[OPE-L:8295] Re: Milios et al, "Karl Marx and the Classics"

From: jmilios@hol.gr
Date: Wed Jan 08 2003 - 15:24:29 EST

Paul, you write: 

i) "why didn't Marx, on the eighth page, call the reader's attention to
his project [as you describe it] of 'theoretically recasting' of that
supposedly Ricardian value?";
ii) the CHANGES by Marx represented by the three editions of Vol. 1; 

My view is that Marx's CAPITAL does not present an analysis of 
different "models" of "themes" (first the "simple commodity production", then 
the "capitalist commodity", etc.). It has a unique object of study, the 
capitalist mode of production, which Marx approaches on different levels of 
abstraction, i.e. in a process of gradual clarification-concretisation. In this 
process, he always starts from a commonly accepted definition of the notions 
under discussion. That is why he makes the Ricardian version of value as his 
point of departure. However, he does not restrict himself to this initial 
definition ... (A small example: In Ch. 1 of Vol. 1, in Sec. 4. “The Elementary 
Form of value considered as a whole”, he writes: “When, at the beginning of 
this chapter, we said, IN COMMON PARLANCE, that a commodity is both a use-value 
and an exchange-value, we were, accurately speaking, wrong”. Or in respect to 
use-value: After having accepted as a point of departure the common-sense idea 
of a “useful thing”, he later clarified “that the product must be not only 
useful, but useful for others”, etc.). Only by taking into consideration his 
whole analysis we may draw our conclusions. Besides, I do believe that he 
called his readers' attention on this matter, as he repeatedly mentioned (even 
in the very first page of Vol. 1, before having spoken about capital and 
surplus value) that the products of labour become commodities in "those 
societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails". (More 
emphatically, a few pages after, Marx stresses: "The value form of the product 
of labour is the most abstract, but also the most general form of the bourgeois 
mode of production", Vol. 1, p. 174).

iii) "labor power" as a MAJOR new theoretical concept distinguishing Marx
from Ricardo;

I agree that this is indeed a major point of difference. However it is not THE 
major point, as I have tried to show. Besides, one may implicitly find this 
notion in Ricardo's (and Smith's) analysis: When the Classic economists claim 
that the value of "labour" (the wage) equals the value of the worker's means of 
subsistence, it is clear that they speak about something different from the 
quantity of labour expended by the worker. 

iv) the fact of total working hours of workers compared to the time
required to produce subsistence needs (a fact which you say cannot be
described by 'values' even in the simplest of capitalist reproduction).

I think that this shall not be regarded an analysis on the level of value, but 
on a higher level of abstraction: that of labour and surplus-labour, which 
characterises every mode of production, not only the CMP, as Marx warns his 
readers. The analysis on this specific level of abstraction is necessary, in 
order for the readers to comprehend that surplus value (which appears as 
profit) signifies surplus labour. However, the tribute paid by the peasant 
communities to the emperor of China or to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (eg. 
the tenth of their wheat production, etc.) was also the product of surplus 
labour. Paraphrasing your statement, I may say that indeed the total working 
hours of those peasants (the direct producers in the specific mode of 
production) were actually significantly more compared to the time required to 
produce subsistence needs. This does not mean, however, that they produced 
commodities or surplus value. To analyse capitalism we have to move further, to 
the specific forms of appearance of surplus labour and surplus product.

 Finally you stated:
 "Taking your argument to the extreme, surplus value cannot be measured and
so we don't even know if profit is associated with surplus value (Steedman
or no Steedman) or the color of grapefruits. Surplus value becomes a
No, I think that we know what surplus value is (the specifically capitalist 
type of surplus labour, more exactly, the notion of a historically specific 
social relation of exploitation which manifests itself as profit [not as 
tribute, feudal compulsory labour, etc.]) which CAN BE MEASURED (empirically) 
only on the level of its form of appearance (in monetary units). 

A last point concerning the "measurability" of surplus value: As we know from 
Marxist theory (Lenin, Marx, ...) capitalism is not only a system of economic 
exploitation but also of political suppression, that is of political power of 
the capitalist class over the working classes of the society. How do 
you "measure" political power and suppression? By the number of the army's 
cannons, the policemen's guns or by the number of schools, churches and tv-
channels? And if we cannot "measure" it, does that mean that it does not exist? 
I am afraid that behind the imperative of "measurability" of social relations 
one may find the ideology of individualism.


John Milios

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