Chapter 1 Introduction – Marx’s Critique of Fetishism as Method

In: Value without Fetish
Elena Louisa Lange
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Cryptocategories of Marxism: Exchange value is the most well-known. To cryptologically uncover the hidden categorical determinations of existence is not to reveal a metaphysical essence, but rather the ‘surface’ of things, their appearance itself.

Hans-Jürgen Krahl (1971)1

… in the capitalist process, every element, even the simplest, the commodity for example, is already an inversion …

Karl Marx (1861–3 Economic Manuscripts)2

This book wants to put the critique of the ‘fetishism of the bourgeois relations of production’ back into the Critique of Political Economy.3 Its aim is to demonstrate that the disavowal of the critique of fetishism strips the Marxian project of its critical core, its raison d’ être. Disavowing, disregarding, or even rejecting Marx’s critique of fetishism, as we will show, resorts to the framework of classical and neoclassical bourgeois ‘economics’ which no longer offers an incentive to change or question the capitalist mode of production as a historically specific society. This book, however, precisely sees itself as a theoretical contribution to the overcoming of the capitalist predicament, and therefore as an intervention against the obliviousness to the problem of fetishism. To pursue this task, we will highlight the pivotal role of Marx’s critique of the fetish-characteristic forms of value, or the value forms, as the key method for his analysis and critique of the capitalist mode of production and its bourgeois interpreters as a scientific object.4 This impetus stands in opposition to the desideratum of the ‘methodological purity’ of the economic categories, in which the critique of fetishism as the central incentive becomes subaltern, if not disregarded. This latter interpretation is presented in Japanese Marxian economist Uno Kōzō’s (1897–77) theory of ‘pure capitalism’ (junsui shihonshugi), which the present work will examine critically. The neglect of the fetish complex, we argue, leads to a truncated and functionalist understanding of capitalist economy, and, even more fatally, helps to prolong and sustain a system of blind domination of social structures over humans, in which old fetishes persist as new ones, making an emancipatory development impossible. Most of all, however, the categorial reconstruction of the capitalist modus operandi that was not only Marx’s, but also Uno’s intention, becomes inadequate when the fetishistic forms that value assumes, both obfuscating its content and structuring ‘the self-presentation of value’,5 are left unaddressed: for leaving them unaddressed leaves these fetishised forms of value intact as objects of cognition. It therefore reproduces the inverted forms in which value, i.e. abstract human labour, appears at the surface of capitalist self-representation – paradigmatically in the exchange-fetish and the view of capital as ‘fruit-bearing’ in the categories of money, profit, price, interest, rent, etc. – instead of deconstructing these self-representations, and with them, the modes of their self-legitimisation. This book will show how and why Uno’s contribution presents a methodologically and theoretically deficient attempt at the analysis of capitalist relations of production. This deficiency is simultaneously explored in Uno’s misrecognition of the significance of the fetish-character of value on the one hand, and Uno’s failure to adequately address the intrinsically contradictory character of capital in terms of value and use value, represented in its inherently contradictory modes of (re)production, valorisation, and accumulation – culminating in crisis – on the other. We will argue that Uno Kōzō’s understanding of value, notwithstanding his own endorsement of central Marxian categories and ideas, fails to take the nexus between value and fetish into account. Uno’s theory hence remains at a level which we call an understanding of ‘value without fetish’, an idiosyncratic economic theory that by using Marx’s terminology seems to speak from the level of the Marxian problematic – but remains devoid of its critical core. Subtracting ‘Critique of’ from the ‘Critique of Political Economy’, however, only leaves us with ‘political economy’ bare and simple. In this book, we will show that Uno’s theory, indeed, presents us with a particular version of ‘political economy’ as a discipline of science – but no longer with an incentive to understand, criticise, and eventually overcome the fetishised modes of capital that continue to exert their oppressive force over humans and nature. This diagnosis results from the conceptual analysis of Uno’s core works from 1937 to 1969, which forms the main part of this book. To give the reader a – very preliminary – idea of what we mean by Uno’s deficient attempt at the reconstruction of Marx’s analysis, we shall digress to what we identify as Marx’s own approach regarding the method and the object of cognition – the capitalist mode of production and its constituents. For it is precisely Uno’s failure to adequately identify the scope and level of Marx’s own approach to capital as a problem – in other words, the inadequate grasp of Marx’s own Problembewusstsein – which motivates our critique of Uno Kōzō’s theory of ‘pure capitalism’ and its method.

To put the critique of fetishism ‘back into’ the Critique of Political Economy indicates that Marx himself had already considered the critique of the fetish-characteristic forms that value takes – both in its appearance in economic reality as well as in the thinking of its economic ‘interpreters’ (Dolmetscher) – as central to his mature oeuvre.6 In that sense, ‘back into’ suggests a temporal aspect. We hence consider the critique of fetishism as the theoretical consequence of the analysis of the value form in Chapter 1 of Capital Volume I, as the Leitmotiv of Marx’s whole project.7 The formulation ‘back into’, however, also has a systematic aspect: it indicates that the critique of fetishism had been disavowed or missed out on in significant parts of international Marx-oriented scholarly publications of the last decades. While in ‘analytical Marxism’,8 some proponents of the ‘Value Controversy’ of the late 1970s–early 1980s (Steedman, Sweezy, De Vroey),9 Althusserian Marxism,10 culturally-themed11 or new forms of deconstructivist12 Marxism, political Marxism,13 not to mention the main proponents of the Second and Third International,14 this is more evident, non-Western Marxism has not been sufficiently examined in this regard. Yet, even in the more strictly value-theoretical discourse in the Anglophone world, value has not been sufficiently understood as a problem of fetishism,15 and fetishism as a problem of value, its form and magnitude.16 We therefore contend that even in the ‘West’ today, research into the interrelation of the value-form and its fetish-character has been dissatisfactory. By drawing on the works of Uno Kōzō and his influential school, this book’s purpose is to fill out that lacuna, a lacuna that falls beyond the trivial ‘East’ and ‘West’ binary. In our critical analysis, Uno Kōzō’s work is taken seriously as a contribution to Marxist political economy. We reject its objectification as a proponent of ‘Japanese’ thought. As such – and as we believe, in accordance with Uno’s own claim to the significance of his work – our critique of Uno’s work and the revelation of its limits delivers a rich matrix with which to grasp the actual problematic of Marx’s intervention, unfettered by the boundaries of cultural and/or culturalistic considerations. With these preliminary and general reflections on the critical nature of this book in mind, we can also elucidate what we consider its positive contribution, namely a new inquiry into Marx’s method. This method stands and falls with the overall impetus of Marx’s project of the Critique of Political Economy as the critique of theorists such as Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Samuel Bailey, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus, Robert Torrens, Jean-Pierre Proudhon, and others, and their various ‘bourgeois fetishisms’. In the following, we shall consider in rough strokes17 what we mean by this.

What do we mean by fetish, fetish-character and fetishism?18 As will be shown throughout this book, rather than the ‘standard’ interpretations, we hold that the critique of the ‘fetish-character’ is not limited to the commodity.19 Neither do we think that the critique of fetishism can be adequately explained by an inversion of the ‘social’ and the ‘natural’ properties of things (i.e. the commodity). Instead – as will become clearer to the reader in the successive chapters – we argue that the fetish-character that value assumes in its ‘palpable’, apparent forms pertains to all concepts of classical and vulgar political economy: money, capital, wages, the forms of price (cost price, production price, market price), profits (entrepreneurial and commercial), interest, ground rent, and so on. The fetish-character of the value forms thus constitutes the very categories of classical political economy. This central diagnosis – central for Marx’s evaluation of the classics, predominantly the theory of value which forms the interest of this book – allows Marx to level the general, yet far-reaching critique of a blind spot of classical political economy that essentially informs Marx’s critique of fetishism: namely the blind spot of the specifically social form that labour assumes as value in capitalist societies. Because classical and vulgar political economists disregard the social form of labour, a concept resulting from Marx’s crucial conceptual distinction between abstract and concrete labour, and value and use value (to which we will return time and again throughout this book), their understanding of the capitalist metabolism is exhausted in the notion of simple and equal exchange. In short, the fetish-character of the value forms, as we will explain soon, is characterised by an increasing obfuscation of the social form of production as substance of value in favour of the forms that value assumes in the process of exchange or circulation. For Marx, labour and labour alone – in its specific social form as abstract labour, expended as living labour in the process of production – is the source and substance of value. In the categories of political economy, this source and substance of value however becomes increasingly obscure, so that at one point its relation to labour ‘is no longer recognisable’.20 Marx also calls this process a ‘mystification’: while at the beginning of the categorial critique (in the Contributions to the Critique of Political Economy as well as Volume I of Capital), in the value-form of the commodity, ‘this mystification is as yet very simple … [this] semblance of simplicity disappears in higher productive relations’.21 In interest-bearing capital, discussed at the level of how the capital relation finally appears to its agents (in Volume III of Capital), this ‘fetish character of capital and the representation of this capital fetish is … complete’.22 It thus, finally, presents the ‘capital mystification in its most flagrant form’23 – i.e. an understanding of capital without the social form of labour, a form in which ‘it no longer bears any marks of its origin’.24 As we will see, Uno’s theory of ‘pure capitalism’ is not free from these suppositions, but rather contributes to them. What is hence increasingly obscured in the inverted forms in which value appears – from the commodity to interest-bearing capital – is their common constitutive ground, the Begründungszusammenhang, which alone provides the nexus by which to adequately grasp its social character: the social form of labour in the capitalist mode of production – abstract labour. Equally obscured is the production of surplus value or exploitation. For Marx, this dynamic of increasing obfuscation of the ground and nexus of the capitalist social metabolism, which the categories of political economy only reflect as abbreviated and superficial forms of mere semblance, thus becomes the methodological template by which to address the categories of political economy and its two main fetishisms of exchange and the notion of capital as ‘autonomous’, independent and unrelated to labour:

For vulgar economists, which seek to present capital as an independent source of wealth, of value creation, this form [interest-bearing capital] is of course a godsend, a form in which the source of profit is no longer recognizable and in which the result of the capitalist production process – separate from the process itself – obtains an autonomous existence.25

For Marx, elucidating the difference between social form as substance26 and the inverted forms in which it appears, or content and its forms – forms that obscure their origin in abstract-human labour and exploitation – is the single methodological process or strategy for his Critique. As the golden thread of Marx’s investigation, it begins from analysis of the value form in Section 3 of Chapter 1 of Capital Volume I and culminates in the analysis of interest-bearing capital and the ‘demystification’ of the ‘Trinity Formula’ in Chapter 48 of the 1864–5 Economic Manuscripts (Volume III of Capital).27 The significance of this methodological process consists in the derivation of the origin of mystification, in categories such as ‘production price’ and ‘profit’, concepts to which we will return in detail. Marx’s Critique is therefore decisively non-static, as it ‘shakes up’ the rigid appearances (of e.g. the value forms of price and profit) to not only reconstruct the hidden content of the fetishised modes of appearance in unpaid and alien human labour, but also to reconstruct how the categorial convolutions of political economy come to inform the fetishisms and ‘mystifications’ resulting from its obfuscation by necessity. We call this procedure, with Helmut Brentel, form analysis:

Form analysis as the economic theory and critique of the object (ökonomische Gegenstandstheorie und Gegenstandskritik) contains a theory of appearance. It acts on specific assumptions about the ‘mode of appearance’ of economic facts, which hold both for its agents, as well as for economic theories and the framework of their critical presentation. In other words, it is based on a specific objective (inhaltliche) and methodological assumption about the relation between the object or the economic fact, and its appearance or systematic semblance, which is structured by itself in its mode of analysis.28

Following from this, the intent of form analysis is to ‘dismantle the pseudo-subjectivities, with which economic relations appear as simple, transhistorical, and autonomous, [to dismantle] the wrong notions, which the daily agents form about their own social relations according to the measure of these conceptualisations, and to disperse these reifications of social relations in the economic categories, in order to reinstantiate the actual subjects of history, humans in their relations of their labour and production, in their theoretical and practical right’.29 This claim can be said to concretise Marx’s critique of the value-forms, as precisely the locus of the fetishisms of ‘simplicity’, ‘transhistoricity’, and ‘autonomy’ of the economic categories, as well as its aim to abolish the sphere of semblance as a whole.

Yet, how did Marx’s incentive for the reconstruction of the obfuscated or mystified ‘ground’ of the forms of appearance of value evolve? How did his Critique become essentially informed by the claim that it grasps the social form of capitalist (re-)production in its true nature based on abstract human labour, i.e. the ‘actual subject’ of history? Marx did not simply claim the social form of labour as an ‘alternative’ (‘one among many’) explanation(s) for the basis of capitalist reproduction. His claim went much further: by pointing to the logical fallacies, inconsistencies, tautologies, and contradictions of conventional political economy, Marx could indeed demonstrate why explanations excluding the common nexus of abstract labour must fail. And it was precisely this logical impetus guiding his observations which led Marx – with Hegel, as we will explain soon – to assume a specific form-content (Formgehalt) as the explanatory heuristic leading him to the ‘decryption’ of the fetishised categories of political economy. Yet, what could this heuristic tool be?

Our fundamental claim is that ‘the condition of possibility’ for the heuristic of Marx’s Critique was the formulation of the labour theory of value at the beginning of Capital.30 The labour theory of value, i.e. the definition of the substance of value as abstract human labour and its magnitude in socially necessary labour time,31 thus could be said to present the ‘decoding machine’ to the fetishisms of conventional economic science. Not only does this theory, as Duncan Foley claims, parallel ‘the philosophical and theoretical innovations of Galileo and Newton in the physical sciences as the founding idea of a science’,32 but in its function it perhaps even parallels Alan Turing’s ‘Bombe’ decrypting machine, which was used to help decipher German Enigma-machine encrypted secret messages during the Second World War.33 Marx’s labour theory of value thus can be said to function as the ‘decryption device’ of the fetishisms of classical and vulgar political economy.34 This elevation of the labour theory of value to the status of Marx’s central heuristic insight may however come as a surprise for readers who are familiar with the fierce criticisms and objections it has received throughout its history. It seems that, beginning with neoclassical economist Eugen Böhm-Bawerk’s criticism in 1896,35 disavowing Marx’s labour theory of value has never really gone out of fashion. Except that today, even Marxian theorists have become increasingly inclined to lessen the importance or even reject or ‘refuse’ the labour theory of value.36 At times, it is counterfactually presented as though this ‘refusal’ even were Marx’s own, which would mean that Marx rejected his own theoretical basis (which to our knowledge, he never did).37 Needless to say, attempts at disqualifying Marx’s value theory vary not only in the different ‘areas’ of Marxist theory but also in their emphasis on what function the labour theory of value designates: as a methodological tool, it is argued, it is introduced ‘prematurely’,38 as a definition of value, others say (predominantly proponents of Analytical Marxism and theorists of finance/financialisation), it may even be neglected, since it does not even deliver a coherent theory of price.39 Others, like the German ‘Neue Marx-Lektüre’-scholars Michael Heinrich and Hans-Georg Backhaus, are less doubtful about its usefulness (which they emphasise), but altogether ambiguous about its locus of constitution, whether in the production process, or in commodity exchange.40 What we can however discern unequivocally in most attempts to delegitimise Marx’s formulation of the labour theory of value is that it is viewed as a theoretical ‘residue’ of, mostly, Ricardian provenance. The claim of Marx’s labour theory of value as a ‘residue’ of the discourse of the classics is to be found in almost all newer discussions of Marx’s value theory.41 Marx’s ‘break’ with the classics was therefore either unsuccessful or incomplete. This opinion is also shared by Uno.42 Uno’s diagnosis therefore primarily motivates us to demonstrate that nowhere was Marx’s break with the classics, and predominantly Adam Smith and David Ricardo, clearer and more succinct than in regard to their respective theories of value. Uno’s critique of Marx’s value theory and its systematic locus in Capital forms a focal point of interest, and we will recur to it throughout this book. In our introductory Chapter 1, we consider it therefore useful to explain the centrality of the role of the labour theory of value in Marx’s oeuvre, especially with regard to its function as the method of critique. This will be further elucidated by answering to the standard reproach that the labour theory of value was allegedly presented ‘prematurely’ in the exposition of Marx’s Capital. Against that, we emphasise the necessity of the ‘presupposition of the totality’ in Marx’s method. This is useful insofar as it allows us to preliminarily contrast these two results with Uno’s theory of pure capitalism and approach to political economy to tease out the limits to Uno’s Problembewusstsein of the Marxian Critique of Political Economy (Chapter 1.1). Because one significant objection to the labour theory of value consists in its delegitimisation as a ‘residue of the classics’, an objection Uno shares, we find it necessary to elaborate on Marx’s labour theory of value as resulting, not from an appropriation of an alleged Ricardian ‘embodied’ labour theory of value (which, as we will see, Ricardo did not hold), but precisely from the critique of Smith’s and Ricardo’s respective theories of value in ‘The Aporias of Political Economy’ (Chapter 1.2). Finally, we will recur to the Hegelian notion of ‘form-content’ and the critical function of the analysis of the value form in Section 3 of Capital, Chapter 1, and its results. As mentioned before, we hold that it essentially informs the overarching structure of Marx’s critique of fetishism. We will apply it to some recent critiques of Marx’s project, which have gained momentum in Marx research over the last decades, namely the ‘New’ or ‘Systematic’ Dialectic approach (Chris Arthur, Geert Reuten) (Chapter 1.3). Because with regard to their criticism of the labour theory of value, Uno can be regarded as their predecessor, this section serves as a critical template or prism through which the book’s impetus can be viewed – namely to reinstate Marx’s Critique of Political Economy as the most adequate heuristic known to science for understanding, evaluating and overcoming today’s capitalist predicament.

1.1 The Critique of Fetishism and Uno’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’

But the investigation of cognition cannot take place in any other way than cognitively; in the case of this so-called tool, the ‘investigation’ of it means nothing but the cognition of it. But to want to have cognition before we have any is as absurd as the wise resolve of Scholasticus to learn to swim before he ventured into the water.

Hegel, Encyclopedia (1830)43

Because already in the value-form of money, we can no longer see or detect what it has ‘got to do’ with human labour – and money, for Marx, is the ‘direct incarnation of all human labour’44 – Marx’s Critique of Political Economy can be said to present the forensic investigation into the increasing mystification (from the commodity to interest-bearing capital) of the fetishistic categories of conventional political economy and its critique. As mentioned earlier, this mystification or fetishisation is mediated by the process of exchange, in which value receives the ‘palpable’, yet inverted form of appearance – precisely as money. Because value never appears as such – it is not an empirical category – it must cling to these apparent, empirical forms, generated by circulation and exchange.45 This movement however, mediated by the process of exchange, as Marx says, ‘vanishes in its own result, leaving no trace behind’.46 Marx’s assignment is therefore in the reconstruction of the process, a forensic or probably even archaeological attempt to reveal how certain categorial misconstellations in the scientific view of the capitalist metabolism are conducive to burying the origin of value, and hence the social dimension of the capitalist (re-)production process. Uno however precisely misses Marx specific interest in the categorial reconstruction: the problem of the constitution of these categories themselves. According to our understanding,47 Marx’s theory of value is therefore primarily a theory of the form-content (Formgehalt) and of the necessary constitution of the fetishistic forms of value (the commodity, money, capital, wages, price, profit, interest, rent, etc.), which form the categories of the bourgeois horizon. It is this crucial – perhaps even the sine qua non – dimension of Marx’s project as a whole which we find truncated, if not altogether missing, from Uno’s intervention. This criticism directed against Uno Kōzō’s understanding of value and its fetish character in ‘societies, in which the capitalist mode of production prevails’,48 however fundamental it may appear, is not meant to slight Uno’s merits as an important pioneer of a non-dogmatic (that is, anti-Stalinist) Marx interpretation. It therefore differentiates between Uno as probably the foremost Marxian economist in Japan after World War II, and his often idiosyncratic approach to interpreting the texts in question. In the following, we shall therefore look more closely at important stations in Uno’s life and the formation of his theory.

1.1.1 Uno’s Approach to Political Economy

Without a doubt, Uno Kōzō (1897–1977) remains one of the most influential Marxian economists today. In Japan, his legacy in left-wing or Marxist economic interventions, especially in theories of value, finance, globalisation and crisis,49 cannot be overestimated. Outside of Japan, his following – often through the popularising efforts of Uno’s students Thomas T. Sekine and Itō Makoto since the 1970s – includes such prominent Marxist academics as Robert Albritton or the theorist of money and finance, Costas Lapavitsas. Karatani Kōjin, arguably the internationally best-known Japanese intellectual and cultural historian, has studied with Uno at Tokyo University in the 1960s. While a student, he became radicalised by Uno’s ideas, joining the ‘Bund’, or the Communist League (Kyōsanshugisha Dōmei).50 Uno was born in the mid-Meiji era (1868–1912) in Kurashiki, a provincial town in the prefecture of Okayama in the south of Japan, famous for its modern spinning mill,51 developed industry and its past as a principal reloading site for merchant goods in the Edo period (1603–1867).52 Coming from a family of merchants himself, Uno enrolled at Tokyo Imperial University in 1918 to study economics. He graduated in 1921, supporting himself and his newlywed Maria by a post at the Ōhara Institute for Social Science, affiliated with Hōsei University in Tokyo. At this time in Japan, there was little interest in Marx and the Critique of Political Economy at Japanese economics departments. Instead, the influence of the Japanese Verein für Sozialpolitik (Shakai seisaku gakkai), an anti-Marxist, liberal economic association influenced by the German Bismarckian economists Gustav Schmoller (1838–1917) and Lujo Brentano (1844–1931), could be felt throughout the field.53 Uno, however, early on became interested in Marx and ‘scientific socialism’. His earnestness in pursuing his studies of Marx led him to board a ship to Berlin, Germany, in 1921 where he spent two years ‘reading, reading, reading: Capital, Lenin on imperialism, and against Karl Kautsky, the socialist and communist daily press’.54 Uno had read Marx’s works in the German original;55 complete Japanese translations have not been published before 1924.56 While in Germany, Uno is reported to have been ‘listening and observing, attending party rallies, sharing life and information and acquaintances with other Japanese in residence’,57 sucking in the spirit of the times. In the wake of the Russian Revolution in the early 1920s, the world suddenly became a place where the shifting of parameters seemed possible. In 1924, on his return to Japan, Uno took the position of associate professor at Tōhoku Imperial University in Sendai in the north of Japan, to teach ‘economic policy’. Here, the shadow of the imposition to focus on classical and neoclassical economics loomed over his own interest in Marx’s theory. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that Uno’s interest in the ‘scientific method’ of Marxism began to find expression in his own publications. That was not only due to the political atmosphere of ultranationalist Japan in the 1930s. Uno was deeply involved in the so-called ‘Debate on Japanese Capitalism’ (Nihon shihonshugi ronsō) that significantly shaped Marxist intellectual life in Japan between 1933 and 1937.58 In the years following the founding of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (Nihon kyōsantō) in 1922, the debate on Japanese capitalism emerged as an inner-party debate about how to correctly evaluate the Meiji restoration:59 either as a bourgeois revolution that, with the growing expansion of capitalist heavy industry and the expected roll back of the traditional agrarian sector, would automatically lead to the elimination of all feudal remnants – presenting a so-called ‘theory of a one-step revolution’ (ichidankai kakumei ron) – or as an incomplete, if not failed attempt to establish a bourgeois-capitalist state which instead called for a so-called two stage revolution, the nidankai kakumei. According to this latter interpretation, first, a bourgeois-democratic state modelled after Western European developed capitalist states would have to be established, and second, its overcoming by the proletarian, the final revolution, would have to be aimed at. The Kōza-ha (Lectures-group),60 who supported the latter view, remained loyal to the JCP and the Comintern theses on Japanese capitalism which saw Japan as an economically underdeveloped country, whereas the Rōnō-ha (Labor-farmer-group) even seceded from the JCP in 1927 to form a powerful and influential ‘non-Communist party Marxist group’.61 It launched its attacks against the party line in its journal Rōnō (Labourers and Farmers) that had been founded immediately after the split with the JCP in December 1927 and gave the group its name. The Kōza-ha as well as the Rōnō-ha were exposed to severe persecution by the military state between 1928 and 1937. In the so-called ‘Popular Front Incident’ (Jinmin sensen jiken) of 1937 and 1938, more than 400 members of the Rōnō-ha, mostly university professors, were arrested – among them Sakisaka Itsurō, a close associate of Uno Kōzō and translator of Capital, and Uno himself, although he was, if close to, not a direct member of the Rōnō-ha. While formerly ‘purged’ or arrested Marxist theorists were only able to return to their academic positions during the US occupation, Uno, briefly arrested in 1938, had been able to work for a private research position at Tōhoku Imperial University since 1941, keeping him financially afloat. During his ‘Sendai years’, Uno published his first monograph, the major part of his work on The Types of Economic Policies (Keizai seisakuron) in 1936 (the final version appeared in 1954). But it wasn’t until 1947, when he had been appointed professor for economics at the prestigious Tokyo Imperial University where he taught until his retirement in 1958, that he became a prolific writer. Mainly in this decade, his interest in the method and object of political economy as a rigorous ‘science’ was reflected in his publications, such as the seminal Theory of Value (Kachiron) (1947). Uno’s writings in this time also reflected a deliberate detachment from JCP’s re-established appropriation of the ‘ideological’ interpretation delivered by the Comintern.62 His stance against the ‘nomenklatura’ not only gave a particular significance to Uno’s merits as an outspoken anti-Stalinist,63 but secured him a large following since the 1960s known as the (original) Uno School of political economy in Japan. According to Uno’s associate Furihata Setsuo, it formed ‘one of the three dominant streams of postwar Japanese social science, alongside the political science of Maruyama Masao and Ōtsuka Hisao’s economic history’.64 Many well-known Marxist economists (Ōuchi Tsutomu, Ōuchi Hideaki, Iwata Hiroshi, Furihata Setsuo, Itō Makoto (Makoto Itoh), Baba Hiroji, Sekine Tomohiko, among others) belonged to the Uno School, although, with the exception of Itoh and Sekine, the scope of their theoretical efforts remained largely confined to Japan. In the 1980s however, following Uno’s death in 1977 and the seemingly unstoppable rise of neoliberal agendas, even critical engagement with Marx’s mature oeuvre had become increasingly difficult in the context of academic economic debate. The Uno School, i.e. the school of thinkers still directly associated with Uno in Japan, became largely obsolete in the 1980s. After his retirement from Tokyo University, Uno continued to teach at Hōsei University until 1968. While Uno had published over 10 monographs during his lifetime – mostly interpretations and contributions addressing topics in Marx’s Capital and other economy-critical writings (today collected in the 1973/74 Iwanami shoten edition of his Collected Works (Uno Kōzō Chosakushū) – his most important work remains the Principles of Political Economy (Keizai Genron), which presented Uno as a radical re-interpreter of Marx’s Capital and established his international significance. The book first appeared in two volumes in 1950 and 1952 and an abridged version (supervised by Uno himself) in 1964.65 On the other hand, however, Uno became known as a ‘stage theorist’ of capitalist economic development – and it was arguably the latter that sustained his reputation. The theory of different stages of capitalist historical-economic development, however, was contained in the larger structure of what Uno termed the ‘Three Level-Method’ (sandankairon) of political economy as a science: according to Uno, the method of the ‘science’ of political economy should comply to a threefold structure, to become known as the ‘three level-method’ or, more literally, the ‘three stages theory’ that guaranteed the coherence of the method and the object of investigation, namely the capitalist ‘commodity economy’. It was conceived of as early as in the first edition of Principles of Political Economy (hereafter: Principles) in 1951.66 In the abridged version of 1964, this method was referred to as resulting from the necessity to integrate a theory of imperialism as a mediating link between the ‘pure theory’ of capitalism (genriron) and the stages-theory of capitalist development (dankairon).67 The ‘pure theory’ is characterised as ‘presuppos[ing] the abstract context of a purely capitalist society made up of the three major classes of capitalists, workers, and landowners in order to account for the laws peculiar to capitalism and the dynamics of their (?) operation’.68 In contradistinction to the ‘pure’ analysis of the principles (genriron), then, a second level of abstraction or ‘stage theory’ (dankairon) serves to present the concrete historical periods of capitalist development in their temporal sequence: mercantilism, liberalism, and imperialism, and their corresponding forms of capital: merchant capital, industrial capital, and finance capital, respectively. On the third and last level of the method of political economy, an ‘analysis of the actual phenomena’ (genjō bunseki) serves to evaluate the concrete political situation, not only of today, but of the past periods. The third level which Uno also calls the ‘ultimate aim of the research of political economy’ also prepares the stage of direct ‘socialist practical action’, which is neither given in the principles nor the historical stages.69 Probably less investigated than his stages theory or ‘three-level method’, however, is Uno’s direct engagement with Marx’s theory in Capital. While in Chapter 2 we will exclusively discuss the problematic of Uno’s sandankairon, we consider it an as yet unfulfilled desideratum to investigate Uno’s engagement with Capital and other of Marx’s economy-critical writings more closely. Our investigation is thus primarily directed at Uno’s theory of ‘pure capitalism’ or the ‘theory of principles’ (genriron). At this point, it will suffice to briefly characterise the theory of ‘pure capitalism’.

In his Principles, the only monograph translated into English for 36 years since its publication in 1980,70 Uno presented a ‘theory of principles’ (genriron), heavily intervening in, restructuring and limiting the architecture of Marx’s Capital, with which Uno throughout his life remained in a theoretical dialogue. To name but two examples: first, crucially for Uno, the ‘theory of principles’ is free from references to real historical development, empirical or statistical evaluations, and therefore, in contrast to Marx’s Capital, which heavily draws on and theorises these data, limits the scope of presentation to a ‘pure theory’, or, as it were, a theory of ‘pure capitalist society’ (junsui shihonshugi shakai). It therefore represents the direct application of the level of ‘pure theory’ or ‘principles’. Second, and more significantly for the present study, while Marx starts the first volume of his main work with the analysis of the ‘Production Process of Capital’, Uno regards the ‘Doctrine of Circulation’ (ryūtsūron), i.e. the economic circulation ‘forms’ of the commodity, money and capital, as unrelated to the process of production, and as primary to the study of a ‘commodity economy’.71 For Uno, Marx’s labour theory of value is prematurely introduced for the theory of money and capital. Its systematic locus should instead be in the analysis of the process of production.72 Furthermore, in his reconstructive reading, stretching from his works on value (Kachiron, 1947) to the Principles, Uno strongly criticises Marx’s ‘derivation’ of money from the analysis of the commodity and the labour theory of value, arguing instead that money already represents the guarantee of the commodities’ commensurability.73 These preliminary remarks should only help to ‘filter’ where we believe Uno’s intervention significantly departs from Marx’s, while the actual analysis of Uno’s own reconstruction, especially his reconstruction of the scope and intent of Capital in the Principles and other writings, is performed in detail in the forthcoming chapters. However, one further significant theoretical structure informing Uno’s categorial reconstruction as against Marx’s should not go unmentioned at this point. We shall briefly turn to it in the following.

As we will see and prominently discuss, Uno’s approach to political economy is fundamentally based on the structural and systematic heuristic prevalence of use value over value. This sets him squarely apart from Marx’s heuristic of the centrality of value and the fetishistic forms it assumes. The conceptual circumference of use value in Uno serves to strategically account for capitalism’s alleged ‘self-regulatory’74 production in a ‘commodity economy’ where production meets ‘society’s needs’, and which stresses the role of commodity owners for exchange and equilibrium production conceived as the ‘law of value’ (kachi hōsoku). For Uno, the capital relation itself becomes secondary to social production. In fact, the ‘law of value’, for Uno, is a ‘corrective process’ through which economic laws are ‘enforced’, and in which ‘social imbalances tend to be removed, as individual producers pursue their profits’.75 This evaluation sets Uno’s ‘law of value’ radically apart from the labour theory of value, in both its methodological significance as well as in scope and meaning. In Uno’s theory of pure capitalism, use value and the ‘social satisfaction of needs’ become the angle from which capitalist production is viewed, with the ‘law of value’ as the framework of an ‘equilibrium’ view of social production. This stands in clear opposition to Marx’s own heuristic of (surplus) value as the centre around which production is organised. Because for Marx, the production of monetary surplus value is at stake in capitalist production – the ‘general form of wealth as wealth’ – the aim of producing capital is ‘never use value’.76 Accordingly, we believe that Uno’s basic approach to political economy as an equilibrium form of production aimed at use value is fatal, for it systematically obscures the kernel of capitalist production based on the exploitation-nexus: ‘… instead of the scale of production being determined by existing needs, the quantity of products made is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production dictated by the mode of production itself. Its aim is that the individual product should contain as much unpaid labour as possible, and this is achieved only by producing for the sake of production’.77 We will see that what we argue to be ‘use value fetishism’ indeed forms a vital structural problem in both Uno and Uno-affiliated research.78 For someone who has dedicated fifty years of his life to the study and especially the method of Capital,79 culminating his efforts in a complete reconstruction of the architecture, scope and – as I will argue – object of Marx’s magnum opus, this is quite an astonishing result. We will see that Uno’s radical departure from Marx’s original problematic, the Critique of Political Economy and the critique of fetishism, also necessitates a different framing of the object of critique: the capitalist mode of production no longer designates a problem, but a fact. Uno’s approach to the object of political economy therefore incorporates both a methodological and factual ‘unhinging’ of Marx’s entire project as a critique. As we will see, this ‘unhinging’ is not limited to the heuristic prevalence of use value over value. It is also expressed in the reference to the framework of methodological individualism in the personal ‘wants’ of commodity owners implied in his reinterpretation of the analysis of the value form (Chapter 3.2.), an understanding of ‘social reproduction’ detached from the exploitation of alien and unpaid labour (Chapter 4.1.), the dismissal of a concept of crisis in favour of a concept of business cycles consolidating that equilibrium (Chapter 4.2.), and other significant divergences from Marx’s project. These crucial departures from Marx’s critical impetus, however, altogether hinge on Uno’s reformulation, and – as we contend – mutilation of Marx’s labour theory of value into an equilibrium, use value-oriented and overtly harmonious ‘law of value’. As mentioned earlier, Marx’s theory of value is not only a heuristic schema for grasping the social mode of capitalist production as a scientific object. It much rather presents the method of critique by which we can adequately confront the object of our scientific interest, namely the capital-relation, i.e. the relation between capital and the social form of labour, as the structuring principle of this thing we call ‘capitalism’.

1.1.2 Marx’s Labour Theory of Value as Method (The Turing-Bombe of Political Economy)

It may be useful at this point to say a little more about the specific critical claim of Marx’s value theory. We hold that it serves as the methodological tool that links Marx’s Critique with its object – the categories of bourgeois and vulgar political economy – and, by doing so, points to the blind spots of conventional economic thought that necessitates its various fetishisms. This claim, needless to say, not only sets Marx’s theory of value radically apart from the value theory of the classics, but likewise becomes the ground for their critique. We will show in the next section that Adam Smith and David Ricardo, despite the widespread view to the contrary, did not hold a consistent, social labour theory of value at all – and that, in fact, only Marx’s value theory is able to form both the ground to a consistent critique of the categories of conventional political economy and account for the analysis of their implementation in the reality of the capitalist production process. We therefore follow Brentel’s contention that

[it is] Marx’s central insight that the labour theory of value as a historical-economic logic of ground and measure (historisch-ökonomische Begründungs- und Maßlogik) of capitalist-industrial society – ‘labour’ precisely both as immanent measure, as well as ground of value – can only be performed as a form-and fetish-theory of economic-social objectivity.80

Already for Marx, who, as will be explained soon, confronted the problem of presupposition in the exposition of the labour theory of value in the first chapter of Capital, the labour theory of value presents the ‘secret’ to the fetish-character of the commodity. In the history of its reception however, despite the section title in which the theory of commodity fetishism is presented – ‘The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret’ – the ‘secret’ to the fetish-character has been almost entirely, and comfortably, ignored. Except that Marx made it very clear that this ‘secret’, i.e. that labour-time is the real measure of exchange relations, can only be ignored at the cost of – one’s head:

… in the midst of the accidental and ever-fluctuating exchange relations between products, the labour time socially necessary to produce them asserts itself as a regulative law of nature. In the same way, the Law of Gravity asserts itself when a person’s house collapses on top of him. The determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is therefore a secret hidden under the apparent movements in the relative values of commodities.81

From this alone it becomes evident that Marx’s decision to present his theory of value right at the beginning of Capital was neither a methodological stopgap nor an unproven presupposition, but the objective and methodological vantage point that structures his analysis not only in its essence, but in its form.

Previously, we indicated that the labour theory of value is not only ‘statically’ applied to certain categorial misconstructions in conventional political economy. It much rather accompanies these misconstructions to account for the dynamic by which the source of value in labour is categorially lost. The fetishistic character of categories such as interest and rent therefore does not only stem from a ‘real abstraction’ as constitutive of the mode of cognition within the horizon of capitalist exchange relations.82 That is, even in cases when the source of value does not seem to emerge from exchange alone (‘profit upon alienation’), namely in the production process itself, it may seem to the capitalist as though the source of value stemmed from his own investment, from his own advanced capital, e.g. machines or technology. For Marx, this type of fetishism is the belief of capital as ‘fruit-bearing’, to which he returns time and again throughout his economic writings (for example, he dedicates a whole chapter to ‘Interest-bearing Capital as a Fetish-form of Capital’ in the 1861–63 Economic Manuscripts).83 To illustrate the complex of the fetish and to give an example for the origins of obfuscation, let us briefly review how Marx develops the categories of interest and rent from the standpoint of the ‘functioning capitalist’ (the industral capitalist receiving interest-bearing capital) in the 1861–63 Economic Manuscripts:

Thus two forms of surplus-value – interest and rent, the results of capitalist production – enter into it as prerequisites, as advances which the capitalist himself makes; for him, therefore, they do not represent any surplus-value, i.e., any surplus over and above the advances made. As far as these forms of surplus-value are concerned, it appears to the individual capitalist that the production of surplus-value is a part of the production costs of capitalist production, and that the appropriation of other people’s labour and of the surplus over and above the value of the commodities consumed in the process (whether these enter into the constant or into the variable capital) is a dominating condition of this mode of production … In critical moments, profit too confronts the capitalist in fact as a condition of production, since he curtails or stops production when profit disappears or is reduced to a marked degree as a result of a fall in prices. Hence the nonsensical pronouncements of those who consider the different forms of surplus value to be merely forms of distribution; they are just as much forms of production.84

The crucial point here being that in the consciousness and standpoint of the capitalist, ‘everything happens above board, and at the same time, it does not’ (Adorno).85 To the functioning capitalist, surplus value in the form of interest appears as a cost of production, since he has borrowed the money or the ‘value advanced’ with which production began. At the same time however, the functioning capitalist is unaware of how this surplus pays not only interest and rent, but even his own profit. He is unable to see how interest and rent become the conditions of wage labour, which again yields the surplus from which his profit, interest and rent is formed. The only thing that interests the capitalist are his costs of production and his profit. What happens in between, the origin of both his costs and his profit, is anathematic. Interest-bearing capital, for Marx, conceived of ‘without the mediation of either production process or circulation process’ is the ‘consummate automatic fetish, the self-valorising value, the money-making money, and in this form it no longer bears any trace of its origin’.86 But it is precisely this phenomenal state that crucially informs bourgeois political economy’s scientific evaluation – and here is also the source of the ‘sticking fast’ to the apparent forms that gives rise to the fetishism of e.g. profit, interest and rent and capital, and not labour, as ‘fruit-bearing’. For Marx, therefore, ‘[the] categories of bourgeois economics consist precisely in forms of this kind’.87 The above passage however also serves as a striking example that for Marx, fetishism is not a problem of a subjectively ‘wrong’ or ‘illusionary’ perception of reality. What Marx also calls ‘objective forms of thought’,88 and what Hegel has termed ‘objective thought’ (objektiver Gedanke)89 are ‘socially valid’,90 and hence objective phenomena. For both Marx and Hegel, ‘objective forms of thought’ are the result of a process in which subjective consciousness becomes sublated, which – to speak with Marx – gain an objectivity that becomes independent of ‘the will, foreknowledge and actions’91 of individuals. As Ingo Elbe contends, ‘[objective] forms of thought for Marx are neither value nor money as economic forms, but the reproduction-in-thought of these forms in their “ready-made” form of appearance, in which they no longer exhibit the social mediation of their own genesis’.92 Yet, the category of abstract labour that constitutes the ‘buried essence’ of capitalist self-representation cannot be empirically verified/falsified – its self-representation can only ever appear in fetishistic form, as money, profit, interest, etc., fostering its various fetishisms. It has no other mode of existence. It is therefore only by the methodological ‘Turing-Bombe’ of political economy, the labour theory of value as the logic of the substance, the measure, and the form of the capitalist metabolism, that a common grounding nexus of the disparate forms that value assumes in its actual existence, as money, price, profit, interest, rent, etc. can be meaningfully ‘decoded’ and thus generated. To explain why we believe this faculty allows the labour theory of value to link Marx’s critical method with its object, we shall briefly refer to the problematic of essence and appearance and the notion of form, and especially the form of labour.

As mentioned earlier, the question of essence (or substance) and appearance (or form) is a recurring theme in Marx’s Critique, and serves as a fruitful heuristic in light of the role of the labour theory of value for the critique of fetishism, i.e. the critique of the fetish-character value assumes as form. Again, it is important to be aware of this notion of form as fetish, for it marks the discursive sphere in which Marx’s Critique is embedded. In this sense, in his important work on Marx’s critique of fetishism, Stephan Grigat points out that the ‘secret’ of the fetish consists not so much in the quantitative expression of value in labour time as the measurement of the magnitude of value (its ‘substance’), as ‘orthodox Marxism’ would have us believe, but rather in the qualitative form of capitalist labour itself.93 Indeed, Heinrich has emphasised with regard to the transformation problem that the central problem of Marx’s value theory, namely how it ‘is possible in the first place to relate products of labour to one another as commodities’,94 has been neglected in theories of value, which recur to the labour theory of value as a quantitative model for determining price, instead of emphasising the qualitative form of the specific kind of labour which is productive of value (abstract labour). While we agree with these authors that the labour theory of value is not exhausted in determining the magnitude of value, we think that the relevance of Marx’s value theory consists first and foremost in delivering the critique of the forms that value assumes in bourgeois productive relations. With ‘higher productive relations’,95 (abstract) labour becomes increasingly obscure, as the fetishistic forms of value proceed to abstract from the process of production. What therefore remains hidden is the form of labour under capitalist production – and this second meaning of ‘form’ plays yet another significant role for Marx’s Critique, famously in his direct reckoning with Smith and Ricardo’s negligence of the ‘form of value which in fact turns value into exchange-value’,96 i.e. the social form of exchange-value positing labour (tauschwertsetzende Arbeit). With regard to these two equally important and yet distinct specific usages of form in Marx’s Critique, Helmut Brentel has developed the heuristic of Social Form I and Social Form II:

It is … crucial to comprehend that Marx views both value and value-form as specifically social forms (soziale Formen) of social labour (gesellschaftlicher Arbeit). Abstract-general labour as the substance of value already presents a specifically social form (Form I), which assumes its form of appearance and existence in the categories of bourgeois economy (Form II).97

In other words, these two concepts of form which equally inform Marx’s critical method are related: in ‘Form I’, the social form of labour that is exchange-value positing or abstract labour, presents the hidden matrix, or the ‘Turing-Bombe’ to ‘Form II’, which designates the autonomisation from the ‘conscious standpoint’ of the economic agents, paradigmatically as the autonomisation from use-value in the value-form of money. The form of social labour in capitalism (Form I), for Marx, is therefore to be found in the concept of abstract labour at the beginning of his exposition, which ‘passes through’ (tōsu) – to use an emblematic expression by Uno – the forms of appearance which the value forms (Form II) assume. Needless to say, the labour theory of value, which defines abstract labour as this ‘commonality’, as substance, can only reach its full exposition, and with it, its full ‘confirmability’ at the end of the exposition, when all the categories of political economy ‘will have been’ analysed. It therefore anticipates a methodological ‘future tense’ that we have elsewhere named ‘the pudding’ whose proof is in ‘eating it’, i.e. in applying the model of labour as social form as the interpretative framework.98 Yet, this is precisely the analytical and anti-dogmatic strength of Marx’s labour theory of value. For the crucial insight into the presupposition of the labour theory of value lies in the method of its proof, i.e. in the very process of the critical analysis of the categories and contentions of political economy: in ‘eating the pudding’. Hence the ‘proof’ of the ‘pudding’ – the labour theory of value – is in ‘eating it’, i.e. reviewing the contentions, convulsions and conventions of the theoretical interpreters of the bourgeois relations of production, the political economists, at every level of the unfolding of their categories. The fact that it cannot be proven without the process of its own implementation that must pass through the totality of capitalist social relations and their conventional interpretation is however what endows its with its anti-positivistic and anti-dogmatic character. We can therefore conclude that for Marx’s labour theory of value as the critical method of the ‘de-fetishisation’ or ‘de-mystification’ of the categories of classical political economy, the standpoint of totality is already presupposed, and by being presupposed, in every categorial instance shown to be both semantically and pragmatically in effect: in that sense, for example, the concept of money in the very first chapter of Capital already presupposes the concept of wage labour and capital.99 This view stands in stark contrast with Uno’s understanding of the labour theory of value as an ‘unnecessary’ presupposition which cannot be ‘proven’ at the locus of its presentation, in the first chapter of Capital.100 Because Marx’s presentation of the labour theory of value in the first chapter of Capital, as will be prominently discussed, arguably presents the strongest bone of contention for Uno, we shall give a brief account to a theme directly related to the question of method and object: the question ‘with what must science begin?’ – the question of presupposition.

1.1.3 Introduction to the Problem of Presupposition

For Uno, the definition of the substance of value as ‘abstract labour’, and its quantity in ‘socially necessary labour time’ in the average, is introduced ‘prematurely’ into the architecture of Capital. Marx should have instead deferred it to the analysis of ‘The Labour Process and the Valorization Process’ proper in Chapter 7.101 At the beginning, Uno contends, Marx should have focused on the ‘form’ of value in exchange alone. In his own Principles, Uno hence presents what he considers a significant corrective to Marx, by deferring the labour theory of value to the ‘Doctrine of Production’, which is however preceded by the ‘Doctrine of Circulation’ (a detailed analysis of Uno’s restructuring of Capital and its motivations will be conducted in Chapter 4). We believe however that Uno does not realise how mistaken his criticism is. To introduce the matter, which we will return to, we shall draw attention to the specific critical claim that the alleged ‘unproven’ presupposition of the labour theory of value has, in the context of Marx’s method. Let it be recalled that Marx’s exposition is directly informed by the critique of fetishism. What Marx identified as the object of the analysis – the capitalist mode of production and its bourgeois interpretation – is implicitly presupposed at the beginning, even if not all of the concepts that we need to characterise it can be made explicit. The explicit or the semantic, i.e. the ‘meaning’ of a concept (such as ‘capitalist mode of production’) is postponed until the implicit or the pragmatic can be fully thematised. This is quite uncontroversial: definitions of certain concepts – say, ‘city’ or ‘apple’, or ‘consciousness’ – presuppose a certain conceptual and logical apparatus other than the concepts to be defined. In his study of Hegel’s dialectic, Dieter Wandschneider calls this problem of the exposition the ‘semantic-pragmatic discrepancy’:

For a theory of dialectic, two aspects seem to be of fundamental significance: on the one hand, the view … according to which every logical category (with the exception of the final determination) contains a semantic-pragmatic discrepancy (semantisch-pragmatische Diskrepanz). It consists in the fact that the explicit meaning of a category does not express all that is implicitly presupposed (präsupponiert) for its meaning. That this must be the case immediately makes sense; since in order to explicate a particular meaning, the whole apparatus of logical categories and principles must be presupposed. This tension between the semantic content and that which is pragmatically presupposed for the argumentative acts (Argumentationsakte) that precede it, necessitates the introduction of categories by which this ‘pragmatic surplus meaning’ (pragmatischer Bedeutungsüberhang) is further semantically explicated [and diminished, ELL]. In other words: the semantic-pragmatic discrepancy contained in a category which, under specific conditions, can be exacerbated to a performative contradiction [‘being is not nothingness’], makes the necessity to introduce ever new categories plausible, as long as the ‘pragmatic surplus meaning’ remains.102

In Marx’s exposition, the matter is quite similar: the postponement of the explicit meaning of a category is, however, successively closed in on by the performance of the actual analysis. The pragmatic surplus meaning – the baggage carried by the labour theory of value and the concept of abstract labour as the ‘substance of value’ throughout the analysis – is thus successively shed: with an ever deeper insight into the process of exchange between commodity A (20 yards of linen) and commodity B (one coat), the appearance of simple exchange as the predominant social metabolism loses its heuristic power. ‘It becomes plain that it is not the exchange of commodities which regulates the magnitude of their values, but rather the reverse, the magnitude of the value of commodities which regulates the proportion in which they exchange’.103 The cognitive gain for Marx hence consists precisely in the emphasis on the presupposed context of totality, in which isolated (‘autonomous’) concepts lose their explanatory power: the obvious explanation in the category of ‘exchange-value’ does not categorially redeem the complex relations which generalised commodity exchange entails. For Marx, therefore, ‘the whole system of bourgeois production’ is presupposed, so that a category like ‘exchange-value’ can appear on its surface:

An analysis of the specific form of the division of labour, the conditions of production on which it is based, and the economic relationships of the members of the society to which these conditions of production are reduced, would show that the whole system of bourgeois production is the premiss for exchange value appearing on its surface as a mere point of departure, and the process of exchange, as it unfolds in the simple circulation, as a social exchange of matter, simple but encompassing both the whole of production and the whole of consumption. It would transpire, therefore, that already other, more complicated relations of production, more or less conflicting with the liberty and dependence of individuals, their economic relationships, are the premiss that, as free private producers in simple relations of purchase and sale, they should confront each other in the process of circulation and should figure as its independent subjects. But from the standpoint of the simple circulation, these relationships are obliterated.104

Yet, Marx deliberately chooses to present the analysis of the value form in the ‘language of English economists’.105 And here is where Marx’s method of the semantic-pragmatic cleft and his critique of fetishism comes full circle: for it is precisely this ‘appearance on the surface’ which forms the standpoint of classical and neoclassical political economy that forms the target of his critique. We can say that Marx’s target is doubled in our critical evaluation of Uno’s intervention, which, as we will show, shares its methodological impetus with classical and neoclassical political economy. Marx’s method of form analysis thus consciously takes its vantage point from the simple categories of bourgeois political economy – the commodity, exchange value, exchange at all – however, not to adapt its propositions unquestioned, but to analyse these forms towards their form determinations, towards the characteristics that point beyond their reductionisms.106

For Marx, the analysis of the ‘economic law of motion of modern society’107 is thus not a matter of providing definitions. It is, much rather, a matter of reconstructing the object through its critique – a ‘forensic investigation’ into the forgotten, obscured, and obfuscated implications of his very object, implications that make up the ‘pragmatic surplus meaning’, and therefore cannot be made explicit at the beginning – but which nevertheless constitute the object of the analysis. The capitalist mode of production and the social form of labour that characterises it can only be made explicit by the successive analysis of the fetishised categories that constitute the categories of conventional political economy and its ‘science’. Herein lies the critical claim of Marx’s method. We will show that Marx, in his exposition of the object of his study, and much ignored by Uno and his followers, very deliberately steps into the pragmatic-semantic discrepancy that is required at the beginning of any critical study of a system, especially a dynamic one such as capitalism. In other words, we hold that, for Marx, the proof of the ‘labour theory of value’ is in eating the pudding, i.e. in performing the Critique of Political Economy. With this radically new insight into the problematic of the categorial analysis of the capitalist mode of production, putting the critique of fetishism at the heart of Marx’s intervention, a new discipline is born: that of the categorial criticism of the real appearance (realer Schein) of the social relations of production. To therefore understand how the new object of investigation – an object that simultaneously informs the method of Marx’s analysis – emerged, we should first take a look at the theoretical formation of theories of value in Marx’s predecessors, notably Adam Smith and David Ricardo.108 It would also certainly be rewarding to draw a different line of trajectory, e.g. from Proudhon to Marx. But this line which would without doubt contribute to understand Marx’s negation of Proudhon’s equation of value and immediate labour time would undermine the crucial point in Marx: namely that the mature Marx was less interested in contrasting the capitalist mode of production with the utopias of socialism, but in contrasting the bourgeois mode of production with its own claims. To better pinpoint Marx’s theoretical formation of the new object of political economy, encompassing the critique of all previous economic science, we should therefore remain with the ‘bourgeois economists’, Smith and Ricardo. As mentioned earlier, Marx’s labour theory of value is to be understood as the methodological heuristic for the analysis of Marx’s central question: why and how do all products of labour assume the fetishistic form of value under the conditions of the capitalist mode of production, forms that constitute the categories of political economy? To answer this question, Marx was specifically intent to recapitulate the process of the constitution of the very objects of classical political economy themselves. In the next chapter, we shall therefore recapitulate the value theories of Smith and Ricardo to understand how Marx’s own theory was developed from their critique.

1.2 The Aporias of Classical Political Economy109

The best points in my book are: 1. (this is fundamental to all understanding of the FACTS) the two-fold character of labour according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value, which is brought out in the very First Chapter; 2. the treatment of surplus-value regardless of its particular forms as profit, interest, ground rent, etc. … The treatment of the particular forms in classical political economy, where they are forever being jumbled up together with the general form, is an olla potrida!110

Marx to Engels, August 24th, 1867.

Marx’s radical break with the science of political economy consists in laying the foundation for a specific new object of investigation under the capitalist mode of production: the social form of labour. His theory is therefore not merely an ‘extension’ or a ‘rearrangement’ of the economic theory of the classics, but the invention of a completely new horizon for the critical analysis of the capitalist mode of production. Marx’s own self-understanding of his intervention as the Critique of Political Economy is where his radical revolution – indeed, his ‘communist Copernican turn’ – is embedded. As mentioned before, Marx’s project therefore cannot be understood in abstraction from his critique of the classics. It is Marx’s reading of political economists – notably Smith and Ricardo – and vulgar economists – Say, Bailey, Malthus, James Mill, McCulloch, Destutt de Tracy and many others – but also socialists like Proudhon, Owen, and others, that formed the condition of possibility for his own theoretical development that resulted in his magnum opus, Capital. Understanding the social form of labour is precisely what Marx found wanting in conventional political economy:

Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why the content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product.111

… classical political economy in fact nowhere distinguishes explicitly and with clear awareness between labour as it appears in the value of a product, and the same labour as it appears in the product’s use-value.112

What Marx critically discerns as the specific lack in the theories of the classics is the problem of the fetishism of the bourgeois relations of production – a problem not even fathomed to exist before Marx’s mature critique. The distinction between abstract and concrete labour is the crucial critical distinction to clear the path to a thoroughgoing critique of the capitalist relations of production and its inverted self-representations. By determining the social form of labour under these relations as value-producing abstract-general human labour and distinguishing it from concrete labour as manifested in the commodity’s use value, he also pierced the problem of form and content – the problem of fetishism.

The specificity of abstract labour as the substance of value for Marx consists in the fact that it always appears in a specific form – namely the value forms of the commodity, money, capital, wage, profit, price, interest and rent, categories that comprise the ‘science’ of political economy – in which it is always systematically obfuscated. Yet, it is precisely this phenomenological state of things – that the essence or substance itself cannot appear but in an inverted, distorting, and altogether spurious form – that goes unnoticed in the elaborations of classical political economy (not to speak of neoclassical theories after the demise of the Ricardian School). In other words, before Marx, the science of political economy was solely concerned with the forms of value as value’s mere appearance – without giving a thought to the specific substance, i.e. the general social form of labour, that give rise to these categories at all. Indeed, without giving any thought to an ‘epistemological cleft’ between the appearance and the essence of specific value forms at all, the classics had to remain on an a level of abstraction that has to tautologically resort to explaining form by form itself.

As noted earlier, the question of form in Marx can only be answered on the basis of its analysis, as the method of form analysis. Marx’s method of form analysis dissolves the fetishised objective dimension of a category like ‘exchange value’ or ‘the commodity’ as only appearing to be simple, ‘given’, and indeed presuppositionless. The analysis of their form shows that they can be fully grasped only as the result of a very specific social process, presupposing both the relations of (re)production and class. The beginning of Marx’s analysis in Capital is therefore already an ideology critique in the strict sense, as a critique of the self-representations and -legitimisations of the sphere of simple circulation that constitutes the only object of bourgeois economy and its science. Through a reconstruction of Smith’s and Ricardo’s theories of value in this Chapter (1.2.), we will see how Marx developed his own critical theory of value.

Not unlike the classical and vulgar political economists Marx attacked, many present-day Marxian theorists however reinitialise and repeat the tautological convolutions of Marx’s predecessors. In the last section of Chapter 1, we will therefore argue that, under the heading of ‘value form theory’, Marxian scholars of the last decades have initiated an apotheosis of ‘form’ while conferring a much lesser status to ‘substance’ or content, an intervention that is not only quite contrary to Marx’s critical intention, but regresses to the ‘fetishisms of the bourgeois relations of production’ that Marx was precisely out to deconstruct.

To first understand how the new object and method of investigation emerged in Marx, we should first take a look at the theoretical formation of theories of value in Marx’s predecessors, notably Adam Smith and David Ricardo. The aporias at work in these theories considerably informed Marx’s critique of them and gave rise to Marx’s own labour theory of value.

1.2.1 Smith’s and Ricardo’s Aporia and the Birth of Marx’s Value Theory as Critique

Of all the classical economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo – along with William Petty and Benjamin Franklin113 – were the most revered, but also the ones most elaborately criticised by Marx. The praise they received was owed to their attempts to systematically link a (albeit vague) concept of value to an (equally vague) concept of labour. The criticism was owed to their respective failures to be consistent in doing so. This, for Marx, was not a mystery, but was accounted for by Smith’s and Ricardo’s ‘bourgeois consciousness’,114 which is oblivious to the analysis of the social form of labour, predominantly in the form of money and capital, i.e. the form of appropriation of alien labour without an equivalent that is obfuscated in these forms. In fact, as we will see, because of their failure to consequently establish the link between a social form of wealth and the labour that produces it, neither Smith nor Ricardo can be said to have had any ‘labour theory of value’ at all. This is especially true for Ricardo, who never proposed an ‘embodied labour’ or ‘substantialist’ theory of value, but was interested solely in cost and production prices (in Marx’s terminology) from the outset of his theory. Ricardo’s investigation hence only revolved around magnitudes of ‘relative values’. In their respective theories of value, therefore, precisely because they disengaged their discussions from a coherent and unified ground of value in social labour, they resorted to aporia, exemplified in their tautologies to explain labour values through the ‘value of labour’ (Smith), or in their circular production price-determined understanding of value (Ricardo), which effectively led to the collapse of a meaningful link between value and the labour that produces it. Their endeavours finally resorted to explaining the economic form of capitalism based on the theoretical framework of the circulation, not the production sphere. What is more, the claim that Marx’s labour theory of value is merely to be regarded as a ‘Classical residue in Marx’s value theory’,115 a myth that haunts Marxologist debates even today, must be abandoned: not only on the basis that Marx’s theory was ‘social’ and ‘historically specific’ while Smith’s and Ricardo’s were not, but on the basis that Smith and Ricardo, in contrast to Marx, ultimately did not hold a labour theory of value at all. The same is true for Marx’s concept of abstract labour as ‘the particular form which labour assumes as the substance of value’116 – something of which the classics had no notion. Hence, authors that claim Marx’s concept of the substance of value in abstract labour or the labour theory of value were altogether ‘derived’ (Geert Reuten) from classical political economy, are shown to be wrong. This is all the more the case as, curiously, none of these interpreters engages with the ‘classics’ at all, which makes the thesis of the ‘classical residue’ even stranger and more inappropriate. The next sections will briefly demonstrate Smith’s and Ricardo’s ‘circle of reasoning’ (Begründungszirkel)117 in their respective theories of value. Only Marx, as I will show, had a consistent, social, and a consistently social labour theory of value, a theory taking its vantage point from the ‘double character’ of the labour represented in the commodity, a theory that, in the concept of abstract labour as the specific social form of value, gives coherence to both his critique of the ‘classics’ as well as his analysis of the capitalist mode of production.

1.2.2 Conflicting Conceptualisations of Value in The Wealth of Nations (1776)

Already in the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith was concerned with an objective measure of value more profound than the notion of ‘utility’, positioning himself against David Hume. Nevertheless, the ‘new’ principle of value he determines as ‘the machine or economy by means of which [the harmonious movement of the system] is produced’,118 and therefore the concept of productive activity, is derived from a strong subjectivist-ethical criterion, namely ‘approbation’. Yet, Smith was the first to move economic theory away from a ‘use value’ centred standpoint to a theory linking ‘productive activity’ with value. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith undertakes three considerable modifications of his earlier subjectivist-ethical qualification as labour as the sole standard for value. Here, next to a theory of the ‘toil of labour’,119 he holds a theory of ‘relative prices’ (of which more below), from which follows an ‘component parts’-theory of value. Ricardo will later resort to considerable modifications as well, but in a different vein. To understand Ricardo’s and Marx’s critique of Smith, let us first look at the problems in Smith conceptualisations. Early in The Wealth of Nations, Smith draws a close relation between the value of a good or produce, and the labour time necessary to produce it:

In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another. If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer. It is natural that what is usually the produce of two days or two hours labour, should be worth double of what is usually the produce of one day’s or one hour’s labour.120

But this relation is only valid in an ‘early and rude state of society’, a pre-capitalist society. It was only before ‘the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land’ that ‘labour’, measured in expenses (time), could meaningfully yield the standard of the proportions in which ‘different objects’ could be exchanged for another. But this is not the conceptualisation of value Smith has in mind for the liberal-bourgeois society he investigates. In it, the concept of value, and therefore the relation between labour and value, becomes dramatically different:

Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life. But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man’s own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase. The value of any commodity, therefore, to the person who possesses it, and who means not to use or consume it himself, but to exchange it for other commodities, is equal to the quantity of labour which it enables him to purchase or command. Labour, therefore, is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities.121

In bourgeois society, the value of commodities is no longer measured in the labour expenses objectified in the commodities, but in ‘labour commanded’, in the quantity of labour, which can purchase or ‘command’ a commodity. And this is an entirely different thing than to say that the value of a commodity consists in the labour ‘that it costs’: for now it is the value of labour someone can command, and not labour values, that govern exchange relations. Marx sees Smith’s tautology in the fact that Smith does not consistently follow the concept of the ‘quantity of labour’ as the immanent measure of value in units of time contained in a commodity and instead takes refuge in a concept of ‘the value of labour’ which already contains a value-determined quantity. As wage labour, ‘labour’ (the labour power commodity) has value. But in consequence, it cannot itself determine value: ‘The value of labour, or rather of labour capacity, changes, like that of any other commodity, and is in no way specifically different from the value of other commodities. Here value is made the measuring rod and the basis for the explanation of value – so we have a cercle vicieux’.122 As a general logical prerequisite, it is obvious that what accounts for an entity must be of a different category and quality than the entity itself. In the view of Helmut Brentel, we are here confronted with the ‘circle of reasoning in classical theories of value’,123 but we will see that present-day Marxologists stick to the same illogical schema. Needless to say, for Marx, Smith’s original conception of value as ‘labour commanded’ (= the value of labour) is not only tautological, but anachronistic. Smith’s peculiar inversion of historical relations consists in that, on the one hand, he assumes an objective theory of labour values in social relations in which the conditions for production and reproduction have not yet been subsumed under ‘objective’ exchange relations, i.e. exchange relations governed by social labour as the sole measure of value – but as soon as he describes capitalist relations, ironically, this determination no longer holds. Under capitalist relations, in which the ‘produce of labour does not always belong to the labourer’, therefore, Smith merely assumes production prices that must ‘yield’, i.e. substitute, ‘the profits of the stock which advanced the wages and furnished the materials of that labour’, invested by the ‘owner of the stock’.124 Accordingly, we find here a further specification of his ‘labour commanded’ theory of value:

The real value of all the different component parts of price, it must be observed, is measured by the quantity of labour which they can, each of them, purchase or command. Labour measures the value not only of that part of price which resolves itself into labour, but of that which resolves itself into rent, and of that which resolves itself into profit.125 In every society the price of every commodity finally resolves itself into some one or other, or all of those three parts; and in every improved society, all three enter more or less, as component parts, into the price of the far greater part of commodities.126 Wages, profit, and rent, are the three original sources of all revenue as well as of all exchangeable value.127

This further specification is, again, tautological: because allegedly, under capitalist relations, an explanation of ‘price’ based on labour values seems no longer possible, Smith holds the view that the ‘price or exchangeable value’ of a commodity must be resolved into price-constituents: wages, profits, rent. Again, we are confronted with a circular argument: the explanans is already contained in the explanandum – price is explained by price. In both cases of circular reasoning, the theory of value is dissolved into a theory of relative price that already encompasses the market and presupposes a general rate of profit. It thereby resorts to the explanatory framework of the circulation sphere; yet another inconsistency with regard to the initial claim. In consequence, Smith’s conceptualisation of ‘natural price’, resolving into (the price of) labour, capital and land (i.e. wages, profit, and rent), has given the incentive to the (Sayian) theory of the ‘factors of production’ – the ‘Trinity Formula’ in Marx’s dictum – that no longer sees ‘labour’ as the source of value. The necessary unity of the substance and the measure of value (which Marx’s labour theory of value accounts for) remains altogether anathematic in Smith’s theory. To the contrary: Smith abandons his initial determination of an immanent measure of value for an external measure of value in a theory of ‘relative price’. Accordingly, by abstaining from a reflection of inner coherence and sticking to the phenomenal form of price, Smith (and Ricardo) were unable to develop a theory of the value forms as the qualitative theory of the determination of money and price.

1.2.3 Ricardo’s Conceptual Confusions

Ricardo’s improvement in value theory as against Smith’s concept of value as ‘labour commanded’ or the value of labour is obvious from the very first line of his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (1817):

The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not on the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour.128

This indeed seems closer to Marx’s later view. But other than Smith, whose main aporia is owed to an anachronistic view of capitalist society, the precariousness of Ricardo’s theory is owed to missing conceptual differentiations resulting from a conflation of different levels of abstraction. From the start, Ricardo identifies concrete and abstract labour (all labour for him is concrete labour), labour and labour power, surplus value and profit, and – following from his inability to understand the specificities of value-creating labour in the production process – constant and variable capital. Instead, Ricardo merely differentiates between ‘fixed’ and ‘circulating’ capital, ‘different forms arising out of the process of the circulation of capital129 – which effectively leads to Ricardo’s failure to explain the emergence of a uniform rate of profit on the basis of his own value theory. The conflations of these terms can be deduced from Ricardo’s incomprehension of 1) the specificity of value- and surplus value-producing labour in the production process, measured in a variable working day,130 i.e. in wages which represent necessary labour as against surplus labour, and whose quantitative difference is the source of surplus value and, in deduced form, profit, 2) in consequence, the unequal exchange between capital and labour. All in all, Marx’s accusation of a ‘lack of the power of abstraction’ weighs heavy on Ricardo’s economic theory. This becomes obvious right at the beginning of Ricardo’s analysis where the rate of profit is ‘smuggled in’ – without a previous explanation of the basis of profit in the first place. For it is entirely unclear how, from Ricardo’s concept of value – depending on ‘the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production’ – we should come to profit at all:

All Ricardo’s illustrations only serve him as a means to smuggle in the presupposition of a general rate of profit. And this happens in the first chapter ‘On Value’, while WAGES are supposed to be dealt with only in the 5th chapter and profits in the 6th. How from the mere determination of the ‘value’ of the commodities their surplus value, the profit and even a general rate of profit are derived remains obscure with Ricardo. IN FACT the only thing which he proves in the above illustrations is that the prices of the commodities, in so far as they are determined by the general rate of profit, are entirely different from their values. And he arrives at this difference by postulating the rate of profit to be LAW. One can see that though Ricardo is accused of being too abstract, one would be justified in accusing him of the opposite: lack of the power of abstraction, inability, when dealing with the values of commodities, to forget profits, a FACT which confronts him as a result of competition.131

The real problem, according to Marx, is that, because Ricardo already confuses value and production prices from the beginning of his inquiry, he never arrives at the analysis of value. His vantage point ‘starts off too late’, so to speak, by beginning with the superficial forms of appearance of value – ‘cost price’132 or (in Marx’s terminology) ‘production price’ – to investigate the effects of a rise or a fall of wages on them.133 These effects are then naturally taken to explain the general rate of profit. But we are left with a non sequitur: wage itself is wanting of an explanation. Without a concept of the wage form, his concept of profit is a deus ex machina. This problem becomes eminent when Ricardo touches upon social reproduction. Here, he repeats Smith’s tautological misconceptions to finally capitulate to the impasse, simultaneously determining the value of a commodity by the socially necessary labour time (‘the quantity of labour’) needed for its production, and the value of ‘labour’ in exchange with capital. Ricardo’s inability to grasp not labour, but labour power as a commodity, and therefore to grasp the function of the wage-form, leads to another tautology:

The power of the labourer to support himself, and the family which may be necessary to keep up the number of labourers, does not depend on the quantity of money which he may receive for wages, but on the quantity of food, necessaries, and conveniences become essential to him from habit, which that money will purchase. The natural price of labour, therefore, depends on the price of the food, necessaries, and conveniences required for the support of the labourer and his family. With a rise in the price of food and necessaries, the natural price of labour will rise; with the fall in their price, the natural price of labour will fall.134

Because Ricardo fails to determine the ‘value of labour’ by the money expression of wages – based on the labour time socially necessary for its reproduction, and therefore variable – but by ‘natural price’, i.e. a fixed (‘from habit’) level of wages warranting the reproduction of the worker and her family, ‘natural price’ again depends on the price of ‘necessaries’. The ‘value of labour’ as labour’s ‘natural price’ therefore is determined by the use values necessary for the worker’s subsistence, expressed in price of means of subsistence. Ricardo completely disregards the constitutive function of the wage form – its unequal exchange with capital –, which would require a value determination in terms of socially necessary labour time, i.e. value, not in terms of use value.135 Ultimately, the ‘value of labour’, an expression of price, is explained by price. We find the same ‘circular reasoning’ that we have confronted in Smith’s determination of value by ‘labour commanded’ or by the ‘value of labour’ which itself is wanting of an explanation. Because both authors do not comprehend the necessity of a concept of the substance of value, in which both the quality and the quantity of that value is grounded – a concept of ‘absolute value’, ultimately, which first of all explains relative values – they could not escape the tautological character of their explanatory framework. What is more, in their explanatory framework, they remain on the level of appearance, of production price, and therefore resort to the sphere of circulation. But let us briefly return to Smith, in order to see more precisely why Ricardo theoretically lagged behind Smith himself. As we have seen, from the fact that, in capitalist production, the worker can no longer ‘buy back’ her own product, Smith draws the conclusion that the exchange value of the commodities – under capitalist relations – is no longer determined by the quantity of labour, but by its value. For Smith, the difference between the quantum of labour that a commodity costs and the quantum of commodities, which the worker can buy with this labour, is crucial. But why did Smith resort to such a modification? Marx correctly sees that Smith ‘goes positively mad’ (es ihn förmlich irremacht)136 over the problem of the exchange between capital and labour on the basis of a formal validity of equivalent exchange. Something else besides an exchange of equivalents – the exchange of labour with its products – seems to be happening. Smith senses that, although he cannot account for the reasons why, the law of value is transformed into a law of appropriation. It is this very circumstance, this confrontation with a structural antinomy – how the exchange between capital and labour can be explained on the basis of the exchange of equivalents – that induced Smith to modify his initial value theory, from a theory of materialised labour (vergegenständlichte Arbeit) towards a theory of labour commanded that is itself wanting of an explanation and caught up in circular reasoning. But whereas Smith ‘feels some flaw has emerged’ and ‘senses that somehow – whatever the cause may be, and he does not grasp what it is – in the actual result the law is suspended: more labour is exchanged for less labour (from the labourer’s standpoint), less labour is exchanged for more labour (from the capitalist’s standpoint)’ so that the law of value ‘changes into its opposite’,137 Ricardo does not even ‘suspect that this presents a problem’138 at all:

Ricardo simply answers that this is how matters are in capitalist production. Not only does he fail to solve the problem; he does not even realise its existence in Adam Smith’s work.139 Ricardo is satisfied with demonstrating that the changing value of labour – in short, wages – does not invalidate the determination of the value of the commodities, which are distinct from labour itself, by the relative quantity of labour contained in them. ‘They are not equal’, that is, ‘the quantity of labour bestowed on a commodity, and the quantity of labour which that commodity would purchase’.140 He contents himself with stating this fact. But how does the commodity labour differ from other commodities? One is living labour and the other objectified labour. They are, therefore, only two different forms of labour. Since the difference is only a matter of form, why should a law apply to one and not the other? Ricardo does not answer – he does not even raise this question.141

The identification of the value of labour with the labour product on the one hand (i.e. the conflation of labour and labour power), as well as that of cost price and relative value in Ricardo lead to considerable problems. These problems directly affect the emergence of a general rate of profit that Ricardo initially presupposes, but cannot explain.142 While from Smith’s theory of ‘production costs’ or value component-theory (that Ricardo initially rejects), it follows that the rise in one of the value components – labour – leads to a rise in all of the components, which fatally contradicts the equal parts of value-assumption of that theory, Ricardo was set to prove that, under certain circumstances, i.e. when the proportion of fixed capital employed was relatively high, a rise in wages effects a lowering of commodity prices. In The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, he therefore introduces another modification to his initial ‘labour theory of relative value’: no longer is the amount of labour materialised in the commodity exclusively decisive for its value, but also the composition of fixed and circulating capital, and therefore, the quantity of time that goes into the production and the circulation process. Initially assuming that neither the level of wages nor that of profit, but only the ‘quantity of labour bestowed on them’ affects the relative value of commodities,143 in Section IV of his main work, he ‘modifies’ his initial claim: ‘The principle that the quantity of labour bestowed on the production of commodities regulates their relative value [is] considerably modified by the employment of machinery and other fixed and durable capital’.144 Were it the case that men ‘employed fixed capital of the same value and of the same durability, then, too, the value of the commodities produced would be the same, and they would vary with the greater or less quantity of labour employed on their production’.145 However, supposing that two different capitalists employ different proportions of machinery (‘fixed capital’) in their production, the ones using a greater proportion of fixed capital (e.g. manufacturers) would have to ‘obtain a further sum … for the profit’ which they have invested in machinery, and consequently their goods must sell for a higher price than, say, the produce of the farmers. Supposing then that a rise in wages ‘squeezes’ the rate of profit from 10 to 9 percent, the product of manufactured goods with a ‘higher’ organic composition of capital would yield a smaller rate of profit, it would ‘fall relatively to corn or to any other goods in which a less proportion of fixed capital entered. The degree of alteration in the relative value of goods, on account of a rise or fall of labour, would depend on the proportion which the fixed capital bore to the whole capital employed’.146 The higher the proportion of fixed and durable capital, the lower its relative value. Regarding the fact that also the time necessary to bring the commodities to the market, the time of production, as well as the turnover time,147 affects the relative value of a commodity, it follows that not only the ‘quantity of labour bestowed’ determines the relative value of a commodity, but also the composition of capital and the time within production and circulation; factors independent of the actual labour needed to produce the commodity. We can conclude that Ricardo’s basic methodological predicament, namely the conflation of different levels of abstraction, accounts for Ricardo’s ‘modified’, and for Marx hence inconsequential labour theory of value.148 In sum, Marx’s main points of criticism directed against Ricardo are: 1. an insufficient categorial determination of specifically value creating and value determining labour, 2. that instead of a differentiation of capital into variable and constant capital, Ricardo merely considers the effects of ‘rises in the value of labour’ with regard to the secondary differentiation in ‘fixed’ and ‘circulating’ capital. While for Marx, all of the phenomena Ricardo describes can be traced back to a consistent ground in the specific social form of labour, the basis of which both explains different individual rates of profit as well as the emergence of a general rate of profit as a ‘transformed’, and hence already mystified and fetishised form of surplus value,149 Ricardo takes refuge in the assumption of the necessity of ‘modifications’ already in the basic theory of value – owed to the missing conceptual distinctions or abstractions between ‘value’ and ‘cost price’ and ultimately, ‘price of production’ and (relative) value, delegating the existence of value/price to the sphere of exchange (market), and not to the sphere of production. Ricardo therefore, like Smith before him, fails in consequentially explaining the existence of a social coherence in labour-based value. With the previous discussion, we could see not only the aporia in Smith’s and Ricardo’s theories of value, and their ultimate inability to explain the exchange of capital and labour on the basis of the formal validity of equivalent exchange, we could also see – reconstructing Marx’s immanent critique of both positions – in what respect Marx was eager to distinguish his own value theory form theirs: in a concept of the substance of value in abstract-homogenous, i.e. value producing labour, measured in socially necessary labour time, as the unity of both quality and quantity of value, and therefore an intrinsic measure to the superficial and fetishised forms of value (natural price, relative value, etc.) that Smith and Ricardo ultimately resorted to. It is therefore no less than absurd to claim that Marx’s labour theory of value was a ‘Classical residue.’ It was precisely the critical tool of disclosure of the aporia in the classical conceptions of value.

1.3 The Critical Function of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. Against Some Readings of ‘Form’ in Contemporary Value Form Theory

Authors of the Marxian tradition critically dealing with Marx’s labour theory of value have not only disregarded the break with the classical conception of value that constituted Marx’s Critique of Political Economy in the first place. They have also been oblivious to the specific critical function of the differentiation between abstract and concrete labour and the succeeding value form analysis conducted in the first chapter of Capital, namely as being a critique of the fetishism of simple circulation and its semblance, and hence their incomprehension of the specificity of money. As a consequence, they do not just misunderstand the specific use of crucial terms like (value) form, but fail to recognise Marx’s method as an evolving critique of the fetishistic categories of classical political economy, a method which must start from the assumption of the totality of the social form of labour that provides the coherence and the obfuscated ground of the value forms (of money, capital, etc).

This chapter will critically deal with the criticisms of Marx’s method and the offered alternative assumptions, namely (1) the methodological preference of (value) form over the substance of value as guiding principle, (2) the hypostasis of simple circulation (‘exchange’ or ‘the market’) as the foremost feature of the capital relation and the locus of value constitution, and (3) the call for the necessity of an ‘unmediated’ or ‘presuppositionless’ beginning of the exposition. For reasons of space, we treat only briefly arguments which to discuss and refute in detail would require a much longer chapter.

1.3.1 Misunderstanding Marx

In his work, self-defined as the ‘New’ or ‘Systematic’ Dialectic, Chris Arthur for example insists that in the architecture of Capital, the ‘pure forms’ of capital should be studied first – and especially ‘the value form (as the germ of capital)’ before its ‘grounding in labour’150 is analysed (1). He claims that ‘… the question of form is so crucial that the presentation starts with the form of exchange, bracketing entirely the question of the mode of production [sic], if any, of the objects of exchange’151 (1 and 2). Arthur also thinks that Marx was unjustified in introducing the concept of (abstract) labour prematurely:

It is notorious that Marx dives down from the phenomena of exchange value to labour as the substance of value in the first three pages of Capital and people rightly complain they do not find any proof there. So I argue … that we must first study the development of the value form and only address the labour content when the dialectic of the forms itself requires us to do so (3).152

Arthur insists that for the analysis of capital, ‘an absolute beginning without imposed conditions is needed’.153 We will see how misinformed such a claim is as to the critical character of Marx’s own method. Geert Reuten sings the same tune when he claims the value form of money as a ‘constituent of value’154 – and therefore begs the question, because we want to know precisely why it is that money represents value, why money can indeed buy all the other commodities. Surprisingly, Reuten does not seem to find it necessary to engage with Marx’s analysis. Instead, he meanders in tautological ‘clarifications’ (and ‘proofs’ of the dispensability of the concepts of ‘abstract labour’ and ‘substance’ based on word counts!)155 that rather serve to obscure than to illuminate the problem. This becomes especially telling when Reuten denounces Marx’s concept of the substance of value in abstract labour as a mere ‘metaphor’.156 Yet, at no point in the text does he state what the substance of value is a metaphor for. At the same time, Reuten claims that the ‘classics’ held a ‘real embodiment’ of labour theory of value, of which a ‘remnant’ existed in Marx: ‘Marx … was enmeshed in the physical substance-embodiment metaphor inherited from Hegel (substance) and classical political economy (embodiment).’157 (1) However, either labour as the substance of value is regarded as a mere ‘metaphor’ or it is, indeed, ‘embodied’ in the commodity. But it cannot be both. It becomes all the more strange when Reuten concludes that Marx suffered from ‘unclarity’, or a ‘lack of clarity’ as to his own abstractions, a judgment more appropriate for Reuten’s own argument.158 Reuten therefore not only misrepresents Marx’s theory and is himself, indeed, unclear about Marx’s straightforward fetishism-critical method, he goes on to explain that ‘value has no existence prior to the market’ (2).159 This is indeed counterfactual to Marx’s own analysis, as we shall see soon. In the same vein, the Marxist theorist of money and finance Costas Lapavitsas and Makoto Itoh of the Uno School see no reason to have to refer to abstract labour at all when they try to explain how money becomes the universal equivalent of exchange (1).160 Itoh especially entangles himself in circularities and truisms when he tries to explain the money form without recourse to abstract human labour.161 Long before them, Uno Kōzō himself – as will be prominently discussed – has expressed a strict preference for form over substance in explaining the value forms, and thereby directly inviting a petitio principii (2):

Labour as ‘value forming substance’ abstracts (shashō) from every form and is so to speak nothing more than something passive and abstract (chūshōteki). As such, we cannot make it the foundation of value form. In other words, [labour] is developed by the value form in the first place. The value form of the commodity is rather grasped through the forms that this substance itself passes through that is nothing else but the process of commodity economic development. However, the formal determination alone clarifies the fact of the assumption of ‘the physical form in the equal objectivity of the products of labour as values’.162

Regarding the analysis of the value form, two crucial interventions Marx aimed at go completely unnoticed (or even rejected) by these authors: (I) the necessity of presupposing the totality of the capital relation from the beginning, in which the category of the ‘commodity’ with which the analysis starts by no means signifies the ‘simplest’, but the most complex determination, a ‘relation of totality’,163 and (II) the function of value-form analysis as deducing the fetishistic semblance of simple circulation from the development of the commodity into money in their common ground of abstract labour. By refusing to see the critical intent already inherent in Marx’s very first, allegedly ‘innocuous’ analysis – that of the commodity – the commentators mentioned above become unwitting accomplices to an ideological approach, legitimising the sphere of appearance of capital.

1.3.2 The Forensic Investigation of Political Economy: Presupposing Totality

The reason for the ideological predicament of some approaches in value form theory hence lies in the ignorance of the fact that already at the stage of value form analysis, as mentioned earlier, the totality of capital – the ‘whole system of bourgeois production’164 – is presupposed: the exchange between 20 yards of linen and one coat does not denote a ‘simple exchange’, but the most abstract sphere of bourgeois self-presentation. Consequently, the real and by no means simple requirements which always already have to be fulfilled, so that simple circulation can appear as the paradigmatic form of capitalist intercourse, and exchange value can appear as a simple, presuppositionless economic form, do not immediately present themselves ‘from an examination of the simple circulation’, but ‘lie behind it as economic relations enclosed in the division of labour.’165 Like investors in a criminal case, we must therefore reconstruct the sphere of simple circulation from what lies behind it. What is ‘forgotten’ in the examination of simple circulation, on the one hand, is the ‘objective basis of the whole system of production’, that it is not autonomous individuals who meet ‘on the market’ to exchange their respective goods, but a relation that ‘already in itself implies compulsion over the individual’, in which the individual is ‘entirely determined by society; that this further presupposes a division of labour etc., in which the individual is already posited in relations other than that of mere exchanger …’166 Mainly, the presentation of simple exchange as the point of departure of the analysis of capitalist exchange relations does itself convey a critical intent in that it prepares the re-examination of the formal validity of the law of equivalent exchange in the case of capital and wage labour. It is therefore both presupposed and ‘overlooked’ (‘obliterated’)167 in the formal characteristics of simple circulation:

What is overlooked, finally, is that already the simple forms of exchange value and of money latently contain the opposition between labour and capital etc. Thus, what all this wisdom comes down to is the attempt to stick fast to the simplest economic relations, which, conceived by themselves, are pure abstractions; but these relations are, in reality, mediated by the deepest antithesis, and represent only one side, in which the full expression of the antithesis [between labour and capital] is obscured.168

Elsewhere,169 we have already shown that the methodological assumptions in Marx’s critique of capital owe to Hegel’s method of constituting the object through the inner relation of its parts at the level of the ‘Logic of Reflection’ (Reflexionslogik). The totality presupposed for developing the categories from the ‘poorest’ (being/nothingness) to the ‘richest’ (the concept/the idea) is therefore constitutive to the object, a totality understood as ‘overgrasping subjectivity’170 (übergreifende Subjektivität). It must therefore begin with mere semblance, with what is untrue.171 This also means that the independence and ‘immediate truth’ of the categories will show themselves to be wrongly assumed. Being and Nothingness are absolutely mediated categories that cannot even be meaningfully determined when their ‘purity’ is assumed: taken in isolation, they cannot account for their own constitution. The same goes for the commodity and the semblance of simple circulation: we are here only confronted with a distorted version of truth. The deeply problematic truth of capital can only be elucidated as a complete critique of its constitutive categories, that of political economy. It is therefore all the more strange that Marxist authors claim that Hegel started from the premise of presuppositionlessness.172 The contrary is true: in Hegel’s, like in Marx’s presentation, the development of the idea deliberately begins from a completely mediated nexus that, in the beginning, must show itself to be wrong precisely by taking the categories in isolation, without presupposition, in the manner of ‘outer reflection’. One must even concede that in the bourgeois economists, like the philosophers Hegel criticised (we must of course think of Kant), precisely because their own categories were conceptualised as unrelated, they were contradictory. We must here return to the question of form. In Chapter 1.1., we have already sketched the function of form analysis as the specific method that reveals the obliterated genetic construction of the conventional categories (or ‘forms’), i.e. money, capital, wage, profit, rent, etc., in their form. Marx’s impetus is very Hegelian here: his concept of form coincides with Hegel’s concept of the concept, namely in that it resolutely rejects a mere ‘formal’ understanding of form. The concept of overgrasping subjectivity (mediation) entails a concept of form as form-content (Formgehalt), which no longer stands in opposition to the content or ‘substance’ it designates. The object of investigation (the social form of labour that generates the capital-relation) is given as a processual total structure of economic forms and changes of form (Formwechsel) whose ‘inner cord’ (‘innres Band’)173 presents the universal commonality to all particular forms labour assumes, as an ‘overgrasping’ relation. This is no easy task: because the form determinations only exist as moments of the total nexus, Marx – and we, as his readers – must position ourselves as the criminal investigators of political economy who reconstruct the nexus from its mere (and sometimes outright inverted) appearance. The general nexus of the totality of forms is therefore simultaneously the content of this process, and in this sense, form is also content. Any analysis that proclaims a systematic scientific approach must therefore account for the mutual ‘overturning’ (Umschlagen) of form into content, and content into form.174 Let us see how this understanding can be made fruitful for a precise view of the critical functions of value form analysis.

1.3.3 The Functions of Value Form Analysis

Generally speaking, the foremost function of the analysis of the value form is the critique of fetishism of the bourgeois relations of production. In the analysis of the value form, Marx confronts this fetishism on different levels of abstraction: a) in a logical-systematic reconstruction of the transition from the sphere of simple circulation as the abstract and ideological sphere of bourgeois production to the actual basis of that mode of production, b) in a theory of value constitution through the analysis of form and content of the universal equivalent that appears as money (form) (against premonetary theories of value) c) in the demonstration of the ‘law of value’ in terms of a successive detachment from the intentions, wants and personal desires of the owners of commodities as a law of ‘autonomisation’. We have already covered a) in the previous analysis of the commodity as a ‘mediation of totality’ in which the confrontation between capital and labour is obscured. In the following, for reasons of space, our evaluation of some approaches in value form theory, has to limit itself to b).

The deduction of the value form of money from the semblance of the simple exchange of commodities to its constitutive content in human labour in the abstract does not mean that the form of value is arbitrary, or even dispensable. To the contrary: value has its necessary form of appearance in money. In other words, in its ‘palpable’, material, objective, and therefore fetishised form, value has no other existence than in money. Yet this does not mean that it is money: it must however appear as such.175 In Forms IIIV of value form analysis, Marx has shown that money as the universal equivalent is the specific form in which value functions as the synthesis of the mediation of private labours in a social context. However, the relation of content or substance (human labour in the abstract) and form is not exhausted in a simplistic antagonism between essence and appearance. Essence must appear (in the Hegelian sense), but in a form in which its own fetishistic obliterations can still be identified as such. The analysis of the form must therefore identify the content that grounds the form in the form itself, against its semblance, and make it appear. This is the case when the legitimisation strategies of simple circulation become entangled in self-contradictions, and this only happens when money is treated as an entity external to the exchange process: a mere means of the facilitation of exchange, as means of circulation. However, money as the palpable form of abstract labour then is the conditio sine qua non of general social exchange, so that theories that suggest the dispensability of money in order to realise ‘equal exchange’ contradict their own premises.176 But while the specific content is indicative of a specific form, the reverse is also true: the form must indicate a specific content. Saying that there is no such thing as value without a general equivalent implies that only in the equivalent form, the real reduction of the different labours to abstract-general human labour is always-already posited. Value form analysis therefore also entails a theory of the constitution of value. This is already clear in the specificity of the simple form of value (x commodity A = y commodity B) that consists in its polarity, i.e. not merely indicating a reversible relation, but mutually exclusive function, and that, as such, indicates a specific content of the equivalent form. In it, no specific, concrete human labour, but human labour in the abstract is the ground or content that enables all the specific and concrete labours to mirror themselves in it, to ‘stand in’ for it. Money therefore has the double function of representing all the commodities, but none of them specifically. As a ‘thing’, it therefore represents human labour in the abstract, all labours, but none of them in particular. This is indeed the ‘joint contribution of the whole world of commodities’.177 In this context, the proposition that Marx’s analysis ‘prematurely’ introduced a ‘posited ground’ for value in labour becomes meaningless. The requirement of the forms of value to be ‘studied first’ is equally absurd: the forms of value are not self-explanatory. A method that hypothesises the forms of value, instead of analysing them in order to reveal their obfuscated content, ‘sticks fast to the simplest economic relations’.

Value as a social totality can never be constituted in a mere Formwechsel of C-M-C or M-C-M. The forms of circulation and exchange can never constitute economic objectivity: ‘Simple circulation is not the autonomous sphere of the economic constitution of objectivity – as such, it exists only in the ideological semblance of legitimisation of bourgeois self-interpretation’.178 They are the mere illusory forms with regard to the real basis of value constitution in the real subsumption of labour under capital. We can already become witness to this in the ‘Contradictions in the General Formula’ in Chapters 5 and 6 of Capital Volume I. The Marxian authors we have discussed above, whose impetus lies in distancing themselves from ‘traditional’, i.e. ‘embodied labour’-theories of value have overstated their case, by resorting to formalistic theories of value that are, at best, tautological like the theories of the classics (which they do not even consider), and, at worst, an uncanny invitation of marginalist assumptions into Marxian theory. However, Marx’s labour theory of value was designed as an antidote to these views. The social form of labour whose economic form character has been overlooked by ‘traditionalists’ and their opponents alike, indeed surpasses the problematic of a mere antagonism between form and substance to open the horizon for a fundamental critique of the real semblance, the fetishism, of capitalist self-presentation. With these preliminary remarks on the problematic that Value Without Fetish addresses, we can return to Uno Kōzō’s method and object regarding ‘political economy’ as a science. ‘Method’ thus forms the first, and ‘Object’ the second – and longer – part of this book.

In the following Chapter 2, with which the first part on ‘Method’ closes, we will elaborate the specific ways Uno attempted to access the problem of the logic and the history, and its presentation in Marx’s Capital. In the chapter, we will critically deal with Uno’s sandankairon or the ‘Three-Level Method’ (or ‘Approach’) to political economy. Against its claim to provide the missing link or linkage between the logic and the history of capital, we will show that the Three-Level-Method remains external to its object, failing to account for both its own constitution and the relation to the objects it addresses (Chapter 2.1.). Our investigation into the ‘Limits to the Three-Level Method’ will also lead us to question Uno’s interpretation of ‘Primitive Accumulation’ and its systematic locus at the end of Volume I of Capital. Because Uno’s method is situated around two important claims, we will highlight the two methodological ‘axes’ of pure theory or genriron that Uno identifies for his own specific approach to political economy: on the one hand ‘The Law of Population’, discussed in Chapter 2.2., and ‘The Commodification of Labour Power’ on the other, discussed in Chapter 2.3. Both ‘axes’, while intricately linked, significantly form the vantage point for Uno’s analysis of capital, and will therefore be scrutinised – and criticised – in detail. We will show that the axes, forming the ‘coordinate system’ of Uno’s approach, do not only not adequately reproduce the Problemstellung of Marx’s own analysis, but that Uno’s particular angle even eliminates Marx’s own critical analysis of accumulation, crisis, and the reproduction of labour power under conditions of unequal exchange.

With the general evaluation of Uno’s methodological approach to capital as the subject of political economy, we can now turn in more detail to the question of value in Chapter 3, ‘Uno’s Theory of Value without Fetish’, introducing the second part of the book. A close analysis of Uno’s 1947 monograph Value Theory (Kachiron) forms the centre of this chapter. The specific focus is on Uno’s interpretation of value form analysis in Section 3 in the first chapter of Capital. Uno’s view of abstract labour as a particular form of concrete labour (to be discussed in Chapter 3.1.), and his theory of value derived from the ‘want of the commodity owner in the relative form of value’, introducing the motive of methodological individualism (in Chapter 3.2) will be critically reflected, as well as his theory of money that we find remaining in the framework of Samuel Bailey’s nominalist theory of money (Chapter 3.3.). This chapter will also recur to Uno’s view of capital as M-C-M’ – ‘Capital as Pure Form’ – and its exclusion of the specific form of capitalist wage labour from this pure form, relocating the ‘pure form’ of capital to merchant capital instead (Chapter 3.4.).

Chapter 4, the longest chapter, will finally address Uno’s theory of pure capitalism in his main work, Principles of Political Economy (1950/2 and 1964). Here, Uno’s Great Three Laws of Political Economy, the law of value, the law of population, and the law of the equalisation of the rate of profit, will be taken up and addressed in the different contexts that they appear in this work. The chapter will first provide a summary of the ‘Reconstruction of Capital’ (Chapter 4.1.) that is also indicative of the content with which Uno, in contrast to Marx, chooses to present his pure theory. For example, by directly subsuming the ‘General Law of Capitalist Accumulation’ (Chapter 25 of Capital Volume I) to the ‘Reproduction Schemas’ of Capital Volume II, Uno both dislocates and problematically realigns the specific locus and explanatory function each respective theorem has in Marx’s architecture. This move however allows Uno to formulate his ‘Law of Value as the Law of General Social Equilibrium’ (Chapter 4.2.), which we reject and directly confront with Marx’s ‘Law of Value as the Law of Crisis’ in Chapter 4.4. It is however not without Uno’s own view of the nexus between values and prices, contrasting it with Marx’s critique of the fetishistic forms of profit and price, that the radical opposition between Uno’s and Marx’s approaches to political economy – the first as the ‘internal dream or fantasy of capital’,179 the second as its critique – becomes fully transparent. The question of ‘Surplus Value and Profit: The ‘Transformation Problem’ in Uno’s Perspective’ (Chapter 4.3.) therefore provides the link to the closing assessment of the disparity between Uno and Marx that is not only indicative of a contrasting interest in the theory of capital, but also of a disparate objective: while Marx’s intent was to disclose the fetishistic forms that obscure the actual workings of the capital relation both in its agents and theorists, in order to pave the way for its overcoming, Uno contents himself with reproducing the fetishistic sphere itself, often digressing to the framework of classical and vulgar economists and their form-theoretical, but never form-analytical impetus. Because Uno’s work has received a vivid reception both in Japan and internationally, which even accompanied the formation of his own ‘School’, Chapter 5 will discuss ‘Uno’s Legacy in Japan and Beyond’. Needless to say, another 500-page book can be written about the reception of Uno’s value theory in Japan alone, which is why we limit ourselves to a line of reception in Japan that is most articulated in accentuating Uno’s theory of value in relation to his theory of money, radicalising the ‘monetary approach’ lurking, but not autonomously formulated, in Uno’s writings. We identify a ‘post-Uno School’ of Value Theory in Japan that, while being critical of Uno, is also considerably informed by his major theoretical interventions – while drawing on the works of proponents of the Neue Marx-Lektüre. Here will therefore also be the place to direct some points of critique to its proponents Hans-Georg Backhaus and Michael Heinrich.180 A critical discussion of two authors of the ‘post-Uno School’ – Ebitsuka Akira and Mukai Kimitoshi – will be presented in ‘Money Vs. Value? The “Monetary Approach” in the post-Uno School of Value Theory’ (Chapter 5.1.), delineating the trajectory Uno’s work has taken in Japan. From here, we move to Uno’s Anglo-American reception, which arguably presents the internationally best known line of the reception of Uno’s work to a non-Japanese speaking audience. In ‘The “Dialectic of Capital” as the Apologetic of Capital in the Anglophone Uno School’ (Chapter 5.2.), we engage with the works of Uno’s student Thomas T. Sekine, through his translation work arguably the founder of the ‘Uno School’ in the West, and Robert Albritton who was the first proponent of the Uno School not to read Uno in the original. Sekine’s work, though time and again emphasising capital as a ‘dialectical logic’, is predominantly found to propose a linear approach to capital as an object of investigation, consequently culminating in an ‘equilibrium’ theory of price, which we have already problematised in Chapter 4.2. in relation to Uno. Albritton’s work will be reflected against the background of the ‘logic’ and the history of capital in Uno’s sandankairon and the disparity or gap that cannot be filled by virtue of its own theoretical claim. This allows us to identify the specific marks that Uno’s work has directly left on theories of capital in mostly English-speaking countries.

At a further remove, in the final chapter (Chapter 5.3.), we will question some recent historiographies of Japan that have been more or less directly influenced by Uno, but have attempted to form their own approaches, most notably in relation to the question of real subsumption. In ‘The Meaning of Real Subsumption, or the Real Subsumption of Meaning: Aspects of Anglophone Uno School Historiographies’ (Chapter 5.3.), the works of Harry Harootunian and Gavin Walker, who have both recently published remarkable monographs on Japan’s specific historical trajectory and Uno’s view of it, will be our topic of interest. Here will also be the place to return to the overarching theoretical problem that we have identified as ‘use value fetishism’ in Uno’s own work. Both Harootunian and Walker share a common theoretical basis that informs their respective interventions: the disavowal of value as the organising principle of modern capitalist social relations and, by the same token, the hypostatisation of the use value aspect of the commodity form as the ‘positive’ aspect, which allows us to either denounce real subsumption in favour of formal subsumption (Harootunian), or even as site of resistance to capital (Walker). Precisely by disavowing the status of value from Marx’s critique – or eliminating the critical object of the Critique of Political Economy altogether – we believe that both approaches, faithful to Uno’s core theoretical emphasis of use value against value, provide both theoretically and empirically counterfactual and politically questionable explanatory attempts for the global rise of capital. By choosing to ignore the nexus between value and fetish, the theorists in Uno’s vein, like Uno before them, do not only leave the problem of fetishism intact – they reproduce it on a higher scale.

This book is written for the people who continue to question the predicament that is capital – capital not as a ‘fact’, as mere ‘object’, but as something that draws and lives on the ‘life-blood’ of those who foster capital’s own fetishisms and the many-fold strategies of its self-legitimisation. The true challenge, as we are aware, is still ahead. This book hopes to blow a breach for those willing to taken upon themselves this ‘almost irresolvable task’.181 Irresolvable it shall not remain.


Krahl 1971, p. 84. Footnote. Many thanks to Jacob Blumenfeld for the translation.


Marx 1989b, p. 507.


We use capital letters to characterise Marx’s project, beginning with the Grundrisse in 1857.


To our knowledge, the only other two approaches identifying Marx’s critique of fetishism as his method are Tsuru Shigeto 1994 and Helmut Brentel 1989. Tsuru, however, limits the critique of fetishism to the critique of ‘commodities’, ‘money’, and ‘capital’. We instead see the problem of fetishism as pertaining to all concepts of bourgeois political economy.


Papadakis 2017, p. 52.


It is at the end of the 1864/5 Economic Manuscripts, better known as Volume III of Capital, that Marx returns to the problematic of the commodity, with which his analysis in Volume I of Capital began, to identify the problem of fetishism as the over-arching predicament: ‘What is also implied in the commodity … is the reification of the social determinations of production and the subjectification [Versubjektivierung] of the material bases of production which characterize the entire capitalist mode of production’. Marx 1981, p. 1020.


On the history of the emergence of fetishism as a theoretical problem in Marx, see Oittinen 2017.


See Cohen 1978, Wright 1978, Roemer 1981, Elster 1985 and 1986. See also the publications of the ‘Sydney-Konstanz Project’ in the 1980s (Eldred 1984).


See Steedman et al. (eds.) 1981.


For an overview of the disavowal of the complex of fetishism in the ‘Althusser School’, see Dimoulis and Milios 1999, especially pp. 26–31.


Bourdieu 1979, Hall 1980, Hall 1997, Hall 2017, Jameson 1991, Eagleton 1976, Eagleton 2000, Harootunian 2000.


E.g. Szepanski 2014a, 2014b, 2018. Szepanski’s intervention aims at introducing Deleuzian theorems such as the ‘Rhizoma’ into ‘Marxist financial theory’. See also the online journal ‘non’, as well as the (in 2019) planned book series and journal.


Most notably Brenner 2002, Brenner 2006, Brenner 2009 and Wood 2002, Wood 2003 and Wood 2012.


‘… the question of commodity fetishism was almost completely ignored in the theoretical work of the Second International, and even Kautsky himself was content with only a hint at the problematic … The same can be said of the theoreticians of the Third International: neither Lenin nor Gramsci ever paid much, if any, attention to the concept of fetishism’. Oittinen 2017, p. 19.


Elson 1979.


Geras 1971, Steedman 1981, de Vroey 1981. Lucio Colletti, on the other hand, correctly remarked ‘that Marx’s theory of value is identical to his theory of fetishism, and that is precisely the virtue of this element (in which the crucial importance of the relation with Hegel is intuitively evident) that Marx’s theory differs in principle from the whole of classical political economy’. Colletti 1972, p. 77.


Our outline here remains rough and general for systematic reasons, reasons which directly inform the form of our inquiry, which will become clearer in the following.


John Clegg has provided a useful taxonomy which this book roughly adheres to: ‘The difference between these two definitions [of fetishism both as something that ‘attaches itself’ to the commodity and a mistaken view of the social character of commodity production] has led to confusion as to what the terms ‘fetishism’ and ‘fetish-character’ specifically mean for Marx … At least part of the confusion can be put down to a lack of attention to Marx’s own terminology. In the English-speaking world this may be due to poor translations. I have already indicated in the terms I use above how the confusion may be overcome: by distinguishing between the ‘fetish-character’ of commodities and the ‘fetishism’ of those who mistake this as natural’. Clegg 2005, p. 3. The fetish-character thus pertains to the value forms, while fetishism characterises bourgeois political economy’s view of capitalist relations of production, as e.g. in ‘the fetishism of the political economists’. Marx 1976, p. 983. See also O’Kane 2013, p. 34, and Schulz 2011.


The section on ‘The Fetish-Character of the Commodity and its Secret’ in Volume I of Capital has evolved as the locus classicus of almost all ‘commodity form’-interpretations of the fetish problematic in Marx, which we see as a fatal truncation (see e.g. Benjamin 1999 [1927–40], Rubin 1973 [1928], Lukács 1971 [1923], Sohn-Rethel 1970, Geras 1971, Balibar 1993). The reader may thus be surprised that, in our view, the famous chapter on ‘Commodity Fetishism’ in Volume I of Capital does not constitute the locus classicus of Marx’s ‘theory of fetishism’. As will be explained later, the theory of fetishism is rather to be found in the ‘three peculiarities of the equivalent form of value’, as developed by Marx in the section ‘The Equivalent Form’ in the first chapter of Capital Volume I (in the first edition of Capital of 1867 still referred to as the ‘four particularities’). We will show that the ‘three particularities’ present the single pertinent heuristic-methodological insight to the ‘why’ of the phenomenon of the fetish-character of the value forms. It is precisely this insight that is discarded from Uno’s theoretisation of a ‘pure capitalist society’ – with grave consequences.


Marx 1981, p. 517.


Marx 1904 [1859], p. 81.


Marx 1981, p. 516.


Marx 1981, p. 516.


Marx 1981, p. 516.


Marx 1981, p. 517.


We will return to the concept of ‘social form as substance’ in Chapter 1.1.


Needless to say, Marx has not written Capital in the succession in which the volumes appear (for an overview on the formative history of Capital, see Heinrich 2011). However, its thematic is reflected in the consistency in which Marx follows the theme of fetishism and fetishisation.


Brentel 1989, p. 283. Original emphasis.


Brentel 1989, pp. 284–5. Original emphasis.


The labour theory of value hence addresses both the quality and the quantity of value as (abstract) labour: ‘A use-value, or useful article … has only value because abstract human labour is objectified [vergegenständlicht] or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the value-forming substance, the labour contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time itself is measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc … Socially necessary labour time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labour prevalent in that society’. Marx 1976, p. 129.


The objection that Marx did not use the term ‘labour theory of value’ in Capital, implying that Marx did not hold such a theory (see Reuten 1993) is problematic in its nominalist implications, for it confuses word and concept. A word is written, spoken, or enunciated in some way, designating a fixed sequence of letters and syllables. A concept is the ‘idea’, the ‘theme’ or ‘topic’ (roughly, for the present purpose). For example, one can talk about Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ at length without once saying the word ‘Mona Lisa’. This person may for specific reasons refer to it as ‘La Gioconda’ or ‘Leonardo’s most famous painting’. But he or she has still talked about the Mona Lisa as a concept. In the same vein, just because Marx did not use the words ‘labour theory of value’, does not mean he did not have (and indeed apply!) the concept. In fact, the labour theory of value is the key to understanding the critique of political economy, without which we would have a hard time making sense of Marx’s critique of Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, Say, Bailey and others. For the formation of Marx’s labour theory of value from the critique of the classics, see Lange 2019b. See also Chapter 1.2.


Foley 1997, p. 1.


For further reading, see Davies 1999.


The critical function of this metaphor probably only differs from the ‘Turing-Bombe’ in that Smith, Ricardo, Bailey, Say, Malthus, Rodbertus, Proudhon, and others, were altogether uninhibited with the content of their ‘messages’. Not only were they not intent on ‘hiding’ their categories, but, to the contrary, they were to serve as scientific heuristics for the science of political economy.


See Böhm-Bawerk 1949.


Diane Elson’s characterisation of Marx’s value theory as a ‘value theory of labour’ (Elson 1979) confuses the explanandum with the explanans: Marx did not aim to show that labour appears as value (this would, indeed, be banal), but that the appearances of value – the value forms – are to be traced back to their common denominator, abstract human labour. Simultaneously, Elson misrecognises Marx’s fetishism-critical method.


Paradigmatically here David Harvey’s ‘Marx’s Refusal of the Labour Theory of Value’, available at


This is predominantly argued within the Uno School: ‘The premature introduction of the labour theory of value confuses the meaning both of the Doctrine of Production and of the Doctrine of Circulation. Here Marx unwittingly violates his own structure’. Albritton 1986, p. 48. One of the tasks of this book is to show how fundamentally mistaken this view is. See also Thomas Sekine’s comment in Uno 1980, p. xxiv: ‘… the premature and unnecessary reference to the labour theory of value in the early part of Capital frequently beclouds the discussion of commodity circulation, etc.’.


See, e.g., the post-Uno School of value theory which we discuss in Chapter 5.1., and other Uno-School theorists working on finance (e.g. Itoh 1976, Lapavitsas 2005, 2013, 2017). See also Steedman 1978, Cohen 1979, Eldred 1985, Bryan/Rafferty 2013. See Lebowitz 2005 for a response to the rejection of Marx’s value theory in Analytical Marxism, and Best 2017 for a response to its rejection in ‘financialisation’ theory.


‘Commodities possess this “shared feature” or “tertium” [value] only when they appear in common, i.e., when they are related to one another in exchange’. Heinrich 1999, p. 215. ‘Value may only be visible (sic) in exchange, but it is certainly not “created” there’. Heinrich 1999, p. 243. For a critical evaluation of Backhaus (Backhaus 2011), see Chapter 5.1.


See e.g. Itoh 1976, p. 312; Reuten 1993, p. 89; Arthur 2006, p. 10; Harvey 2018, p. 1. Interestingly (or rather tellingly), these authors do not provide any original source for their claims.


‘… by immediately presenting the labour theory of value, the historical viewpoint formally established for the first time by Marx regresses to the “failures” of classical political economy and cannot escape its dangers’. Uno 1974 [1962], p. 158.


Hegel 1991 [1830], p. 34.


Marx 1976, p. 187.


We will return to this important relation between the empirical and the non-empirical in our discussion of the ‘transformation problem’ in Chapter 4.


Marx 1976, p. 187.


Seminal research literature has been published on Marx’s fetishism-critical method in the last 30 years, mostly in German. Authors like Helmut Brentel, Anton Fischer, Dieter Wolf, Nadja Rakowitz, Frank Engster, Ingo Elbe, Christian Iber, Ingo Stützle, and others, have published path-breaking works in the fetish-critical branch of value form theory. We largely base the argument presented here on this line of research, with special consideration of Helmut Brentel. The translation of especially Helmut Brentel’s seminal work in English remains an extraordinary desideratum. Historical Materialism’s translation projects provide an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with these works and should be supported.


Marx 1976, p. 125.


For Uno’s lasting influence in the recent literature, see e.g. the works of Obata Michiaki (e.g. Obata 2009, 2013), Yamaguchi Shigekatsu (Yamaguchi 1996, 2000, 2010), the volume Global Capitalism and Stage Theory, edited by Kawamura Tetsuji et al., a part of a 10-volume series on the Transformation of Modern Capitalism and Political Economy (Kawamura et al. 2016). Scholars associated in the Japan Society for Political Economy (JSPE, Keizai riron gakkai), a Marxist association devoted to issues of critical political economy, also make use of Uno’s work and intervention. Kawamura Tetsuji is the current chairman. The Uno School in the narrower sense is linked in the think tank ‘Uno Theory’ ( which proclaims to contribute to ‘Rejuvenating Marxian Economics through Uno Theory’. Their semi-annual newsletter, published in Japanese and partly in English, contains recent research in Uno theory. In the international context, Palgrave Macmillan is at the forefront for publications on the Uno or, rather the ‘Uno-Sekine’ tradition which has evolved from Thomas Sekine’s interpretation of Uno’s theory in the English-speaking world, for which mainly Robert Albritton is representative (see Albritton 1986, 1991; Sekine 1997, Albritton and Sekine 1995, Albritton and Simoulidis 2003, Albritton et al. 2001, Richard Westra and Alan Zuege 2003).


For Karatani’s account of Uno’s influence at the University of Tokyo, see Barshay 2004, p. 124.


The Kurashiki Bōsekisho or ‘Kurashiki Spinning Mill’ was founded by entrepreneur Ōhara Kōshirō (1833–1910) in 1888 and was regarded as Japan’s most modern spinning factory.


‘Kurashiki-shi’ literally means ‘City of Storehouses’.


For an overview of the earliest reception of Marx’s works in Japan, see Lange 2014.


Barshay 2004, p. 98.


Uno seems to have worked with both the original texts and Japanese translations in his later writings. In the Preface to his main work, the Principles of Political Economy (1950/2, 1964), we hear: ‘Quotes from Capital in the Institute-edition [the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee in Moscow, i.e. the first edition of the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe or MEGA, published until 1938] are identified as ‘I’, quotes from the Japanese translation [the Iwanami Bunkō translation] are identified as “Iwa” ’. Uno 1964, p. 10. Whether by ‘Iwanami Bunkō translation’ Uno refers to the translation by friend and comrade Sakisaka Itsurō (1950) or the earlier translation by Hasebe Fumio (1929), is unknown.


Marx’s and Engels’s works have been translated into Japanese from the early 1900s on. A translation of Marx’s and Engels’s Communist Manifesto appeared in 1904 in the first anniversary edition of the Heimin Shinbun (‘The Commoner’s News’), a weekly journal founded by the early Meiji socialist Kōtoku Shūsui, who also translated it. Kōtoku later moved away from socialism to become an anarchist. In 1911, he and eleven other revolutionaries were found guilty of trying to assassinate the Emperor and subsequently executed. The following ‘winter years’ of Japanese Marxism that eventually not only paralysed the socialist movement, but also theoretical endeavours in Marx exegesis, were succeeded by a new interest in Marxian works triggered by the Russian Revolution. The first Japanese translation of the first volume of Das Kapital (Shihon ron) by Takabatake Motoyuki (1886–1928) was published in June 1920 by Kaizōsha, followed by Volumes II and III in 1924. A short summary of all three volumes of Capital was, however, presented to the public in the Ōsaka edition of the Heimin Shinbun by Yamakawa as early as 1907.


Barshay 2004, p. 98.


Arguably the best study on the debate, both on its extent and intent, remains Germaine Hoston 1986.


The abolishment of the Tokugawa clan’s feudal state and the reinstallation of the Emperor system between 1867 and 1869 is generally referred to as the Meiji restoration (Meiji ishin).


The publication that gave the Kōza-ha its name was the 7-volume Lectures on the History of the Development of Japanese Capitalism (Nihon shihonshugi hattatsu shi kōza), which was modelled after a Marxist-Leninist interpretation of Japanese history in accordance with the Comintern theses from 1927 and, partly, 1932. It was published by the prestigious Iwanami shoten publishing house 1932–3. For a detailed discussion of the appropriation of the Comintern theses into the JCP’s view of Japanese history and its divergences, see Furihata 1987.


See Hoston 1986, p. 38. For an overview of the Kōza-ha-Rōnō-ha-debate, see Hoston 1986, pp. 35–75, Sugihara 1987, pp. 27 ff., Itoh 1980, pp. 22 ff., Gayle 2003, pp. 24 ff., Hoff 2009, pp. 48–52.


For a historical contextualisation of Uno’s theoretical engagement in post-War Japan, see Barshay 2004, pp. 92–4, 97–100, 120–6. See also Hoff 2016, pp. 97–115.


In an interview originally published in 1958, Uno officially attacked Stalin’s view of the ‘law of value’ as transhistorical, simultaneously rebuking Engels’ doctrine of simple commodity production: ‘… the law of value is the fundamental economic law of capitalist society – in this point my understanding differs from Stalin … To say that the law of value of the commodity entirely demonstrates this lawfulness (hōsokusei) as a necessity does not mean that products are merely exchanged as commodities, and it does not mean that they are merely produced as commodities. But it means that commodities are produced by commodities, and that they exist within capitalist commodity economy …’ Uno 1974 [1958]a, p. 119. For Uno, Stalin’s treatment of ‘the law of value’ as transhistorical ‘obscures the relation between the economic principles that are contained within and undergird the laws of commodity economy on the one hand, and their historical form on the other, rendering vague the historical significance of abolishing the commodity form’. Ibid., quoted in Barshay 2004, p. 122.


Furihata (ed.) 1989, pp. 152–3. Quoted in Barshay 2004, p. 120.


A discussion of the Principles forms the largest part of our analysis.


‘The field of research of political economy becomes separated into, first, the purely theoretical system, second, the world-historical developmental stages of capitalism, third, the three stages of capitalism in each single country, or the concrete analysis of world capitalism. Furthermore, as against the economic analysis of capitalist societies, I want to show the economic history of pre-capitalist societies, or the individually appropriate method for the study of socialism’. Uno 1973 [1951], p. 18.


‘If Capital is left as it stands, and if the doctrine of imperialism is considered merely as an appendage, the relation between the pure theory of capitalism and the stages-theory of capitalist development cannot be fully understood’. Uno 1980, p. Xxvi.


Uno 1980, p. Xxii; Uno 1964, p. 12.


Uno 1974 [1962], p. 55 and pp. 60–1.


In 2016, the English translation of Uno’s Types of Economic Policies under Capitalism (Keizai Seisakuron 1936/1971) was published, by the same translator and long-time Unoist, Thomas T. Sekine. See Uno 2016 [1971].


The term ‘commodity economy’ is favoured by Uno throughout his work over Marx’s term ‘capitalist relations of production’, which already shows where Uno’s interest differs from Marx: while, for Marx, capital is mainly characterised by the specificity of its contradictory social relation to (wage) labour, for Uno, the specificity lies in capital as a principally commodity producing society. We will return to this issue in Chapter 2.


‘Marx begins the first chapter of Capital, vol. 1, by pointing out the importance of the commodity-form that products assume. But after stating that use-value and value are the two elements of the commodity, he immediately attributes the substance of value to labour that is required to produce the commodity. But the production process of a commodity is not yet analysed at this stage … This means that commodity production or the production process of capital can be introduced only after the conceptual development of the form of the commodity into that of capital’. Uno 1980, pp. xxvii–xxviii.


We discuss this, along with Itoh Makoto’s and Costas Lapavitsas’s theories of money, in Lange 2017.


Uno 2016 [1971], p. 17.


Uno 2016 [1971], p. 17.


Marx 1973, p. 600.


Marx 1976, pp. 1037–8. Original emphases.


The term ‘use value fetishism’ was coined by Kornelia Hafner, in Hafner 1993. See our discussion in relation to Uno in Chapter 5.3.


Fifty Years of Capital (Shihonron gojūnen) is the title of Uno’s 2-volume monograph from 1970 and 1973.


Brentel 1989, p. 19. Emphasis added.


Marx 1976, p. 168. Emphasis added. There is a common misunderstanding for the ‘regulative law of nature’ to indicate a kind of ‘second nature’ as has been theorised by Adorno and Lukács to describe a type of ‘supra-individual domination’. See O’Kane 2013, p. 64. Marx clearly means that in reality, the exchange relations are determined by the labour socially necessary to produce them. This has nothing to do with the individuals’ conscious or unconscious relation to exchange.


On the concept of real abstraction in Alfred Sohn-Rethel, see Lange 2021 (forthcoming).


‘Interest-bearing capital is the perfect fetish. It is capital in its finished form – as such representing the unity of the production process and the circulation process – and therefore yields a definite profit in a definite period of time. In the form of interest-bearing capital only this function remains, without the mediation of either production process or circulation process’. Marx 1989b, p. 451.


Marx 1989b, pp. 477–8.


Backhaus 2011, p. 506. Own translation.


Marx 1989b, p. 451. Original emphasis.


Marx 1976, p. 169.


Marx 1976, p. 169.


‘The expression objective thoughts signifies the truth which ought to be the absolute object, not just the goal of philosophy’. Hegel 1991 [1830], p. 63. For Hegel, in contrast to Marx, objective thought denotes the thought-determinations (Denkbestimmungen) of an object, is necessarily true.


Marx 1976, p. 169.


Marx 1976, p. 167.


Elbe 2008a, p. 3.


Grigat 2007, p. 73.


Heinrich 1999, p. 277.


Marx 1904 [1859], p. 31.


Marx 1976, p. 174, footnote 34.


Brentel 1989, p. 14.


See Lange 2019b.


‘… already the simple forms of exchange value and of money latently contain the opposition between labour and capital etc’. Marx 1973, p. 248.


Uno by no means was the first to express concerns that the law of value hadn’t been ‘proven’ at its introduction in Chapter 1 of Capital Volume I. See Marx’s letter to Kugelmann, 11 July 1868, in which Marx refers to the ‘unfortunate fellow’ from Centralblatt – a reviewer of Capital Volume I – who ‘does not see that, even if there were no chapter on “value” at all in my book, the analysis I give of the real relations would contain the proof and demonstration of the real value relation’. Marx 1988 [1868–70], p. 68.


In the English translation. In the German original, ‘Arbeitsprozess und Verwertungsprozess’, forms Chapter 5 of Capital Volume I.


Wandschneider 1995, p. 26. The other ‘aspect of fundamental significance’ for the theory of dialectic for Wandschneider is the concept of ‘self-referential negation’ which, for reasons of space, cannot be discussed here.


Marx 1976, p. 156.


Marx 1987 [1857–61], p. 466.


Marx 1904 [1859], pp. 19–20.


Brentel 1989, p. 279.


Marx 1976, p. 92.


For the theoretical confrontation of Ricardo and Marx in the anglophone reception, see Fine 1980, Himmelweit and Mohun 1981, Clarke 1994. For a broader discussion of Smith, Ricardo, and the neoclassical tradition, see Foley 2006.


Abridged versions of this chapter have previously appeared in Lange 2019a and Lange 2019b.


Marx 1987 [1864–8], p. 407.


Marx 1976, p. 174.


Marx 1976, p. 173.


For a discussion of Marx’s reception of Petty and Franklin in light of the new MEGA, see Hoff 2010.


Marx 1976, p. 175.


Itoh 1976, p. 312. This view was arguably inherited from Itoh’s teacher Uno: ‘… by directly developing the labour theory of value, the historical viewpoint formally established for the first time by Marx, falls back into the “failings” of classical political economy and cannot even escape its dangers’. Uno 1974 [1962], p. 158. The same argument is made by Arthur: ‘… the introduction by Marx of a posited ground for labour before the form of value is fully theorised represents a residue of classical political economy’. Arthur 2006, p. 10 and Reuten: ‘[Marx’s] linking it [the ‘metaphor substance of value’] to embodiment seems to derive from classical political economy’. Reuten 1993, p. 89.


Marx 1989a, p. 399.


Brentel 1989, p. 64.


Smith 2004 [1759], p. 216.


‘The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people. What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour, as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own body’. Smith 1846 [1776], p. 13.


Smith 1846 [1776], pp. 21–2.


Smith 1846 [1776], p. 13.


Marx 1988 [1861–3], p. 378.


Brentel 1989, p. 64.


Smith 1846 [1776], p. 23.


Smith 1846 [1776], p. 23.


Smith 1846 [1776], p. 23.


Smith 1846 [1776], p. 24.


Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 5. Marx praises Ricardo as having thus established ‘a unified theoretical holistic view of the abstract general basis of the bourgeois system’. Marx 1956, p. 54. Own translation.


Marx 1989a, p. 401.


Ricardo’s failed attempts to find an ‘invariable measure of value’ (see Ricardo 1969 [1817], Section VI, pp. 27–30) for which he had been mocked by Bailey, has its source ultimately in misrecognising the characteristic of wage labour as necessarily tied to a variable, not an invariable measure. The measure of value is the working day.


Marx 1989a, p. 416.


Cost prices consist of constant and variable capital and do not contain surplus value. Categorially, they belong to the level of production price (k + kp’). To explain both and how they constitute a general rate of profit, we need a consistent theory of surplus value.


The effect of rising wages onto the different compositions of capital is the main theme in the first section of The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation erroneously titled ‘On Value’.


Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 52.


To further complicate the matter, Ricardo determines the value of labour power to be equally dependent of ‘supply and demand’ as well as the ‘varying price of food and necessaries’ (Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 8), further removing the concept of value from the initial definition (and thereby provoking the mockery of J.B. Say).


Marx 1956, p. 56.


Marx/Engels 1988 [1861–3], p. 393.


Marx/Engels 1988 [1861–3]. p. 393.


‘Er fühlt es nicht einmal bei A. Smith heraus’. Marx 1967, pp. 399–400.


English in the original.


Marx/Engels 1989b, p. 34. In Chapter 4.2., we will come back to this problem in greater detail.


It must be noted that Ricardo’s objective was not to explain the source of a nations’ ‘wealth’ per se, but the rules of distribution of the net product of wealth or value.


‘No alteration in the wages of labour could produce any alteration in the relative value of these commodities … Wages might rise twenty per cent, and profits consequently fall in a greater or less proportion, without occasioning the least alteration in the relative value of these commodities’. Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 17.


Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 18.


Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 19.


Ricardo 1969 [1817], p. 22.


This becomes thematic in the Section V. Ricardo 1969 [1812], pp. 24–7.


See Heinrich 1999, pp. 54–55 and Hoff 2004, p. 71.


This will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.3. in the context of Marx’s ‘solution’ to Ricardo’s transformation problem.


Arthur 2006, p. 10. For a full analysis and critique of Arthur’s book The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital (2004), see Lange 2016.


Arthur 2004, p. 86.


Arthur 2004, p. 12.


Arthur 2004, p. 158.


Reuten 2005, pp. 78–92.


‘… after this chapter [Chapter One of Capital] the term ‘abstract labour’ disappears, with four exceptions. In face of the Marxian discourse of the last twenty years, this cannot be stressed enough’. Reuten 2005, p. 83. See also the long footnote commenting on the frequency of Marx’s use of abstract labour and ‘substance’, p. 83, footnote 12. It is astonishing that ‘word count’ serves as an argument in an informed philological discourse: ‘… even if there were no chapter on value at all in my book, the analysis I give of the real relations would contain the proof and demonstration of the real value relation’. Marx and Engels 1988 [1868–70], p. 68.


Reuten 1993, p. 89, p. 106, p. 110.


Reuten 1993, p. 110. The unintentional humour of this assertion consists in its implication that Hegel and Smith held more or less the same theory.


Especially unclear is the differentia specifica for what Reuten terms ‘two meanings’ of ‘value form’: one defining ‘value’ as a ‘form itself’ (or ‘genus’), the other one defining the ‘form of value’ to the species. (Reuten 1993, pp. 100–101). If both genus and species are termed ‘form’ – a view solely invented by Reuten – then what could a meaningful distinction be? Marx was, to the contrary, very aware of the crucial distinction between value and its form(s), especially viewed against his critique of Samuel Bailey. ‘The process of exchange gives to the commodity which it has converted into money not its value but its specific value-form. Confusion between these two attributes has misled some writers into maintaining that the value of gold and silver is imaginary’. Marx 1976, p. 185. In passing, Marx here also implies that value is not something that ‘exists’ only in exchange, as Reuten and others do.


Reuten 1993, p. 108.


See Lapavitsas 2005, Lapavitsas 2017, Itoh 1976. For a critique of Lapavitsas’s theory of ‘Money as a Monopolist of the Ability to Buy’, see Lange 2017. We argue that Lapavitsas presents a functionalist theory of money with the implication that ‘money is what money does’ – unlike Marx who develops the functions of money from its being the ‘direct incarnation of all human labour’ (Marx 1976, p. 187), i.e. money does what money is.


‘Marx does not regard the common property of commodities only as the embodiment of abstract human labor. He emphasises that “commodities have a value-form common to them all, and presenting a marked contrast with the varied bodily forms of their use-values” … He means here the money-form or the price-form of commodities as the completed form of value, logically developed from the simple, elementary form of value’. Itoh 1976, p. 310. Not much is being said here except for the truism that the money-form is developed from the simple form of value. The question is what constitutes the very simple form of value from which the money-form, the ‘dazzling fetish’, can be developed at all.


Uno 1973 [1947], pp. 361–2. Quoted from Marx 1976, p. 164.


‘Totalitätsverhältnis’. Brentel 1989, p. 264. Reuten fails to see both the specific character and function of the commodity: ‘… is this, the commodity, the most abstract all-embracing concept for the capitalist mode of production? I doubt it. For example, does it embrace in itself a notion of the activity of creation of useful objects in capitalist form?’ That, in fact, it does, seems to escape Reuten’s comprehension, which is a consequence of his failure to understand Marx’s method as such.


Marx 1987 [1857–61], p. 466.


Marx 1987 [1857–61], p. 467.


Marx 1973, p. 248.


‘… from the standpoint of the simple circulation, these relationships are obliterated’. Marx 1987 [1857–61], p. 466.


Marx 1973, p. 248. The context in which the quote appears is the critique of Proudhon, who is attacked as a deeply ‘bourgeois’ thinker in believing that exchange represents a ‘system of universal freedom’ which has only been ‘perverted by money, capital, etc’. Marx 1973, p. 248.


See Lange 2016, pp. 254–65.


Hegel 1991 [1830], p. 290.


‘At this point, we could at once raise the question why, if that is the case, we should begin with what is untrue and why we do not straightaway begin with what is true. The answer is that the truth must, precisely as such, validate itself [muss sich bewähren], and here, within logical thinking itself, validation consists in the Concept’s showing itself to be what is mediated through and with itself, so that it shows itself to be at the same time the genuinely immediate’. Hegel 1991 [1830], p. 134.


The matter is complicated by the fact that there are supporters (Arthur, Reuten) and opponents (Murray) of Hegel’s alleged ‘presuppositionlessness’, but the claim itself is never doubted. Murray e.g. says: ‘Marx does not leave the circle of Hegelian systematic dialectics unbroken; he objects to the “presuppositionlessness” of Hegelian systematic dialectics and insists that science has premises, which he and Engels sketched in The German Ideology’. See Murray 2000, p. 38. But at the time of The German Ideology, Marx has not yet developed a theory of value at all! This early work is set within a radically different methodological framework and has different objectives than Marx’s later, economy-critical work.


Marx 2008, p. 27.


‘Substance, therefore, is the totality of the accidents; it reveals itself in them as their absolute negativity, i. e., as the absolute might and at the same time as the richness of all content. The content, however, is nothing but this manifestation itself, since the determinacy that is inwardly reflected into content is itself only a moment of the form, which passes over into the might of the substance. Substantiality is the absolute activity-of-form and the might of necessity, and every content is just a moment that belongs to this process alone – the absolute overturning of form and content into one another’. Hegel 1991 [1830], pp. 225–6.


‘It is not money that renders the commodities commensurable. Quite the contrary. Because all commodities, as values, are objectified human labour, and therefore in themselves commensurable, their values can be communally measured in one and the same specific commodity, and this commodity can be converted into the common measure of their values, that is into money. Money as a measure of value is the necessary form of appearance of the measure of value which is immanent in commodities, namely labour time’. Marx 1976, p. 188. Emphasis added.


This is Marx’s main point against Proudhon’s ‘People’s Bank’.


Marx 1976, p. 159.


Brentel 1989, p. 256.


Walker 2016, p. 164.


Both Heinrich and Backhaus however also form crucial points of reference for this book.


Adorno 1953, p. 63. Own translation.

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