[Marxism] Marxism and Keynesianism

Leonardo Kosloff holmoff10 at hotmail.com
Thu Jul 21 23:59:48 MDT 2011

I thought this post was quite useful because it shows the
incoherent vagaries which underlie dogmatic pronunciations about Marx’s work,
typical of those superficial and uncritical readings of Capital as a text of
political economy. As is common of quite a few contemporary Marxist theorists,
the plan is to pretend one is critical by purporting a “balanced”
interpretation: praising Marx’s “theorization” here and there, to then
“correct” him here and there, then proclaim his theories are outdated, and then
with a wave of the hand, end up avoiding the content, purpose, and method of
the work wholesale.

In this way, Louis starts by reassuring us that the labor
theory of value is “the foundation of Marxist politics”. For my part, I never
saw Marx defending a grand “labor theory of value”, but rather an analysis of
capital which is necessary to act politically; then again, he also wrote that
he was developing a critique of political economy, and we know how cliché that
is these days.

But before we get carried away, Louis, who has thought about
these questions deep (as deep as the pea in the princess’ bed) and hard, will
also warn us that talking about value is an ethereal, a Talmudic, distraction,
like that illustrious Marxist philosopher, Louis Althusser. In fact, while
Althusser recommended that it was “imperative” to skip the whole first section
of Capital (for political reasons), Louis is gonna take it up a notch,

“To go one step further, there is not much in Marx’s Capital
that directly relates to the problems of countries like Malawi or Zambia. Marx
was trying to analyze the origins of the prototypical capitalist society in
writing about Britain, as well as illustrating the fundamental class relations
embodied in the formula M-C-M’. As a sign of how insufficiently engaged he was
in the problems of a nascent imperialism when he wrote Capital, just look at
the preface to V. 1: “The country that is more developed industrially only
shows to the less developed, the image of its own future.””

Boy…was that Marx an idealist developmentalist, an
optimistic political economist, out to prove himself against the professors
with his M-C-M’ formulas. Marx might have written about the mutilation of
children by British industry, he might have said a few things about the
inevitable necessity of capital to create a relative surplus population
condemning the oppressed to a state less human than that of savages (something
which as present today as ever, I would say), but Louis is transparently
correct in the reading of this quote: Marx was just an overly optimistic

How then are we to resolve the obsoleteness of Marx’s work,
his “insufficient engagement”, his Hegelian ravings? Well, never fear comrades,
luckily Louis has the solution all figured out for us, it’s in dependency theory,
derived from the theory of Monopoly Capital. Surely then, we will find in this
theory the “correct” development of Marxist politics, which per Louis, must
begin with the ‘labor theory of value’. But let’s check the scriptures to

“With price competition banned, sellers of a given commodity
or of

close substitutes have an interest in seeing that the price
or prices

established are such as to maximize the profits of the group
as a

whole. They may fight over the division of these profits –a
subject to

which we return presently- but none can wish that the total
to be

fought over should be smaller rather than larger. This is
the decisive

fact in determining the price policies and strategies of the

large corporation. And it means that the appropriate general

theory for an economy dominated by such corporations is the

traditional monopoly price theory of classical and

economics. What economists have hitherto treated as a
special case

turns out to be, under conditions of monopoly capitalism,
the general

case. This is a view which would probably command fairly
wide approval

among economists today, though as yet little has been done

working out its implications.” Baran and Sweezy, Monopoly
Capital, p.59

Ahhhaa…neoclassical price theory, who would’ve thought, the
surest foundation to the necessity of the political action of the working
class, straight from Marx’s method, the very proof that the Peron or Nasser of
the day deserved support from the broad Marxist movement.

And so comrades, we started with dismissing the Keynesians
with a joke about the peas and the princess, to interpreting Marx’s work, much
like the philosophers, by parsing out and distorting a quote, to proclaiming
that the basis of political action is a theory which borrows uncritically from
the epitome of bourgeois ideology, its idea of price.

Ptolemy’s system was far from being this vulgar.

It is not a question of me defending Marx’s writings as
sacrosanct, far from it, or forgetting that conditions have changed (talk about
truism), the point is that if one is going to say that Marx is outdated, or
whatever, one has to “engage” and work that out.

I remember some time ago I asked Louis what was the reason
for the existence of the price of commodities, and Louis dismissed it with the
usual terrible joke. But behind this question which Louis dogmatically failed
to confront (for political reasons?), lies the reason why political economy
must always impose ahistorical abstract concepts (e.g. utility, scarcity, efficiency,
subjective prices, etc.) on its inverted models of the world, and neoclassical
economics is ideological abstraction par excellence, with or without Keynes.
Marx’s method is the direct opposite of this approach, (contrary to David
Harvey’s distortions to the effect that Marx starts out with the “concept” of
value). The determination of value by socially necessary abstract labor
performed in a private and independent manner is not a “formula”, it’s a
historical product, as is the necessity of discovering it in the analysis of
the simplest concrete object which contains the genus of capital, the
commodity. If someone has a ‘scientific’ reason to deny the validity of the
analysis, it behooves anyone who sees the working class as a revolutionary
subject because capital makes it into the material bearer of science, to
confront it.**

Louis likes to chide the Trotskyists for being dogmatic and
forbidding critical thought, well, as Marx liked to say: Hic Rhodus, Hic Salta!


**“To the degree that labour time -- the mere quantity of
labour -- is posited by capital as the sole determinant element, to that degree
does direct labour and its quantity disappear as the determinant principle of
production -- of the creation of use values -- and is reduced both
quantitatively, to a smaller proportion, and qualitatively, as an, of course,
indispensable but subordinate moment, compared to general scientific labour,
technological application of natural sciences, on one side, and to the general
productive force arising from social combination [Gliederung] in total
production on the other side -- a combination which appears as a natural fruit
of social labour (although it is a historic product). CAPITAL THUS WORKS

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