Value - Marx and intolerance

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Jun 13 08:10:10 MDT 1995

While we should try to handle contradictions on this list as
contradictions among the people, [except for the most abusive random
contributors, and even here gentle teasing over a few weeks is more
effective than joining in the abuse] this should not blind us to the
fact that ideas ultimately have a material significance and are
inseparable from issues of power.

Comments have been made about the intolerance of Marxists like
Stalin and Lenin, which with the  efficiency of their party
structures could lead to great injustices.

Marx and Engels did not have control of efficient party machines but
marxism from the beginning felt the need to be sharply intolerant of
time-serving ideas that maintained the existing social order.

While we debate Marxist economics apparently in philosophical
abstraction, we should remember friends and comrades in departments
of economics. These places too are arenas of struggle. Marxists in such
units have little but their integrity and diligence to pitch against the
massive distortions in the science resulting from funding bias by
capitalists running into billions of dollars on a world scale.

Each marxist economist has to consider the credibility of his/her
contribution in bourgeois as well as marxist terms. The next grant
application may be affected. Tenure or even the future of the department
may be compromised in uncertain times. All this while the comrade
has to pace him/herself to manage stress, and maintain some sort of human
and civilised personal life with loved ones.

In giving support I am not saying that those of us who are not economists
should encourage dogmatism. That is certainly useless for the purpose.

I am saying that non-economists should remember that economists trying
to further the relevance of marxist ideas are in an arena of struggle
where the power issues are ultimately massive.

In certain economic contexts therefore Marxists are surely right to
be intolerant of superficial criticism of Marxist economic theory.
Besides it is neo-classical economics that is set to take a tumble and
we should be seeking alliances with post Keynsians and others to move
in more effectively on this front.

At this stage of the debate on value I therefore
feel it is timely to reproduce part of Marx's highly intolerant letter
to Kugelmann, July 11 1868: [it is worth referring to the whole text]

The unfortunate fellow does not see that, even if there were no
chapter on "value" in my book, the analysis of the real relationships
which I give would contain the proof and demonstration of the real
value relation.

All that palaver about the necessity of proving the concept of value
comes from complete ignorance both of the subject dealt with and of
scientific method. Every child knows that a nation which ceases to
work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would
perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products
corresponding to the different needs require different and
quantitatively determined masses of the total labour of society. That
this *necessity* of the *distribution* of social labour in definite
proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a *particular form*
of social production but can only change the *form* in which it
*appears*, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with.
The vulgar economist has not the faintest idea that the actual every
day exchange relations *cannot be directly identical* with the
magnitudes of value. The point of bourgeois society consists
precisely in this, that *a priori* there is no conscious,
social regulation of production. The rational and naturally necessary
asserts itself only as a blindly working average. And then the vulgar
economist thinks he has made a great discovery when, as against the
revelation of the inner interconnection, he proudly claims than in
appearance things look different. In fact, he is boasting
that he holds fast to appearance, and takes it for the last word. Why,
then, have any science at all?

But the matter has also another background. Once the interconnection
is grasped, all theoretical belief in the permanent necessity of
existing conditions collapses before their collapse in practice.
Here, therefore, it is absolutely in the interests of the ruling
classes to perpetuate this unthinking confusion, and for what other
purpose are the sycophantic babblers paid, who have no other
scientific trump to play save that in political economy one should
not think at all?


Chris Burford, London.

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