[OPE-L:8287] Milios et al, "Karl Marx and the Classics"

From: glevy@pratt.edu
Date: Mon Jan 06 2003 - 19:30:03 EST

John M's  [8279] appeared with some peculiar symbols instead
of quotation marks or apostrophes. For this reason he send me
the same text again from another email address. Since the
following is easier to read, I am re-posting it with his
permission./Solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: John Milios

 Happy new-year to you all! This is a response mainly to Paul Zarembka's
Paul writes: "And if value is non-measurable (Althusser claims this
also), then it is hard for me to understand what exactly we are supposed
to be offering theoretically to the working class, e.g., as to what
surplus value is when it cannot be measured".

By accepting this statement, I wonder if we can work as Marxist economic
historians and claim that the ancient Greek-Roman societies were indeed
class societies in which the slaves were subjected to exploitation, as
they worked both for themselves and the slave-owner, who appropriated a
surplus product, i.e. the product that the slaves produced during
surplus labour time, beyond the labour time necessary for the production
of their own means of subsistence. Since it seems to me that it is
impossible to measure the surplus labour time in slave-ownership
societies in general, and more so in those that actually existed in the
past, eg. in Pericles's Athens. Does this mean that there cannot be
enough theoretical foundation of the thesis that class exploitation did
actually exist in those societies, (and so ancient Athens or Rome shall
be regarded as classless societies)?

Besides, I believe that Marxist economic theory contains much more than
the simple idea that in all class societies there is production and
appropriation (by the ruling classes) of a surplus product, i.e. surplus
labour. It is not enough to stick to this idea, then identify labour
expended with value, further consider one hour of labour (with socially
average characteristics of productivity and intensity) to be the measure
of value and (in case that one feels that a further empirical
verification is needed) devote oneself in proving (by direct measurement
or mathematical calculations) that the sum of values equals the sum of
prices and simultaneously the sum of surplus values equals that of
profits. Marxist economic theory exceeds this point by focusing on the
specific historical forms of surplus product and surplus labour; this is
indeed what distinguishes capitalism from any other society of surplus
product appropriation (i.e. from any other class society). To stick to
the idea of surplus labour (and its measurement) means, I think, to miss
Marx's main point.

As Marx writes, "Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a
part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the
labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for
his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means
of subsistence for the owners of the means of production, whether this
proprietor be the Athenian καλός κ' αγαθός (kalos k' agathos), an
Etruscan theocrat, a civis Romanus, a Norman baron, an American
slave-owner, a Wallachian Boyard, a modern landlord or a capitalist"
(Marx 1990 [Capital, Volume one, Penguin Classics, London]: 344-45).
"The essential difference between the various economic forms of society,
between, for instance, a society based on slave-labour, and one based on
wage-labour, lies only in the mode in which this surplus-labour is in
each case extracted from the immediate producer, the worker" (Marx 1990:
325). The notion of surplus value does not simply refer, therefore, to a
quantity of surplus labour expended. It is a complex key notion which
deciphers the structure of the capitalist relation of class exploitation
and domination.

In this context, Marx's theory of value constitutes a monetary theory of
value. We do not have "two worlds", on the one hand value and on the
other money (as a means of measurement or a means of circulation of
values). The "two worlds" picture is typical not only for Classical and
Neoclassical theory, but also for some interpretations of Marx. However,
I believe that it fails to conceptualise the Marxian notion of value.

      Value is determined by abstract labour; however, in my
comprehension of Marx, abstract labour does not constitute an
empirical magnitude, which could be measured by the stopwatch. It
is an abstraction, which is constituted (it acquires a tangible
existence) in the process of exchange. ITS DIRECT AND SOLE FORM OF
APPEARANCE IS MONEY. Value can be expressed only by means of

      In the 1859 CONTRIBUTION. , in the GRUNDRISSE, and in Parts 1-3 of
Volume 1 of CAPITAL Marx illustrates the tenets of his monetary
theory of value, which constitutes a radical critique of Ricardo's
non-monetary approach of "labour expended".

On the empirically non-tangible (by itself non-measurable) character of
value Marx writes: "The reality of the value of commodities differs in
this respect from Dame Quickly, that we don't know 'where to have it'.
The value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality
of their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition.
Turn and examine a single commodity, by itself, as we will, yet in so
far as it remains an object of value, it seems impossible to grasp it.
(.) Value can only manifest itself in the social relation of commodity
to commodity" (Marx 1990: 138-39).

On money, as the exclusive form of appearance of value he notes: "It is
the adequate form of appearance of value, that is a material embodiment
of abstract and therefore equal human labour" (Marx 1990: 184). "It has
become apparent in the course of our presentation that value, which
appeared as an abstraction, is only possible as such an abstraction, as
soon as money is posited" (Marx 1993 [Grundrisse, Penguin Classics,
London]: 776). "(.) value requires above all an independent form by
means of which its identity with itself may be asserted. Only in the
shape of money does it possess this form. Money therefore forms the
starting-point and the conclusion of every valorisation process" (Marx
1990: 255). In Marx's system of thought, all forms of barter (or the
non-monetary equilibrium systems of barter between "production sectors",
like the Sraffian "linear production systems") should be rejected, as
all exchange transactions are made up of separate acts of exchange of
commodities with money, which means that commodities are by definition
price-carrying products. Prices are determined in the process of
commodity production, i.e. in a historically unique process of
(capitalist) production-for-the-exchange, a process which unites
immediate production (in the narrow sense) with circulation:
"Commodities do not then assume the form of direct mutual
exchangeability. Their socially validated form is a mediated one.
Conversely: through the relation of all other commodities to linen
fabric as the form of appearance of their value [the supposed by Marx
general equivalent at that point of his analysis, J.M.], the physical
form of linen material becomes the form of direct exchangeability
between these commodities and all other commodities and as such their
direct or general social form" (MEGA II, 5 [Das Kapital, Erster Band,
Hamburg 1867 (1983), Dietz Verlag, Berlin]: 40). "The social character
of labour appears as the money existence of the commodity" (Marx 1991
[Capital, Volume three, Penguin Classics, London]: 649).

Even when he starts developing his theory of the value-form, he notes
that in the simple value form we do not have two commodities of
pre-existing (i.e. measured independently, eg. by the quantity of
"labour expended" for their production) equal value exchanging with each
other, but only ONE COMMODITY (relative form), whose value is measured
in units of a use value (equivalent form, serving as the "measurer of
value" of the commodity in the relative form): "But as soon as the coat
takes up the position of the equivalent in the value expression, the
magnitude of its value ceases to be expressed quantitatively. On the
contrary, the coat now figures in the value equation merely as a
definite quantity of some article" (Marx 1990: 147).

       It is however true, that in order to illustrate surplus-labour as
the portion of the total labour, (the portion which is
appropriated by the capitalist), Marx refers (from Chapter X,
Part 3 of Volume 1 onwards) to value of a commodity as if it was
in itself an empirically measurable figure, e.g. "value created
by n hours of labour of average intensiveness", "forgetting" that
the labour deployed in this instance is abstract labour (a
concept not to be counted among empirically tangible measures),
and also "ignoring" the fact that value is measurable only by
means of another "thing", as it can be manifested (appear) only
in the form of, i.e. through, the general equivalent - in other
words through money, and so measured not in hours of labour time
but in units of the general equivalent - precisely in units of

       This simple presentation of surplus-value as surplus-labour does
not mean, however, that one shall put aside Marx's monetary
theory of value (as developed, e.g., in Parts 1, 2 & 3 [Ch.
I-VII] of Volume 1 of Capital) and to treat Marx as a critical
exponent of the Classical theory of value (as "labour expended").
Marx's monetary theory of value demonstrates that value and
prices are not situated at the same level of analysis. They are
not commensurate i.e. qualitatively similar (and so
quantitatively comparable) entities. Money is the necessary form
of appearance of value (and of capital) in the sense that prices
constitute the necessarily "distorted" (and only) form of
appearance of the value of commodities. The difference between
values and production prices (i.e. prices ensuring the average
general rate of profit for the whole capitalist economy) is thus
not a quantitative one, assuming that the latter simply arise
from the former through a "redistribution of value among
capitalists". It is a difference between two non-commensurate and
so non-comparable quantities, which are, though, intertwined in a
notional link, which connects causal determinations (values) and
their forms of appearance (prices). In Vol. 1, Marx utilised the
notion of surplus labour in general (as equivalent to surplus
value and in "abstraction" of money) only to sidestep the
concealment effects of exploitation created by the
money-relation. He did not adhere to the Classical notion of
value as "labour expended", at least in his great self-published
work, Volume 1 of Capital.

At this point I may deal with a comment made by Jerry [OPE-L:8270], who
writes: "Even if one challenges whether value is measurable (as Milios
et al apparently do) it does not follow that the social relation itself
is intangible". I agree that the social relation itself is "tangible",
however through (ideological and social) forms which conceal the "flow
of cause and effect", i.e. the exploitative character of this
(capitalist) social relation. The reason for Marx's analysis in Vol. 1,
Ch. X onwards, of exploitation on the basis of surplus-labour, (a notion
which does not reflect the specific difference of the specific mode of
production under examination), and not in relation with the specific
forms under which this surplus labour appears in capitalism (profit and
money relations), is not a supposed "measurability" of "labour expended"
in the capitalist mode of production, but the existing in it
self-generating consequences of concealment of class exploitation: The
subordination of labour to capital imposes the capitalist as the
producer of commodities and regulates exchange ratios between
commodities in accordance with production costs. Profit is thus
presented as proportion of the advanced capital, so that "surplus-value
itself appears as having arisen from the total capital, and uniformly
from all parts of it" (Marx 1991: 267). In all modes of production there
exist self-generating consequences of concealment, but their tendencies
might be in opposite directions, as Marx noted with regard to capitalism
and slave ownership: "In slave 1abour, even that part of the working day
in which the slave is only replacing the value of his own means of
existence, in which he therefore works for himself alone, appears as
labour for his master. All the slave's labour appears as unpaid labour.
In wage labour, on the contrary, even surplus-labour, or unpaid labour,
appears as paid. In the one case, the property-relation conceals the
slave's labour for himself; in the other case the money-relation
conceals the unrequited labour of the wage labourer. (...) All the
notions of justice held by both the worker and the capitalist, all the
mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production, all capitalism's
illusions about freedom, all the apologetic tricks of vulgar economists,
have as their basis the form of appearance discussed above, which makes
the actual relation invisible, and indeed presents to the eye the
precise opposite of that relation" (Marx 1990: 680). In both cases
(capitalism, slave ownership) there exist in the mode of production
necessary self-generating consequences of concealment, but their
tendencies are in opposite directions. This is of particular importance
for the political relations of domination and the formation of
ideological constructs in each mode of production.

       It is thus a problem of a different order when Marx at certain
points of Volume 3 ("transformation of values into prices of
production", "ground rent") distances himself from the
implications of his own theory (non-commensurability between
value and price) and draws a quantitative comparison between
values and production prices and through mathematical
calculations "transforms" the former into the latter. In this
way, albeit tacitly, he adopts (he retreats to) the Classic
viewpoint that values are entities that are qualitatively
identical and therefore quantitative comparable (i.e.
commensurable) with prices.

       Concluding, I may say that the discussed book (KARL MARX AND THE
CLASSICS) argues that in Marx's work (mainly in Vol. 1, but also
in all his major writings of the period 1857-67, etc.):

a) There exists a system of notions which shapes a monetary theory of
value; this theory constitutes a radical critique of (a rupture from)
the Ricardian theory of value (conceived as "labour expended"). It
consists the Marxian economic theory par excellence, which shall be
further developed by Marxists, as it is the only theory that can
critically interpret contemporary capitalism (crises, speculation, the
endogeneity of money, the expansion of the monetary sphere, etc.).

b) The dominant interpretation of Marx's theory by Marxists is
"Ricardian", in the sense that it ignores Marx's monetary approach, it
misinterprets Marx's elaborations on the basis of "surplus labour"
(forgetting Marx's warning that "capital has not invented
surplus-labour") and focusing on weak points of Marx's argumentation,
such as the "transformation of values into prices of production".

c) Marx himself retreats in the theoretical system of (Ricardian)
Political Economy at several points of his work, especially when he
deals with the "transformation of values into prices of production" and
with "absolute ground rent". Such ambiguities or contradictions should
be expected not only for Marx but also for any attempt to create a new
theoretical discipline on the basis of the critique of an established
system of thought.

d) Finally, the book claims that "Marxian theory is attenuated when
Marxists do not comprehend Marx's ambivalences towards Political
Economy, i.e. the existence of conceptual contradictions and, much more
important, of a second, non-Marxist, discourse in his writings. Every
'sanctifying' attitude towards Marx, presenting him, as the inculpable
master who never made a single false step, practically blurs the
scientific and heuristic kernel of Marx's analysis, as it identifies it
with the Ricardian element, present in some of his elaborations" (p.

In solidarity, John.

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