Chris, Juan and Value

Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU
Thu Sep 8 16:15:19 MDT 1994

Patryk Silver's comment on my "Chris, Juan and Value" posting
indicates that I was too cryptic in my query. I was wondering
whether my last 2 replies to Chris and Juan had been received.
The replies began with the paragraphs repeated below. In case
they were not received, I have reproduced them in full after
these 2 excerpts. If you have seen them before, hit the "delete"
button now; otherwise, if interested, read on.

Steve Keen
1st paragraphs in last posting to Chris

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.
1st paragraphs in last posting to Juan

Dear Juan,

You comment:

"If any methodological contradiction is involved in Steve's quotation of
Marx, it doesn't concern Marx, but the proper rules of scientific quoting
that exclude isolating a part of a text from its meaningful context."

Full previous posting to Chris

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

Full previous posting to Juan
Dear Juan,

You comment:

"If any methodological contradiction is involved in Steve's quotation of
Marx, it doesn't concern Marx, but the proper rules of scientific quoting
that exclude isolating a part of a text from its meaningful context."

Re my excerpted quotes from Marx: only in an unedited work (e.g.,
email) can you get away with lengthy cites from original authors. Editors
tend to demand such things be abbreviated in journals, and the trick is
to abbreviate without losing the meaning. I tend to apply the same rule
in email posts because--as someone who himself gets about 50 posts a day--
I find that unless something is crucial to my interests, I won't read
all of a long post. So my abbreviations here are an attempt to make what
I'm arguing accessible to more than just the 4 or 5 of us who are

I agree that such a practice can result in the writer omitting what other
readers may regard as crucial in the original; but that's why we use
epillets (?) ... It alerts the reader that some text has been omitted,
and they are in a position to consult the original. That, by the way,
is not a practice which has been adhered to by Marxists in the past.

Take a look at the bottom of page 61 of Sweezy's _Theory of Capitalist
Development_. Then look at page 217 of Capital, which he was
supposedly quoting. You will notice that 4 sentences are missing, with
no ... to indicate the absence.

You should also not need reminding that Rosdolsky criticised Hilferding
and Sweezy on this front:

"Among Marx's numerous critical comments on Ricardo's system the most
striking can be found only in the Rough Draft, namely that Ricardo
abstracts from use-value in his economics ... and that consequently
for him it 'remains lying dead as a simple presupposition... Strangely
enough, it concerns not only Ricardo, but also many of Marx's pupils..."

Rosdolsky then gives the crucial example of Hilferding's edict that
"use-value, lies outside the domain of political economy", whereas
the full statement in the Contribution was:

"To be a use-value is evidently a necessary pre-requisite of the
commodity, but it is immaterial to the use-value whether it is
a commodity. Use-value as such, since it is independent of the
determinate economic form, lies outside the sphere of investigation
of political economy. *It belongs in this sphere only when it is
itself a determinate form*." (Rosdolsky, _The Making of Marx's
Capital_, 1977, pp. 73-74; _Contribution_,  p. 28; Grundrisse,
p. 267; Hilferding in Sweezy, 1949, p. 130).

You continue:

"There are at least two questions that any theory stating that the use-value
of all commodities is the source of surplus-value must face:

a- Value is the specific historical way through which the society of the
private independent producers allocates its total capacity to labor under
its specific concrete forms. The development of commodities into capital is
nothing but a specific form of this allocation, where all human potencies
are alienated into capital's potencies. If the abstract labor materialized
in the commodities wasn't the whole substance of their value (that is, of
their capacity to relate among themselves in exchange, thus relating their
producers), or if it has ceased to be such under capitalism, which is the
general regulation of present-day social metabolism process and, rather,
what real value, real commodity form (not their theoretical
representations) are about?

b- Use-value is what determines a real form as a means for the human social
metabolism process. So it inherits in the materiality of the real form in
question. Being value, and its specific form surplus-value, nothing but
pure social relations (that is, the social coordination of human life), how
could the materiality of the means of production acquire the capacity to
produce social relations or to become itself a social relation?"

Re (a) Juan, perhaps part of your post was lost in the email (it happens
to my posts sometimes), but I simply can't find a question here--unless you
are asking "what is real value"? Please re-post the question.

Re (b), you say I think that "value, and its specific form surplus-value,
[are] nothing but pure social relations". If this is what you believe
(I had to insert the "are" to make the extract grammatical, but it may
also have changed your meaning) then I disagree. Value is a social
relation, but if the economics of Marx are to mean anything, it is also
the source of profit, which is material as well as social. The uv/ev
analysis gives an excellent explanation of the material side of this
process as well as the social: it is something which emerges under
capitalism; and it explains the material and social forces behind the
reproduction and evolution of the system.

On the final point of vulgar economists: Marx characterised as
vulgar those followers of Say who believed that the utility of a
given commodity determined the price of that same commodity. But he
also characterised Ricardo as failing to come to grips with use-value,
since he simply dismissed it. So Marx himself must take a position
which transcends both the dismissal of use-value, and its elevation
to the sole explanation for price. It cannot be the explanation for
the price of a given commodity; but it must somehow be important in
economics, all the same.

As an example of how Marx employed the concept, look at p. 249 of
TSV II, where Marx chastises Ricardo for talking of the "value"
[in situ] of minerals, when no labour has gone into their
production, and hence from both Marx's and Ricardo's point of
view, they should contain no value:

"Ricardo never uses the word *value* for utility or usefulness
or 'value in use'. Does he therefore mean to say that the
'compensation' is paid to the owner of the quarries and
coalmines for the 'value' the coal and sotone have before they
are removed from the quarry and the mine--in their original
state? Then he invalidates his entire doctrine of value. Or
does *value* mean here, as it must do, the *possible*
use-value and hence the *prospective exchange*-value of
coal and stone?"

Steve Keen


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