[OPE-L] Bob Sutcliffe's website

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Jun 08 2007 - 11:39:44 EDT

Hi Jerry,

I hold Bob Sutcliffe in high regard, and if I ever get to publish my
book on "the transformation of imperialism " I aim to use some of his
Also, Sutcliffe recognises that what is important is not Marxism, but
socialism, and that is a large theoretical gain.

I think Marx's exploitation theory is quite often misunderstood. He shows
only that even if labour-power sells at its value (an equal exchange), it
can replace that value and create a surplus value for the buyer when labour
is performed. But this does not imply that *in reality* the exchange will
necessarily be an equal exchange, nor that many other forms of exploitation
exist or are also possible. Among other things, workers can exploit
workers, and capitalists can exploit other capitalists.

Professor Lebowitz makes much of the "missing book about
wage-labour" but in my opinion he doesn't understand much about it
because he doesn't frame the problems correctly. He just discovers
that workers have needs, and so on. He has almost nothing to say
about labour markets, the political economy of skills, working
conditions, competition for jobs, state regulation, and suchlike.
Thus the missing book is still missing.

Orthodox Marxism says workers are only sellers of labour-power (actors in a
labour market) but this is obviously ridiculous - they are also buyers of
commodities, and there is a profit impost on these commodities, which can
also be bought above or below their value. Consequently workers can in
principle be shortchanged twice over. The "value of labour-power" denotes
only a social average, or regulating price.

For orthodox Marxism the sphere of consumption doesn't really exist, even
although Marx himself defines economic life as the totality of production,
distribution, circulation and consumption. Ever since Stalin's "priority of
heavy industry", the sphere of consumption has been theoretically neglected
in orthodox Marxist theory.

If we were to complete Marx's theory of capital, we would among other things
have to show how capital reshapes or restructures the sphere of consumption
to bring it into line with the requirements of the private accumulation of
capital. This would presumably involve at least these ten aspects:

- the commodification of consumption
- the privatisation of consumption (substitution of private consumption for
collective consumption)
- the social relations of consumption within which consumer items are
supplied, acquired and consumed
- consumer and civil resistance, and class conflicts in consumption
- the transformation or reshaping of (mass-produced) use-values and the
technologies that produce them, with the aim of maximising their exchange
- advertising, innovation and marketing of wares
- the regulating role of the state in the sphere of consumption
- class cultures of consumption
- the ideology of consumption
- the disposal and recycling of wastes

At the beginning of Das Kapital, Marx says the the wealth of capitalist
society presents itself prima facie as "a mass of commodities", but before
and after the commodities are sold, they existed outside the market as use
values.  At that point, they have only a value and a use-value, but not an
actual market price. In reality, only the minor portion of the total stock
of products and assets in an economy at any time has an actual trading
price, simply because the majority of items are not being offered for sale.
They have at best only an ideal price of some sort. This has been largely
ignored in orthodox Marxism, which consequently hardly pays attention to
use-values at all. As I mention in my short wiki on use-value

"In his very influential text The Theory of Capitalist Development (1942),
American Marxist Paul Sweezy claimed that: "Use-value is an expression of a
certain relation between the consumer and the object consumed. Political
economy, on the other hand, is a social science of the relations between
people. It follows that 'use-value as such' lies outside the sphere of
investigation of political economy". Curiously, Sweezy disregarded that in
consuming (both intermediate and final consumption), producers and consumers
might also be socially related. Likewise, in his influential Principles of
Political Economy, the Japanese Marxist Kozo Uno sums up the theory of a
"purely capitalist society" in the three doctrines of circulation,
production and distribution. Apparently it did not occur to him that even in
the purest capitalist society, (final) consumption would have to occur as a
necessary aspect of economic reproduction, and that capitalist relations
extended to, and included, the way in which consumption was organised in
capitalist society - increasingly substituting private consumption for
collective consumption."

However there at least some authors who go beyond orthodoxy and pay
attention to the economics of the sphere of consumption - among others e.g.
Walter Benjamin, Fernand Braudel, Ben Fine, Manuel Castells, Michel
Aglietta, Chris Freeman, Pierre Bourdieu etc.

In socialist economics, consumer organisations play an important
role, because it is acknowledged that consumers have interests
and rights which go beyond priced allocations.

Neil Davenport recently wrote polemically:

"With the working classes safely evacuated from the political arena,
environmentalists, anti-globalisationists and aristocratic conservatives
began forming alliances with remnants of the old left. And in keeping with
the latter's descent into high-minded moralism, their joint temper is one of
screeching intolerance for anyone who dares to criticise the gospel of
environmentalism and anti-consumerism."

But actually I think there are deeper theoretical reasons for the
ideological incoherence. Classical political economy as a whole paid little
theoretical attention to consumption, while neoclassical economics extolls
the doctrine of consumer sovereignity and projects a "consumer-driven"
economy with utility-maximising, self-interested economic actors. Neither
position is really tenable, and the project of integrating classical and
ne-classical insights theoretically would need to pay attention to the real
world of consumption.


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