Marxism

Stu Shafer sshafer at ix.netcom.com
Sat Oct 28 08:34:45 MDT 1995


At 10:31 PM 10/26/95 Jim Miller wrote:

>THE LABOR THEORY OF VALUE
>   I made a couple of posts last week criticizing
>Steve Keen's thesis on value. Steve had sought
>to drastically revise Marx's theory; I defended
>Marx's original conception of labor value, which
>I believe is still valid today.
>   I was hoping to attract a little discussion
>on the topic since, after all, this is the list
>that is supposedly devoted to "Marxism," and Steve
>had advanced a criticism that was intended to
>overturn Marxism by invalidating its central
>theoretical axiom.
>   But, aside from a few passing remarks, my
>contribution was ignored.

Speaking for myself (Stu Shafer), your posts were far from ignored. In fact,
I found them very valuable, and saved some of them for future reference. The
discussion helped me sort out some other issues that I have been working on,
specifically on the question of ground rent. They sent me back to Volume III
of Capital and Theories of Surplus Value to focus on how Marx saw the
relationship between use value and exchange value. This relationship, in
fact, is the key to Marx's criticism of the Physiocrats, who failed to
understand exchange value as a product of social relations. Jim's critique
of Keen's confusion of use value and exchange value helped me to focus on
that point.

The reasons I haven't joined in, Jim, have nothing to do with the *value* of
your work. They have more to do with two things: the embrionic form of what
I'm working on, and a longstanding reluctance to get involved in issues like
this value controversy.

In grad school, I elected not to take the value controversy seminar because,
in my opinion at the time, it was a diversion from more important political
work I was involved in. There was a real chasm between the activist marxists
I worked with and the Marxologists who were doing the seminar. The latter
seemed more interested in theorizing, to put it nicely, than in engaging in
*real* struggle. They used methods like hermeneutics and exegesis; we were
involved in agitation and propaganda. They finished their degrees and got
tenure track positions, many of us are still working on it in our "spare time."

That same "division of labor" (again putting it charitably) is reflected in
this list, as should be expected. The activists are used to shouting louder
and longer, so they may seem to dominate the discussion, at least in a
quantitative sense. The theoretical work, such as this LTV discussion, is
necessarily more abstract, and the tendency can be to see it as something
that can "wait." "Issues" are more timely and pressing, and it's easier to
just jerk off a response (pun only partially intended :-).

I guess that's the way I've related to the list, anyway. Even in this note,
I haven't written anything of theoretical substance, although if you are
interested, I would be willing to put out some of my thoughts on the ground
rent question. Your critique would be welcome.

I would consider it a loss to the list if you got discouraged and dropped
out, although I would understand it. I keep coming this (thumb and
forefinger about 1/2 inch apart) close myself. Not because I think either
the activists or the theorists are a total waste of time, but mainly because
the same small group tends to dominate the discussion. The Ahab list? The
Proyect list? The MIM/anti-MIM list? I've come close to suggesting these
names, too.

>   I don't think my post was ignored simply because
>nearly everybody agreed with it and had nothing
>to add. I think most subscribers to this list don't
>recognize why such discussions are important. And
>no doubt there are many who feel there must be
>something wrong with what I said, but lack the
>necessary interest in the topic to argue about it.

Surely there are other lurkers or semi-lurkers like myself on the list who
are reluctant to join in, either because the particular topics are not in
their areas of expertise, or out of fear of going down in flames. I guess
this is normal on the 'net, but this list is particularly intellectual, even
in its emotional outbursts.

So I join Jim in his invitation for more discussion of theoretical issues
and in his recognition of their importance. 

Anticipating Louis Proyect's response, let me add one more point. The
cyberseminar on fascism is a good way to link theory and practice. I can
also see (better now than in grad school daze) in Jim's contributions here a
linkage of theory and practice: He is engaged in struggle to preserve the
integrity of the scientific critique of political economy that Marx
understood was the theoretical sword of the class struggle. Even Keen seems
to think of his work as contributing in some way to "salvaging" something
out of that which he is *savaging.* His personal motivations (I will resist
the temptation to speculate upon them) are of less consequence than the
effects, however. I agree with Jim completely on this.

-Stu Shafer



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