use-value/Sweezy

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Mon Jul 31 23:38:16 MDT 1995


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 significant that use-value itself (i.e.,
the use value of labor power) had something to do with value production
than with the fact the use-value which Marx was speaking of 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 relation between constant capital and the *value* of the
total product produced therewith with the assistance better machinery can
make 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.

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,
and Sweezy gives very important reasons for critiquing the 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 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.

Also,  the comment I made above shows the role of dynamic production in
lowering unit values sufficiently that demand can be rendered more
effective.

But there is more to this than Sweezy's eminently Marxist emphasis on
production over exchange and consumption.

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)

As I said, 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.

 Here 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 of 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 commodities must have use
values not for not their owners but social use values (pp.48-49).  And here
one of Marx's main points in his Notes on Wagner is emphasized by Sweezy,
yet you argue that he has completely distorted Marx's Marginal Notes.  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



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