[OPE-L:5168] Re: was Marx an economist?

From: Nicola Taylor (nmtaylor2001@yahoo.co.uk)
Date: Thu Mar 15 2001 - 01:09:21 EST

Jerry Levy [OPE-L:5167]wrote: 

> I don't know if you [Steve K] _fully_ appreciate
that Marx
> was a revolutionary, a communist. He was not
> an economist. Indeed, he would have viewed 
> such a designation as an insult.

Surely, whether Marx was an 'economist' depends on the
meaning given to the term, and whether the terms
'economist' and 'revolutionary'/'communist' are taken
to be mutually exclusive??  Doesn't this depend upon
the relationship of knowledge to praxis, as well as
the role of intellectuals in revolution? Both could be
understood in a variety of ways by different people. 
Imo, theoretical input is likely to be *more* crucial
in a time of revolution than at any other time, to the
extent that purposive action will always seek a
guiding principle; the barricades are not just on the
streets/working places - they are everywhere.  If this
argument is granted, how/why is it shameful to be
struggling with 'economic' problems while a revolution
is in the making? Of course, it would be a shame if
the 'economic' problem under discussion were
meaningless in the context of the main event. 
> To get closer to your [Steve K's] critique, I want
you to
> think some more about the above and recall
> that Marx considered his theory of surplus-value
> to be one of his two greatest "discoveries" in 
> political economy. From that perspective, his
> position that wage-labor is the sole source of
> value and surplus-value is  more than a
> theoretical position -- it is an expression of his
> politics. It is his explanation for the exploitation
> of the working-class and it has truly revolutionary
> implications about what is required to end that
> exploitation. It is not just another part of his 
> theory -- it is a cornerstone.

Surely we should be less concerned with Marx's
convictions than with the question of whether his
analysis is correct/relevant.  Marx may have seen his
theory of surplus value as one of his most important
discoveries, but it could be argued - as Chris A. has
indeed argued in the Spring edition of C&C - that
surplus value as a measure of capitalist exploitation
is limited to a measure of exploitation in
distribution, since it is concerned only with the
discrepency between new wealth created, and that which
is returned to the workers who produce it.  Chris
makes a conceptual distinction between exploitation in
this distributional sense, and exploitation in
production, which is concerned with the *whole* of the
working day, and not just the unpaid labour component
of it.  The basis for his argument is that the
use-value of labour is exploited by capital throughout
the working day - i.e. exploitation in production is
essentially command over the productive capacity of
labour, from the beginning to the end of the working
day.  Because capital controls the productive capacity
of workers, subjecting it to the purpose of
valorisation, socially necessary labour time can be
thought of (according to Chris) as 'socially necessary
exploitation time' - the determination of the
magnitude of value.  

This rethinking of exploitation leads on to a
rethinking of value determination.  I agree with Chris
that the essence of capitalism is that productive
activity is determined by the value form, under which
capitalist exploitation occurs *not* as an
appropriation from the value product of labour, but as
substitution of the productive power of capital for
that of the workers.  Hence:

"the category of value should be rooted precisely in
capital's struggle with labour to accomplish this
'transfer' of the said productive powers.  Likewise,
the actualisation of the form "abstract labour" is
rooted in the manner in which capital measures what it
appropriates therewith and makes into its substance
[i.e. productive power]' (C&C, 73, p.34).

I have much sympathy with a labour theory of value
viewed as a dialectic of negativity (where value is
not something positive created by labour but a
category pertaining to the success of capital in
harnessing the productive power of labour, to the ends
of valorisation).  Labour is 'not-value'.  Whether
Chris succeeds in rescuing the concept of 'socially
necessary labour' (and hence rescuing the paradigm of
production) from it's critics is more questionable,
imo.  Given that "money" and not "socially necessary
labour time" is the 'manner in which capital measures
what it appropriates'.  
> I wonder if you can imagine the disdain with which
> Marx would view the proposition that means of 
> production create new value?

In the *Results* Marx (1976a, p.1056; cited Arthur,
C&C, 73, p.26) writes very clearly his views on the
productivity of capital:

"Thus capital is productive: 
(1) as the *compulsion* to *surplus labour*. Now if
labour is productive it is precisely as the agent that
performs this surplus labour...
(2) as the personification and representative, the
reified form of the 'social productive forces of

Chris A. comments that the crucial inversion occuring
in capitalist exploitation is that of subject and
object, such that the productive forces of labour
appear as that of the productive forces of capital. 
Or, as Jerry rightly points out:  

> It turns the world upside down where the illusion
> appears that the commodities produced by labor
> are themselves creative of value (thus it is an
> example of commodity fetishism). Moreover, it 
> has pernicious political implications to the extent
> that it leads towards the bourgeois conception
> that land, labor, *and capital* create value. Marx
> treated such theories, you will recall, with great
> scorn. 

Although the idea that means of production can create
*new* value is an illusion, so too is the idea that
value is something *positive* created by labour.  What
is not an illusion is the productive power of capital
- capital *is* productive, to the extent that it
harnesses the productive powers of living labour,
which is negated (in the working day) and preserved
(as dead labour) in means of production.  Capital
controls both the substance and form of economic
activity.  Class struggle as a struggle for control
over productive capacity, reconstitutes value as a
measure of capital's success.

I don't feel qualified to comment on other people's
beliefs as to the possibility (or otherwise) for
revolution against the dictatorship of value.  Each to
his/her own set of convictions, I say.  In the
meantime, let's go on arguing about how best to
theorise capitalism - and do so without shame.  
> In sol.
Nicky Mostyn (Taylor)

Nicola Taylor
Division of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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