Juan Inigo jinigo at
Mon Oct 23 11:51:38 MDT 1995

Steve Keen has announced an idea of his invention that could make history:
Chairs that produce social relations!

In my previous post I have followed Marx's reproduction of the
determinations of socially necessary abstract labor materialized in
commodities as the general social relation among the independent private
producers, in other words, as the way in which the social life of this
producers is ruled in a general autonomous system that allocates society's
total capacity for producing and consuming under its concrete material
forms by representing that labor as the value of its products, that is, as
the capacity of commodities for relating among themselves in exchange. I
have then followed the necessary development of this general social
relation into its concrete forms of money, capital, wage-labor,
surplus-value and profit.

I opposed this development to Steve's pretension:

>This is the case that I have argued: the proper
>application of Marx's use-value/exchange-value
>dialectics leads to the conclusion that *all* inputs
>to production can contribute to surplus value.
>... all
>inputs can be sources of surplus value.

Now, what is the actual content of Steve's theory? It becomes immediately
visible as soon as this theory is brought out from the mistiness of the
pedantic claim that one _must_ read some academic praising of it before
being worthy enough to criticize Steve's stuff and of a mass of quotations
from Marx taken out of context, that actually say the opposite that Steve
claims they say, and that include even the product of a crude

To say that the means of production specifically determined as the
materialized form of capital produce surplus-value, simply means that the
materiality of the chair where a worker seats him/herself at an assembly
line, for instance, is able to produce a specific form of the present-day
general social relation among human beings; that is, that the materiality
of this chair is able to allocate a part of society's total capacity for
producing and consuming into its concrete forms, or yet the same in other
words, that this chair as such is a concrete form in which the general
regulation of present-day social life realizes itself.

Such a grotesque would not deserve the least attention, if it were not
because it is directly related with the question of the forms of the
proletariat's conscious revolutionary action.

So the question is: which is the social necessity that can only be
satisfied by such a desperate way of looking for a theory that represents
surplus-value, that is, a specific form of present-day general social
relation (and as such, a purely social real form) as determined by the pure
materiality (use-value abstractly considered from the viewpoint of the
material production process in itself) of the means of production socially
determined as capital?

Marx discovers that the alienation of human potencies as potencies inherent
in the materiality of their products (commodities), and then as capital's
potencies, arise from the very historical specific nature of commodity
production. In it, material production is at the same time the production
of the general social relation. Consequently, their own social relations
fetishistically appear to the producers of commodities as potencies
inherent in the materiality itself of their products. Where, but in this
fetishism, does taking commodities' materiality, that is, their use-value,
as the substance of their specific social form that makes them be such
commodities, belong? In Marx's words:

'The vulgar economist ... flees from capital as value to the material
substance of capital; to its use-value as a condition of production of
labor, to machinery, raw materials, etc. Thus he is able once more to
substitute in place of the first incomprehensible relation, whereby 4 = 5,
a wholly incommensurably one between a use-value, a thing on one side, and
a definite social production relation, surplus-value, on the other, ... As
soon as the vulgar economist arrives at this incommensurable relation,
everything becomes clear to him, and he no longer feels the need for
further thought. For he has arrived precisely at the "rational" in
bourgeois conception.' (Capital, Vol. III, Progress Publishers, 1966, pp.

Steve considers he must make a point of mistaking material things for
social relations:

>the sense in which I was using "capital" in that post
>was as physical machinery, not a social relation.

It happens that Steve's constant invocation of Marx is only a smoke screen
to hide the sort of economists that he actually follows. In Marx words
(where he originally quotes Torrens translated to German):

"By a wonderful feat of logical acumen, Colonel Torrens has discovered, in
this stone of the savage the origin of capital. 'In the first stone which
he (the savage) flings at the wild animal he pursues, in the first stick
(Stock, in German - JI) that he seizes to strike down the fruit which hangs
above his reach, we see the appropriation of one article for the purpose of
adding in the acquisition of another, and thus discover the origin of
capital' (R. Torrens ...). Assuredly, that first Stock explains why, in
English, the word stock is a synonym for capital." (Capital I)

It is by sticking to this stock vulgar point of view that Steve constantly
wants to ignore that the money metamorphosed into purchased labor-power (v)
is in itself capital, and rather, capital itself, and not the opposite to
capital, that at the same time Steve reduces to the part of itself that is
unable to act as such, as self-valorizing value, by itself (c):

>surplus (s) is proportional to direct labor employed (v)
>and unrelated to capital (indirect labor) employed (c).

Not in vain he wants to see in the specificity of those two concrete real
forms of the general social relation, and therefore, real specific concrete
social relations themselves, only an empty expression of

> ... Marx's more
>loaded terminology, variable and constant capital

The apologetics of capital flow from every sentence in Steve's texts. It
happens that the inversion suffered by the potencies of living labor as
they appear alienated as the potencies of capital, has in Steve a perfect
spokesperson. And, if Torrens has "discover(ed) the origin of capital" in a
natural form, Steve has "discovered" (and also presented here by invoking
the, "stated tersely," vulgarities that Elias Khalil, has, guess, "drawn
from Marx's writings"!) that exploitation, wages, the value of labor-power,
the rate of return or rate of profit, and the tendency of this rate to
fall, are not historically determined social relations of production, but
natural, thus eternal, forms:

>1* Increasing intensity of exploitation
>2* Depression of wages below the value of labour-power
> ...
>... all the elements of (1) and (2)
>above continue to apply to a socialist economy, though
>the rate of return is now (working at an idealised
>level and ignoring what actually happened to the
>surplus in Soviet Russia etc.) the property of the
>entire population, rather than just the workers.
>Thus if technical progress is to occur more rapidly
>under socialism (again, ignoring what happened, partly
>for the very good reasons Louis gave recently), then
>the rate of profit should fall over time under

Contrary to what Steve shows to believe, "social relations" is not an empty
expression. A general social relation of production is a historically
determined way of ruling the human process of social metabolism through
which the total social capacity for producing and consuming is allocated
under its concrete material forms. Socialism is in itself a historically
determined general social relation of production, in which that allocation
is directly accomplished through the general conscious regulation performed
by the therefore freely associated individuals as their direct collective
power. On the contrary, capitalism is in itself a historically determined
general social relation of production, in which that allocation is
indirectly accomplished by representing the socially necessary abstract
labor materialized in its products as the capacity of these products to
relate among themselves as commodities (value), that has reached in its own
development the stage where labor-power is sold for its value (that takes
the concrete form of wages) as a source of more value (exploitation), so as
this surplus-value becomes appropriated in a direct formal proportion with
the total individual and social capitals advanced to perform this
appropriation through their circuit of metamorphosis (general rate of
return or profit), that is quantitatively determined to fall through the
realization of its own historical development.

Therefore, socialism is in itself the realized negation of capitalism, and
none of the concrete forms through which the latter realizes its own
necessity, including vulgar economists, can survive (since there is no
necessity for them) in socialism. Only conscious relations among the freely
associated individuals, not materialized social relations that as such
appear to and act upon the thus alienated individuals as social relations
among things, fit in socialism. And if Steve finds that forms belonging in
capitalism appear in a society anyone is calling "socialism," he would do
better in searching for the true historical specificity of this society,
instead of, conversely, just accepting the appearance of a name to start
claiming that the forms of capitalism are eternal since he has found them
in a "socialist" society.

I have dealt recently in this list with Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott's
conception that it suffices with naming all the specific determinations of
the social product that embodies at the same time the general social
relation among the private independent producers, a "shorthand way of
saying" _the attributes that are common to all the products of human labor
whichever their social form_, to deprive this product of its historical
specificity. Now Steve has presented to the list his updated version of the
same vulgarities. It seems that John Ernst was not mistaken when he wrote:

>I think we need to take Steve seriously.  His and
>E. Khalil's  approach to the idea of value is

But immediately after John himself shows not to stand so far away from the
ground of the "dominant idea" when he states:

> But I think
>we ought to recall the ground on which we stand as we fire
>away, or, at least, be clear about it.  The concept of value
>in Marx as generally understood by Marxists has gotten us
>nowhere for over a century.  Steedman (Marx after Sraffa) more
>or less destroys that position.


>The notion that labor creates
>   value has not taken Marxists far in any analysis
>   of capitalism. ...
>   Yet, often not knowing
>   the pitfalls, we cling to the notion that labor and
>   only labor creates value.  At this level, it seems to
>   me that the notion that labor is the sole creator of
>   value is more than a little like a religious belief.

As Marx explicitly points out in his Notes on Wagner (and wherever Marxists
have taken themselves to by following any "concept") it is not about "the
_concept_ of value" and, therefore, not about "the _notion_ that labor
creates value," nor about formulating an "approach to the idea of value."
The point is to face the simplest specific form that our general social
relation takes today, the commodity-form, and to reproduce through the path
of thought the development of its own necessity until reaching it under its
concrete form of capital. And more precisely, the point is to unfold this
reproduction in thought until reaching capital under a concrete form in
which we can recognize the shape we are going to give to our transforming
action as the necessary concrete form in which the specific historical
necessity of this general social relation realizes itself by producing the
general conscious regulation of social life through the revolutionary
action of the proletariat, by producing socialism/communism. Of course,
this historically specific way of ruling our conscious revolutionary action
necessarily involves the task of following the complete development of the
social necessity that takes concrete shape in the dominant vulgarities.

Maybe Jim Miller was not yet familiar with the complete content of Steve's
papers when he associated Steve with the apologetics of capitalism from the
very beginning, but he was not mistaken even for a iota. Concerning myself,
I became completely familiar with it, and disclosed it step by step in this
list, more than a year ago.

But I will have to leave the further development of Steve's apologetics,
the true political meaning of his theory, for later. It seems that my own
chair has started shaking in solidarity with its comrades exploited by
capitalists that, according to Steve, only differ from human beings
alienated from their generic human potencies since they are determined as
bearers of waged labor-power, in that those chairs

>can(not) *complain* about being
>exploited. ... (and) whose
>productive capacity can(...) be separated from its owner

But, of course, it was only an illusion. The shaking did not come from my
chair. It was only my own human unrest for having to deal with such an
apologetic stuff on a spring Sunday evening that moved it. Yet, Steve and
his surplus-value producing chairs will never lose their fantasies:

"But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it (a table) is changed
into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the
ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head,
and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful
than 'table-turning' ever was. Let us recall that China and the tables
broke out into dance while the whole rest of the world seemed to be calm
... pour encourager les autres." (Capital I, The Fethishism of Commodities
and the Secret Thereof)

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

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