been abolished? I can see the wages system being perpetuated this way or evolving quickly out of it since people will only get vouchers based on the time they worked (presumably) and so how to measure the actual voucher cost of the objects being consumed with the voucher? For example, how many vouchers would a TV cost? A new-computer? Organic strawberries (I hope we start to go organic with all food immediately)? A trip for a week at a resort hotel in the Bahamas? You see, you would ultimately have to ration the objects since many would contain many hours of work beyond those immediately achieved by the voucher worker? Would we have to save vouchers for years to get that Bahamas trip like we do now with wages? And who would stop me if I get on a plane without the necessary vouchers? Are there going to be voucher police? Voucher prisons? Voucher crimes? A voucher underground? And what of the class of people dishing out the vouchers? They would necessarily be involved in a useless, nonproductive occupation living off vouchers which came from the surplus tabor of the "workers," proving that the "worker"would never get tine value of his work. And that some people would still be workers and others not. This troubles me.

But if the system is based on need instead of sale, then you orient production differently, towards meeting the needs of the society, and with each person individually stepping forward to meeting those needs. You would then no longer require money or labor vouchers since there would no longer be an exchange. Someone working to make this toy would not be exchanging that work to obtain say the delicious food in this market Rattier, he would be giving what he knew to be essential labor to meet other needs (of the children), and later taking freely of the food which some other people freely prepared to meet the needs of others to eat. There would not be any point in having a voucher to measure one's work since there would no longer be any reciprocal direct relationship between work and consumption as everything would be owned by the same, world's, people. That is why hundreds of native societies never required labor vouchers and managed perfectly fine without them, because their work was based on meeting needs within a collectively shared group, rather than exchanging the fruits of their individual work between members in order to obtain them.

Dr. Who