value and exchange value

glevy at glevy at
Thu Aug 3 23:12:50 MDT 1995

Howie asked:

>         * How does what we think about value influence our approach to
>                 - class analysis
>                 - the analysis of capitalist business cycles, trends, etc.
>                 - the development of class consciousness
>                 - the nature of the Marxist theory of exploitation
>                 - the nature of the Marxist critique of capitalism
> Basically, I would appreciate a more explict exposition of what is at stake
> in this debate, if that is possible.
I'll attempt to give a brief answer to Howie's question.  The object of
Marx's study of political economy was to reveal the "laws of motion of
capital."  How does one go about analyzing political-economic and social
reality?  We are presented with the concrete but we use abstract concepts
to understand social relationships.  Where do we begin our analysis of
capitalism?  Marx's starting point was his analysis of the commodity.
Beginning at the most abstract level (the commodity), Marx attempted to
move to more concrete subjects through successive stages in the process
of abstraction.  At each of these levels of analysis, he attempted to
connect each subject matter with the subjects that went before it.
Consequently, the subject of the two-fold nature of the commodity, while
Marx's starting point, is also a thread that runs throughout the
remainder of his analysis.

Consequently, Marx developed his critique of capitalism and his ideas
concerning the nature of exploitation through, beginning at the most
abstract  level, his analysis of the nature of commodity production and

Marx was unable to complete an investigation of the study of the
capitalist business cycle, however, I have no doubt that he intended to
investigate that subject matter using the concept of value and the method
of analysis that he used to understand value.

Marx also clearly intended to write more concerning class analysis in
_Capital_, but it was, largely, one of his unfinished tasks although
classes under capitalism are examined on a more abstract level in that
work as well.  Certainly we can write about classes, if we have a basic
historical understanding. Yet, Marx would have wanted to connect this
subject as well to his analysis of political economy and value.

Of all the subjects that Howie asked about, value theory has the least
direct bearing on class consciousness.

What is at stake, Howie asks? In my view, what is at stake is whether we
wish to  accept Marx's understandings concerning the significance of the
commodity  and value and whether we wish to use the same method of
analysis that he used to analyze the nature and dynamics of capitalism.
Undoubtably, there will be many on this list who will disagree with the
above interpretation. Certainly, Marxists can develop a mode of analysis
that is somewhat different from Marx's in the sense that simply asserting
that Marx believed in the above does not require Marxists to slavishly
follow his understandings.  Yet, we, as Marxists, should at least first
attempt to comprehend his method before we reject it.


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