chrisbailey at gn.apc.org
Thu Aug 18 03:52:45 MDT 1994
In his last contribution to the discussion on the use-value of labour
power, Steve Keen finishes by implying that those who disagree with
him have "not understood a word of Capital". I would not like to say
that Steve has not understood a word, he probably has. What I most
definitely do say is that he has totally failed to understand the very
first sentence on the very first page, which is not a good start. I
made this accusation in my first contribution and have received no
reply from Steve to the point I was raising.
I repeat. In the heading to section I, Marx makes totally clear using
very precise categories from Hegel's _Logic_ with which he was
extremely familiar, that his intention is to begin his work by
analyzing the two factors of a commodity, use-value (the Substance of
value) and value (exchange value - the Magnitude of value).
Earlier in this discussion, Steve told us the importance of not
ignoring the Hegelian terminology in Marx and recognizing the _logic_
of Capital. I suggest he heed his own advice and examine the meaning
of Substance and Magnitude in Hegel's _Logic_. If he does he will see
that Substance is the _pure_ qualitative aspect of a thing, whilst
Magnitude is its _pure_ quantitative aspect.
Perhaps Marx wasn't using Hegelian terminology? This seems extremely
unlikely, to say the least, in view of Marx's background and history.
However, just to make sure everyone got the message, Marx tipped
everybody off in his _Afterword to the second German edition_.
"I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker
(Hegel), and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of
value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him." Page
Perhaps "coquetting" means that Marx wasn't using the terms to mean
quite the same thing as Hegel did? The whole of section one makes
clear that he is. To take just one quote at random:
"As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities,
but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and
consequently do not contain an atom of use-value." Page 45.
In section two, he explains that corresponding to the qualitative and
the quantative in the commodity there is a two fold character to the
labour embodied in commodities:
"While, therefore, with reference to use-value, the labour contained
in a commodity counts only qualitatively, with reference to value it
counts only quantatively, and must first be reduced to human labour
pure and simple. In the former case, it is a question of How and What,
in the latter of How much? How long a time?" Page 52.
Over and over again, throughout chapter 1, Marx makes clear that he is
using Substance and Magnitude precisely in the Hegelian sense.
Furthermore, it seems to me, he is devoting great effort whilst using
this Hegelian terminology to "discover the rational kernel within the
mystical shell" and turn Hegel "right side up again" as promised on
All this is lost on Steve. It is difficult to understand on what real
ground he is opposed to Althusser, since he has in practice heeded his
advice and ignored the "Hegelian" section 1.
That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from his belief that
Marx thought use-value suddenly became quantative in the commodity
_human labour power_ . Such a position would be totally at odds with
the whole _logical_ form of Capital:
"The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no
means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of
working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is
standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you
would discover the rational kernal within the mystical shell." Page 29
A key aspect of this dialectic concerns the transformation of Quality
into Quantity. Hegel had been the first to clearly grasp that such a
transformation took place and the logic of the transformation. Having
firmly established the qualitative and quantative factors of the
commodity, Marx does show how the qualitative is transformed into the
quantative. *The whole of _Capital_* is about the transformation of
use-values into exchange values. The logic pursued by Marx in grasping
this transformation does follow "the general form of working" of
It is totally absurd within this context to believe that Marx slipped
a quick transformation of quality into quantity in, so to speak, when
dealing with the commodity labour-power. Such a belief is based on a
complete misunderstanding of what Marx meant by the use-value of
First of all, let us take Steve's "clincher". It certainly is, in that
it shows the confusion he is in.
> "What really influenced him was the specific use-value which this
> commodity possesses of being a source not only of value, but of
> more value than it has itself."
> Pardon me, but under no circumstances can I regard this characterisation
> of use-value as being qualitative. The "specific use-value" of labor-
> power is that it is "a source not only of value, but of more value
> than it has itself". Its use-value is a quantitative thing--the
> quantity of value--and the specific attraction of this use-value to
> the capitalist purchaser is that it exceeds another quantitative
> thing, its exchange-value.
Steve appears to think that the "itself" at the end of the quotation
from Marx refers to the "use-value" and is therefore saying that the
"use-value" has value. In fact, it is the commodity labour-power that
both has value, as do all commodities, and at the same time is a
source of value greater than the value of itself. No other commodity
possesses this *quality*, which is the "specific use-value", *the
unique quality*, of human labour power. Not an atom of quantity here!
Let us examine some of Steve's other quotations.
> "The past labor that is embodied in the labor power, and the
> living labor that it can call into action; the daily cost of
> maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two
> totally different things. The former determines the exchange-value
> of the labor power, the latter is its use-value."
> Maybe I'm "misreading" this, but "latter" the final sentence
> refers to "its daily expenditure in work", while "it" refers
> to "labor power", n'est-ce pas? Then I would not think I'd gone
> too far wrong in thinking that the use-value of labor-power
> was its daily expenditure in work. To me, that looks
If it does, Steve, you're seeing things! The use-value of labour-power
*is* that it can be expended each day in work. That's a definite
*quality* of labour-power.
> "The fact that half a [working] days labor is necessary to keep the
> laborer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from
> working a whole day. Therefore, the value of labor power, and the
> value which that labor power creates in the labor process, are two
> entirely different magnitudes; and this difference of the two values
> was what the capitalist had in view, when he was purchasing the labor
> "Magnitudes"? Does that word conjure up images of quality to you,
> or quantity?
Sure, Steve, we certainly are dealing with two quantities here, but
neither of them is use-value. Where does Marx mention use-value in
this quotation? The two quantities are "the value of labour power" and
"the value which that labour power creates in the labour process".
The rest of Steve's quotations concern Marx on the importance of use-
value. Both I and Gene have pointed out that this has nothing to do
with use-value being quantitative.
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