The Metaphysics of Value (was The Geography of Class Struggle)

Scott Marshall Scott at
Fri Jul 14 16:06:47 MDT 1995

You're right Leo. You haven't convinced me of much except that your hatred
is consuming and somewhat neurotic. I gave far more important examples of
changes in the class than you - because actually you know very little about
any of this beyond your own ravings. Where are the facts, not your
assertions of reality? And talk about metaphysics - whew.

>Now Scott declares himself the master of polemic and sarcasm, before whom my
>feeble attempts at discourse are just so many pesky flying insects. He is
>welcome to the title. Polemic and sarcasm are the intellectual equivalent of
>street brawling, and while one needs to know the rudiments of self-defense
>when one is jumped, there is no pride to be taken in mastery of this form of
>rhetoric. It is at best a necessary evil. I am not prepared to play the
>willing victim when Scott, punch drunk champion of Gus Hall, wades into the
>fray, but I take no pleasure in this form of belligerent conversation.
>Flaming is an appropriate metaphor for a consuming, rather than producing,
>mode of exchange in which the heat makes it rather difficult to approach the
>The point of my original posting which set off Scott's conflagration was to
>try to begin a conversation on what has been one of the more interesting and
>productive areas of research within Marxist and post-Marxist discourse,
>geography, and what that research might tell us about the increasingly
>important geographical dimensions of contemporary class struggle (the urban
>v. the suburban, the inner city, etc.). That is still a worthwhile
>discussion, and I hope we could attend to it. Insofar as Doug is correct that
>a great deal of our exchange is self-critical, some balance could be restored
>precisely by shifting discussion from the weaknesses of the Marxist tradition
>to productive areas of contemporary Marxist and radical research.
>Unfortunately, however, a discussion of the increasingly important
>geographical dimensions of contemporary class struggle, and the historical
>changes which have highlighted those dimensions, carries with it an implicit
>renunciation of time honoured and long worshipped articles of faith in some
>geriatric quarters (the primacy of the industrial working class, the
>centrality of the point of production, etc.). This is too much for Scott to
>bear, and he has to rush in to defend the besmirched virtue of diamat.
>When he isn't whaling (and wailing) away at straw arguments of his own making
>(as when he imputes to me, against my own words, the position that
>"industrial workers have disappeared and that "only" sevice sector jobs are
>left"), Scott's argument takes the form of "the more things change, the more
>they remain the same." Yes, the ranks and power of every major industrial
>union has been decimated, but these unions are still the center of the
>working class universe; yes the industrial workforce in steel is half of what
>it was less than two decades ago, but steel is still the center of the US
>political economy; yes, the only unions in the AFL-CIO which have grown in
>this period are the public sector unions and yes the leaders of the current
>revolt in the AFL-CIO are from public sector unions, but this is completely
>irrelevant to the grand sweep of history -- it is like saying that Sweeny is
>wearing a "green shirt" so it is his "green shirt" which is the source of the
>revolt. (I'll leave it to the students of logic to decipher the trajectory of
>that red herring; at least it leaves me waving a "green shirt" instead of a
>"bloody shirt.")
>Let's cut to the chase here, and to the one central contention, straight out
>of diamat, which makes it possible to ignore historical development in the
>political economy. It came in the first of Scott's missles:
>>Where is the majority of profit and wealth created now if not in the >basic
>manufactoring industry? What is the *main* source of surplus >value? Is there
>some other source of homes, factories, cars, >electronics, computers, food
>preperation, energy, transportation, >tools, clothing, shoes, bridges,
>highways, aircraft, furniture, paper, >video and audio tape, fishing rods &
>boats, books, beer, microfilm >readers etc etc etc. Or are these things now
>immortal and not >consumed in their use. As far as I can tell these things
>are still >produced by workers.
>Value is that category in which one finds the unchanging essence of class
>formation and class struggle under capitalism, the key to all the mysteries
>of commodity production. The industrial working class produces value unlike
>other sectors of the workforce; this production of value gives it special
>insight into the nature of capitalism, leading to advanced class
>consciousness, and gives it the power to bring the entire political economy
>to a grinding halt. Ergo, the industrial working class (of whatever size and
>influence, regardless of changes in the structure of the political economy)
>is at the center of all class struggle.
>At this point in the argument over the primacy of the industrial working
>class it serves little purpose to go over the same ground of historical
>development without addressing directly this central contention, this
>metaphysics of value. At the outset, let me say that I do believe that the
>theory of surplus value has a certain heuristic value, that is, it is an
>useful device for placing in reveal the structures of economic exploitation.
>But as the foundation for a theory of social class and class struggle, it
>leads into a 'dead end'. Let me forego the arguments concerning the
>philosophical underpinnings of Marx's category of value, and thus, the
>ultimate source of its difficulty, and instead focus on the complete
>inadequacy of the class theory which is built on its foundations.
>An example from Marx which arose in Chris B's contribution to the debate is
>especially illustrative of the problems here.
>>I read Scott to argue that surplus value is raised from the
>>manufacturing sector. Most of the examples in Marx are from
>>manufacturing but a) he says that a commodity may meet a need of
>>the imagination b) he gives the example of a teacher creating >surplus value
>provided, he says, the teacher is employed by a
>>capitalist. I wonder who employs the teachers in Leo's union?
>The state, Chris. And this points out precisely the weaknesses of class
>theory rooted in the category of value. If we follow through the logic here,
>a teacher working for the state (as most teachers do) do _not_ produce value,
>and fall into that category of unproductive workers, while a teacher working
>for a private employer (in a church sponsored or ruling class academy) do
>produce value. So if a student taught by a teacher in a public school and a
>student taught by a teacher in a private school both obtain the same job
>(let's say a skilled machinist in a manufacturing industry) where they both
>use the same skills taught to them in their respective schools, what, pray
>tell, makes the public school teacher unproductive while the private school
>teacher is productive? And if anyone can work their way out of that
>notoriously difficult logical mess (there have been various attempts, most of
>which have tried to jettison Marx's analysis of 'productivity'), need I point
>out that the experience in education runs completely counter to the
>implications Marx wants to draw out of this distinction -- it has always been
>the public school teacher which has been in the forefront of labor and
>education struggles, and the most militant and the most politically aware.
>And try to explain Marx's continuing image of the state as a 'parasite' upon
>productive labor, from the Eighteenth Brumaire to the Civil War in France,
>while you are at it.
>It is possible to endlessly multiply similar examples -- how the janitorial
>staff in a car factory is productive, but workers doing essentially the same
>task in an insurance office building are not; the difficulty and so on -- but
>I think the basic point is clear. By further illustration, I would refer to
>the character of the different efforts over the last twenty-five years to
>develop class theory using a basic Marxist category of value -- such as
>Poulantzas' Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, Carchedi's On the Economic
>Identification of Social Classes and Erik Olin Wright's theory of
>contradictory class locations. Each of these works have been incredibly
>complex systems of taxonomy, as endless twists and turns are required to
>maintain the Marxist category of value in the face of actual class struggle
>and relations, and each has, as a result, been of little practical value and
>of virtually no consequence. As works of theory, they have been still-born
>and barren (to mix my own metaphors of production), yielding no further
>fruit. Thus, when Poulantzas later wants to address the issue of the
>power-knowledge link in class relations in State, Power, Socialism, he does
>not return to his own elaborate taxonomy, but engages Foucault. By contrast,
>let us look at the analysis of the 'de-skilling' of labor, the labor process
>and scientific management undertaken by Braverman, Marglin, Edwards and
>other. This strain proved to be a very interesting and productive analysis of
> class relations, precisely because it moved away from the category of value
>into a study of actual historical developments, and understood production as
>a discursive process rather than the emanation of a natural law of the
>political economy. Consequently, the question of the relationship between
>power and knowledge in the production process was opened up for analysis and
>political action. (Could it be that Lenin's embrace of Taylorism was a little
>more than a personal theoretical blindness? That it had its origins in the
>category of value itself?)
>I think it may be time to draw this debate to a close, at least with respect
>to Scott and I. I would be greatly surprised if any of my argumentation would
>cause him to rethink diamat articles of faith. My point here has been that
>class struggle is not fixed by natural laws of the economy, but a continually
>changing historical process, and we ignore the changes in its nature at our
>own peril.
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