WOLFF, Richard D. (1942- )
American Marxist-influenced economist who promotes a liberal-radical form of syndicalism. For many years he taught economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Since his retirement in 2008, he has continued writing and speaking about economics and the U.S. and world economic crisis, and has taught frequent classes at the Brecht Forum in New York City. He is also loosely associated with the Monthly Review School, and has posted a series of articles on the MR blog site. Many of his articles and video lectures are available on his own website at http://rdwolff.com/ Politically, Wolff has been part of various reformist projects; he was a founding member of the Green Party in New Haven, Connecticut, and was its mayoral candidate in 1985.
Wolff seems to avoid using the word ‘syndicalism’ to describe the form of socioeconomic society that he promotes, as if he is trying to hide or deny that characterization. However, there is no mistaking that syndicalism aptly describes his views. We see this in his focus on the central role of the “board of directors” under modern corporate capitalism—and, supposedly, under what he calls socialism! He doesn’t explain how all the workers at some large corporation could themselves simply become a new board of directors for the company. More importantly, he seems to be trying to avoid any discussion about how the whole economy of a post-capitalist society could be coordinated and managed. This first gives the impression that he has some sort of mystical or magical conception of how the masses might be able to run not just one company but the whole of society, immediately and directly, without a party or a state, etc.
However, the reason that Wolff usually does not think any mention is needed of how this overall economic organization of society might occur under socialism is that he tacitly assumes that the exchange of commodities will continue forever under some type of market socialism. Sometimes this is more overt, as in his statement that “commodity production has nothing to do with capitalism... nothing”. [From his “Intensive Introduction to Marxian Economics” video lectures, 2009.] Thus he thinks capitalism can be ended without ending commodity production and the exchange of commodities in the marketplace. This is, most essentially, why Wolff is not really a Marxist. The perpetual continuation of the law of value is required in his scheme. And this in turn means that the germ of an inevitable return to the present form of capitalism in inherent in his scheme as well! Capitalism cannot be completely and permanently gotten rid of while any form of commodity exchange still exists as the basic form of economic distribution, as Marx was the first to point out.
Philosophically Wolff is an epistemological agnostic, as evidenced by his bizarre claim that there are no right or wrong theories in economics, and that Marxist political economy is just “different” from bourgeois political economy. He is a partisan of the vague philosophical notion of “overdetermination”, which argues that there are a whole host of causes of things—which is another way of opposing the view that there are very definite specific causes of things. He openly proclaims his support for “non-determinism” in economics, and in general. He is also an implicit philosophical amoralist, as with his apparent claim that all criticism of capitalism from a moral perspective is invalid. (This view is often falsely attributed to Marx.)
All of Wolff’s conceptions, in philosophy, political economy and politics, are highly eclectic. One example of this is his strong advocacy of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is a pseudoscience. Also demonstrating this electicism, Wolff was one of the principal founders of the academic group, the Association of Economic and Social Analysis, in 1988, and has been an editor of and contributor to its revisionist journal Rethinking Marxism.
Much of Wolff’s economic writing has been done in collaboration with Stephen Resnick, and they claim to have developed a “new approach” to political economy. The two central thrusts of this “new approach” are supposedly a focus on social class (which of course initially derives from Marx, but which they reinterpret based on the writings of Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar) and, secondly, an opposition to “economic determinism” (which reflects an idealist philosophical perspective). The result, therefore, is quite far removed from genuinely Marxist political economy.
Even Wolff’s definition of capital itself is a bourgeois distortion of Marx; he states that “capital equals money used to make more money; this is all capital is”. [Ibid.] It is true that the basic way to analyze capitalist production is with the M-C-C’-M circuit of capital (as Wolff does.) But nevertheless, the vast bulk of productive capital at any time does not exist in the form of money, but rather in the form of factories, machinery, raw material, etc. One of the big problems that people in bourgeois society have in coming to comprehend how capitalism works is that they do not really understand what Marx means by (productive) capital. Instead of focusing on factories and machines, they tend to think of just money, and—worse yet—of what Marx called fictitious capital (such as stock market “values”). Wolff does his students a tremendous disservice by reinforcing that bourgeois bias. Wolff goes on to say that in any society “technically we have land, machinery and capital”. This is definitely not Marx’s view of what capital is! For him, industrial capital (at least) only exists within the capitalist mode of production. Capital is that which allows the capitalists to exploit their workers by extracting surplus value from them in a very definite mode of production. Of course we can talk about “capital” under socialism or communism too, but it is then a very different concept.
Wolff also fails to fully and correctly bring out the fundamental causes of capitalist economic crises. He attributes crises to a fall of real wages and the consequent increase in debt on the part of the workers. This implies (very falsely) that capitalist crises would not occur if real wages were not cut. Wolff doesn’t seem to understand at all how the very existence of the extraction of surplus value (and the expropriation of it by the capitalists) is the real root cause of crises. Similarly, Wolff’s suggestion that the capitalists are able to “manage” crises by simply switching back and forth between private capitalism and state capitalism is at best a very limited half-truth. He doesn’t seem to understand Marx’s view that the real resolution of crises involves the destruction of excess capital.
Richard Wolff has helped introduce many young people to some aspects of Marxism, and in a country as politically backward as the United States is today this is no doubt a good thing. But unfortunately, in the process of introducing Marx to students he also distorts Marx, and socialism, in some most essential respects. Marx was, if anything, a communist revolutionary; but Wolff is only a reformist syndicalist.
WOMEN — Oppression of
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See also below, and: FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION, SEXISM
WOMEN — Oppression of in China
“A man in China is usually subjected to the domination of three
systems of authority: (1) the state system (political authority), ranging from the
national, provincial and country government down to that of the township; (2) the
clan system (clan authority), ranging from the central ancestral temple and its
branch temples down to the head of the household; and (3) the supernatural system
(religious authority), ranging from the King of Hell down to the town and village
gods belonging to the nether world, and from the Emperor of Heaven down to all the
various gods and spirits belonging to the celestial world. As for women, in addition
to being dominated by these three systems of authority, they are also dominated by
the men (the authority of the husband). These four authorities—political, clan,
religious and masculine—are the embodiment of the whole feudal-patriarchal system
and ideology, and are the four thick ropes binding the Chinese people, particularly
the peasants.” —Mao, “Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan”
(March 1927), SW 1:44.
[Of course most of the overtly feudal aspects of domination, including the feudal aspects of the domination of women by men, were fairly quickly overcome during the Maoist revolutionary period in China (1949-1976). But at least three of these four systems of authority, the political authority, the religious authority, and the male chauvinist authority, have become stronger and more oppressive again since the restoration of capitalism. Perhaps only the clan authority has continued to further weaken. —Ed.]
WORK — Disappearance Of
See: COMPUTERS—and Unemployment, JOBS—Disappearing, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
WORK — Political Work by Revolutionaries
See also: HARD WORK
“Now, a few more words about our work. Some comrades present will be leaving for the front. Many, full of enthusiasm, are vying with each other for the opportunity to go to work there, and this active and fervent spirit is very valuable. But there are also a few comrades who have mistaken ideas, who don’t think of the many difficulties to be overcome, but believe that everything will be plain sailing at the front and that they will have an easier time than in Yenan. Are there people who think that way? I believe there are. I advise such comrades to correct their ideas. If one goes, it is to work. What is work? Work is struggle. There are difficulties and problems in those places for us to overcome and solve. We go there to work and struggle to overcome these difficulties. A good comrade is one who is more eager to go where the difficulties are greater. The work in those places is hard.” —Mao, “On the Chungking Negotiations” (Oct. 17, 1945), SW 4:58.
WORKERS’ HEALTH AND SAFETY
See also: HEALTH AND SAFETY OF WORKERS, “DEATH CEILING” PROGRAM (In Capitalist China)
WORKERS’ MAO TSE-TUNG THOUGHT PROPAGANDA TEAMS
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WORKING CLASS — Spontaneous Impulses Of
See: SPONTANEOUS WORKING CLASS IMPULSES
Those who, despite having full time jobs, receive wages so very low that they must still definitely be considered as poor—even by the pathetically inadequate standards of contemporary bourgeois society. In the chart at the right, we see the long term trend for the massive growth of both the working poor and the unemployed in the U.S., despite some secondary ups and downs. [Chart from: Robert McChesney & John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), p. 59.]
“There are several reasons for the growth of America’s working poor.
First, wages at the bottom have continued to drop, adjusted for inflation. By 2013, the
ranks of the working poor had swelled to forty-seven million people in the United States,
one out of every seven Americans. One-fourth of all American workers were in jobs paying
below what a full-time, full-year worker needed in order to support a family of four
above the federally defined poverty line [which itself is defined ridiculously low! —Ed.].
The downward trend of low wages continued even in the so-called recovery following the
Great Recession. Between 2010 and 2013, average
incomes for the bottom fifth dropped 8 percent, and their average wealth declined 21
percent. According to a study by Oxfam America, more than half of America’s forty-six
million users of food pantries and other charitable food programs in 2013 had jobs or
were members of working families.”
—Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism (2015), p. 134. [Reich, who is a professor at the University of California in Berkeley and a former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, provides sources for this data in his end notes. And, because of his own class position and despite many additional ever-worsening outrages like this under contemporary capitalism—even in this richest of all countries—and which he himself documents, Reich still thinks that capitalism can be and should be saved! —Ed.]
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The most basic dialectical contradictions in human society for the whole world, and therefore, those contradictions which are driving world social development. The most fundamental of all world contradictions is that between social production and private appropriation, or—in political terms—between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But there are also major world contradictions between the imperialist powers and the nations they exploit and oppress, and among the imperialist nations themselves.
“What are the fundamental contradictions in the contemporary world?
Marxist-Leninists consistently hold that they are:
the contradiction between the socialist camp and the imperialist camp;
the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries;
the contradiction between the oppressed nations and imperialism; and
the contradictions among imperialist countries and among monopoly capitalist groups.”
—A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement: The letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in reply to the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of March 30, 1963 (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1963), p. 6.
Since the time that was written, the “socialist camp” has unfortunately disintegrated and collapsed (for now). But the other three world political contradictions all still exist, and are now even intensifying once again. In addition, we should these days add yet another major world contradiction: that between the rapidly intensifying capitalist destruction of the environment and the desire of the people to maintain the world in a livable condition.
See: GLOBAL GDP
Hunger in the world today is an extremely widespread and serious problem, as the statistics listed below from the United Nations World Food Programme demonstrate. Why does such widespread hunger and even starvation until death still exist in the world today? It is for one reason only: the continued existence of capitalism, which is a viciously murderous system even if we ignore its constant imperialist wars.
“Every year, authors, journalists, teachers, researchers, schoolchildren and students ask us for statistics about hunger and malnutrition. To help answer these questions, we’ve compiled a list of useful facts and figures on world hunger.
1 Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That’s about one in nine people on earth.
2 The vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.
3 Asia is the continent with the most hungry people—two thirds of the total. The percentage in southern Asia has fallen in recent years but in western Asia it has increased slightly.
4 Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished.
5 Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five—3.1 million children each year.
6 One out of six children—roughly 100 million—in developing countries is underweight.
7 One in four of the world’s children are stunted. In developing countries the proportion can rise to one in three.
8 If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.
9 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
10 WFP calculates that US$3.2 billion is needed per year to reach all 66 million hungry school-age children.”
—From the U.N. World Food Programme web site at https://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats/ (accessed Jan. 29, 2016).
[We see from these figures that the U.S. alone could easily eliminate all the hunger and malnutrition of all the school-age children in the entire world for much less than it spends each week on its imperialist wars. But none of the fucking politicians in either the Democratic or Republican parties would even consider proposing such a thing! —S.H.]
WORLD IMPERIALIST SYSTEM
The modified neocolonial system of imperialism set up at the end of World War II by the U.S. and its capitalist-imperialist allies, along with its central institutions including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and what eventually became the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The first step in the transformation of the World War II Allied bloc of imperialists into the present world imperialist system was the admission of the defeated Axis powers of West Germany, Italy and Japan into these institutions. At this point the “Allied Bloc” became the so-called “Western Bloc” (despite the inclusion of Japan).
At the end of World War II there were also a few countries completely outside the control of all the imperialist powers: most notably the socialist Soviet Union, but also a number of other Eastern European countries which had been liberated from the Nazis by the Sovet Red Army and/or by their own revolutionary efforts. In 1949 the great Chinese Revolution led by Mao Zedong also freed China from imperialist control. However, in the mid-1950s a new bourgeoisie led by Khrushchev captured the Soviet Union and transformed socialism back into capitalism, in the form of state-capitalism and social-imperialism (socialism in name, imperialism in actuality). At this point, and until the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the USSR and its sphere in 1989-1991, there were two separate imperialist systems: the Western Bloc and the Soviet Bloc. And China was outside of both.
However, when the Soviet Union and its bloc collapsed, Russia and the other countries from that once competing bloc also joined the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Similarly, the capitalist roaders in China seized power there after Mao’s death and China then joined these same world imperialist institutions. At this point there was truly only one World Imperialist System.
[More to be added, including a discussion about the major and growing internal contradictions which are inexorably leading to the breakup of the current World Imperialist System into separate competing imperialist blocs once again.]
[To be added...]
WORLD SYSTEMS THEORY
[To be added...]
See also: DEPENDENCY THEORY
The sale and purchase of goods and services from other countries. Because of the serious world economic crisis, in 2009 the volume of world trade (the exports of all countries combined) fell by 12% from the year before, to $12.49 trillion dollars.
WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION (WTO)
[To be added...]
WORLD — Unity Of
See: UNITY OF THE WORLD
WORLDVIEW (or WORLD OUTLOOK)
A worldview, or world outlook, or Weltanshauung [in German], is some distinctive way of viewing the world and/or human society. Examples include the worldviews of native peoples in the Amazon forest, the dominant worldview of polytheistic slave society of ancient Rome, the contemporary Christian fundamentalist worldview, the mechanical materialist worldview of some scientists, and the more fully scientific dialectical materialist worldview of revolutionary Marxists. Philosophically, these very different worldviews fall into two categories, idealist worldviews and materialist worldviews. From a political perspective, worldviews are associated with the interests and outlook of one or another social class.
Sometimes rather small differences in outlook are characterized as “differing worldviews”, such as the sets of different views that Republicans and Democrats have in the U.S. today, and lie behind the so-called “culture wars” between them. Of course, from our Marxist point of view, these are just relatively minor variations on a theme, with both being philosophically idealist (for the most part), and also obviously bourgeois (in that they reflect the attitudes of the American capitalist-imperialists). The profoundly different worldviews are those which have, in the one case, an idealist philosophical outlook and which represent the class interests of the ruling bourgeoisie, or in the other case, a scientific materialist philosophical outlook and which solidly represents the class interests of the revolutionary proletariat.
Every worldview has a certain “inner logic” or inner “rationality” or “way of thinking” to it. In the case of a scientific worldview this inner rationality will indeed be truly rational, at least in its essentials. But in the case of religious, bourgeois, or other non-scientific worldviews, it would be more correct to describe this as a quasi-rationality or pseudo-rationality. For example, in a religious worldview, which assumes the existence of a God and human “souls”, it will seem to make sense within that worldview that heaven and hell also exist, as places where these “souls” go after they leave the human body when it dies. Of course in the Marxist scientific materialist worldview this is all complete nonsense, since (for one thing) there can be no such things as “disembodied” minds or “souls” to begin with, and therefore no such things as gods and devils (let alone realms where these fantastic entities “rule”).
Being truly rational involves not only reasoning in a logical way, based on facts and evidence, but also having a scientific materialist worldview which allows and promotes this.
See also: REMOLDING ONE’S WORLDVIEW
WORLD WAR I
[Intro to be added... ]
“It is proved in the pamphlet that the war of 1914-18 was imperialist (that is, an annexationist, predatory, war of plunder) on the part of both sides; it was a war for the division of the world, for the partition and repartition of colonies and spheres of influence of finance capital, etc.” —Lenin, “Preface to the French and German Editions” (July 6, 1920), Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, LCW 22:189-190.
“By the end of the 19th century the European security order was
disintegrating, pulled apart by nationalism, imperialism and globalisation. The empires
were like tigers, which even when threatened with extinction will not co-operate.”
—“Russia and the first world war: Blindly over the brink”, a review of the book Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia (2015), The Economist, May 16, 2015, p. 76.
WORLD WAR I — Late U.S. Entry Into the War
“World War I broke out in July 1914 between two imperialist blocs—the Allied Powers (England, France and Russia) and the Central Powers (Germany, Italy and Austria)—all scheming to redivide the world. Although it first declared its ‘neutrality,’ the Wilson government (1913-1921) in the U.S. was actually ‘sitting on the mountaintop watching the tigers fight,’ letting the two sides slaughter and exploit each other so that it could get the spoils. When the belligerents had fought to the point of exhaustion and the war was drawing to a close, the U.S. saw its opportunity, tore off its mask of ‘neutrality,’ and in April 1917 declared war on Germany, thus becoming a victor in the war at very little cost. It took advantage of the deadlock between the two imperialist power blocs in Europe to drive British and German influence out of Latin America and secure its own ‘back yard.’” —Shih Chan, A Brief History of the United States (Peking: 1972), p. 23, available online in English translation at: http://www.bannedthought.net/China/MaoEra/Pubs/History/A-Brief-History-of-the-United-States-Shih-Chan-1972.pdf
WORLD WAR I — Opposition To
[To be added...]
See also: ZIMMERWALD CONFERENCE, KIENTHAL CONFERENCE, LYNCHINGS—Political
WORLD WAR II — Beginning Of
In the U.S., and for Eurocentric or even narrower America-centric reasons, World War II is usually considered to have started with the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, or even only with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which brought the U.S. into the war. A much better case can be made that this world war actually started with the Japanese imperialist attack on Shenyang, China on September 18, 1931. Other major episodes of this war before 1939 include fascist Italy’s invasion of Eithiopia in 1935; German and Italian military intervention in Spain in 1936; and the Japanese occupation of Beijing and Shanghai in 1937.
“People all over the world, including Chinese, Eithiopians and Spaniards, waged anti-fascist wars from 1931 onwards. Further, September 1931 through September 1939 saw wars breaking out from the Straits of Gibraltar in the West to Shanghai in the East, involving 500 million people, a quarter of the world population at that time.” —Henan Shida Zuebao [Journal of Henan Normal University], #4, 1982. [Quoted in Beijing Review, issue #3, Jan. 17, 1983, p. 26.]
WORLD WAR II — Defeat of Fascism
“Only the temporary and bizarre alliance of liberal capitalism and communism in self-defense against this [fascist] challenger saved democracy, for the victory over Hitler’s Germany was essentially won, and could only have been won, by the Red Army.” —Eric Hobsbaum, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991 (1994), p. 7. [Of course the “democracy” referred to here is only bourgeois democracy. —S.H.]
WORLD WAR II — Nuclear Weapons In
See: NUCLEAR WEAPONS—America’s Use of in World War II
WORLD WAR II — Political Nature Of
[To be added...]
WORLD WAR II — Predictions Of
Marxists, from Lenin on, recognized that with the semi-stabilization of capitalism after World War I that another imperialist world war would occur before too many years, and that imperialist wars are inherent in capitalist-imperialism as a system. Here are some specific predictions:
[Comments by the liberal American journalist George Seldes writing in
1929. He had interviewed Lenin in the early 1920s, sometime before his death in early
“On another occasion he [Lenin] showed the same stubborn prejudices which characterize all the revolutionary leaders.
“‘When is the war between Japan and America coming?’ he asked. He was assured there would be no war because there are no causes for war. ‘But there must be war,’ he insisted, ‘because capitalist countries cannot exist without wars.’” —George Seldes, You Can’t Print That!, (Garden City, NY: Garden City Publishing Co., 1929), p. 221. [Of course events proved Lenin to be extremely prescient about a future war which very few others at the time saw coming; and George Seldes proved to be a liberal fool! —S.H.]
“Instead of the stability and super-imperialism foretold by the reformists, we see the greatest disintegration, the greatest instability in capitalism today, both in its economic substructure and in its political-social and ideological superstructure. The contradictions are becoming sharper and are making straight for a new imperialist war, either of the imperialists against the Soviet Union or of the imperialists among themselves, to determine the re-division of the world (a combination of both is possible).” —Eugen Varga, The Decline of Capitalism (London: Communist Party of Great Britain, 1928), p. 15.
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