Re: [OPE-L] Albritton on Marx's value theory and subjectivity

From: Christopher Arthur (arthurcj@WAITROSE.COM)
Date: Sun Apr 16 2006 - 07:10:15 EDT

I meant the following (Ms 469 i/k)  chris
Just as the owner of commodities is only interested in the use value of 
the commodity as the vehicle of its exchange value, so the capitalist 
is only interested in the labour process as the vehicle and instrument 
of the valorisation process. Within the production process too — in so 
far as it is a valorisation process — the means of production continue 
to be simply monetary values, for which the particular material shape, 
the particular use value, in which this exchange value is expressed is 
a matter of indifference, just as labour itself does not count within 
the production process as productive activity of a particular useful 
character, but as the substance that creates value, as social labour in 
general which is being objectified, and of which the only interesting 
aspect is its quantity. For capital, therefore, every particular sphere 
of production counts only as a particular sphere in which money is 
invested in order to make more money, in order to preserve and increase 
existing value or to appropriate surplus labour. The labour process is 
different, and therefore the factors of the labour process are 
different, in every individual sphere of production. One cannot make 
any boots with spindles, cotton, and spinners. But the investment of 
capital in one or the other sphere of production, the division of the 
total capital of society between the various spheres of production, and 
finally the degree to which capital migrates from one sphere of 
production to another, are all determined by the changing proportions 
in which society requires the products of these particular spheres of 
production, i.e. the use value of the commodities they produce; for 
although only the exchange value of a commodity is paid, it is never 
bought for any other reason than its use value.

But capital is in and for itself indifferent towards the specificity of 
every sphere of production, and where it is invested, how it is 
invested, and to what extent it passes from one sphere of production 
into another, or its distribution between the various spheres of 
production alters, is determined solely by the greater or lesser 
difficulty experienced in selling the commodities produced by one or 
the other sphere of production. In reality, this fluidity of capital is 
slowed down by frictions, which we do not need to consider here any 
further. But on the one hand, as we shall see later, it creates means 
of overcoming these frictions, in so far as they arise solely from the 
nature of the relation of production itself, and on the other hand the 
development of the mode of production peculiar to capital removes all 
legal and extra-economic obstacles to its free movement in the various 
spheres of production. Above all it overturns all the legal or 
traditional barriers preventing it from buying whatever kind of labour 
capacity it thinks fit, or appropriating any kind of labour at all at 
its good pleasure. Furthermore, although labour capacity possesses a 
particular shape in every particular sphere of production, as the 
capacity for spinning, shoemaking, blacksmithing, etc., although, in 
short, every particular sphere of production requires a labour capacity 
which has developed in a particular direction, a specialised labour 
capacity, that fluidity of capital, its indifference towards the 
particular character of the labour [469k] process it is appropriating, 
presupposes the same fluidity or versatility in labour, hence in the 
ability of the worker to employ his labour capacity. We shall see that 
the capitalist mode of production itself creates these economic 
obstacles to its own tendency, but it removes all legal and 
extra-economic obstacles to the versatility we are discussing.
[* “Every man, if not restrained by law, would pass from one employment 
to another, as the various turns in trade should require"* 
(Considerations Concerning Taking Off the Bounty on Corn Exported etc., 
London, 1753, p. 4).]
Just as capital, as self-valorising value, is indifferent to the 
particular material shape in which it appears in the labour process, 
whether as steam engine, manure heap or silk, so the worker is 
indifferent to the particular content of his labour. His labour belongs 
to capital, it is merely the use value of the commodity he has sold, 
and he has only sold it in order to appropriate to himself money, and, 
with that money, the means of subsistence. He is only interested. in 
changes in the kind of labour [needed] because every particular kind of 
labour demands a different development of labour capacity. While his 
indifference towards the particular content of his labour does not 
provide him with the ability to change his labour capacity to order, he 
shows this indifference by throwing his replacements, the succeeding 
generation, from one branch of labour to the other according to the 
requirements of the market. The higher the development of capitalist 
production in a country, the greater the demand for versatility in 
labour capacity, the more indifferent the worker is towards the 
particular content of his labour, and the greater the fluidity of 
capital’s movement from one sphere of production to another. Classical 
political economy presupposes as axioms the versatility of labour 
capacity and the fluidity of capital, and justifiably so to the extent 
that this is the tendency of the capitalist mode of production, which 
asserts itself ruthlessly despite all obstacles, which are for the most 
part created by capitalist production itself. In order to present the 
laws of political economy in their purity, abstraction is made from 
these frictions, just as in pure mechanics abstraction is made from 
particular frictions which have to be overcome in each particular case 
of its application. 144)

On 15 Apr 2006, at 21:43, Jurriaan Bendien wrote:

> Chris wrote:
> Your points are well taken.
> Reply:
> Well thank you. My scriptural ability is not nearly as good though as 
> senior
> scholars such as yourself and Michael Lebowitz, but my hunch is that I 
> am
> correct on this one.
> Chris wrote:
> However the Unoists have some textual support on what Marx thought. 
> see for
> example Results ( MECW 34 pp
> 419-21) where Marx speaks of the capitalists indiiference to use value.
> Reply:
> The quote I can find in Marx's draft is:
> "If the reproduction process is hindered, or if its progress, in so 
> far as
> it is already conditioned by the natural increase of the population, is
> prevented by the disproportionate employment of the kind of productive
> labour which is expressed in unreproductive articles, with the result 
> that
> too few necessary means of subsistence, or too few means of production,
> etc., are reproduced, luxury must be condemned from the standpoint of
> capitalist production. Apart from that, luxury is an absolute 
> necessity for
> a mode of production which produces wealth for the non-producers, 
> hence must
> give wealth the necessary forms in which it can be appropriated by the
> wealthy simply for their enjoyment. [For the worker himself, this 
> productive
> labour, like all other labour, is merely a means to the reproduction 
> of his
> necessary means of subsistence; for the capitalist, to whom the nature 
> of
> the use value and the character of the concrete labour employed are in
> themselves matters of complete indifference, it is merely a moyen de 
> battre
> monnaie, de produire la survalue. [means of coining money, of producing
> surplus value]
> The idea here is, that the capitalist has primarily a commercial 
> interest,
> and is interested in the use-value produced primarily as a means for 
> making
> more money. So far so good - but presumably the capitalist invests in 
> the
> production of not just any old use-value, but a particular use-value,
> precisely because that particular use-value happens to make money. The 
> fact,
> that this use-value happens to be e.g. a hundred tonnes of cabbages or
> alternatively a hundred thousand computers might contingently be 
> something
> he is *personally* indifferent to (it is, in that case, purely a means 
> to an
> end), but he is certainly unlikely to be indifferent to that 
> use-value, from
> an economic or commercial point of view. I would think the degree of
> personal indifference would probably depend greatly on the proximity or
> distance of the capitalist from the actual production process, and 
> also on
> the type of production process it is. There might be a big difference 
> here
> between e.g. the "active" or "functioning" capitalist, and the 
> so-called
> "coupon-clipper" or financier/rentier. Marx's suggestion really seems 
> to be
> along the lines that, ideally, the more money the capitalist makes, 
> the more
> he thinks that he does what he does, for the good of humanity or the
> creation of wealth for all, the "hard proof" being that - after all - 
> people
> buy the products of his business, and thus, that he satisfies their 
> needs.
> The idea here is, that self-interest and the public interest mesh 
> seamlessly
> with each other, in the way that Adam Smith or Greenspan envisaged. 
> Even so,
> note that Marx himself also writes "For the worker himself, this 
> productive
> labour, like all other labour, is merely a means to the reproduction 
> of his
> necessary means of subsistence", i.e. the particular production is 
> ALSO a
> matter of relative personal indifference to the worker, insofar as it 
> is
> also just a means to an end for the worker.
> In Uno's pure theory, use-value is largely abstracted from, except 
> however
> for the use-value of labour-power and the three sectors of production 
> (means
> of production, means of consumption and luxury items). This is an 
> abstract
> extrapolation of commercial logic in terms of making money for the 
> sake of
> more money. Yet, even in the purest capitalism, this process cannot 
> occur
> without needs (of monetarily effective consumer- and producer-demand) 
> being
> met - the assumption being, in the pure model, that supply and demand 
> will
> equate, yet also that disproportions leading to crises will necessarily
> develop even regardless of what particular use-values are produced. 
> Yet,
> Uno's theory lacks any "doctrine of consumption".
> As soon as we move beyond heady abstractions to economic realities, the
> picture becomes much more complex, and it is clear that both 
> capitalists and
> workers do have interests and moralities pertaining to the use-values
> produced.
> So much is clear even in the recent garbage collectors' strike in 
> Greece,
> and this - incidentally - highlights a facet of the services economy, 
> which
> world-wide employs more people than manufacturing does.
> Christopher Freeman among others has shown, that much more can and 
> ought to
> be said about use-values than Marx does, i.e. in reality, e.g. 
> commercial
> logic and the innovation/invention process are intertwined, so that the
> commodification process may be retarded or accelerated both by
> technical/practical, social and commercial factors. Real capitalism 
> involves
> something like a "technostructure" (a complex of interdependent
> technologies) as well as a consumption structure (a complex of social
> relations defining the (private) mode of consumption - Manuel Castells 
> once
> alluded to this with the conflict between "private versus collective
> consumption").
> But beyond this, precisely because of "market discipline" (i.e. you 
> have to
> sell stuff, or go out of business), capitalism portends both real human
> progress (to the extent that it raises living standards etc.) as well 
> as
> real oppression of people (insofar as e.g. satisfying needs depends on
> absent buying power). Therefore the analysis and critique of the 
> development
> of use-values under capitalism ought to be relativised and nuanced, 
> taking
> that into account, especially if the argument is mooted that a 
> socialist
> mode of production would meet human needs better. For this purpose, I 
> think
> a caricature such as that "capitalists are only interested in one 
> thing" is
> unhelpful, since what "market discipline" implies, is precisely that 
> they
> cannot be interested in "just one thing", i.e. making profit is 
> contingent
> on meeting demand within a given political/legal/economic context. You 
> may
> be able to prove that, in particular cases, non-market allocative 
> principles
> would meet human needs better, but the argument that business people 
> have no
> concern about this at all, is evidently false.
> The main problem I have with Uno's approach - which does contain 
> valuable
> new insights also - is that he thought that he could distill a complete
> theory of a purely capitalist society from Marx's writings, even 
> although
> Marx's analysis itself was incomplete. For starters, a "doctrine of
> consumption" at least would be required to round off the analysis, 
> revealing
> the dialectics of exchange-value and use-value in the sphere of 
> consumption
> (both productive and final consumption; time does not permit me to 
> pursue
> this further now). Michael Lebowitz mentions in this context the 
> conflicts
> surrounding the meeting of workers' needs, but that is only one facet 
> of a
> larger story involving fixed assets, intermediate goods and final 
> goods. Yet
> another aspect concerns the service economy, which nowadays employs 
> many
> more people than manufacturing. In the strict sense, Marx defines a 
> service
> as "a useful effect of a use-value", where the use-value is living 
> labour of
> a specialised kind. Clearly, the provision of a service by its very 
> nature
> demands very close attention to its useful effect, and also creates new
> forms of worker-alienation also, insofar as they are required to be not
> indifferent to something they are otherwise indifferent to anyway. 
> That is,
> the "character masks" attributed to capitalists might equally well 
> apply to
> service workers.
> Because of all of these concerns, I've never really been a great fan of
> "value-form theory" because - notwithstanding valuable insights - I 
> think it
> does no real justice to the realities of capitalism. The real 
> dialectic is
> not simply a dialectic of the forms of exchange-value, but of 
> use-value and
> exchange-value. And, as I've said before, I think the real issue is not
> whether capitalists are "indifferent" (I doubt that they are), but what
> specific interest or stake they have in use-values; workers could be 
> just as
> "indifferent". Indifference would be more appropriately regarded as a
> general aspect of human alienation, with as its corrollary the attempt 
> to
> overcome this indifference. Alienation is never total or complete, not 
> just
> because some facets of human beings are practically inalienable, but 
> also
> because they revolt against or resist alienation all the time - and
> therefore the real culture of human subjectivities in capitalism always
> contains both these aspects: both humanisation and dehumanisation.
> So, really - contrary to Albritton, Reuten etc. - it's precisely when 
> we
> bring in use-value into the analysis, that we can talk more 
> meaningfully
> about subjectivities. Use-value implies not just a particular attitude
> towards things (including nature) in terms of their use-value 
> (instrumental
> approach), but also an attitude towards people in terms of their 
> use-value,
> or to put it bluntly, "using people as a means to an ulterior end".
> However, I promised myself I would study Hegel more closely before
> pronouncing on these kinds of topics, so will leave it at that. All I 
> can
> say here is that I think this concern with "subjectivity" is really a
> sideways attempt to tackle the problem of moral praxis in capitalist
> society, a society which institutionally separates the 
> economic/commercial
> and legal spheres, and cannot reconcile class interests with universal 
> moral
> norms.
> Jurriaan

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Apr 30 2006 - 00:00:06 EDT