Centrality of exploitation in political economy?

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Wed Jun 7 20:48:10 MDT 1995

On Wed, 7 Jun 1995, Justin Schwartz wrote:
> Well, to be precise about it, he wrote volume one after writing the
> manuscripits that went into vols 2-3 and the TSV.

That Marx wasn't able to finish CAPITAL in his lifetime is well known.  I
haven't heard anyone, though, argue that Marx did not plan to complete at
least the next two volumes of CAPITAL.  Is there anything to suggest that
the "centrality of exploitation" would be any different in a substanitive
way had that project been completed?
> I see: if exploitatioon is central, then anything else is unimportant.
> That's absurd.

If exploitation was the central purpose of Marx's study, then everything
else would be DIFFERENT.
> Look, take your cue from the subtitles of the three vols of capital--not
> that Marx was responsible for the latter two, I believe. But the idea is
> this: vol. 1: profits come from exploition. Vol. 2: and get shared among
> various segments of the ruling class as described. Vol. 3: This leads to
> long term instabilities in the system: by the way the story I (Marx) have
> told in vols 1 & 2 is a bit more complicated than I have said....
I will indeed take my clue from the subtitles.  The subtitle of Volume 1
was "capitalist Production"; Volume 2, "Capitalist Circulation", and;
Volume 3, "Capitalist Production as a whole."  This sequencing clearly
shows that he believed that the character of commodity production,
exploitation, and capitalist production could only be understood in the
context of "capitalist production as a whole" after the study of
capitalist production and capitalist circulation was complete.

In Volume 1, Marx showed that surplus value arises from exploitation, but
he additionally developed many other parts of his analysis of commodity
production. The division of surplus value is indeed discussed in Volume
2, although, other themes (such as the turnover of capital and the
reproduction and circulation of the aggregate social capital) appear to
be more central. The "long term instabilities in the system" are
developed in Volume 3 but those "instabilities" are caused by the
two-fold nature of commodity production and are not based primarily on
the division of the surplus product which he analyzed, in part, in Volume
2.  In Volume 2, Marx attempted to show more how capitalist crises were
possible (he did this in the reproduction schemes and by his rejection of
Say's Law) than how they do, in fact, develop.  We, of course, don't have
to accept his analysis or the "law of the tendency for the rate of profit
to decline" presented in Volume 3, but there is no doubt that Marx
himself considered this law to be the "fundamental" law of capitalist
accumulation.  On what was that law and the other "instabilities" based?
The law of value.

Certainly many Marxists (in fact, most Marxists after Marx, including the
Bolsheviks) grounded their theory of crisis in the analysis of the
reproduction schemes.  For most of the time since Marx, most Marxist
crisis theories were either underconsumptionist or disproportionality
theories (or both, as in Kautsky).  I believe with Marx that the laws of
motion of capital can only be understood within the context of the study
of capitalist production as a whole.
There's a lot in Marx which doesn't involve or depend on the theory of
> value. I suspect that of the 50 vols of the Collected Works, if you
> deleted every reference to or use of the theory of value and everything
> that depended upon it that you might lose five or six volumes, and not all
> of Capital either.
You are, of course, correct.  I would not argue that the law of value is
THE central aspect of Marxist analysis.  Most of Marx's writings didn't
concern political economy but philosophy, revolutionary politics and
history (and many other topics besides).  If we abandon the law of value
we don't necessarily abandon Marxism.  The issue, though, is whether a
Marxist analysis of political economy which is consistent with the
philosophy of historical materialism and dialectical logic can be
developed without that law.

BTW, why does (almost) everyone insist on reducing the law of value to
the "labor theory of value" and exploitation?
> > > >

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