jamiller at igc.apc.org
Thu Nov 2 11:10:25 MST 1995
THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE
In my last post, I classified Steve Keen as a "pro-
capitalist" economist. He rejected that designation,
saying that just because he found something of merit
in Post Keynesian economics, that didn't mean he was
In his own view, Steve is either anti-capitalist or
class neutral. But the question is not settled by what
Steve thinks of his own class affiliation, or lack thereof,
but by the objective function of his work in relation to
the development of scientific thinking about society.
Steve's work is intended to reveal the erroneous
character of Marx's conception of value, and to present
a theory which more accurately defines value. Thus, in
his own mind, Steve is advancing science, and this, of
course, has nothing to do with representing the interests
of the capitalist class.
But if, as Marxists contend, modern society is divided
into two opposing classes, the one with a stake in the
maintenance of capitalism, the other with an interest in
abolishing capitalism and building socialism, then one
can readily understand why Steve's theory might be seen
as pro-capitalist. He undercuts the theoretical foundation
If Marx was wrong about the labor theory of value, he
was wrong about the fundamental laws of evolution of the
capitalist mode of production. Steve recognizes this as
well. He points to the consequences of his theory: no
transformation problem, no tendency of the rate of profit
to decline, etc. Without the labor theory of value, then
Marx's definitions of constant capital, variable capital
and surplus value are wrong as well. Steve knows this.
Steve claims that he has not "ripped the heart" out of
Marxism, but he certainly believes that he has done
something that comes close to it. He states in the
conclusion of his thesis: "I agree that the labor theory
of value contributed nothing of value to Marxian economics;
indeed it stymied the development of classical political
economy by Marx and by his followers."
However, not to be too ungenerous to Marx, Steve wants
to say that something might be salvaged from the work of
Marx. Thus he continues, "However I believe that Marx's
analysis of commodities, and the general dialectic method
on which this was based, was the foundation on which most
of the many valuable contributions made by Marx to
economics were made."
It would be helpful if Steve were to list such "valuable
contributions." In fact, Marx's "dialectical analysis of
commodities" and his other "valuable contributions" are
empty phrases for Steve, devoid of content. He is tipping
his hat to one who has a reputation for genius.
Marx's "dialectical analysis of commodities" was
inseparable from the labor theory of value. In fact, it is
precisely Marx's "dialectical analysis of commodities" that
Steve claims to have disproved.
Suppose that a leader of the Ku Klux Klan believes in
the racial superiority of whites. But he has a "dialectical
analysis of race." Steve would then condemn the white racism
while praising the "dialectical analysis of race." In this
case the "dialectical analysis of race" would be a meaningless
phrase, but at least Steve would find something praiseworthy.
The truth is that Steve has found nothing of value at all in
Marxism, but diplomacy demands that he deny that.
And if Marx was wrong about the laws of development
of capitalism, he must have been wrong about the class
struggle culminating in the dictatorship of the proletariat
as well. I'm sure Steve would agree with this. I don't
see Steve as a believer in socialist revolution. But I
haven't heard what he has to say about it. Maybe he'll
comment. He's probably done so in the past.
But if Marx was wrong about capitalism, wrong about the
possibility of socialism, then what are we left with? It
would seem to me that we would be left with perpetual
capitalism. This is the basic assumption of bourgeois
economic theory. And it would seem to be Steve's
assumption as well.
Bourgeois economics assumes the indefinite persistence
of the capitalist system. Many different theoretical
tendencies and shades of thought vie for attention within
capitalist economics. Some of them are critical of private
property, or class exploitation, but none of them call for
socialist revolution. None think it realistic. Some think
it utopian; others think it may be possible, but not
advisable. None give it much attention.
If they have any advice to offer the working people,
it is not along the lines of organizing themselves to
overthrow capitalism. They can only give advice on
how to get a better deal under capitalism, or how to
escape their proletarian condition as individuals.
But Marx had a different view. He never moved away
from his political perspective of 1848: the establishment
of the dictatorship of the proletariat. You can see that
in his _Critique of the Gotha Program_, written in 1875.
Bourgeois economists (Steve included) are pro-capitalist
because they assume the permanence of capitalism, and if
they have anything to say to the workers, it will always
be a recommendation to find a way to live within the
confines of the capitalist system. Steve falls in this
category too. That's why he's pro-capitalist.
Marxists, on the other hand, project the end of capitalism,
the overthrow of the political rule of the capitalist class,
the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
We are anti-capitalist. And this perspective can only be
considered possible on the basis of the labor theory of
value, a theory that Steve rejects.
This is one way of talking about the difference between
Steve and myself.
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