Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU
Sat Sep 3 15:25:55 MDT 1994

Dear Chris,

You said you's send me your snailmail address, but it wasn't in your
post. Please send it.

As for my "reversal of the terms in the dialectic", yes it was "merely
a slip". I am occasionally guilty of a sloppy email post -- aren't
we all -:) -- but as for "total sloppiness", I suggest you leave
judgment of my overall logic and scholarly status to after you read
my written work.

BTW, I am 41; I too read Capital before the English translation of
the Grundrisse was available--and the logic I now trumpet was
apparent to me on that first reading. I took a long excursion through
non-academic life before returning to see whether I could justify my
views by a thorough examination of the development of Marx's economic

Your comment was in reference to Marx's letter to Engels about "the
best thing in Capital". You appear to have missed the post where I
followed that up (and unfortunately I can't access it myself at the
moment--my old computer is "down" at present). To recap it briefly,
if the abstract labor/concrete labor distinction was literally "the
best thing in Capital", then since Engels knew this "from the horse's
mouth", surely this would be what he promoted in his subsequent
attempts to popularise Marx's work. Consult _On Marx's Capital_, and
_Anti-Durhing_; you will find that what Engels popularises is in
fact the use-value/exchange-value dialectic.

To get to what I see as the gist of your last post, you have
actually put forward something which can delineate between my
interpretation and yours. We have a "testable hypothesis", in
the words of Popper.

Briefly, my position is that Marx made a logical advance in the
Grundrisse which became the foundation of his post-Grundrisse
analysis. Properly applied, this logic contradicts the LTV.
However, Marx made an error in the application of this
logic which enabled him to continue with the LTV, and this
error hardened in subsequent work. In particular, he worked out a
way of apparently but in fact erroneously justifying the "value
non-productivity" of the means of production using this logic.

Your position appears to be that Marx used a commodity-based analysis
in the Grundrisse, but by the time of Capital, had made a break with
this logic and instead based his analysis of value in the non-commodity
nature of labor and labor-power. His reason for making the break was
that the uv/ev dialectic does contradict the LTV, which Marx "*stubbornly
refused*" to abandon, and as a result of this stubbornness was led to
the revelation that "*labor* itself was not a commodity". To quote you
on this:

"The logical error arises from Marx, at this time, seeing *labour* as a
commodity. First of all, Marx proves that a particular commodity
cannot be the opposite of capital. He then shows that *all
commodities* are the opposite of capital insofar as they are
objectified labour and that labour is the "opposite pole to capital".
Here he strongly affirms the labour theory of value, but leads himself
into the trap of now having to state that a particular commodity,
*labour*, is the opposite of capital, thus contradicting his first

You claim that the only way out of this logical contradiction is to
drop the labour theory of value. But this is something that Marx
*stubbornly refused to do*. He regarded it as central. Instead,
*exactly because* he refused to drop it he was able to ultimately make
a far more profound analysis than that contained in Grundrisse. He
ultimately grasped that *labour* itself was not a commodity. The
commodity with the unique ability to produce more value than its own
value was *labour power*. He was then able to analyse the two aspects
of this commodity as *concrete labour* (Substance) and *abstract
labour* (Magnitude)...

It is surely this that Marx was referring to when he said, according
to you yourself, that the "best thing in Capital" is the "distinction
between abstract labour and concrete labour". This was a vital and
difficult development in his analysis over earlier work. It was made by
resolving the logical errors in the Grundrisse that you at first deny
the existence of, but then proceed to pinpoint. Marx resolved these
logical errors whilst *completely retaining* the labour theory of

If I have done you no injustice in my paraphrase of your position,
then there are 2 things we can do to attempt to resolve our debate:

(1) Re-read the crucial sections of Capital where Marx uncovers the
source of surplus, to see which of the two logics-- uv/ev or
concrete/abstract labor--he uses.

(2) Analyse Marx's language statistically to see: whether there was
a break between the Grundrisse and Capital, or whether there was
continuity; and to see which set of phrases--uv/ev or
concrete/abstract labor-- occurs most frequently.

I have been considering (2) for a long time; computer technology
would enable us to process and analyse Marx's word usage
statistically. Would you be interested in a joint research project
on this?

In conclusion, a few comments re (1).

(a) I am quite happy with the notion that labor is not a commodity;
but in my thesis I develop slightly the "dialectic of labor" as
an explanation of why the wage will normally *exceed* the value
of labor-power. You, in line with traditional interpretations
of Marx, use the non-commodity aspect of labor as an explanation
of why labor is the source of surplus.

(b) Page 188 is the crucial page of Capital, of course. Does Marx
explain surplus there on the basis of the non-commodity aspects of
labor, or does he explain it on the basis of its commodity aspects?
A few excerpts from that page where the source of surplus is first

"What really influenced him [the capitalist] 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*."

That appears to support me, but of course you can argue that the
fact that this commodity possesses "more value than it has itself"
is a product of its non-commodity aspects (the concrete labor/
abstract labor analysis--how about a cl/al shorthand), and not
a consequence of it being a commodity (the uv/ev analysis).

However, everywhere on that page, Marx seems to be at pains to
argue the aspects that labor-power shares with commodities,
rather than to emphasise the ways in which labor is not a commodity:

"This is the special service that the capitalist expects from
labor-power, and in this transaction he acts in accordance with
the 'eternal laws' of the exchange of commodities. The seller of
labor-power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises
its exchange-value, and parts with its use-value." And so on.

(c) Being bereft of my electronic notes at present, I decided to
flick through Capital at random, to see whether I came across
discussions of cl/al or uv/ev. The following paragraph was one
of many I found. In it there is certainly a confusion of
different ideas; but there is one expression at its head that
I think should disturb your argument that Marx in Capital
had abandoned the possibility of use-value being--only in
the circumstances of productive consumption--quantitative:

"Further: Exchange-value and use-value, being intrinsically
incommensurable magnitudes..." (p. 506)

Steve Keen


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