[OPE-L:358] Where are we going? Part II

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Sat, 28 Oct 1995 15:55:20 -0700

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Part II of II

Why critique?

OK, so why don't we just *confine* ourselves to the study of
Marx's concept of value? Why don't we just then draw a line
under Volume I with insights on the credit side and gaps in
the debit side, and pass on? And what demands study after
Volume I?

Having abstracted from the appearance of things to see what
their essence is, you cannot just wave your hands and say
'begone, foul appearance'. Otherwise you can explain
everything in general and nothing in particular. We have to
study study value not just as it appears in Marx but, like
Marx, as it appears in political economy. To be fully
concrete about what price is, we must also study how it is
perceived by those who deal in it.

You cannot take one particular form of money, be it gold or
debt, as the 'representative form' of money; but neither can
you ignore the particular forms that money actually takes.
As Marx says, no-one has ever seen an animal in general.
What you meet are sheep, zebras, cats, dogs and so on.
Equally, no-one has ever traded with money in general. What
they trade with is particular moneys, most of which nowadays
*do* depend for their existence on the beliefs and theories
of the traders. So you must understand both the essence,
that which is independent of these beliefs, and the
appearance, that which is expressed in these beliefs.

Reality is the concrete combination of essence and
appearance and you cannot separate either one from the
other. You need *both* Marx's abstract analysis of the
essence of money, *and* his reconstruction of its forms of
existence and appearance.

Real money is the concrete combination of its essence with a
historically-specific form of existence. In those
(relatively recent and short) epochs of history where there
are banks, historically specific forms of money are
conditioned by the bankers' perceptions. You can't draw a
neat line and say, here lies reality, which I will study,
and here lies mere thought, which I leave to the
bourgeoisie. Bourgeois thought is an *aspect* of reality.
Making a critique of the political economy of money means,
understanding the entire historical process which leads to
money as it now is, and the social relations which it now
embodies. This includes demonstrating the origin of the
bankers' perceptions in the material being of the world.
That is what materialist analysis is about. Materialist
analysis is not about pretending that reality consists of
material being devoid of consciousness, laws without a
subject, animation without life. In this respect I agree
profoundly with Mike Lebowitz.

Capitalist reproduction: why study it and how?

This leads to my final point. It is not made very
coherently, but I make it because when I feel responsible,
in that my last interjection on the question has caused more
problems than it has solved. Please treat this section less
seriously than the preceding: it is a 'work in progress'.

What is the actual importance of the order of enquiry?

'Capital' was a critical engagement with the political
economy of Marx's time - because that political economy
*was* the form in which capital expressed itself in
consciousness. The Money of Marx's time was not gold at all.
It was the money of Ricardo's absurd and contradictory
monetary theories, on which I hope Costas will be able to
say something, which the Bank of England religiously put
into effect. This was a practical matter; the Bank of
England throughout Marx's life was, in effect, the visible
expression of Ricardian theory. To hunt down the bankers he
tracked down Ricardo.

Who do we track down today? Twenty years ago, I would have
said, hunt Keynes. If Ricardo was the currency of the early
nineteenth century, surely Keynes was the security of the
mid-Twentieth. Now I would tend to say, hunt Friedman. But
we may actually be just as well off going back to Ricardo.
Why not? Everyone else has. The Quantity Theory, the Theory
of Comparative Advantage, Say's Law - they have all returned
from the grave.

However there is a prior problem if we are going to refer to
Marx, and this does lie within Marxism itself: namely
Marxism has saddled itself with a theory of value from which
money has been eliminated. The simultaneous equation
representation of Marx, I think it can easily be shown, is
one from which money is a priori absent. In the the
neoricardians it does not appear.

My view is that the confusion generated by fifty years of
this crap has so addled the brains of the Marxist body
politic that we will find ourselves unable to proceed
without therapy. I may be proved wrong, and I hope so. So I
think we have to make a diversion, or rather a concentration
of effort, the purpose of which is to recapture the specific
role of money in Marx's theory of reproduction. If that can
be helped by studying the Grundrisse [Lebowitz 215/292,
Devine [lost reference], and others], and this may be the
case, then I wholeheartedly support that idea.

Official Marxism today, instead of a value theory of
reproduction, offers a reproduction theory of value. The
reproduction theory of value does away with money. Since
value is defined by the necessity of reproducing society,
there is no place left for a repository of value other than
what is tied up in production and private consumption.

We therefore have two tasks.

First, to recapture Marx's original concept of money which
is *independent* of the specific mode of reproduction of any
given capitalist society - hence specified, along with
price, in Volume I - not Volume III.

Secondly, to recover a conception of the reproduction of
capitalist society which is organised around the
reproduction of *money capital*, not 'physical products' or
'use-values' as if value reproduction were a mere adjunct of
physical reproduction instead of vice versa.

The reason I keep going on about the 1861-63 manuscripts is
that in this work, the key to Marx's 'method of enquiry',
all the concepts he needed to work out how reproduction
happened are all together in one place and are indissociable
from money: relative surplus value, superprofit, technical
change, release and tie-up of capital, organic versus
technical composition, conversion of surplus value into
profit, and so on and so on. The problem is that in
'Capital' these concepts are dispersed through the work. A
purely textual reading of the finished work, or even an
attempt to finish the 'plans', will not re-establish the
organic connection between these concepts which is essential
to Marx's approach to reproduction.

I would therefore like to propose that after the study of
value we should spend some considerable time on money; but
the next major question for study should be 'how does
society reproduce itself?' and the starting point of that a
very simple question, the starting point of Marx's 1861
enquiry, namely 'how does surplus value convert itself into

On the face of it, this is an 'order of presentation'
question. Volume II follows Volume I. But this begs the
question. What is Volume II *about*? One could say it is
about the discovery of the schemes of reproduction. In this
case, it is nearly perfect. It explains in wearisome detail
something which does not exist, which never has existed, and
which figures nowhere else in any of Marx's writings except
a short chapter in Volume I: simple reproduction in a fully-
developed commodity society on the basis of exchange at
values with no technical progress.

But all the evidence is that Marx considered simple
reproduction a mere prelude to what he studies everywhere
else, namely *accumulation*; not just the conversion of
money into capital but *surplus value* into capital. The
conversion of surplus value into capital is impossible on
the basis of simple reproduction, as Marx says many times.
Even in the short and very inadequate passages discussing
expanded reproduction, there is no technical change. But the
latter chapters of Volume I are *all* devoted to technical

The project of Volume II as presented in all the literature,
and as the existing texts stand, is at complete odds with
the rest of his work. As it stands, in its incomplete form,
Volume II does not even go as far as, and in fact
contradicts, volume I. How, then, can it possible be
conceived as an extension of Volume I and the logical bridge
to Volume III?

Yet on this shaky foundation, almost the whole of 20th
Century Marxism has been erected. This is no small matter:
the whole Luxemburg-Bukharin controversy, the whole fate of
Soviet economic theory, all the currents descended from one
or other wing of this controversy, have taken as their point
of departure the texts of Volume II as Marx left them to us,
three years before his death.

In summary I propose that we study the reproduction
question, but not as it is traditionally posed and as,
indeed, it appears if one takes the textual evidence of
Volume II at face value. Let us study the reproduction
question as it first presented itself to Marx, to which the
Grundrisse was devoted, to which the 1861-63 manuscripts
were devoted, and which Volume II never solved: the
reproduction of *money capital*.

If we can do that, we really will have done something new.

Alan Freeman Saturday, October 28, 1995