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

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Apr 09 2006 - 09:47:54 EDT

Hi Jerry

You asked, Feeling a tad grumpy today?

No, just very disappointed that a scholar of some stature like Albritton,
who has tried to introduce Japanese Marxian thought to Western readers,
would come out with shallow sociologism like that, which I regard as
nonsensical, and which discredits Marx's analysis. Let's hope though he gets
his rocks off in Cuba, and writes something better.  But yes, I am grumpy
about how badly so-called "Marxists" deform and mangle the ideas of Marx &

It is one thing to say, that trade in commodities becomes a means of
accumulating capital, and is therefore engaged in not simply for its own
sake, or for the joy of it etc. Or, that an investor simply looks for those
stocks or placements which yield the highest return, irrespective of whether
they concern cabbages, water pipes, currencies or computers etc. I.e., an
abstract instrumentalist rationality operates.

But this does not imply at all, that "capitalists are indifferent to the use
value of products" or that they do not try to meet consumer needs. If they
were so indifferent, they would make disastrous mistakes in investing,
hiring employees, management or selling products. They simply cannot afford
to be so indifferent, precisely *in function* of the imperatives of
investments, sales, competition and accumulation. At the very least, doing
business requires market knowledge, and that market knowledge involves
product knowledge, and knowledge of how a product is used, and by whom, in
what quantity. But usually, also, investors will not invest in projects that
they don't believe in. Needless to say, as consumers, capitalists are also
not "indifferent to use-values" at all, far from it.

This is just a very elementary observation about commerce, and you don't
even have to be an economist to understand it. A critique of capitalism is
fine, but I think in that case one should at least acquaint oneself with the
realities of business, rather than rail on about "the nasty capitalists who
are indifferent to use value". When Marxists present these crude, vulgar and
abstract caricatures of capitalist business, they just discredit themselves,
they discredit Marx, and propagate ideas which are useless. It's a deformed
moral protest - you might as well go chasing windmills, like Don Quixote.

The whole notion of "indifference" itself is crucially ambiguous anyway,
because it can be read as a moral indifference, a social indifference, or a
practical indifference. What follows positively from this? That capitalists
should not be so indifferent? That people should be more socially
responsible? That more sentimental value should be attached to products?
What kind of morality is desirable then? It is not clear.

You wrote:

Whether or not individual Marxists agree with Albritton's perspective on
use-value or not has no necessary connection to whether socialism will be
viable anywhere.

But that is not what I said. What I said was, maybe rhetorically, "With
"friends of Marx" like that, there will never be any viable socialism
anywhere." It's really very simple. If socialism is at all feasible as a
form of economy, it must grow out of, or develop out of capitalism as it
really is. This in turn implies recognising that at least in part,
capitalism is *progressive*, insofar as it creates the social and technical
preconditions for socialist economy, in the form of new products, knowledge,
wealth and social relations. Theories of monumental alienation are wrong,
because just as important is the resistance/revolt/overcoming of alienation,
the humanisation of people despite all obstacles.  A socialist
transformation requires a profound reorganisation of economic life, which
also has to be theorised, and in order to theorise it, it has to be
understood. Platitudes and verities about "the nasty capitalists who are
indifferent to use-value" are about as useful for that purpose, as the
discovery of an infant that eating food results in crap falling out of his

But anyway. I have a lot on my plate just now (moving house among other
things) so I'll leave it there.


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