CORRECTED: uv/Sweezy

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Aug 1 02:30:49 MDT 1995


This is the same post which I have already sent, free of the more
egregrious spelling and grammatical errors.   I was so nervous about
sending the last one  that for some reason I did not proofread it. I
apologize for the inconvenience, and will surely be more careful in the
future.   Yours, Rakesh Bhandari


Speaking of Rosdolsky's comments on the use-value/value dialectic, Steve writes
>
>
>he can therefore be read as proof that the Hilferding/Sweezy approach--
>which dismisses the concept of use-value completely--is erroneous,


Steve, I have recently read your papers, as well as last year's replies by
Fred Moseley (I'll have to ask Juan to resend his to me).

In my opinion the most signficant controversy was over over your claim that
the means of production can be productive of value, that once Marx had
discovered the dialectic of use-value and exchange value, he unconvincingly
confined to the use-value of the commodity labor power the capacity to
create value.

You took it as more potentially significant that use-value itself (i.e.,
the use value of labor power) had something to do with value production
than that the use-value of which Marx was speaking  here was labor and
labor only--a point emphasized by Fred.

In terms of the value contribution of constant capital, your argument confuses
in my opinion the contibution of  constant capital to the *value* of the
total product  with the assistance better machinery makes to the production
of ever more *use values*, which indeed seem increasingly out of proportion
in their sheer quantity to the actual value of that immense accumulation of
commodities, to each unit of which  machinery transfers less and less
value.

Note here that what is emphasized is the reduction in socially necessary
labor time required to re-produce each unit.

This point is quite in line with much of Sweezy's discussion of value
theory.  As Sweezy pointed out, Marx understood the passivity of demand in
generating such dynamic advances in productivity, and Sweezy gives very
important reasons for critiquing the determining role given to demand by
modern economics (p. 51).

To this day, modern neo-classical economists have not understood this
point.  This is why the contemporary bourgeois economist Nathan Rosenberg
in his latest collection of essays can use his Schumpeter to destroy the
neo-classical edifice.

Sweezy uses Schumpeter to confirm a Marxist critique of subjective value
theory and the treatment of use value in marginalism.  You are in my
opinion taking Sweezy's dismissal of use value out of context.

But there is more to this than Sweezy's eminently Marxist emphasis on
production as determinant of economic motion over the role played by
exchange and consumption, one of Sweezy's main points in devaluing the
questions about use-value, a point about which you do not comment in your
critique of his putatively dismissive treatment of use value.

Sweezy clearly writes: "This does not mean that use value should play no
role in economics.  On the contrary, just as land, though not an economic
category itself, is essential to production, so use value is a prerequisite
to consumption...and in no sense excluded by Marx from the causal chain of
economic phenomena."(p. 26-27)

Here  Sweezy  says use value in the way conceived by Lionel Robbins and
others is irrelevant to the qualititative problems which he is probing, in
particular his exploration of fetishism.

 Then Sweezy attempts to translate Marx's seemingly Hegelian language into
one which is accessible to to a beginning student (his express intent, one
which I appreciate very much) and to shift the object of political economy
altogether-- from a study of the relation among things to a study of a
historically specific mode for the allocation of social labor time and the
relation of classes within that mode.

What's your objection to this? Postone has developed a critique of an
overemphasis on the *distribution* of total social labor to the neglect of
developing a critique of *historically determinate forms of production* but
what is your critique?

To critique Sweezy's dismissal of use value without saying under what
restricted conditions and for what specific purposes he does so seems quite
unfair to me.  Moreover, Sweezy then emphatically points out that demand
cannot be abstracted from in the study of even the qualitiative value
problem which he so clearly defines.

In other words, though commodities are not use values  for not their owners
they must be social use values, use values which--though produced privately
for exchange and profit--must be social useful (pp.48-49).  And here one of
Marx's main points about the role of use value in his thought, a point made
in his Notes on Wagner, is emphasized by Sweezy, yet you argue that he has
completely distorted Marx's Marginal Notes on Wagner.  This is completely
untenable.

After I made some (very) late night comments about a week ago about
Sweezy's text in relation to Blake's--which I deeply regret and was glad to
see that they had not made the list, only for them to show up one day
later--I have been rereading Sweezy's text, and there is much to be learned
from it.  I deeply regret those comments.  For example, Sweezy makes some
extremely important comments on Marx's method of abstraction and, more
significantly, Lenin's superiority over Hilferding on the role of banks in
the stage of imperialism.

I have been waiting for an opportunity to ease my own conscience, and I
thank you Steve for the opportunity which you have provided me!

Rakesh Bhandari



     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

     ------------------



More information about the Marxism mailing list