use-value/Sweezy

P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU
Tue Aug 1 06:49:22 MDT 1995


Rakesh makes some observations on my employment of the dialectic of
the commodity to critique the labor theory of value, one relating to
whether Marx was legitimate to confine his analysis to the use-
value of labor-power, and the other whether the value enhancing role
of machinery is to increase the value extraction from labor-power,
rather than regarding it as a source in its own right.

Unfortunately, I don't think it wise to respond. Experience with
trying to conduct such debates by email has convinced me of the
futility of such an exercise. All past debates have eventually reached
a point of acrimony, and I have no wish to do so with Rakesh--or
anybody else.

The one point I will respond to is his comments on Sweezy. I don't
deny that Sweezy did make some very important contributions to
political economy--ranging from his "kinked demand curve" to his
analysis with Baran of monopoly capital. But his contribution to
value theory was, academically speaking, remonstrable, as Rosdolsky
observed. My research has simply shown that Sweezy's contribution
was even worse than Rosdolsky thought.

For those who are not familiar with Rosdolsky's work, he pointed out
that Hilferding's comment that

"`use-value, lies outside the domain of political economy'".(pp. 73-74,
quoting Hilferding, p 130.), was a misinterpretation of Marx, by
comparing it to the full statement in the *Contribution*:

"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*".(*Contribution*, p. 28. Emphasis
added.)

Rosdolsky concludes that "It must be conceded that the original
differs considerably from the copy, and that Hilferding's
arbitrary reproduction of these sentences is tantamount to a
clumsy distortion of Marx's real view."(Rosdolsky, p. 74.)

He argued that Sweezy popularised this view of Hilferding's,
and comments that to continue this distortion was "even less
forgivable [than Hilferding's], as not only did he have access
to the *Theories of Surplus Value*, but also the *Marginal Notes
on A.Wagner*, where Marx discusses the role of use-value in
his economic theory in great detail". (Rosdolsky, p. 75.)

There Marx states:

"Only a vir obscurus, who has not understood a word of Capital
could conclude: Because Marx dismisses all the German
professional twaddle on "use value" in general in a footnote on
"use value" in the first edition of Capital and refers the reader
who would like to know something about real use value to "manuals
dealing with merchandise" (Contribution, p 28) therefore use
value plays no role for him..." (Rosdolsky pp. 75-76; Wagner, pp.
198-199)

Leaving off a following sentence which significantly alters the
meaning of the preceding paragraph is bad enough scholarship. But
as I establish in "The misinterpretation of Marx's theory of value",
Sweezy went one better, and actually omitted sentences from within
a paragraph supposedly quoted from Marx--one of which would
directly have contradicted Sweezy's proposition that use-value
played no role in political economy. He also quoted from Wagner
in support of his non-dialectical interpretation of Marx's theory
of value, with the quotes being surrounded by strident
denunciations of anyone who thought that use-value played no role
in Marx's thinking.

The relevant passages are:

Marx according to Sweezy:

"`Every condition of the problem is satisfied, while the laws that
regulate the exchange of commodities, have been in no way violated.
For the capitalist as buyer paid for each commodity, for the spindle,
and the labour power, its full value. He sells his yarn ... at its
exact value. Yet for all that he withdraws ... more from circulation
than he originally threw into it.'"(Footnote: (Footnote: Ibid, p.
61, supposedly citing *Capital*, Volume I, p. 217.)

Marx as it is writ, with the sentences omitted by Sweezy marked
by asterisks:

"Every condition of the problem is satisfied, while the laws
that regulate the exchange of commodities, have been in no way
violated. **Equivalent has been exchanged for equivalent.* For the
capitalist as buyer paid for each commodity, for the cotton,
the spindle and the labour power, its full value. **He then did
what is done by every purchaser of commodities; he consumed
their use-value. The consumption of the labour power, which was
also the process of producing commodities, resulted in 20lbs of
yarn, having a value of 30 shillings. The capitalist, formerly a
buyer, now returns to market as a seller, of commodities.* He sells
his yarn at eighteenpence, which is its exact value. Yet for all
that he withdraws 3 shillings more from circulation than he
originally threw into it."(Capital I, p. 189. The reference
Sweezy gives is to p. 217 of the 1933 Charles H. Kerr and
Company Chicago edition of *Capital*; in my reference (the
Progress Publishers Moscow 1956 edition) it occurs on p. 189.
I checked the Charles Kerr edition, and the text is identical
to the Progress Press edition.)

Sweezy's excuse to me for leaving the four sentences out was "The
rationale was the usual one for omitting material from quoted
matter, i.e., that it is irrelevant to the point being made"
(personal correspondence). That excuse sits poorly against the facts
that (a) he acknowledged the omission of the trivial "eighteenpence, which

is" and "3 shillings" by epillets (...) above, but not the omission
of 4 entire sentences; (b), one of those sentences, far from
being "irrelevant to the point being made", contradicts what was
a major point of Sweezy's interpretation of Marx, that use-value
plays no role in Marx's analysis beyond being a pre-requisite to
exchange: "He [the capitalist purchaser of labor-power] then did what is

done by every purchaser of commodities; he consumed their use-value."

Similarly, Sweezy made two quotes from Wagner. His second quote from

*Wagner* is a discussion of Marx's method.(in a footnote to p. 28.)
The excerpt he quotes is sandwiched between the satirical comment on
Wagner that "and this same Wagner places me among the people according
to whom `use-value' is to be completely `dismissed' `from
science'"(*Wagner*, pp. 197-98.), and the comment that "only an
obscurantist, who has not understood a word of *Capital*, can
conclude: Because Marx, in a note to the first edition of
*Capital*, overthrows all the German professorial twaddle on
`use-value' in general, and refers readers who want to know
something about actual use-value to `commercial guides',--
therefore, *use-value* does not play any role in his
work...".(pp. 198-99.)

The first comment precedes Sweezy's excerpt by two short sentences, the

latter follows it by half a paragraph. It is inconceivable that Sweezy
could have missed these statements; the best which can be said of his
scholarship here is that he simply ignored them.

So while I'm willing to give Sweezy his due for contributions to other
areas of political economy, I'm not about to accredit him as an
authority on Marx's theory of value.

Cheers,
Steve Keen


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