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

From: Christopher Arthur (arthurcj@WAITROSE.COM)
Date: Fri Apr 14 2006 - 08:56:47 EDT

On 12 Apr 2006, at 20:06, Jurriaan Bendien wrote:

> Chris Arthur wrote:
> the correct way to state the position is that the pure logic of CAPITAL
> is indifferent to use value. But in order to actually sell things it
> needs the capitalist who does know about use value to interpret the
> demand for valorisation in a realisable way .
> reply:
> That correct way be true in the sphere of Marxist dogma, but I'm
> interested
> in what Marx & Engels thought, and what that implies.
Your points are well taken. 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.

> An object or entity is not spontaneously a use-value, an object of use
> or
> utility, and more particularly a social use-value. It becomes an
> object with
> a generally accepted use-value in society, in the course of the
> development
> of human practices. It is characteristic of capitalist market expansion
> however, that it transforms and develops objects into use-values
> according
> to a specific pattern, namely, it seeks to expand the domain of
> use-values
> which possess exchange-value, and shrink the domain of use-values
> which do
> not possess exchange-value. This is the "specifically capitalist mode
> of
> appropriation" guided by the search for surplus-value and
> self-enrichment.
> In this sense, the capitalistically developed use-values are
> historically
> and anthropologically specific, and use-value is increasingly looked
> upon
> through the prism of exchange-value. Therefore, even in the "pure
> logic of
> capital", whatever that means, capital is never "indifferent to
> use-value";
> business precisely seeks out, and develops to the utmost, those
> use-values
> which can possess a trading value - which has major implications for
> the
> specific way that the movements of capital develop the productive
> forces,
> the division of labour and the built environment (as ecologists no
> doubt
> would point out; consider for example the trade in clean and polluted
> air,
> in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol).
> This whole issue was ignored by Marxist luminaries such as Kozo Uno
> and Paul
> Sweezy, because they believed (like most Marxists do) that political
> economy
> and its critique just concerned circulation, production and
> distribution,
> and not final consumption (of course, Marx did not discuss the sphere
> of
> consumption in detail, although he does include consumption with the
> aegis
> of political economy, in his introduction to the Grundrisse, both
> productive
> and final consumption). At most, there is some critique of
> "consumerism"
> tacked on the end (it is of course very easy to criticise consumerism
> if you
> can consume to your hearts content; but I doubt that the working
> classes are
> emancipated by being made to feel guilty about their consumption).
> But even if this first argument is not accepted, because it conflicts
> with
> Marxist dogma and orthodoxy, it is still true that Marx's theory of the
> reproduction of total social capital refers throughout to the necessary
> transactions between at least three basic sectors of production, which
> are
> differentiated according to the *use-values* they produce and consume.
> And
> thus again, capital as a whole is not indifferent to use-value, despite
> Marxist orthodoxy and dogma.
> If this second argument is also rejected, again because it conflicts
> with
> the Marxist dogma about "capital in general", there's still the fact
> that
> Marx explicitly says in his first chapter on commodities (section 1)
> that
> "lastly, nothing can have value, without being an object of utility"
> ("Endlich kann kein Ding Wert haben, ohne Gebrauchsgegenstand zu sein"
> -
> literally, "ultimately, no thing can have value, without being an
> object of
> use). Thus, even in the realm of the purest of pure value relations,
> this
> utility or usefulness is according to Marx still logically
> *presupposed*,
> even if the Marxist dogma says it isn't.
> On those three grounds, I think the stale formalism of the Marxist
> dogma and
> orthodoxy ought to be replaced with a fresh, truly *dialectical*
> interpretation of the forms of value, which acknowledges the
> interaction of
> use-value and exchange-value thoughout the whole economic process from
> production to final consumption.
> It's difficult for me to establish exactly who invented the false
> Marxist
> doctrines about capital's general "indifference to use-value", but it
> seems
> to be mainly a wrong inference from the fact that, as Marx describes,
> capitalist production subordinates the production of use-values to the
> valorisation of capital. This subordination is then summarily
> *equated* with
> indifference to use-value - "all that capitalists care about is
> profit", the
> lazy leftist caricaturists claim, AND THEREFORE they do not care about
> anything else. But this inference - apart from being illogical - is
> neither
> correct theoretically, nor in practical reality. No wonder then, that
> most
> people are indifferent to this "Marxist critique" and treat Marx -
> misrepresented in this way - with scorn as a shallow satirist.
> Chris also wrote:
> Marx is a little ambiguous on the result of this. Sometimes he assails
> advertising for creating artificial needs; but sometimes the creation
> of new
> needs is said to be 'capital's civilising mission' (I lost the
> reference).
> reply:
> I would indeed be interested to know the textual source of this idea.
> To my
> knowledge Marx says no such thing specifically, although he does refer
> occasionally to "civilising effects"  (for example, that proles are
> able to
> buy and read newspapers etc.). The ambiguity is I think actually in a
> different area than Chris suggests. Marx wants to say both that
> use-value is
> a practical attribute of an object in virtue of its intrinsic
> (physical or
> tangible) characteristics, but also that use-value refers to a
> socially-mediated human valuation, involving a relation between the
> (potentially) appropriating subject (i.e. the user) and the object.
> Thus, he
> suggests both that use-value inheres in the object  by virtue of the
> properties it has, but also that it exists as use-value only within a
> social
> relation among subjects who appropriate this use-value. If however a
> use-value is a *social* use-value, we are referring not simply to a
> material
> or technical category, but to a social category. Again, I think we
> solve
> this ambiguity not by the formalistic-dogmatic Marxist approach, but
> by a
> genuinely *dialectical* treatment of the concept of use-value, which
> expands
> value analysis into the area of consumption. Albritton, being
> influenced by
> Uno, has no notion of this.
> In real life, I think that it actually might be more true to say that
> workers are subjectively *relatively* indifferent to the goods and
> services
> they mass-produce in assembly-line fashion, and that capitalists,
> armed with
> TQM and other management techniques, aim to reduce this indifference,
> so
> that good quality products are produced, that will be sold. That is to
> say,
> the "indifference problem" is in reality often more a management
> problem of
> how to combat the effects of worker alienation and discipline work
> effort,
> so that products are "made with care" ("all that the worker cares
> about is
> his pay"). For more information about "quality control" of use-values,
> see
> e.g. (this is not a
> reference
> to the International Socialists, but to the International Standards
> Organisation).
> Of course, this problem of worker indifference is itself not unique to
> capitalism; e.g. in the Soviet Union there were often also frequent
> complaints about shoddy goods made by poorly motivated workers, and
> stories
> can also be found of slaves in slave societies who were punished or
> killed
> for an attitude of indifference to their work. In this sense, too,
> Albritton
> can be criticised, because he fails to define the historical
> specificity of
> indifference in capitalism, and presents it in a one-sided, i.e.
> *undialectical* way, as a problem of the nasty capitalists.
> I haven't written all this up in a paper, but then I am not a paid
> academic;
> I trust however that my points are sufficiently clear.
> Jurriaan

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