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

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sat Apr 15 2006 - 16:43:38 EDT

Chris wrote:

Your points are well taken.


Well thank you. My scriptural ability is not nearly as good though as senior
scholars such as yourself and Michael Lebowitz, but my hunch is that I am
correct on this one.

Chris wrote:

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.


The quote I can find in Marx's draft is:

"If the reproduction process is hindered, or if its progress, in so far as
it is already conditioned by the natural increase of the population, is
prevented by the disproportionate employment of the kind of productive
labour which is expressed in unreproductive articles, with the result that
too few necessary means of subsistence, or too few means of production,
etc., are reproduced, luxury must be condemned from the standpoint of
capitalist production. Apart from that, luxury is an absolute necessity for
a mode of production which produces wealth for the non-producers, hence must
give wealth the necessary forms in which it can be appropriated by the
wealthy simply for their enjoyment. [For the worker himself, this productive
labour, like all other labour, is merely a means to the reproduction of his
necessary means of subsistence; for the capitalist, to whom the nature of
the use value and the character of the concrete labour employed are in
themselves matters of complete indifference, it is merely a moyen de battre
monnaie, de produire la survalue. [means of coining money, of producing
surplus value]

The idea here is, that the capitalist has primarily a commercial interest,
and is interested in the use-value produced primarily as a means for making
more money. So far so good - but presumably the capitalist invests in the
production of not just any old use-value, but a particular use-value,
precisely because that particular use-value happens to make money. The fact,
that this use-value happens to be e.g. a hundred tonnes of cabbages or
alternatively a hundred thousand computers might contingently be something
he is *personally* indifferent to (it is, in that case, purely a means to an
end), but he is certainly unlikely to be indifferent to that use-value, from
an economic or commercial point of view. I would think the degree of
personal indifference would probably depend greatly on the proximity or
distance of the capitalist from the actual production process, and also on
the type of production process it is. There might be a big difference here
between e.g. the "active" or "functioning" capitalist, and the so-called
"coupon-clipper" or financier/rentier. Marx's suggestion really seems to be
along the lines that, ideally, the more money the capitalist makes, the more
he thinks that he does what he does, for the good of humanity or the
creation of wealth for all, the "hard proof" being that - after all - people
buy the products of his business, and thus, that he satisfies their needs.
The idea here is, that self-interest and the public interest mesh seamlessly
with each other, in the way that Adam Smith or Greenspan envisaged. Even so,
note that Marx himself also writes "For the worker himself, this productive
labour, like all other labour, is merely a means to the reproduction of his
necessary means of subsistence", i.e. the particular production is ALSO a
matter of relative personal indifference to the worker, insofar as it is
also just a means to an end for the worker.

In Uno's pure theory, use-value is largely abstracted from, except however
for the use-value of labour-power and the three sectors of production (means
of production, means of consumption and luxury items). This is an abstract
extrapolation of commercial logic in terms of making money for the sake of
more money. Yet, even in the purest capitalism, this process cannot occur
without needs (of monetarily effective consumer- and producer-demand) being
met - the assumption being, in the pure model, that supply and demand will
equate, yet also that disproportions leading to crises will necessarily
develop even regardless of what particular use-values are produced. Yet,
Uno's theory lacks any "doctrine of consumption".

As soon as we move beyond heady abstractions to economic realities, the
picture becomes much more complex, and it is clear that both capitalists and
workers do have interests and moralities pertaining to the use-values
So much is clear even in the recent garbage collectors' strike in Greece,
and this - incidentally - highlights a facet of the services economy, which
world-wide employs more people than manufacturing does.

Christopher Freeman among others has shown, that much more can and ought to
be said about use-values than Marx does, i.e. in reality, e.g. commercial
logic and the innovation/invention process are intertwined, so that the
commodification process may be retarded or accelerated both by
technical/practical, social and commercial factors. Real capitalism involves
something like a "technostructure" (a complex of interdependent
technologies) as well as a consumption structure (a complex of social
relations defining the (private) mode of consumption - Manuel Castells once
alluded to this with the conflict between "private versus collective

But beyond this, precisely because of "market discipline" (i.e. you have to
sell stuff, or go out of business), capitalism portends both real human
progress (to the extent that it raises living standards etc.) as well as
real oppression of people (insofar as e.g. satisfying needs depends on
absent buying power). Therefore the analysis and critique of the development
of use-values under capitalism ought to be relativised and nuanced, taking
that into account, especially if the argument is mooted that a socialist
mode of production would meet human needs better. For this purpose, I think
a caricature such as that "capitalists are only interested in one thing" is
unhelpful, since what "market discipline" implies, is precisely that they
cannot be interested in "just one thing", i.e. making profit is contingent
on meeting demand within a given political/legal/economic context. You may
be able to prove that, in particular cases, non-market allocative principles
would meet human needs better, but the argument that business people have no
concern about this at all, is evidently false.

The main problem I have with Uno's approach - which does contain valuable
new insights also - is that he thought that he could distill a complete
theory of a purely capitalist society from Marx's writings, even although
Marx's analysis itself was incomplete. For starters, a "doctrine of
consumption" at least would be required to round off the analysis, revealing
the dialectics of exchange-value and use-value in the sphere of consumption
(both productive and final consumption; time does not permit me to pursue
this further now). Michael Lebowitz mentions in this context the conflicts
surrounding the meeting of workers' needs, but that is only one facet of a
larger story involving fixed assets, intermediate goods and final goods. Yet
another aspect concerns the service economy, which nowadays employs many
more people than manufacturing. In the strict sense, Marx defines a service
as "a useful effect of a use-value", where the use-value is living labour of
a specialised kind. Clearly, the provision of a service by its very nature
demands very close attention to its useful effect, and also creates new
forms of worker-alienation also, insofar as they are required to be not
indifferent to something they are otherwise indifferent to anyway. That is,
the "character masks" attributed to capitalists might equally well apply to
service workers.

Because of all of these concerns, I've never really been a great fan of
"value-form theory" because - notwithstanding valuable insights - I think it
does no real justice to the realities of capitalism. The real dialectic is
not simply a dialectic of the forms of exchange-value, but of use-value and
exchange-value. And, as I've said before, I think the real issue is not
whether capitalists are "indifferent" (I doubt that they are), but what
specific interest or stake they have in use-values; workers could be just as
"indifferent". Indifference would be more appropriately regarded as a
general aspect of human alienation, with as its corrollary the attempt to
overcome this indifference. Alienation is never total or complete, not just
because some facets of human beings are practically inalienable, but also
because they revolt against or resist alienation all the time - and
therefore the real culture of human subjectivities in capitalism always
contains both these aspects: both humanisation and dehumanisation.

So, really - contrary to Albritton, Reuten etc. - it's precisely when we
bring in use-value into the analysis, that we can talk more meaningfully
about subjectivities. Use-value implies not just a particular attitude
towards things (including nature) in terms of their use-value (instrumental
approach), but also an attitude towards people in terms of their use-value,
or to put it bluntly, "using people as a means to an ulterior end".

However, I promised myself I would study Hegel more closely before
pronouncing on these kinds of topics, so will leave it at that. All I can
say here is that I think this concern with "subjectivity" is really a
sideways attempt to tackle the problem of moral praxis in capitalist
society, a society which institutionally separates the economic/commercial
and legal spheres, and cannot reconcile class interests with universal moral


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