value constancy

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Apr 4 04:12:48 MDT 1995


Chris responded to me thusly:

>On 3rd April Rakesh wrote
>
> > In his analysis of what he calls the treadmill of capitalist production,
> > Moishe Postone  also demonstrates at a high level of abstraction why
> > increased labor productivity in itself does not increase wealth in its
> > capitalist form--value.
>
>Hello Rakesh,
>
>Did not Marx do the same - in that the labour theory of value argues that
>the sum total of exchange value - at whatever level of productivity -
>cannot be larger than the total number of hours of labour time engaged in
>producing commodities according to what is socially necessary with
>the prevailing customs and technology?

Postone analyzes the constancy of total value in his chapter "The Dialectic
of labor and time", which as of yet has not received sustained treatment by
any reviewer.

At the initial determination of his argument, he writes: "increased
productivity results in short-term increases in the amount of value yielded
per unit time, which induces the general adoption of the newer methods of
producing; however, once these methods become generalized, the value
yielded per unit time returns to its older level.  In effect, those
producers who had not yet adopted these new methods are now COMPELLED to do
so.  The introduction of still newer methods of increasing productivity
bring about further short-term increases in value.  One consequence of
labor time measure of wealth, then, is that as the temporal constant is
redetermined by increased productivity, it induces, in turn, still greater
productivity.  The result is a directional dynamic..."(290)

Note here Postone's own emphasis  on compulsion; this is developed into a
theory of abstract social domination: "the domination of abstract time as
the present, and a necessary process of ongoing transformation." (300)

 As noted, the passage above is only the most initial determination of his
argument.

However we may quibble here about the constancy of value to which Chris has
drawn attention. Against Postone, Chris and Andrew Kliman, I think that one
could argue that  productivity increases DO enable the greater production
of value: "With increases in productivity and the mass of use values, the
mass of means of production (and of subsistence) which can function as
means of absorbing labor expands more rapidly than the value of the
accumulated capital.  The means of production can therefore employ more
labor and extort more surplus labour than would otherwise correspond to the
accumulation of value as such." (Grossmann, 1991: 146) In short, Postone's
treadmill metaphor does not I think fully ground the expansionary nature of
capital.

Instead of summarizing Postone's very careful argument which I imperfectly
understand , I will note here that the political stakes are very
significant.  While socialism has often been defined as nationalization and
planning (as Sweezy has put it), Postone demonstrates how through these
forms the law of value can  be mediated politically with the exploitation
of the working class still intact, as well as the specific value-induced
dynamic which both dominates people through  temporal abstractions  and
destroys nature. Interestingly then, far from being invalidated by the fall
of the USSR, Marxian value theory can explain  the rise, fall and
inhumanity of Stalinism as a particular form of state capitalism. (In this
regard, I am reading a very serious book by Walter Daum, The Rise and Fall
of Stalinism. New York. 1990; last time I heard from Walter on this line he
was rabble-rousing for a general strike in the CUNY system.)

  In other words, Postone is attempting to understand the many forms of
domination and exploitation which inhere in commodity production and free
communism from Stalinism and all other forms of capitalism.  This is a work
that can clarify and embolden the communist project, I believe.

 To be sure,  Postone's is not the only critique of Stalinism or the only
theory of abstract social domination. More about this later.  I hope that
the more advanced people on this line who have read Postone contribute to
this conversation.  I am feeling uncomfortable, a bit of the bull in the
chinashop.

Rakesh




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