For Discussion: The Clearest Explanation of Marxism and Surplus Value I’ve Come Across

Whenever my adult children and I get together, we end up “discussing” current events such as the coming General Election, U.S. foreign policy, Black Lives Matter, or Cuba. And those discussions always lead to exchanges about alternatives to capitalism — especially socialism inspired by Karl Marx. On such occasions I end up defending those alternatives, and my dialog partners offer powerful counter-arguments.

I always come away from such events wishing I could be clearer in expressing my convictions. I’ve taught Marxism in the past. For a while, in a team-taught interdisciplinary course involving 15 Berea College faculty drawn from various disciplines (History, Philosophy, Physics, Biology, Economics . . .), I was asked to give the Karl Marx lecture to those colleagues and the entire B.C. sophomore class. The context was a course called “Religious and Historical Perspectives,” the best teaching (and learning) experience I’ve ever had.

There I wish I had been able to give something like the lecture I’ve pasted below. It’s given by Richard Wolff and it’s the clearest explanation of Marx’s theory of “surplus value” that I’ve come across.

Richard Wolff is emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts. He is a Marxist educated at Yale,Stanford and Harvard. He currently teaches at the New School in New York City. I am grateful to my good friend, John Capillo, who called him to my attention.

Please watch the video. If my children do, I know it will spark more enlightened conversation. I’m also hoping it will start discussion here among readers of this blog.

See what you think:

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

4 thoughts on “For Discussion: The Clearest Explanation of Marxism and Surplus Value I’ve Come Across”

  1. Hi Mike!

    The video is amazing! I have said everyone should stay home for two weeks in response to the terrible working conditions but did not truly understand what I was saying. i call myself a socialist but lack clarity in what that means. I now am much better equipped to have conversations about Capitalization and politics. Thank you thank you thank you!

    Thank you for your blog. I have learned a lot but also enjoy your family stories. Give Peggy my best.

    Peace Mary Bell

    On Wednesday, June 29, 2016, Mike Rivage-Seuls Blog: . . .about things th


    1. Great to hear from you, Mary. I’m glad you like Wolff’s class as much as I do. It raises such important questions about democracy, wealth distribution, worker exploitation, and alternatives to a capitalist system that simply does not work. These insights are widely known and discussed outside the United States, but remain largely unknown here. Gratefully, that situation is changing. As I said, I’ve not come across such a clear explanation. Richard Wolff is a master teacher.


  2. Listened to the video, this morning. Quite aside from RIchard’s understanding of how people negotiate compensation and working conditions, I was listening for his mood, personality, and hints of his life experience. Richard comes through as a feeling of bitterness, of having somehow been cheated in life; he asks for his students to share in his experience of oppression, either as victim or perpetrator. Dismal, depressing, and misguiding in my opinion.

    I have worked for drunken exploiters of the type Wolff describes, and on principle, fire them as employers as soon as better opportunities show up. Some people are chronically miserable. Meanwhile, other people and living situations will provide better company if you seek and find them.

    RIchard Wolff does not convey the joy of living and participating in the physical universe with full vigor, with full, wholehearted engagement in your surroundings and relationships. Money enters into these situations as a practical exchange, but is not the overriding value and focus; self-respect, integrity, skillful negotiating in all relationships (self, family, community, national) leads to better outcomes.


  3. Thanks for viewing the post, Mary. Though I don’t agree, I imagine many might share your criticism of Wolff’s style. I however was more interested in the content of his lecture — about democracy in the workplace, the origins of surplus value and profit, decision-making around distribution of that surplus, and alternatives to capitalism.


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