[OPE-L:3645] Re: Dialogue on Hegel and Althusser

Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Sat, 9 Nov 1996 21:07:04 -0800 (PST)

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Jerry's challenge is an interesting one: pose what you see as the major
contributions of Hegel to Marx's logic (if you're a Hegelian) without
defending the position with cites from Marx or Hegel (similarly is you're
Althusserian). A subtext is where does following the opposite slant lead you

Here's my (non-standard) Hegelian slant on Marx. I'll number separable
points as I go.

(1) I see dialectics as essential to understanding Marx, but by dialectics I
*don't* mean the thesis-antithesis-synthesis stuff which is commonly taken
for Hegelian/Marxian dialectics, but which actually originated with Fichte
(see Wilde's excellent _Marx and Contradiction_ on this and several
subsequent points).

(2) My (and what I believe is Marx's--see Wilde again, and numerous quotes
of Marx that I won't make -:>) version can be summed up in the triad of
"unity, foreground, background". Marx sees any object as existing in a given
society, where that society will necessarily focus on just some aspects of
that object. Consequently, those aspects of the object (the "unity") are
brought into the "foreground". But the object cannot exist without (and
cannot be properly comprehended without understanding) its other aspects,
which are necessarily thrust into the "background". There thus exists a
"dialectical tension" between the foreground and background aspects of the
unity, which can be a force for change, both of the unity and of the society

(3) The main application of this was in Marx's treatment of the commodity.
It is for this reason that I see reading the first part of Capital as
essential--and thus see Althusser's advice as highly misleading--because the
crux of this analysis was laid out in Part I of Capital. However, it's
actually much better explained in a key section of the Grundrisse, and in
several locations in TSV, etc.

(4) The analysis of the commodity using the above framework is that the
commodity is a unity of use-value and exchange-value. Under capitalism, the
exchange-value aspects are brought into the foreground, while the use-value
aspects are thrust into the background. Under feudalism, it was the other
way around. The act of exchange under capitalism thus involves a "total
abstraction" (sorry Jerry!) from use-value, whereas in feudal (or
pre-capitalist) society, the use-value of a commodity could influence its price.

The fact that the use-value of a commodity is thrust into the background in
capitalism means that the use-value and the exchange-value of a commodity
are incommensurable under capitalism. *Normally* this is because use-value
is qualitative, whereas exchange-value is quantitative. There is an instance
where the two are both quantitative, however, and this gives rise to the key
tension of the commodity under capitalism.

(5) It is this focus on the use-value of the commodity, as well as its
exchange-value, which distinguishes Marx from his classical predecessors.
Whereas Smith and Ricardo dismissed use-value on page 1 of their magnum
opuses, Marx continually refers to it, and the tension with exchange-value.

(6) The key application--and the only one which is even passably
acknowledged by a majority (?) of Marxists--is in the explanation of the
source of surplus value. Marx reasons that the exchange-value of labor-power
is its cost of production, whereas its use-value is labor, the expenditure
of effort in the production of commodities. The former resolves itself into
a subsistence bundle of commodities, the latter is also a bundle of a
commodities, these two *quantities* are incommensurable, there will
therefore be a difference between them, and this difference is the source of
surplus value.

(7) If you don't read Capital informed by this argument, then it's easy to
think that Marx is arguing that the source of surplus value is the
difference between labor-power and labor, and that this *unique attribute*
of labor is the sole reason that labor is the source of surplus. While this
was Marx's argument prior to the Grundrisse--locating surplus in the unique
aspects of labor--in Capital, he based his explanation of surplus on the
things which labor-power has in common with all other commodities--that it
is a commodity.

(8) The discussion of the tension between use-value and exchange-value
doesn't end with this one point, however--which is how I think most Marxists
in fact treat it.

(9) Marx uses the same logic to explain why the means of production are not
a source of surplus value (I happen to believe that he got this argument
wrong, and that the mistakes he made here obscured the importance of
use-value in his analysis, but that is perhaps another story).

(10) The same logic turns up again when Marx discusses the "realisation
problem"--the issue of turning surplus commodities into actual profit. Here,
the relation is reversed: the exchange-value of commodities is irrelevant,
their use-value is now in the foreground. This is both in a collective
sense--the relation of the total volume of commodities produced to
demand--and individual--the usefulness of the given commodity for its
prospective purchaser. The former raises the issue of aggregate demand, one
generally lacking from Marxian analysis.

(11) Extensions of the above into issues of money, labor and land make me
into a firm supporter of the "six-book" hypothesis, that Capital as
published was only the first volume in the intended magnum opus. Capital
I/II/III (in general) were written on the assumption that everything was a
commodity under capitalism. In fact, money, labor and land are in very
important senses non-commodities. This generates a tension between their
nature and the manner in which they are treated under capitalism. The extra
books would consider the complications which arise when one takes account of
that reality.

Thus, for example, labor will get *more* than its value--the value of
labor-power is therefore not the wage but the *minimum* wage. Land also
scores a rent--because it is non-reproducible, and the "exchange-value
determines price" arguments are limited to reproducibles. Money has the
twist that its exchange-value is set by its use-value--leading to a
non-commodity theory of money, in contrast to the commodity-money theory
recently discussed on OPE.

(12) In summary, I see the main contribution of Hegelianism to Marx as being
the analysis of the commodity in terms of use-value, exchange-value, and the
dialectical tension between them. With this as a basis, Marx's analysis
becomes much richer than that which can be got from a non-dialectical reading.

Steve Keen
>Re: Paul Z's [OPE-L:3629]:
>I have an alternative suggestion. Rather than discussing the influence of
>Hegel on Marx's method of analysis and Althusser's interpretation of Marx,
>let's try something different.
>I. Background
> ==========
>So long as there have been Marxists, Marxists have been discussing the
>influence of Hegel on Marx. Right? That dialogue has primarily taken the
>form of evaluating Hegelianism and Hegel's writings through the prism of
>Marx's writings.
>Ever since Althusser and Balibar wrote _Reading Capital_ there have been
>intense and frequently heated debates among Marxists that primarily
>centered on A&E's interpretation of Marx. Consequently, as was the case
>with evaluating Hegelianism, Marxists have engaged in this discourse
>primarily through a critical evaluation and interpretation of Marx's
>While there is a lot to be said for having extended discussions of
>what Marx meant and said (and while we have had many extended discussions
>on this list regarding different interpretations of Marx), I don't think
>that it unfair to say that this has not proven to be the most fruitful way
>of having a dialogue between Hegelian-Marxists, Althusserian-Marxists, and
>other kinds of Marxists.
>The problem, simply put, is that it is difficult to move beyond our
>interpretations of what Marx's method of analysis was to independently
>determine the merit of different perspectives.
>II. A different format for dialogue
> ===============================
>Here's my suggestion (you can call it a "challenge" if you wish):
>Let our Hegelian-Marxists (or Marxists who believe that Hegel had a
>significant positive impact on Marx's method of analysis, irrespective of
>whether they call themselves "Hegelian-Marxists" or whatever) and let our
>Althusserian-Marxists (or Marxists that believe that the writings of
>Althusser are important for today's Marxists) explain -- *** without
>making any reference whatsoever to what Marx or Engels or Lenin etc. wrote
>*** what _specifically_ they view as the major (dare I say "essential"?)
>positive contributions of Hegelianism or Althusserianism are for
>interpreting social reality in general and capitalism in particular.
>I would also suggest that the Althusserians _not_ refer to Hegel since
>that would get us back into the trap of discussing what Hegel did or did
>not say (which, like interpreting Marx, can lead to an extended
>discussion that focuses on hermenutics). By the same token, I would
>suggest that the "Hegelians" not get into a debate about what Althusser
>wrote or didn't write.
>Call the above a "thought experiment." I don't recall ever listening to
>or reading such a "cross-paradigm" discussion. It might prove to be very
>The object of the experiment is to simply see if we can identify areas of
>agreement and disagreement regarding these different perspectives without
>resorting to the expedient of quoting Marx.
>Any takers?
>In solidarity,
Steve Keen
Senior Lecturer
Economics & Finance
University of Western Sydney
PO Box 555 Campbelltown NSW 2560
s.keen@uws.edu.au (046) 20-3254 Fax (046) 26-6683