Chapter 1: Overview
Chapter 2: Labor, Cost and Value
Chapter 3: Dialectical Materialism
I'm supposedly talking about communism, and the first thing I do is jump into a wonky, geeky analysis of economics. We'll get back to economics in the next chapter, but first I want to talk about why economics is important.
Marx's great insight was that our social relations, both those that directly govern our economic behavior as well as those that govern our non-economic interpersonal relationships, are in some sense material entities that are the results of material causes. This materialism stands in contrast to the view that our social relations are a matter of somehow finding the right independently existing idealistic principles and somehow "adhering" to those principles.
As best I understand it, specifically dialectical materialism is the proposition that substantive change and novel emergent behavior of a system is the result of contradictory forces in the substrate of the system. In physics, for example, the contradictory forces are a quantum's particle nature (thesis) and its wave nature (antithesis). The interaction between these forces produces novel emergent behavior, i.e. motion (synthesis). If a quantum were just a particle, it would just sit there; if it were just a wave, it would just be smeared out across the whole universe.
This paradigm of dialectical materialism of change and novel emergent behavior resulting from internal contradictions can be applied at "higher" levels of abstraction: thermodynamics, temperature and pressure are the result of the molecules bouncing off of one another, the contradiction that two molecules can't be at the same place at the same time. Evolution results from the contradiction between random chance and physically determined natural selection, as well as the contradiction between predator and prey: to survive and reproduce the predator must eat but the prey must not be eaten; this "arms race" drives a lot of specific evolutionary change.
We also see that the the synthesis feeds back to the thesis and antithesis. At the quantum level, motion changes the position and momentum of the quantum's particle nature, and changes the shape and character of its wavefunction. At higher levels of abstraction, the synthesis can actually change not just the details and manner of expression but also the fundamental character of the thesis and antithesis.
Economics is important because human social relations are primarily driven by economic considerations. We spend the vast majority of our life either working or consuming the products of our work. Our social relations are driven by necessity to correspond with the physical way we work and consume.
Applying the paradigm of dialectical materialism to economics, we want to look for some sort of contradictions that produce novel emergent behavior, especially where the emergent behavior somehow feeds back into the contradictory dialectical forces, in detail, expression and character. Dialectical materialism is a paradigm: we're looking not so much for specific experiments that would falsify the idea, but rather a "natural" and unforced way of using dialectical materialism to generate falsifiable theories about the world. (Paradigms are typically general enough that we can fit most any sort of theory into any sort of paradigm, but a "bad" paradigm requires weird and elaborate mental contortions to accommodate theories. Phlogiston could accommodate experiment, for example, but at the cost of adding the weird concept of negative mass.)
The communist canon identifies several contradictions, both in ordinary science as well as economic behavior, but I'm unsatisfied with their analysis; I will therefore resign myself to the sin of originality, with the concomitant danger of being originally wrong (or unwittingly unoriginal).
First, we have to identify the fundamental contradictions of economic behavior in general, those that are conserved across different economic systems. Some of these contradictions seem obvious. First, there is the contradiction between effort and result: we don't want to work, but we do want results, such as eating and staying dry in the rain, and we must work to achieve those results. This is a real contradiction, not trivially reconcilable or solvable, that produces novel emergent behavior, i.e. various social systems, science and technology. There's a contradiction between our desire for autonomy and privacy, and our desire and need for cooperation and socialization.
When we get into commodity relations, there's the contradiction that each side of an exchange wants to offer as little as possible and get as much as possible in return; there's a dimension in which any exchange is a zero-sum game with the participants mutually antagonistic. (There are other dimensions to exchange that are not zero-sum and the participants cooperative, but the dimension of "exchange efficiency" seems obviously present.)
Not all contradictions are so fundamental and invariant, of course. When we get into the details of the social relations, there are contradictions between what is desired or necessary for production, and what is actually available, and it's often a contradiction between what is abundant and what is necessary that drives social change. For example, the development of agriculture made food production more efficient, creating an abundance of surplus labor, labor not necessary for survival and reproduction. This abundance made slavery economically viable; the contradiction between the abundance of surplus labor and the lack of desire for it in hunter-gatherer economic relations created slave-oriented economic relations, the state, and large-scale social structures.