Marx/Hegel

Chris Bailey chrisbailey at gn.apc.org
Sat Aug 13 12:26:15 MDT 1994


Since this is my first contribution I had better start by
introducing myself. I live in Cambridge, England. Although this
is one of the most famous university establishments in the world,
I am not connected in anyway to the university - I just happen
to have been born here! The only connection with the "academic"
world I have had is a couple of years studying Engineering before
"dropping out" in the late '60s. From that time onwards I have
been both a political and trade union activist. I have studied
Marxism within this context and not within the formal education
system. For 25 years, slightly more than half my life, I was a
member of a Trotskyist sect called the WRP led by one Gerry
Healy, who some of you may have heard of. In 1986, this sect blew
apart into many pieces. I am glad to have played a role in its
destruction and am now one of the pieces. I am involved with some
other refugees from similar sectarian experiences in trying to
develop an open discussion on the problems facing socialism
"unfettered by any orthodoxy or 'party line'". The quote is from
the Statement of Intent of a small circulation magazine we
publish.

I had intended observing the discussion for a bit longer before
entering it, but Donna Jones gave me the perfect cue. Thanks,
Donna!

> In my readings, I have found the following to be helpful in understanding
> the relationship between Marx and Hegel

> Geoffrey Pilling, Marx's Capital (see also his introduction to "Letters on
> Capital" published by New Park).(If anyone knows of anything else he has
> written, please inform me; I have an early piece on the law of value and
> his book on keynesianism, but have not been able to find anything else).


Geoff Pilling has written quite a lot. He was a member of the WRP
throughout the same period I was and wrote under the name Peter
Jeffries. I will save him embarrassment by not naming these
"works". Geoff would be the first to admit that his writings were
mainly hack material produced under instruction from Healy.
The book you refer to, "Marx's Capital", is quite different.
Geoff produced this one under the counter, so to speak, in his
own name and using an independent publisher (not New Park, which
was owned by the WRP). Although the book was broadly in line with
WRP positions at the time it wasn't vetted by Healy, who claimed
to be the ultimate authority on philosophy and he didn't like the
book one bit.

Although we parted company sometime ago - he is still in one of
the WRPs (there are at least two!)-, I worked closely with Geoff
in the period after we expelled Healy and discussed his book with
him on several occasions. He openly acknowledged that the
immediate inspiration for it had come from reading two works
published in English at about that time by E V Ilyenkov, the
Russian philosopher. These were the short essay _The Concept of
the Ideal_ and the book _Dialectical Logic: Essays on its History
and Theory_. At that time, Ilyenkov's earlier work _The
Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital_
had not been published in English. If it had been, Geoff said,
he wouldn't have written his own book. He had realised that
Ilyenkov's work had considerable implications for a reading of
Marx's _Capital_, but hadn't realised that is where Ilyenkov had
started in the first place. Basically, Geoff thought Ilyenkov's
book on _Capital_ had done a much better job of what he was
trying to do than he had managed himself.

I mention all this because, although I agree with Donna that
Geoff Pilling's book is certainly well worth reading,
particularly because it takes on Althusser specifically, it seems
to me that a serious discussion on the Marx/Hegel relationship
has to include an examination of Ilyenkov's work.

I would now like to comment on the argument being put forward by
Steve Keen concerning the supposed conflict between the use-
value/exchange value dialectic and the labour theory of value.

Steve opposes Althusser's insistence that it is possible to
remove "Hegelianism" from Marx and still leave Marx's critique
of capitalist political economy pretty much intact and he
maintains the importance of the many Hegelian notions in Marx's
_Capital_. I agree with him, but I am, therefore, somewhat
perplexed by a remark he makes in his original exposition of his
ideas on the labour theory of value. Here, in dealing with Marx's
derivation of the source of surplus-value in labour-power he
says:

"His finale (after the usual diversions!!) occurs 24 pages
later:"

What diversions does Steve mean? A reading of these pages reveal
that they are in large part concerned with "Hegelian" issues and
include statements concerning the relationship between Man and
Nature which are clearly part of Marx's attempt "to place Hegel
on his feet". Is this what Steve considers to be "the usual
diversions"? But these are exactly the parts of _Capital_ that
Althusser says should be skipped!

Perhaps, despite his apparent disagreement with Althusser, Steve
nevertheless also heeded his advice to ignore part one of
_Capital_ completely and begin with part two.  Could that be why
Steve missed the title of the very first section in the book?

"Section 1. - The two factors of a commodity: Use-value and value
(The Substance of value and the Magnitude of value)."

The terms Substance and Magnitude are clearly Hegelian terms
which Marx deliberately selected to show the relationship between
his analysis of the commodity and Hegel's Logic. By equating use-
value with Substance and value (exchange value) with Magnitude
he is making absolutely clear that use-value is the purely
qualitative aspect of the commodity and exchange value its purely
quantative aspect. Steve's contention that under the "specific
circumstances of productive consumption" they are quantatively
comparable is _logically_ absurd. Despite his opposition to
Althusser he has, in fact, ignored the _logic_ of _Capital_.

The footnote from Marx he reproduces concerning the importance
of use-value does not support his position at all. Certainly,
Marx attacked Ricardo for ignoring the importance of use-value,
_the purely qualitative factor of the commodity_. He developed
this further in the second volume of _Capital_ when he showed
that the use-value composition of Departments I and II was a
crucial factor in analyzing conditions of both potential
equilibrium and breakdown. In the extreme, if all commodities
produced were raw materials we would all starve. If they were all
consumer goods society would eventually grind to a halt as
machinery wore out. But what has this got to do with Steve's
contention that use-value can be quantative. Marx is actually
stressing, in opposition to Ricardo, the importance of the
qualitative aspect of the commodity.

For Marx, the use-value of labour power is certainly not
expressed in hours worked, a quantity, as Steve claims. It is,
in fact, labour in its purely qualitative form. The capitalist
requires certain specific tasks to be performed. The worker
performs these tasks. In doing so, he loses the use-value of his
own labour. He sells it to the capitalist. He carries out labour
that is of use to the employer and no use to himself. He is often
producing goods that he could never own and has no need for if
he could. Only later, after he has been paid the exchange-value
of his labour power, can the worker satisfy his own needs.

The use-value, the quality, of the worker's labour-power must
first be transformed into exchange-value, its quantity, before
it can be transformed back into use-values for the worker. There
can be no comparison between the use-value of the labour the
worker spent working for the capitalist and the use-value of the
labour he would have spent producing use-values for himself
instead. One is fictitious anyway and even if it wasn't the two
would be totally incommensurable - like chalk and cheese, pure
qualities devoid of any quantative relation to each other.

Chris Bailey.


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