Failed Abstraction – The Problem of Uno Kōzō’s Reading of Marx’s Theory of the Value Form

in Historical Materialism
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Abstract

Uno Kōzō (1897–1977) was Japan’s foremost Marxian economist. His critique of Marx’s method in Capital, especially regarding the ‘premature’ introduction of value-form analysis in Volume I, motivated him to rewrite all three volumes of Capital in his book The Principles of Political Economy (1950–2).

Notwithstanding Uno’s increasing popularity in international Marx research, I will present a critical paper that looks at a fundamental misunderstanding in Uno’s reading of the value form. In what is one of the most significant discussions of the value form in postwar Japan, Uno argues that ‘value’ and money as its ‘bearer’ cannot be understood in abstraction from personal interaction and human wants in commodity exchange. By drawing on the Japanese documents and supporting the view of Uno’s rival Kuruma Samezō (1893–1982), I want to show that it can, and how Marx understood the ‘law of value’ as a non-personal law of social domination.

Failed Abstraction – The Problem of Uno Kōzō’s Reading of Marx’s Theory of the Value Form

in Historical Materialism

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References

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  • 2

    Marx 1961pp. 552–3. All translations from the original German and Japanese reference-literature quoted in this article are my own except where otherwise indicated.

  • 3

    Marx 2008p. 107.

  • 6

    Marx 2008p. 52.

  • 10

    Walker 2012pp. 15–37. I refer to this work in a footnote below.

  • 12

    Hoff 2008p. 11.

  • 13

    See Oguro 1986p. 24.

  • 14

    Hoston 1986p. 35.

  • 18

    Hoston 1986p. 38. For a good overview of the Kōza-ha-Rōnō-ha debate see Hoston 1986 pp. 35–75; Sugihara 1987 pp. 27ff.; Itō 1980 pp. 22ff.; Gayle 2003 pp. 24ff.; Hoff 2008 pp. 48–52.

  • 19

    Hoff 2008p. 98. See Fukumoto 1926.

  • 22

    Morris-Suzuki 1989p. 80. See Hoff 2008 p. 97.

  • 23

    See Kawakami 1928.

  • 24

    See Kushida 1947.

  • 27

    Kuruma 1957p. 3.

  • 29

    See Kuruma 2008.

  • 35

    See Kubota 2009.

  • 37

    See Kuruma 1977.

  • 38

    Albritton 1986p. 2.

  • 39

    See Kuruma 2008p. 73. Original references: Uno and Sakisaka 1948 pp. 142 157 159 160.

  • 40

    Uno and Sakisaka 1948p. 166.

  • 41

    Uno and Sakisaka 1948pp. 233–4.

  • 42

    See Kuruma 2008p. 95.

  • 43

    Uno and Sakisaka 1948p. 164. See also Kuruma 2008 p. 113. Uno’s overall rejection of the ‘substance’ or labour theory of value – and consequently his somewhat twisted understanding of Marx’s radical break with classical political economy – is probably best reflected in the following excerpt from the same book: ‘The abstraction of value from the exchange relation between two commodities discarding their owners is similar to the abstraction of fruit from pear and apple. . . . We must comprehend the relation between two commodities subjectively from the viewpoint of the linen owner not objectively apart from both owners. If we start with such a formalistic abstraction as commodity linen and commodity coat to have something in common (a third which is neither linen nor coat) it is difficult to understand the true meaning that the linen is in the relative form with the coat in the equivalent form.’ (Uno and Sakisaka 1948 p. 178 emphasis added.) However to ignore the ‘formalistic abstraction’ of reified human expenditure of labour power means also to ignore the whole idea of Capital I claim: why in societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails human labour necessarily takes the form of value – the very condition under which commodities (‘bearers of value’) could be and are matter-of-factly exchanged.

  • 44

    Kuruma 1957pp. 24–5. I will quote the passage in full length below.

  • 45

    Marx 2008p. 107.

  • 46

    Kuruma 1957p. 40.

  • 47

    Kuruma 1957pp. 20–1.

  • 48

    Marx 2008p. 52.

  • 50

    Marx 2008p. 88.

  • 52

    Marx 2008p. 101. Emphasis added.

  • 53

    Kuruma 1957pp. 24–5.

  • 54

    Marx 2008p. 66.

  • 55

    Kuruma 1957p. 82. The corresponding passage in Marx is the following: ‘We see then that everything the analysis of commodity value told us before is told by the linen itself as soon as it interacts with another commodity the coat. Except that it reveals its own thoughts in the only language it is familiar with the language of commodities. In order to say that its own value is created by labour in its abstract quality of being human labour it says that the coat in so far as it counts as its (the linen’s) own equal therefore being value consists of the same labour as the linen does itself. In order to say that its sublime value-materiality [Wertgegenständlichkeit] is different from its materiality as a stiff canvas-like body it says that value looks like a coat and therefore – in so far as the linen itself is a value-thing – it and the coat are as alike as two peas.’ (Marx 2008 p. 67.)

  • 56

    Marx 2008p. 107.

  • 57

    Marx 1983p. 32.

  • 58

    Marx 2008p. 63.

  • 61

    Marx 1983p. 29.

  • 62

    See Marx 2008p. 82.

  • 64

    Marx 2008p. 77.

  • 67

    Marx 2008p. 78.

  • 69

    Marx 2008p. 79.

  • 70

    Marx 2008p. 83.

  • 71

    Marx 1964p. 997.

  • 72

    Reichelt 2001p. 144.

  • 73

    Marx 1974p. 907. Emphasis added.

  • 74

    Reichelt 2001p. 153.

  • 75

    Reichelt 2001p. 143.

  • 77

    Uno 1964pp. 19–20.

  • 78

    Uno 1964p. 5.

  • 80

    Marx 1974p. 920.

  • 81

    Marx 2008p. 99.

  • 82

    Marx 2008p. 209.

  • 83

    Marx 2008p. 169.

  • 84

    Heinrich 1999p. 206.

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