Crisis and Openings: Introduction to Marxism – Richard D Wolff

Crisis and Openings: Introduction to Marxism – Richard D Wolff

Let me begin by saying a few basic things about economics Just so we’re all on the same page and because since I do a lot of speaking around the country, um, I have come to learn the bitter lesson that whatever passes for economics education in the United States, is right up there with education and nuclear physics. In other words, there isn’t much. And most people don’t get it, and so they turn away from economics a little bit like people turn away from mathematics and subjects like that That are basically presented so badly that the student feels its his or her fault and doesn’t want to go there. So I’m not saying that happened to any of you, but it might’ve and it might be helpful if we all started on the same page with some basic, uh, economics. Okay. So bear with me. It is simple but it is more important to get it clear than you might imagine. Human beings are a little different from most of the creatures on this planet, because instead of simply looking and hoping to find um what sustains us — food, shelter, so on — uh, we make it. We are human beings who use our brains and muscles to shape, to control our environment, and to take care of our selves. And to make a long story short, we work. We use our brains and muscles to transform the things we find in nature to put them in and different form that pleases us, that satisfies us. We take a tree and we make a table. We take a cotton plant and we make a shirt. And so on. Human beings for as long as we have a human record have been doing that. They have been working to produce goods and services out of nature to satisfy and take care of themselves. What has happened in the history of the human race is how we’ve organized that We’re done that very differently. For example, For much of the history of the human race, human beings did this individually and with very small groups; a family. That is, we went to work as individuals or very small groups used our brains and muscles to produce the goods and services we consume. We grew the vegetables. We cared for the animals. We found a way to get clothing by taking the fur of an animal and so on. We built a little house, a shack, a, uh, a [indiscernible], whatever. And that was true for tens of thousands of years of human life. Individuals, small groups. And even if they cooked together in something bigger, Each of the little groups within this ‘something bigger’, functioned this way. Then at a certain point in human history, something monumental happened. Many reasons And we’ll call that nowadays a division of labor. It stopped being that everybody produced all of what he or she needed. [INTENSE SNEEZE] We began to specialize. It’s what we all take for granted now. This one becomes the baker of the bread. This one becomes the spinner of the wool. This one becomes the builder of the house. This one becomes the school teacher–you know the rest of it. And that’s fine, we specialize. All kinds of reasons. But what I want to focus you on is when we specialize, we have a new problem, which we didn’t have when we didn’t specialize as human beings, because if you don’t specialize, each of produces pretty much what us– myself, my little family, my little group– If we produce what we consume, we don’t have to worry about what economists call “Distribution.” But if I produce only one thing, and you produce something else, and she produces, still, something else then we have to come up with a way to distribute what each of us produces to one another or else I’ll be great at making ladders but I’ll die tomorrow because I have no food. You will have a lot of food, but you won’t be able to get up the tree to harvest the apples above what you can reach because you don’t have a ladder. So there has to be a distribution system– some way to parcel out amongst all of us what we each specialize in producing, and the human race has been very creative in how to do that. What lasted most in human history, was a kind of ritual of doing that. It became a kind of social ritual maybe a religious ritual. For example, terms like, “Harvest,” is when we gather the fruits of our different labors You get the corn. You get the eggs. You get the meat, whatever it is, and then we have a featival. All cultures have harvest festivals Where they distribute–where we work out: I’m gonna give you the eggs that I don’t need myself and you’re gonna give me the carrots you don’t need, and you the wheat, and you the rice, and all the rest of it. Other systems will also develop. A group of elders (that’s very popular in human history)–older people who’ve lived around a long time and kind of know what’s going on they get together and they parcel out amongst all of us what each of us specializes in producing, and so we get distribution that way. Sometimes it isn’t an elder, it’s just a kind of rule or custom that develops For example in your family, when you do a certain kind of labor, say around a thanksgiving and you variously do things. Maybe your mother prepares the turkey and you do the mashed potatoes, and your brother does the cranberry sauce or whatever, and the question is, each of you has made something but your thanksgiving is not gonna see you groveling in the cranberry sauce as your activity, you’d like some turkey, and you’d like some potatoes, and so our method works out. Maybe the method is grandma hands it out. maybe your father does. So you can see how it gets worked out family by family who’s in the position of deciding. [Indiscernible] remember when you were a kid you had a problem: you wanted two chocolate puddings at the end of your meal and that became a tension as to who would get the extra dessert You, your cousin, your uncle, grandma, grandpa, whoever That has to be worked out That is a distributional problem Okay? Then a few hundred years ago we began to build this distribution in a very peculiar way It had happened before but it had been sporadic But starting three, four hundred years ago, five hundred years ago, depending on when you count, in the western part of the world, Europe and so on a development happened that organized a new way of distributing the goods that were specially made by different people. And that way was called “The Market.” The Market is a peculiar arrangement, here’s how it works You make a bunch of stuff: bread or shirts or whatever. and you come at a particular place at a particular time– the edge of a village at 5 o’clock on Thursdays– and you open the little blanket and you lay out the stuff you’ve done the eggs you have, the chickens, the shirts, whatever. and along comes people who likewise came to market with whatever they made baskets, or, uh, or chairs or whatever, and a peculiar ritual develops. in which you and the other person “bargain,” a new word, I’ll give you four of my shirts if you give me six loaves of bread I’ll give you two of my oranges if you give me a pound of your coffee or whatever it is. and the distribution happens through lots and lots of individual bargaining That’s called a market system. It is a way of distributing goods and services when you have a division of labor. It has not been the way we’ve divided goods and services for most of the history of the human race. We had other ways: elders did it preists did it, e-, uh, you know, religious rituals accomplished it. The market is relatively new and the market as a system has always been fought over. It was never instituted as some great acclimation of the best thing to do not at all. If you go back, some of you do some reading, you go back and you study Plato and Aristotle. Way back in Ancient Greece, there were market arrangements among, if you know their history a little bit, the different Greek city-states: Athens, Sparta, and the other ones. They would trade with one another– “Trade” is another word for market–’cause trade is “I’ll give you three of these, you’ll give me two of those.” And so the question rose, “Gee, in a society like Athens, where Plato and Aristotle did their work, what will be the impact on our society, which is mostly people producing for themselves and consuming their own stuff? All of this specialization, the leaders of Athens, the democratically elected leaders, that divide things up, What will happen if we don’t have the old system but we have this new distribution system: The Market? And you may be surprised to learn that Plato and Aristotle… ready? [They] hated markets! Denounced them, and why? Because they destroyed the community. When people are at each other constantly fighting, “I’ll give you three of these but I want six of those. You just want to give me five. I’m not gonna [indiscernible] I’m gonna find somebody else [indiscernible]. This kind of relationship, this kind of haggling at every moment we interact with one another such that I want to give you the least possible and get the most possible was a disruptive, asocial human activity that should be banned. I always love it when people get up and start with a speech about our “Great forefathers,” “Intellectual giants,” “the Great Wester Tradition,” “Aristotle and Plato,” and then work seamlessly into a celebration of the status quo. We live in a market society. They hated market society. And they’re not the only ones. It’s been disputed every [century] it’s being disputed now! I just say that because before you take it, that markets have always existed… they haven’t. Human beings have done real well, for a long time, without them. and when they came, they were fought over. To imagine that everybody today could or should or would agree with a market system, simply means you don’t know much history. Okay, so we have markets. Next step, how is it all organized? Well we live in a peculiar system that is not only market arranged But we have a very peculiar way of organizing the production of goods and services that are then traded and distributed by means of a market. How do we do it? Well let’s see. We have work to produce a shirt, a microphone, a briefcase, a camera, anything. It takes lots of different people, coordinated through various parts of the job to produce a finished good. How do we organize that in our economic system in the history of [the] world. Lots of ways. Sometimes people got together understanding that, “Look I can only do a certain amount myself if I want to do something more complicated then the thing I can I’m gonna have to hook up with other people to be able to get that more complicated thing done. Like a bridge or a house. Hard to build a house with one or two people. You need to kind of a bunch and it takes a lot of time. So how do you organize this? How’s it gonna work? And human beings have done it in a variety of ways. Very quickly, one is just you get a group of people together and you agree amongst yourselves, we’re going to work together each of us is gonna work for six months each of gonna work, I don’t know, five hours a day. And then we’re gonna build something like a barn And we’re still start with building a barn for you, Harry. And when we’re done we’ll build a barn for you, Mary. And Mary you’ll help building the house for Harry and Harry you’ll help build… and so we, we work it out. In that arrangement, we work it all out together. We sit around, have meetings, how are we gonna build the barn? Who’s is gonna be built first? How’s it gon… and we work out a plan and then we all more or less abide by the plan And if anyone finks out, you know, we use the usual modes of persuasion that people have developed everything from a nice conversation to nasty gossip and whatever else is necessary to get the work done. That’s a collective, you might call it. A community way of organizing. Or you might take that other word that comes out of the same root of community and call it, I don’t know, Communist!! That’d be one. It’s a community. That’s one word. Have people done that in the history of the world? Always. Ancient times, medieval times, and last week. I can tell you all around the America states and elsewhere that kind of work gets done in that way. Okay? Second: A completely different way In this second way, some people do all the work and other people don’t. Wow. Let’s do that again. Some people do all the work and other people don’t. I’ll give you one example. It’s a society that organizes people into two groups just to get it working like this One group is called, “Slaves.” And the other group is called, “Masters.” And there’s a lot of ways this gets- comes into being, that we have lots of examples in history, of a part of society called “The Slaves” and a part of society called “The Master” The Slave is the property of the master, rather like a horse might be or a chair or a house. We allow in those kinds of societies human beings to be the property of other human beings. And then the master, owning the slave, having dominion over the slave as a property can treat that slave pretty much as he sees fit and he says to the slave, “I have an idea. You do all the work. You build the house, you make the shirt, you cook the omelette.” And you do not only do that so you yourself can survive, that is you cook an omelette, you eat. You make a shirt, you wear it, that’s fine. But you’re going to have to do–ready?–more than that. You’re gonna have to do more work then is what taking care of you because that’s what you’re gonna have to give to me! Which would allow me to have an omelette, a shirt, a chair, and I don’t need to do nothin’! You do it for me Or else, I’m the master. It’s a very peculiar arrangement. Because it means in the production process Instead of us all getting together to work together to produce what we all need, We are introducing a big, new difference. Conflict. Tension. Anger. Resentment. Why? Because some people are doing all the work and producing more than they get.

55 thoughts on “Crisis and Openings: Introduction to Marxism – Richard D Wolff

  1. aT 11:00. Can someone tell me of the works in which Plato and Aristotle discuss this? I've read some texts by them and it definitely sounds like something they'd say, but I haven't found more specific passages denouncing markets or similar stuff. Please, help. Thanks.

  2. At 55:00, another question, can you provide a document discussing that subject about the increase of real income, comparing the case of the US to the rest of the world, and showing how it was diferent? Thanks.

  3. This is how young people get tricked into believing socialism is a good thing. He left out 50% of the equation. He looked at it from the factory workers point of view. You have to add in the factory owners point of view also. Investment in building, equipment, and material. Utilities, insurance advertising taxes, sales people, HR, Book keeper. The business owner takes all the risk and puts up all the money. He is entitled to a higher percentage of the profit. If two guys buy a car together for $2000. One guy pays $1500 and the other guy pays $500. Then they sell the car the next day for $4000. Do they both get $2000. One gets 3k the other gets 1k. That is the same as the factory worker and owner. The difference the worker invest nothing other than his time. He gets paid for the labor he invested. The owner is entitled to the rest. The slavery analogy is completely invalid.

  4. Its the up and coming nations which are providing a lot of competition for consumers and for the US .the US did not have much competion after ww2 so Capatslism was good for the US .Capatalism might not be good for the US like Wolff explains . But its been great for China .Other up and coming nations are profiting from Capitalism because these nations are now competing against US . India and China are now competition to the US .For every dollar lost to the US through foreign debt is due to competition. IF US HAD NO COMPETITION CAPATALISM WOULD BE GREAT .Capatalism has been working for the Nuclear nations who are competing against US .

  5. The problem with the market system of income and wealth distribution as described by Professor Wolff is that the systems of law and taxation that set the rules of engagement in almost every society secure and protect monopoly privilege — and "rentier" monopoly privilege, in particular. Ending monopoly control of land, of natural resources and what Henry George referred to as "natural opportunities" needs to be at the forefront of any systemic change designed to improve the well-being of a society's members.

    Professor Wolff's presentation of the history of change requires a good deal of further discussion. For example, under feudalism there was a degree of reciprocity between the feudal lords and their peasant producers. The feudal lords provided some level of protection against external threat. To be sure, the lords often claimed far more of what was produced than the peasants would have negotiated as fair payment for the services rendered. Whatever positive characteristics of feudalism existed were removed during the centuries following the invasion by European princes (as urged by the Catholic Popes) of the so-called "Holy Land." European princes returned with newly-acquired wealth in the form of gold and silver, which became the new medium of exchange for the goods produced in the societies of the eastern Mediterranean. Back in Europe, peasants were told they were now required to take what they grew to town markets to exchange for money, money the princes now demanded as the payment of a ground rent charge for whatever land was allotted to the peasant. The extravagance of the princes then demanded even more from the peasants, as taxes. What was occurring? Simple. A redistribution of wealth from producers to a non-producing rentier elite.

    Fast forward to the age of specialization and the appearance of the business firm (whether owned by one person or many), hiring individuals as employees. Here is where the story as told by Professor Wolff contains serious omissions in his argument that employers retain "surplus value" over the wages paid to employees. Starting a business requires the expenditure of a person's savings, or otherwise raising the cash to acquire a location on which to do business. The person or persons starting the business may purchase land and pay for the construction of a building and all that is required to conduct whatever business is conducted or acquire these assets from an existing owner. The person or persons starting the business are exerting labor to organize and then manage the business. Are they not entitled to some compensation for this labor as well as for the risk taken to enter a market in competition with others who are producing similar goods or providing similar services? Additionally, the business owners now own capital goods essential to the business; these capital goods must be maintained even as they are depreciating in their usefulness. Is it not reasonable that the business owner or owners should expect a return for the cost of acquisition and maintenance of these capital goods?

    Where markets are competitive, prices for goods and services are determined by the most efficient producers and providers. Other producers and providers must improve their own efficiency or lose market share and even go out of business. They are able to lower wages and benefits to employees only where the employees have no reasonable options for alternative employment. And, granted there are many real world examples of communities where the political entities have been dominated by monopolistic interests, leaving workers with few options other than migration. Detroit's demise serves as one example of over-dependency on a single industry.

    Now, none of what I have argued above counters the argument made by Professor Wolff that employees do not always receive in compensation the full value of their contributions to the success of the business by which they are employed. The issue is why this occurs. There is the issue of the supply and demand for labor. When there are few people available with the skills and abilities needed by owners of businesses, wages and benefits (including profit-sharing) will be high. When a thousand people apply for employment and only 500 are needed, wages and benefits will (as Henry George explained) tend to subsistence if this is a widespread and prolonged societal condition. The problem is that under the system we refer to as "capitalism" — plagued by extensive monopoly privilege — sustained full employment is impossible. If monopoly privilege could be removed from our systems of law and taxation, the outcome would be a full employment society, a society in which there was always the condition of more jobs looking for people than people looking for jobs.

    Edward J. Dodson, M.L.A., Director
    School of Cooperative Individualism

  6. This is a narrow and faulty analysis, but he’s right about the extreme disparities in wealth.

  7. Dr Wolff I'm sorry, but you are an idiot. I'll get your motives ( as why you are doing what you are doing)and in many cases I actually agree with you, but your assertion of what constitutes marxism, Is at best denotes complete lack of knowledge, at worst intellectual dishonesty. You are in the need of some serious history lessons.

  8. The detalis are more complicated than this model: The American revolution didn't get rid of slavery, the earlier English revolution that got rid of the king was overturned, and the French revolution actually failed after it was taken over by radicals, Napoleon, then Napoleon lost the war…

  9. Computers also created 10's of millions of Jobs in every sector of society. IT, Repair, Programming etc. it also created 1000's of businesses from small mom& pop stores to large corporations. Capitalism allows every to participate and everyone to benefit.

  10. are you for real trying to say that the concept of "market" is not older then a few hundreds years old….you are not making any sens, you even agree your self that what you say is wrong when you come up with "ooh back then they where trading…" yhea, at markets! I listened to other videos of you as well, it seems you don't really know at all what you talking about. You just change facts to fit into what you are saying… you are doing a Trump! you are fucking ridiculous….

  11. Wrong. Three conditions must exist for you to get a job. You produce it, and someone buys it, and someone organizes the entire process using capital.

  12. Maybe people wouldn't be so conflicted and angry if they would actually attempt to understand how it is they are holding a computer in their hand that would be the envy of the wealthiest Feudal Lord ever to exist. Instead, you shit upon your incredible wealth, like a petulant king.

  13. 40:15 Wow. It's really weird those greedy capitalists just walked away from all of those machines that could have been used to exploit all of those unemployed people to make excess wealth. Maybe the unemployed can just go shine their own turds, since they aren't allowed to use those machines anymore. If work adds value, how much shit shining must be done to buy a house? I'm gonna say like 100 hours of turd shining should be enough labor value added to that turd. Socialism is a trade-off. It isn't a solution to anything you're talking about. Capitalism is a trade-off between producing just enough to sustain yourself, at the whim of the natural elements, and producing enough to sustain yourself, at the whim of the consumer. That's life. Not a damn thing you can do about it. There is no "better" economic system, just different.


  15. How about we remove the wage rate curve altogether when robotics comes in. The final nail in the coffin?

  16. I'd like to see Richard Wolf and Jordan Peterson go head to head in a debate about what the best way of social organization.

  17. just incorrect… so many points are wrong… that there's really nothing to point to as a basis for factual dialog. The premise of what economics even is… even that is wrong. He equates production with value… production is a cost. It's a variable in analysis of feasibility. Value doesn't inherently exist because someone worked on anything. Value exists when the relative cost to create it is less that what someone is willing to pay for it. That has nothing to do with any particular economic framework. That exists because human beings exist. Markets… as you put it… existed when cavemen were walking the earth. You don't actually know what you're talking about which is always astonishing to find in a man of your position… yet it can be found so very often unfortunately. You need to completely start over.

  18. just incorrect… so many points are wrong… that there's really nothing to point to as a basis for factual dialog. The premise of what economics even is… even that is wrong. He equates production with value… production is a cost. It's a variable in analysis of feasibility. Value doesn't inherently exist because someone worked on anything. Value exists when the relative cost to create it is less that what someone is willing to pay for it. That has nothing to do with any particular economic framework. That exists because human beings exist. Markets… as you put it… existed when cavemen were walking the earth. You don't actually know what you're talking about which is always astonishing to find in a man of your position… yet it can be found so very often unfortunately. You need to completely start over.

  19. Equal delocalization and coupled diffusion by Perylene bridges enhances the conduction

    القرآن – سورۃ نمبر 72 الجن
    آیت نمبر 28

    أَعـوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيْـطانِ الرَّجيـم
    بِسْمِ اللّٰهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ

    لِّيَـعۡلَمَ اَنۡ قَدۡ اَبۡلَغُوۡا رِسٰلٰتِ رَبِّهِمۡ وَاَحَاطَ بِمَا لَدَيۡهِمۡ وَاَحۡصٰى كُلَّ شَىۡءٍ عَدَدًا  ۞

    That he may know that they have conveyed the messages of their Lord; and He has encompassed whatever is with them and has enumerated all things in number.

    Perylene π−Bridges that Equally Delocalize Anions and Cations: Quinoidal and Aromatic Contents in the Right Proportion opens the door to the rational design of true ambipolar bulk and molecular conductors.

  20. No, it's not the case that an individual worker always makes more by their labor than what they are paid. In actuality, what happens is that employers can only make more on the margins by employing many, many workers such that they can beat out their competition. This is the reason companies like Amazon and Google never made a profit for so many years – they had to scale up to eventually make profits.

  21. The first two seconds of this talk I can tell this guy has been pissed off as whole life at something something started this when he was a child he's been mad ever since you can see it in his eyes got a crazy look in his eyes very easy to tell

  22. It blows my mind, the level of idiocy required to subscribe to an economic system based on equality of outcome. It requires one to ignore EVERYTHING we know about human psychology, incentives, scarcity, central planning, etc.

  23. Okay, maybe we could let it slide that a relatively small slice of the population gets to live off the surplus of the rest, but it seems a little unreasonable that the very people exempt from labour are the ones that get to decide what to do with the fruits of that labour. It's like if you caught someone skimming money from your bank account and instead of alerting the authorities you handed them your chequebook.

  24. With communism if someone had to spend one day painting a wall, but the next day someone else could paint the same wall while the first one could choose to do something else, and every person could do one thing one day and something else the next, and something else the next, etc. They could all sign up for something new each day on computers today, until they have fulfilled their hourly quota of work for the next week or month or year. One might choose to get all of their monthly or yearly quota of work all done at once for a month, etc, or they could choose to do one day a week for the entire year. That would be work and don’t work freedom. But in capitalism a person has to do the same thing day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. So communism would make every person more free than capitalism. But we could make walls of a product that never needs painted, only cleaned, to eliminate toxic paints and make life easier. Same is true for everything, like furniture could be made to last forever, and my pet peeve is that sofas are too low to the floor (NO CARPET allowed!) to clean under and find missing toys that always roll under them and it’s too dark to find them, so sofas should be made on tall steel legs that will last forever and toys are easier to find and self cleaning vacuums can keep the floors clean. Same for all furniture having long tall steel legs. We need to eliminate bed mattresses because they’re so wasteful of products and hard to dispose of, etc. we need to rethink how we do everything and do better to save the Earth our Home! And we can still make furniture comfortable and easy to clean, with fewer choices for everything! We can start websites where all ideas can be discussed for everything, which can’t be done under capitalism! Oh yes, and all nations need to start ASAP building only Tower cities (each one with all things) connected to maglev Trains worldwide, with virtual computers and mobile phones! And of course everything is free, including the Internet, TV (if anyone still wants them…virtual), electric power possibly from Tesla coils on the tops of every Tower (with virtual wiring? and no more wire confusion). Every Tower city might be identical, possibly roundish (dodecagon? or 12-sided like an X or cross? Or both?), with instant hot water at every faucet to save water, the perfect temperature and changes to hotter and colder maybe? And huge yard-size balconies, with high clear handrails plus fine or barely noticeable nets to make it impossible to lose a ball (or, don’t laugh too hard here) and no body can be thrown over to their death (so a spouse can collect life insurance, which won’t exist, because money won’t exist any longer when we have quite a lot of communism, or communism is every nation). I have big dreams for a perfect world. And I don’t care what anyone thinks! Ha! And HA to every loser capitalist! Because then unequal wealth won’t even be possible!!! But I think we need to start soon on T&T to stop climate change, and save the bees and endangered wild animals! Towers must have 15 foot ceilings and 12 foot doors.

  25. That damn Roosevelt! He saved capitalism! He’s the reason we have Big Government, he created 12 million government JOBS!

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