Ceteris paribus

P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU
Mon Jul 31 16:50:05 MDT 1995

Rakesh asks for clarification on a few points:

(1) "What exactly ... is the outer-most level--is is the exchange value
only of the commodity or the dialectic of value and use value within the

The commodity itself is the outermost level, with its foreground and
background aspects (under capitalism) being respectively exchange-value
and use-value. Capitalism brings the exchange-value of the commodity
to the fore because the prime motivation in this social system is the
accumulation of capital.

In contrast, feudalism's motivation was the accumulation of use-values.
However both types of societies cannot be properly understood if the
aspect of the commodity which was thrust into the background was ignored:
analysis of capitalism which bases itself solely on exchange-value is
bound to be flawed, and Marx specifically derides Ricardo for this

"We already saw, for example, that the distinction between use value
and exchange value belongs within economics itself, and that use value
does not lie dead as a simple presupposition, which is what Ricardo makes
it do." (Grundrisse, p. 320.)

However, as Rosdolsky points out, this same failing applies to many of
Marx's successors:

"Among Marx's numerous critical comments on Ricardo's system the most striking
can be found only in the Rough Draft, namely that Ricardo abstracts from
use-value in his economics... Strangely enough, it concerns not only
Ricardo, but also many of Marx's pupils, as it has been a tradition among
Marxist economists to disregard use-value, and place it under the scope of
`knowledge of merchandise'".(Rosdolsky, p. 73.)

(2) A guide to reading Rosdolsky

Rosdolsky certainly raised the issue:

"How often has the thesis of the 'contradiction between use value
and exchange value been repeated? On the other hand, how often
has anyone really taken the trouble to develop this thesis or
regard it as something more than a survival of the time when Marx
'coquetted with the Hegelian manner of expression'? In reality we
are dealing here with one of the most fundamental discoveries of
Marx's economics, the neglect of which makes his conclusions in
the theory of value and money appear utterly distorted."
(Rosdolsky, p 133)

But he did not "develop this thesis" himself, unfortunately. I think
he can therefore be read as proof that the Hilferding/Sweezy approach--
which dismisses the concept of use-value completely--is erroneous,
and that there is something very significant in it for understanding
Marx's economics. But Rosdolsky is not going to tell you what that

(3) "How could the use-value aspects of commodities modify modern relations of
production?  I was wondering what Steve had in mind here as this would help
us clarify why Steve believes that the dialectic of use value and exchange
value was Marx's fundamental discovery."

The full phrase is "Use-value ... becomes modified by the modern relations of

production, or as it, in turn, intervenes to modify them." It wasn't one of
Marx's clearest, but it is important to note the dual causation there.

I think you have to look at the point where Marx first realised
the dialectic of the commodity to see what he meant by this two-way

"Use-value presupposed even in simple exchange or barter. But here, where

exchange takes place only for the reciprocal use of the commodity, the

use-value, i.e., the content, the natural particularity of the commodity
has no such standing as an economic form. Its form, rather, is exchange
value. The content apart from this form is irrelevant; is not a content
of the relation as a social relation. But does this content as such not
develop into a system of needs and production? **Does not use-value as
such enter into the form itself, as a determinant of the form itself,
e.g. in the relation of capital and labour?* the different forms of
labour?--agriculture, industry, etc.--ground rent?--effect of the
seasons on raw product prices? etc. **If *only* exchange value as such
plays a role in economics, then how could elements later enter which
relate purely to use-value*, such as, right away, in the case of capital
as raw material, etc.?..." (Grundrisse, pp. 267-68)

In other words, in simple pre-capitalist barter, the use-value of the goods
being exchanged is not a social relation. But under capitalism, the use-value
can be a social relation, with the clearest instance being the labor exchange.
The fact that labor-power is a commodity is a social fact, specific to

After this realisation, Marx came to identify the ability to perform work
as the use-value of labor-power, and the costs of maintenance of the
worker as the exchange-value of labor-power, and completely transformed his
understanding of the source of surplus value as a result. Further application
of this concept of a dialectic between use-value and exchange-value led
to the insights concerning crises in realisation of surplus value, credit
and asset pricing, etc., as I mentioned in the previous post.


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