There are always two principles confronting each other: the abstract and the concrete, the universal and the singular, the dead and the living [das Tote und das Lebendige], the identical and the non-identical, exchange value and use value, capital and labour. The bad chiliasm associated with a ‘theory of revolution’ has shown itself in the simple aggregation of one side of these conceptual couplets as the untrue whole and the other side as the principle of hope, or put even more simply, as evil and good. Thus the significant content each of these concepts had in the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic at their specific place of mediation was necessarily lost, and it is here that the real crisis of the theory of revolution consists, that is, in its fragmentation [Auseinanderfallen] into, on the one hand, an apocalyptic conjuring of doom and into an indefatigable faith in the good on the other.Kornelia Hafner, 19931
What is the legacy of Uno’s thought in the present discourse on value, capital, history and the social forms they present? This chapter will evaluate the problems elucidated with regard to Uno’s pure theory in the theoretical spectrum developed in such diverse areas of research as the ‘post’-Uno School of value theory in Japan (5.1.), the Anglophone Uno School (as in Thomas T. Sekine’s and Robert Albritton’s work) (5.2.), and aspects of Uno-affiliated historiographies in the Anglophone world today probably best represented in recent works by Harry Harootunian and Gavin Walker (5.3.). Despite their different theoretical interests and incentives to utilise Uno’s theory for their respective views of value, money, form of production, history and the question of resistance to capital, they 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 motivator of capitalist exchange relations (in the post-Uno School of value theory) or even as site of resistance to capital (Walker). Whether the use value aspect is used affirmatively in the sense that it serves as the expression of exchange relations, against the social form of value, or affirmatively in the sense that it provides ‘apparatuses’ (Walker) that resist alleged ‘teleologically determined agendas of capitalism’ (Harootunian), both share an indebtedness to Uno’s theoretical framework we have previously problematised as use value fetishism. This chapter will scrutinise the ‘career’ of the use value fetishistic aspects in Uno’s theory in more recent international scholarship.
Even after the demise of the influential Uno School in the 1980s, Japanese economists have been continuously engaged in the categorial reconstruction of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, especially the theory of value and money. Writing in the 1980s–2000s, authors like Ebitsuka Akira, Mukai Kimitoshi, Masaki Hachirō, Kataoka Kōji, Umezawa Naoki, and others, broadened the value theoretical views of Uno School orthodoxy to include the Neue Marx-Lektüre (the German ‘new reading of Marx’), French structuralism (in the economists C. Benetti and J. Cartelier), the regulation school (M. Aglietta), and other approaches. However, the integration of more internationally diverse scholarship notwithstanding, the recent value theoretical debates in Japan remain heavily influenced by Uno’s idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Marx’s Capital. In his reconstructive reading, stretching from his works on Value (Kachiron, 1947) to his better known Principles of Political Economy (Keizai Genron, 1950/1964), Uno, as we have seen, strongly criticises Marx’s ‘derivation’ of money from the analysis of the commodity and the labour theory of value.
Chapter 5.1. will review not only the remaining influence of Uno on the newer Japanese readings of Capital, but also confront a reading that poses what we believe is a false opposition of money and value in Marx’s critique of political economy. This view is perpetuated by Ebitsuka Akira and Mukai Kimitoshi’s appropriation of the ‘monetary approach’ of Benetti/Cartelier on the one hand, and Hans-Georg Backhaus’s and Michael Heinrich’s ‘monetary theory of value’ on the other, leading them to discard the labour theory of value in favour of a ‘money only’-approach. While we will problematise the appropriation of Backhaus and Heinrich for this strategy, we will show that the dismissal of value theory leads to a reinterpretation of Marx’s critique of the capitalist relations of production as a Baileyan apologetics of the same – a position which we believe is both theoretically and practically precarious.
Chapter 5.2. will question the equilibrium approach to capitalist (re-)production already found in Uno and resuscitated in Sekine’s work. In it, Sekine’s critique of non-equilibrium approaches to capitalist economy, especially Duncan Foley et al.’s ‘New Interpretation’, will receive a fundamental counter-criticism, reinstalling the centrality of Marx’s labour theory of value as the core critical theorem and heuristic of capitalist relations and their bourgeois interpretation. In the same vein, Sekine’s view of the ‘law of value’ as a law of general equilibrium will be shown to stem from an apologetic view of capitalist relations of production. A similar apologetic view of capital is repeated in Albritton’s approach to Uno’s stages theory. Not only does Albritton adapt the view of the law of value as the sustenance of an ‘ideal’ balancing between supply and demand, thereby introducing the idea that essentially capital produces use values to guarantee general social reproduction, eschewing the problem of moneyed demand (and therefore that of capitalism’s specificity), but he focuses on the problem between the logic and the history of capitalist development that he finds solved in Uno’s theory of stages (sandankairon). In it, the level of pure theory corresponds to the equilibrium force of the law of value and the realm of ‘ideal use values’, while the level of the concretely historical is reflected in key developmental stages of capitalism as there are the stages of mercantilism (merchant capital), liberalism (industrial capital) and the stage or era of imperialism (finance capital). However, as we will argue, Albritton’s insistence on the methodological separation of stages theory on one side and the alleged ‘purity’ of the principles of capitalist logic on the other do not constitute an organic whole, but remain external to one another, leaving the claim of a meaningful reconciliation of the logic and history of capital wanting (and, as we will see, tautological). More importantly however, Albritton, like Uno, fails to acknowledge the epistemological status of value, in that, as a real abstraction, it does not describe an ‘ideal’ or ‘hypothetic’ assumption about the organisation of the capitalist mode of production, but its actual implementation and contradictory effects, including the problem of economic crisis absent from Albritton’s (as well as Uno’s) theorisation. The methodological objection and resentment against demonstrating the intrinsically devastating effects of the law of value, or rather surplus value, in a real historical situation, which was Marx’s incentive for many of his illustrations in Capital, bears a significant symptom of the inherently apologetic character of Albritton’s contribution.
In Chapter 5.3., we will take up the issue of real subsumption as a critical category within Marx’s fetish-critical method and the serious misinterpretation it receives in Harry Harootunian’s 2015 book Marx After Marx. In it, Harootunian argues that rather than real subsumption, it is the term of formal subsumption which more accurately describes the current ‘different historical temporalities’2 and ‘uneven development’ that areas beyond the ‘Western world’ have undergone. The concept of formal subsumption, for Harootunian, ‘offers … a way out of both the vulgate Marxian and modernizing bourgeois historical narratives constrained to fulfilling teleologically agendas of capitalism that have claimed the unfolding of a singular trajectory everywhere’.3 This could allegedly be seen in the ‘ “effectivity” of practices and institutions and the role played by uneven temporalities produced by incorporating and metabolising pasts in the present’, against ‘the illusory claim of capitalism’s inevitable completion everywhere’.4 Instead, Harootunian attempts to bring to the fore instances of ‘singular contexts’, which may ‘very well have blunted the direct consequences of both expropriation and exploitation or masked their harshness and contributed to delaying the realization of real subsumption’.5 To counter what we think is the real subsumption of meaning rather than the meaning of real subsumption in this approach, a look at the specific uses and misuses of Marx’s terminology and theorisation of ‘real and formal subsumption’ is called for. We will present a radically different reading of real subsumption that focuses on real subsumption as a methodological heuristic indicating the ‘completed’ fetishisation of the capital relation. We will show that real subsumption 1) presents a critical category directed against the ‘fetishism of the political economists’, 2) forms not only the incentive, but the actual object of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production, and 3), by directly corresponding to the production of relative surplus value, it allows us to conceptually permeate the mechanism that effects the dominance and perseverance of capital on a global scale, the ‘overcoming’ of any obstacle, economic or political, that may impede the appropriation of unpaid surplus labour in our present historical time. Harootunian’s taxonomical subordination of real under ‘formal’ and ‘hybrid forms’ of subsumption, expressed in globally different cultural practices, not only misrecognises the specifically economic character of the relation between capital and labour and the ways its analysis contributes to a theory of class and wage dependency, but, with his resentment against the concept of real subsumption as a critical theory of the appropriation of unpaid and alien surplus labour, Harootunian unwittingly makes a case for the neoliberal view of ‘different capitals’ whose workings cannot be solely evaluated from the standpoint of (surplus) value extraction. As we will show, he thus invites a cynical view of the hardships of billions of people with ‘culturally different’ backgrounds and ‘singular contexts’ whose daily grind in a globalised world Harootunian surprisingly finds unworthy of mentioning.
Insofar as Harootunian’s perspective on the present world is informed by the view of a not-yet-subsumed ‘temporality’ or ‘space’ withdrawing from the ‘grip’ of value or capital, i.e. the aspect of use value against value, we find a similarity with Gavin Walker’s 2016 book The Sublime Perversion of Capital and its highly original approach to Uno’s work. The leading question will not so much concern the tenability of Uno’s (and with it, Walker’s) contention about the muri of the commodification of labour power, i.e. the assumption that labour power as a commodity cannot be directly produced by capital (for this, see our Chapter 2.2.), but rather the implications this view has for an alleged ‘paradox’ between the ‘inner’ valorisation logic of capital and history’s ‘exteriority’ that likewise serves as a buttress for capital’s self-image as the logic of a ‘smooth circle’. In this area of conflict or Spannungsfeld, Walker posits his intervention via its emphasis on the ‘resistance’ that the commodification of labour power, or rather, its ‘(im)possibility’, presents to capital’s drive, located in the sphere of consumption. We will argue that neither is there a theoretical ‘paradox’ between the logical ‘interior’ and the historical ‘exterior’, nor does the spectrum of use value provide a meaningful category of resistance to the capitalist mode of production. Drawing on Kornelia Hafner’s seminal critique of ‘use value fetishism’, this chapter, and the present book, will conclude by highlighting the ideologically precarious character of the lopsided view of the capitalist contradiction, and counter it with the possibility of resistance the contradictory character of the concept of value itself.
5.1 Money vs. Value? The ‘Monetary Approach’ in the Post-Uno School of Value Theory6
The task of this chapter (5.1.) is to problematise aspects of the development of value theory in Japan after Uno. More specifically, it aims to review and critically evaluate the post-Uno School’s appropriation of the ‘monetary approach’ in Benetti-Cartelier and the ‘monetary theory of value’ of the Neue Marx-Lektüre. These appropriations culminate in the general contention of post-Uno School theorists that Marx’s labour theory of value, or ‘value theory’ in their dictum, and the ‘monetary approach’7 have to be set apart as two distinct and oppositional theoretical paradigms, which ultimately ‘amounts to postulating money and discarding value theory’, as these authors conclude with Cartelier.8 They therefore hypostasise an opposition of money and value, pitching their monetary approach as an ‘alternative to the theory of value’.9 We will show that this approach owes to a truncated reading, if not outright misunderstanding, of Marx’s critical intervention against classical political economy, and therefore against the ‘interpreters’ of the capitalist mode of production.10 The view of money as ‘having nothing to do with value’ – i.e. with the substance of value in abstract labour as a category of production and its measure in ‘socially necessary labour time’ – is especially eminent in Ebitsuka Akira and Mukai Kimitoshi’s works which this chapter will review more closely. Ebitsuka and Mukai are arguably most radically opposed to Marx’s central theorem, which is why the focus on these authors is most promising in evaluating the development of Japanese value theory after Uno. Ebitsuka’s and Mukai’s intervention lies in approximating the Benetti-Carterlier paradigm, while Mukai’s more strongly focuses on that of the Neue Marx-Lektüre, especially Hans-Georg Backhaus and Michael Heinrich. Roughly, both Ebitsuka’s and Mukai’s argument, despite their differences, relies on the assumption that Marx’s demonstration of the ‘genesis of the money-form’ – ‘a task never even attempted by bourgeois economists’ (Marx) – implies, on the one hand, a ‘substantialist’, i.e. transhistorical and physiological understanding of the substance of value as abstract labour, and a ‘form-oriented’ analysis of money whose existence precedes market exchange. Money, in these theories, is autonomous and self-explanatory and need not be grounded in the ‘substantialist’ and ‘pre-monetary’ labour theory of value. The latter must therefore be discarded. More strongly than Uno, and in parts in direct opposition to him,11 they conclude that value is constituted in exchange, and abstract labour is not a category of production, but of the market. Where these views agree with Uno, however, is in their conviction that money logically precedes commodity exchange, and therefore the analytical approach to the commodity: money is not to be derived from the commodity, but the commodity from money. Money therefore becomes the basis for social relations, which cannot be further deduced.
Against this view, this chapter will argue that these criticisms remain on the analytical level of what Marx called the ‘fetishism of the bourgeois relations of production’, in that it no further asks what money actually is. Marx instead demonstrates that it is the inverted and ‘dazzling’ expression of the social form of labour that, as the predominant value-form – and therefore as fetish – obfuscates its constitutive content in the specific social form that labour takes under the conditions of its confrontation with capital. We will argue that the opposition between value and money is a false one, ignoring the specificity of money as the fetishised appearance of abstract wealth, which can only be meaningfully analysed on the basis of the social character of labour it is the ‘direct incarnation’ of. Marx’s labour theory of value is not only not opposed to the theory of money, but the latter can only be meaningfully explained on the basis of the former. According to our understanding, 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, wage, profit, interest, rent, etc.), the latter of which form the categories of the bourgeois horizon. This chapter’s main focus of critique and concern therefore is the tendency towards a nominalist theory of money to be witnessed in the post-Uno School, relying on a model of money and exchange close to classical or ‘vulgar’ economist Samuel Bailey and the school of marginalism, which indeed parts with Marx’s crucial insights while claiming adherence to it in its attempts to bring forward a Marx uninhabited by what the post-Uno School sees as the ‘relicts’ of the classical ‘labour theory of value’.
The focus will be on refuting the Baileyan propositions of this newer functionalist and nominalist reading of money, arguing, first, that money as ‘means of circulation’ or ‘symbol’ is not an explanans, but an explanandum. Second, Marx’s analysis of money already contains the further analysis of capital, which is Marx’s main concern. It will do so by evaluating Ebitsuka’s appropriation of Benetti-Cartelier’s monetary paradigm, its misconception of the notion of ‘private labour’ and the absence of the problem of class to show that the monetary approach adopted by Ebitsuka and Benetti/Cartelier alike falls short of the Marx’s Problembewusstsein of the inner nexus and predicament of capitalist sociation. Third, this essay will critically review Mukai’s appropriation of Hans-Georg Backhaus and Michael Heinrich’s readings of Marx for Mukai’s own agenda of ‘abandoning’ the labour theory of value. It will show that this attempt is not only misguided, but contains a wilful distortion of Backhaus’s and Heinrich’s interventions.
Finally, we will contend that the strange ignorance of Marx’s larger Problemstellung, namely that the theory of value serves as the key heuristic analysis to the ‘riddle’ of money, capital, and other value-forms, in these recent approaches not only leads to a surrender to neoclassical views of value and money – views which the authors claim to refute. It also leads to an abandonment of any idea of modern society. Since, for them, capital and class do not exist, we must ultimately conclude that modern society does not exist either.12
5.1.1 The Benetti-Cartelier Paradigm: The Logical Prevalence of Money
In his 1984 essay ‘Money and the Critique of Political Economy. The Problematic of the Critique of Political Economy according to Benetti-Cartelier’,13 Ebitsuka presents Benetti-Cartelier’s ‘monetary’ approach as a helpful solution to the problems posed not only by classical and neoclassical economy, but also Sraffian ‘neo-Ricardianism’ and their disregard for money as constitutive for what they call ‘market society’. This rethinking of Marx’s theory of money, ‘couched within an explicitly stated Marxist disposition’,14 can be considered as a radicalisation of Uno’s claim concerning the dispensability of the labour theory of value on the terrain of Marxist debate. Ebitsuka therefore sets the discussion of the Benetti-Cartelier paradigm roughly in the (at the time of Ebitsuka’s contribution) recent and well known ‘Value Controversy’ among Anglo Marxian value and money theorists15 of the late 1970s that culminated in Ian Steedman’s and Paul Sweezy’s publication of the same name in 1981. The neo-Ricardians in the debate – predominantly Steedman16 – held the so-called ‘redundancy’-thesis,17 namely that, with given physical quantities of inputs and their ratio, i.e. given wages and means of production, the labour theory of value – as Sraffa had already suggested in his seminal Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities in 1960 – becomes redundant. This becomes especially apparent in Marx’s ‘faulty’18 proof of the transformation of labour values into prices of production that regulate the general rate of profit: because the rate of profit (s/c+v) cannot be expressed in terms of labour values, but only by ‘already transformed’ prices of production,19 Marx was wrong to hypostasise s/c+v, in which s, c and v ‘are “valued” in terms of labour contents’, as the rate of profit. In the latter, the ratio of the surplus product to the capital advanced is ‘valued’ in terms of prices. s/c+v is therefore ‘not the rate of profit’, Steedman argues: ‘… the fact is that the profit rate and prices of production have to be treated simultaneously within the theory’. With given physical quantities of outputs and inputs, including labour-time, in each industry, and a given bundle of commodities constituting real wages (Ricardo’s original assumption), this approach can show three things: ‘First, those data suffice to determine, proximately, the rate of profit and the prices of production … Second, the rate of profit does not, in fact, depend on all those data, but only on real wages and the direct and indirect conditions of production of those wage goods … Third, no quantities of embodied labour play any necessary role in the determination of either the rate of profit or prices of production’:
‘[E]mbodied-labour’ quantities are entirely redundant, even within a surplus-based theory … The quantities of labour embodied in … a commodity are determined precisely by the physical quantities we took as data. But those same data suffice to determine the rate of profit and prices of production: hence embodied-labour quantities are necessarily redundant.20
How does Ebitsuka – using the approach by Benetti/Cartelier – overcome the shared rejection of the labour theory of value with Steedman and the Sraffians, while simultaneously rejecting the Sraffians’ non-monetary ‘solution’ to the transformation problem?
In the context of the ‘Value Controversy’, Ebitsuka proposes that the ‘value system’ (kachi taikei) and the ‘production price system’ (seisan kakaku taikei) both stem from a system of ‘physical resources’ (butsuryō taikei) that assumed a fixed production technology, and wages as ‘bundles of commodities’. The first is an ‘evaluation system working under the assumption of homogenous labour with the postulate of an equal rate of surplus value’, while the second is ‘an evaluation system which postulates an equilibrium in the rate of profit’.21 For him, the differentia specifica is not between the two systems, but between these two systems and another one, namely ‘the theory of abstract labour’:
The main contention in the ‘theory of abstract labour’ (chūshōteki rōdō ron) of market society being a theory of the mode of social formation … is [the question how] in an ‘economy having undergone a dispersion that does not acknowledge any kind of social synthesis as a precondition’ can the various private elements (shiteki sho yōsō) [the products of private labour, ELL] be mutually related, and, as social elements forming a society, socially recognised for the organisation of society?22
Ebitsuka’s emphasis is on the aspect of social evaluation where both the value and the production price system fail: ‘In both systems of evaluation, the social evaluation system is completely ignored’.23 It must therefore be substituted with a theory of abstract labour that accounts for the ‘mode of social formation’ in which its elements – commodities – are mutually related, so that they become recognised as aliquot parts of total social production: and its ‘locus’, so to speak, is in exchange. Ebitsuka hence declares ‘embodied labour’-theories of value redundant, by claiming ‘abstract labour’ to be a category of the market. He thinks he operates within Marx’s field of vision: ‘[Marx’s concept of value] … is not [a theory of] the ‘embodiment of labour’, but related to abstract labour that establishes and mediates exchange relations’.24 To return to the initial question: what makes the labour theory of value, understood as a theory of the substance of value in ‘labour’, redundant is not a return to physical quantities of inputs and outputs, as the Sraffians believe, but the emphasis on exchange relations: abstract labour is a ‘post factum’ that can only have any sort of legitimacy in the social mediation of commodities on the market. Consequently,
the problem that arises in the key concept of abstract labour is that, because it is a concept established post factum (jigoteki ni) by passing through (tsūjite) commodity exchange, guaranteeing the homogeneity of commodities before commodity exchange and rendering exchange relations possible, any kind of substance is unlikely.25
For Ebituska therefore, the reconstruction of the theory of the mode of social formation must be embedded in the ‘theory of exchange’ (kōkan ron) to overcome the framework of neo-Ricardianism.
That, however, is not all. Drawing on the work of Benetti/Cartelier, especially Marchands, Salariat, et Capitalistes (1980), Ebitsuka seeks to reveal the ideological implications of the anthropological hypothesis of classical political economy. Let us briefly contextualise Benetti/Cartelier’s basic propositions.
Carlo Benetti and Jean Cartelier’s work is situated in the context of the book series Intervention en économie politique, published by François Maspero with Presses Universitaire de Grenoble since 1974. Since that time, in their numerous articles and essays, Benetti and Cartelier were actively promoting a ‘heterodox political economy’, against the ‘nomenclature’ of the classics and neoclassics alike. Assuming an Althusserian ideology-critical framework, in which not only schools, but also universities are viewed as ‘places of ideology-building’,26 they aim at the evaluation of levels of domination in capitalist economics. The task of the critique of political economy for them is the critique of the ‘rationalisation’ of capitalist ideology, by which they intend to adapt Althusser’s ideology critique for what they call an ‘approfondissement’ of Marx’s critique of the classics. Somehow assuming the character of a non-sequitur to this theoretical objective, their main intervention is the declaration of money as the central ‘economic object’, an object ‘overlooked’ by classical political economy. They reject the logic of derivation of money from the commodity, as can be found not only in the classics, but also in Marx. In a recent article, recapitulating their original intervention from 30 years earlier, Benetti and Cartelier insist that
[Our] refusal of a presupposed commodity-space (the so-called hypothèse de nomenclature) and our suggestion to conceive of individuals as pure accounts are two complementary ways of emphasizing social objectivity – money – against a ‘natural’ one – use values … We have presupposed money (far from the illusions of micro-foundation) to make it clear that economic theory is a component of our society …27
Money, according to Benetti/Cartelier, is the ‘a priori’ mode of existence for the possibility of the particular social structure and organisation of the capitalist mode of production. Its existence therefore precedes the existence of the ‘commodity form’ – much akin to Uno’s understanding.28 According to Benetti/Cartelier, the ‘nomenclature’ of conventional political economy has ignored the specific social nexus provided by money. Instead, they resort to an ‘ideological anthropology’ (Althusser) of the ‘physical world’ in which ‘man’ as the ‘desiring subject’ is the ‘secretion’ of market society, a ‘subject’ which finds itself facing ‘objects’ (or ‘use values’) made for the satisfaction of his own needs and desires.29 Cartelier:
The contention of the nomenclature results in the hypothesis that the narrative of the totality of the various things that have been attributed to the ‘good’ or the ‘commodity’ is possible before it has anything to do with society. In other words, the specific social form (exchange, production, etc.) is constructed on the basis of a ‘neutral substrate’ (un substrat neutre), which is the potential and natural ‘monde physique’.30
While Benetti/Cartelier distinguish a classical and a neoclassical form of this ‘naturalist’ reduction, they reject both, demanding a theory of the economic basis that overcomes the ‘conceptual chain’ or derivation from the ‘good’ to ‘money’ to the ‘commodity’. This theory must account for a) the social character of the economic nexus (against the naturalism in the classics and neoclassical theories), and b) a ‘space of commensurability’31 (espace de commensurabilité) where not ‘all objects acquire a monetary character’ and ‘each one is the equivalent against all others’ as in barter,32 but where money is excluded as the specific agent causing homogeneity of all the commodities it mediates. For this aim, in Marchands, Salariat, et Capitalistes, they proceed from two hypotheses:
(H1) La société est donnée et le lien entre ses éléments est la séparation, dont l’ expression est l’ unité de compte commune.
(H2) Le mode d’ existence de la séparation est la rupture entre le privé et le social.33
The economic ‘common unit of calculation’ here is money. For Ebitsuka, these claims have far-reaching consequences for the theoretical status of money: ‘… H1 addresses the “separation” (bunri) =34 the social relations of a market society as the dispersed social relations (bunsanka shita shakai kankei), which presuppose the existence of money, i.e. the common unit of calculation. H2 addresses the specificity of a dispersed society in which private evaluation and social evaluation do not coincide’.35 Only by being ‘private’, as Ebitsuka summarises Benetti/Cartelier’s argument, can the various amounts of the common unit of calculation be socially recognised (reconnaissable). Only by the ‘social self expression’ (shakaiteki jiko hyōji /autodéclaration sociale) of the common unit of calculation, money, does the ‘private’ acquire a social meaning.36 Generally, in a market society, the quantity of ‘self-expression’ and the quantity of social evaluation do not coincide. This is the ‘rupture’ between the private and the social. This rupture is reflected in the ‘two factors of the commodity’, where use value acts as the individual factor, and value as the factor of homogenisation. Instead of the ‘human as desiring subject’, it is ‘money as a symbol’37 of market society from which, in this world, meaning is given.
… in sum, they [Benetii and Cartelier] come to show that money → ‘the commodity’ → ‘the good’ (zai) is a conceptual chain that is the opposite of political economy. This conceptual chain rejects the system of meaning (imi taikei) of ‘political economy’, provided by ‘man as desiring subject’ that is an ‘ideological anthropology’, and can be viewed as a structure theory of a system of meaning which is established when the theory of money as symbol is adopted.38
Ebitsuka sees the advantage of such an inverted analysis of money – measured against Marx’s – in the following:
In Benetti/Cartelier, the social relations precede the various ‘subjects’, and can be grasped as making the mutual relations of the various members of this society as social ‘subjects’ possible in the first place. Here, money is just another name for social relation. Money assumes the position of the centre of market society. Against political economy, which, with its market ideology, cannot sufficiently grasp market society as money economy, Benetti/Cartelier have shown a way out.39
For Benetti/Cartelier, the ‘logical prerequisite’ of the universal equivalent ‘for the [market] relation to exist’, i.e. the logical prevalence of money results from the alleged impossibility to ‘deduce’ the money from the commodity form. Their argument oscillates between denying the possibility of an economy without money40 and attempting to refute Marx’s analysis of the value form, in which Marx showed the ‘origin of this money from the simplest, almost imperceptible outline to the dazzling money-form’,41 which would make the mystery of money disappear. These arguments belong to different levels of abstraction – while certainly Marx did not deny that a capitalist economy was impossible without money, he further asked what money actually is and by which of its faculties it was endowed with being the universal equivalent at all. This question is unfortunately beyond the scope of Benetii/Cartelier’s, Ebitsuka’s, and Uno’s, interest. Rather, they insist that ‘the solution Marx proposed [of deriving the money from the commodity form] is incorrect’.42 In our view, Fred Moseley has already successfully demonstrated where Benetti/Cartelier’s reading of value form analysis is misguided, and the critique therefore need not be repeated here.43 Instead, as seen above, for Benetti/Cartelier, money must be understood as ‘symbol.’ The problem of a ‘symbol’ theory of money, however, does not disperse with the problem at hand: namely, by which of its faculty, money can become the universal equivalent at all – and what it is that money actually measures.44
5.1.2 The Strange Meaning of Private Labour and the Absence of Class
The approach of the ‘logical prevalance of money’ over value remains strangely obscure as to its own cognitive gain over and above Marx’s analysis of the value form. More pertinently however, a certain question begging is involved in Ebitsuka’s and Benetti/Cartelier’s position – if not dominantly informing it. Precisely by conjuring away the problematic of the social form of labour by relegating abstract labour to the sphere of circulation and exchange, and not to production, they have cut the path to recapturing the social dimension of money they explicitly seek to establish, against the neoclassicals and the Sraffians. Hence, their emphasis on the ‘social dimension’ of money is never redeemed. This is because, other than Benetti/Cartelier, and with them, Ebitsuka, believe, money is not an explanans, but an explanandum as a category of political economy. It becomes the social synthesis of private labours in a social context only by virtue of being the ‘direct incarnation of all human labour’,45 of directly representing all individual and concrete labours, while representing none of them specifically – hence being the direct expression of abstract labour. Not only is the problematic of how the products of individual labours can relate to one another as commodities at all beyond the scope of Benetti/Cartelier’s and Ebitsuka’s interest. Their ‘monetary approach’ indeed also remains on the level of formalism, owing to their rejection of a meaningful basis on which the exchange relation can be grounded, namely abstract labour as the social ‘substance’ of value. In a word, they are begging the question: if money is the condition of possibility of exchange, what is the condition of possibility of money? It cannot be exchange. It is indeed striking how the social dimension of money – namely what relations of production money is an expression of – is eclipsed from Ebitsuka’s and Benetti/Cartelier’s ‘deflationary’ views, despite their insistence on emphasising it, against the Sraffians. But Ebitsuka, Benetti/Cartelier – and Uno – forget that money does not make commodities commensurable: ‘Quite the contrary’.46 It only appears to be able to do that precisely by being the palpable, material expression of a violent ‘homogenisation’ that has already been performed in the homogenisation of social labour and its ‘quantification’ as labour time, a process involving the totality of productive relations, predominantly that of class. Yet, money, being the fetishistic expression of value, ‘does not reveal what has been transformed into it’:47 but a disparity between appearance and essence does not even occur to the ‘monetary approach’. It can therefore be characterised as a nominalist theory of money, akin to the paradigms of neoclassical – in Marx’s dictum, ‘vulgar’ – theory and its ‘founding father’, Samuel Bailey.48 This problematic is also not solved by the ‘private’/‘social’-distinction or ‘rupture’ alone, especially when it shifts the emphasis away from the specific form of labour. Marx, in his analysis of the third particularity of the equivalent form of value,49 emphasises in what way the money fetish ‘exists’ as the mediation of private labours in a social context: ‘… private labour takes the form of its opposite, namely labour in its directly social form’.50 Benetti/Cartelier, in their strong reference to the term ‘private’ do not address this crucial social aspect of money. However, as pointed out by Marx in the third particularity of the equivalent form of value, the relation between social and private labour is constitutive for money. In order to understand this, however, one must possess an adequate grasp of the concept of ‘private labour’ – which Benetti/Cartelier lack. Especially Cartelier distorts the meaning of ‘private labour’ as a labour ‘according to the labourer’s own views’ to unrecognisability.51 That ‘private labour’ – understood as a kind of labour in which ‘individuals have the choice’52 – should then be irreconcilable with the fact that labour-power becomes a commodity under generalised surplus value production (i.e. unfree labour), i.e. where the worker ‘does not have a choice’,53 demonstrates not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Marx’s theory, and gives Cartelier’s intention to reveal a ‘contradiction’ in Marx’s theory of surplus value an almost embarrassing twist. But, as W.J. Urban correctly sees, it also betrays Cartelier’s ‘neoclassical economic bias’, by making ‘choice’ the measure of freedom.54 At the same time, however, this misrecognition is symptomatic for the absence of class in the Benetti/Cartelier approach. This fatal absence accounts for Cartelier’s reading of ‘private labour’ as labour ‘according to the labourer’s own views’, and not a mode of social production in which the sum total of the conditions of production belongs to the capitalist: private labour is capitalist labour. Private labour, more specifically, is based on the independence and the unawareness of the individual producers (i.e. capitalists), in that e.g. the specific quantity of a commodity to be produced is not subject to previous negotiation between all capitalists. The concept of private labour has therefore absolutely nothing to do with labour being ‘free’ and ‘independent’. Cartelier’s conclusion therefore, that the commodification of labour power (unfree labour) is incompatible with the commodity division of labour (private, free labour, labour as ‘choice’) is bizarre, to say the least. Saying that ‘some people’ (sic) are deprived of any means of production does not mean to say that they are ‘excluded from commodity production’, as Cartelier insinuates.55 In fact, only when social relations between commodity owners, including class, are understood as a symmetrical, and not asymmetrical relation – in other words, when the ‘free’ market is declared as the ‘adequate form’ of social exchange and the conditions of production equally belong to all ‘individuals’, as Cartelier believes – does his crude hypothesis make any sense. However, a concept of class in which the contradiction between capital and labour is suspended, i.e. a notion of class in which the conditions of production do not belong to one class (i.e. the capitalist) against the other (i.e. the workers), is not a concept of class at all. And where there is no concept of class, i.e. a concept of unequal exchange, it is difficult to understand that money measures the expenditure of human labour in the abstract as the result of a valorisation process (the notion of valorisation implies that of necessary and surplus labour, and therefore that of class) in which it ‘becomes the form of appearance of its own opposite’, the token of equality, freedom and wealth per se: a fetish. As early as in the Grundrisse, Marx clarified money’s fetishistic appeal to conventional political economy. It is political economy’s taking categories in isolation, i.e. abstraction, that accounts for their ‘overlooking’ of the fundamental social mediation, that of class:
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 anti-thesis [between labour and capital] is obscured.56
In order to constitute the semblance of equal exchange between capital and labour, money is therefore not an accidental, but a very necessary form of appearance of value and surplus value.
To summarise: in their attempt to reject both the ahistoricity of the (neo-)classical school and the non-monetary approach of Sraffian neo-Ricadianism, Benetti/Cartelier succumb to a functionalist reading of money as both analytically-conceptually and temporally prior to value and its forms, undermining Marx’s theory of money as the paradigmatic form of value which can only be grasped from the social form of value producing, i.e., abstract labour in the production process. The (false) reduction of Marx’s explicit problematisation of ‘form’ to the eminence of money – mistaking the object of critique (the forms that value takes, i.e. money) for affirmative categories – misrecognises that the forms that value takes are precisely the fetishised forms of value Marx sought a) to designate as the specific economic object (against the ‘economic unawareness’ of political economy) and b) to reveal ‘what has been transformed into’ them, their content in the specific form of capitalist labour. Benetti/Cartelier’s impetus to fortify the theoretical status of money in economic theory (l’ unité de compte commune, economic object) therefore ironically digresses into money’s theoretical subalternatisation, because in their theory, Marx’s main interest in the analysis of the value form – not that money is a commodity, but ‘how, why, and by what means a commodity becomes money’57 and therefore, how money is precisely excluded as a specific form of value from the ‘world of commodities’ – remains obscure. It is equally obscure how Benetti/Cartelier’s ‘solution’ of ‘postulating money and discarding value theory’ can overcome the Sraffian paradigm. Ironically, Benetti/Cartelier’s and the Sraffians’s approach are but the reverse side of the same pre-critical coin: while the Sraffians precisely lack an understanding of value as necessarily tied to money, the ‘monetary approach’ lacks insight into the necessity of money to reflect a social relation of production. More devastatingly however, Benetti/Cartelier’s ‘symbol theory’ of money confirms the judgement that their theory does not move beyond the claims they intend to reject in neoclassical economics. As with Uno, therefore, Benetti/Cartelier’s nominalist reading of money and their strange disavowal of its social dimension can be traced back to the ignorance of the problem of fetishism. For Marx, the particularities of the equivalent value form, i.e. paradigmatically that of money – and not just the analysis of the value form in the confrontation of two commodities per se – are at the heart of the ‘secret’ to the fetishisms of the bourgeois mode of production. Yet, this omission of the crucial outcome of Marx’s analytical approach to value form analysis seems to run like a golden thread through the proponents of the interpretation of value from Uno to the post-Uno School and its appropriation of other, more recent money theoretical approaches, as in Benetti/Cartelier. Recent critics of the Uno School in Japan have therefore pointed to the omission of the fetishism paradigm as the differentia specifica between Uno-oriented theory and that of other schools and theorists of Marxian value theory, e.g. Kuruma Samezō. A case in point is Sasaki Ryūji, who in his 2011 book Marx’s Theory of Reification. The Thinking of the Material as the Critique of Capitalism, contends:
With regard to Uno Kōzō, because he does not intend an interpretation of Marx, but a ‘correction’ of Capital towards a static theory of principles, it is self-understood that it is different from Marx in this sense. Without a doubt, he misconceives the core of the theory of reification (busshō, also: fetishism). As is well known, Uno argues that in the chapter on the commodity the labour theory of value cannot be proven, and one must wait until the emergence of capital to prove it for the first time. Hence, in the commodity chapter, not the relation between value, substance and value form, but only the form should be discussed. This is why the problem of reification where the social relations of persons appear as social relations of things (busshō) is cut off from the problem around production relations, which are the social expression of private labours. [Uno] merely shows the value form as an abstract unfolding of the contradiction between value and use value in the commodity … Accordingly, with Uno’s framework, one cannot explain the reification of production relations founded on private labour.58
Can the integration of interpretations of the Neue Marx-Lektüre, especially Hans-Georg Backhaus and Michael Heinrich, in the Japanese post-Uno school provide us with a better grasp of the relation between value and money? For this, we shall turn briefly to Mukai Kimitoshi and his intellectual context.
5.1.3 Money as the Logical Limit to Value – The Neue Marx-Lektüre in the Post-Uno School
The characterisation of the works of Mukai Kimitoshi as the ‘post-Uno School’ is strictly speaking incorrect, since Mukai was a student of the well-known Marxist economist Satō Kinzaburō (1927–89) who was one of Uno’s foremost critics. And yet, with regard to his embeddedness in the debates on value continuing after Uno’s death in 1977 and his enthusiastic accordance with Uno’s interpretation of the money form as prior to the commodity,59 the subsumption of Mukai to the post-Uno school can be justified. In Mukai’s case, however, although he strongly references Benetti/Cartelier, the emphasis on the works of the Neue Marx-Lektüre, and especially Hans-Georg Backhaus and Michael Heinrich, is more evident. The signature intervention of the Neue Marx-Lektüre (NML) in the value theoretical debates of the late 1960s–70s in Germany until today is twofold: the rejection of the premonetary theory of value (prämonetäre Werttheorie) and the logico-historical method. The latter is first prosposed by Engels’s interpretation60 and perpetuated in the works of e.g. Wolfgang Fritz Haug in the German context.61 This twofold landmark intervention has especially been advocated by Backhaus and Heinrich in their writings. Backhaus first propagated this view in his seminal ‘Materialien zur Rekonstruktion der Marxschen Werttheorie’ (Materials for the Reconstruction of Marx’s Theory of Value, 1974–8), while Heinrich strongly argued for it in his Die Wissenschaft vom Wert (The Science of Value, 1991).62 With different emphasis on its derivation, what can be said for both Backhaus and Heinrich is that Marx’s theory of value in Capital must be interpreted as a monetary theory of value, its method being strictly logical. But, as both Backhaus and Heinrich stress, Marx himself wasn’t sufficiently conscious of his own ‘paradigm change’ against the classics, which is why value form analysis in Section 3 of Chapter 1 of Capital Volume I can still be read as an ‘embodied’ labour theory of value. Especially Heinrich claims that the substance of value, abstract labour, only has existence in exchange, in the ‘social relation between commodity to commodity’.63 Because Marx was allegedly caught up between the framework of the classics (the ‘embodied labour theory of value’) on the one hand and breaking up their discourse, Heinrich hypostatises two distinct theories of value in Marx, a ‘premonetary’ and a ‘monetary’ one.64 Because, for Heinrich, the ‘embodied’ labour theory of value – the ‘old discourse’ – must be rejected in favour of Marx’s breakthrough to a ‘monetary theory of value’, it is in exchange that ‘value’ is constituted, and this therefore by necessity hinges on the existence of money. We will come back to a critical evaluation of these contentions in the last section. In the following, we will present Mukai’s argument of why the money form must precede the commodity, and why the labour theory of value is to be discarded from the outset. As we will see, his argument is more consistent than that of Ebitsuka, and drawing on Marx’s original work, at first also more convincing. Like Ebitsuka, however, Mukai ironically leaves the problematic of money, and especially its capitalist dimension, unproblematised. Just because exchange necessitates the existence of a thing called ‘money’, we still have not understood what money actually is, by which of its characteristics it is actually able to hold the place of universal equivalent. To examine Mukai’s argument, we shall first look at its contextualisation within the different value theoretical streams in 1960s–70s Japan – which is oriented towards Backhaus’s characterisation of the same streams in Germany – and then turn to Mukai’s own ‘monetary approach’ and the rejection of the historicist turn (‘historizistiche Wendung’) which can allegedly be detected in the different presentations of the value form from the first to the subsequent editions of Capital. Both of these positions are strongly informed by Backhaus’s argument in Part III of the ‘Materialien’, in Chapter 6 of Heinrich’s Science of Value (‘Die monetäre Werttheorie’), and also reflected in the Benetti/Cartelier paradigm, which Mukai appropriates to harden the evidence for his case. We shall see that Mukai, despite his claim to have convincingly argued the superfluousness of the labour theory of value from Marx’s own ‘defects’ in the analysis of the value form, like the authors he adopts as buttresses for his view, fails to take notice of the centrality of the fetish paradigm in Marx’s theory of money, which leads to a truncated, misconceived and therefore non-critical view of the money form. Our contention is that the opposition of a ‘monetary’ theory of value to the labour theory of value is a false one, leading to precarious shortenings in the theoretical scope of the labour theory that is simultaneously the monetary theory of value.
5.1.4 Against the Labour Theory of Value
Mukai’s unpublished article65 ‘The New Readings of Capital in Japan since the 1960s’ (2014) is the latest in a series of articles since 1990 in which Mukai argues for the ‘dispensability’ of the labour theory of value for the analysis of capitalist relations.66 Here, Mukai Kimitoshi develops a short intellectual biography of ‘heterodox’ (i.e. non-party line) Japanese value theoretical approaches, especially his own, contextualising it within his teacher Satō Kinzaburō’s work on the Grundrisse and Capital in the late 1960s. Mukais’ claim that no reference to the concept of labour is needed for the development of the value form – an assignment he says, that is left to him after the death of his mentor Satō – is conducted in the fashion of a critical commentary on Marx’s value form analysis, focussing on its ‘defects’.67 Before we follow Mukai’s argument critically, the general overview of the ‘three streams of Japanese Marxian economics in the 1960–70s’ is useful to situate Mukai’s work. Mukai follows Hans-Georg Backhaus’s characterisation of different readings of Capital in Germany from the end of the Second World War to, roughly, the late 1960s.68 We find here the streams of 1. the logico-historical approach of the ‘old orthodoxy (traditional Marxists)’ and the ‘Civil society’ school (K. Hirata), 2. the ‘logical approach’ of Uno Kōzō and the ‘new orthodoxy’ of Satō Kinzaburō, and 3. the model-platonic approach of ‘Algebraic Marxism’ (N. Okishio).69 Mukai, like Backhaus, sees himself in the tradition of the ‘logical’ approach. Though the latter expresses doubts as to the ‘strictly’ logical approach, and especially the ‘new dogmatism’ in the theoretical circumference of the Frankfurt School,70 Mukai is more inclined to count himself among the representatives of the ‘new orthodoxy’, though not without a peculiar radicalisation of Satō’s and even Uno’s argument that the labour theory of value were ‘premature’ in the development of the value form: for Mukai, it is not only ‘prematurely’ introduced in Capital, but entirely superfluous, as a theory of capitalist relations can be sufficiently expressed in money. As for the question of a historical or ‘logical’ methodological approach to the value forms of the commodity and money in the first chapter of Capital Volume I, Mukai adopted the ‘logical’-systematic interpretation from his mentor Satō. While this non-evolutionary-historical theorisation is clear in the Grundrisse and the first edition of Capital, Mukai, following Backhaus, asks whether the ‘strictly logical’ approach had really been thoroughly pursued in the subsequent editions of Capital, or whether we must not concede a ‘historicist turn’ (Backhaus)71 in the editions following the first of 1867 and the conventional fourth edition. In other words: ‘What happened between the Grundrisse and Capital?’72 According to Mukai, and leaning on the NML’s central thesis, the historicist turn was owed to certain defects in the ‘attempts of popularisation’ of the presentation of the analysis of the value form and the ‘genesis of money’, conducted in the subsequent editions of Capital. The two interpretations of value form analysis in Chapter 1, Section 3 of Capital, interpreted by both Mukai and the Neue Marx-Lektüre as precarious – on the one hand, a historicist reading of the analysis of value, and a ‘premonetary’ theory of value on the other hand – are however thoroughly ‘woven’ into the material of Capital, so that it must be conceded that Marx himself wasn’t entirely aware of the ‘qualitative difference’ of his own value theory against that of his classical predecessors. Mukai here strongly relies on Heinrich’s evaluation:
As Heinrich says, we can find a paradigm change, but Marx was not conscious of it, and continued to believe that he remained in the paradigm of the labour theory of value. ‘On the other hand, the discourse of the classics can still be found in central passages of his work … [his] own categorial development remains ambivalent in some of the crucial passages’. (Heinrich 1991, p. 13).73
For Mukai, Marx did not always succeed in opening a new terrain against the classical ‘embodied labour’, i.e. quantitative, theories of value that can be found in Ricardo etc.74 To prove his point, Mukai quotes the passage on the ‘physiological’ aspects of abstract labour from the fourth edition, namely, that
all labour is an expenditure of human labour-power, in the physiological sense, and it is in this quality of being equal, or abstract, human labour that it forms the value of commodities.75
Mukai concludes, with Heinrich and Backhaus:
Here we can see no difference between Marx and Ricardo, because ‘values are then reduced to mere labour quantities independent of money, as in Ricardo’. (Heinrich 1988, p. 32) So it can be called a ‘premonetary theory of value’ (Backhaus 1978, p. 17) which belongs to the same paradigm as classical economists and neo-Ricardians of today.76
While for Mukai the ‘new paradigm’ was invented by Marx as a ‘qualitative one’ – ‘… the qualitative side of value relation expresses a new theoretical domain opened up by Marx’s analysis of the value-form’77 – Marx at times slips back into a ‘substantialist’ quantitative view stuck in the Ricardian framework, and locates the constitution of value in production, not exchange, according to Mukai. In other words, Marx did not always clearly distinguish his own ‘premonetary’ from his ‘monetary’ theory of value. Yet, according to Mukai, at times, the ‘monetary approach’, and especially its rejection of the ‘premonetary’ one, is clearly detectable – while the reader is left in the dark as to which criteria this evaluation adheres to, as Mukai does not argue why certain texts, e.g. the 1861–3 Economic Manuscripts, should have a more consistent ‘monetary’ approach. For reasons of space, let us limit the presentation to what, for Mukai, is the most conclusive passages that show Marx’s standpoint of the overcoming of the ‘old discourse’. Mukai quotes from the 1861–3 Economic Manuscripts on Ricardo: ‘… this qualitative aspect of the matter which is contained in the representation of exchange value as money, is not elaborated by Ricardo. This circumstance – the necessity of presenting labour contained in commodities as uniform social labour, i.e. as money – is overlooked by Ricardo’.78 To prove his point, Mukai further quotes this decisive passage:
However, let us remember that commodities possess an objective character as values (Wertgegenständlichkeit) only insofar as they are all expressions of an identical social substance, human labour, that their objective character as values is therefore purely social. From this it follows self-evidently that it can only appear in the social relation between commodity and commodity.79
What Marx presents to the reader in these passages is the inherent link between the ‘human labour’ objectified in the commodities, and money, in which the latter must represent all of these different labours as one ‘uniform social’ substance, as abstract labour. This is especially clear from the first quote Mukai provides. Contrary to Mukai’s belief, however, Marx’s critique of Ricardo is not motivated by the confrontation of a ‘premonetary theory of value’ with a ‘monetary’ one, but by the desire to remind Ricardo of the quality of value, in that it must be represented in uniform (or abstract) social labour – expressed as money. Let us enhance the quote Mukai provides with some context to see what Marx really had in mind with his critique of Ricardo:
Ricardo’s mistake is that he is concerned only with the magnitude of value. Consequently his attention is concentrated on the relative quantities of labour which the different commodities represent, or which the commodities as values embody. But the labour embodied in them must be represented as social labour, as alienated individual labour … This transformation of the labour of private individuals contained in the commodities into uniform social labour, consequently into labour which can be expressed in all use values and can be exchanged for them, this qualitative aspect of the matter which is contained in the representation of exchange value as money, is not elaborated by Ricardo. This circumstance – the necessity of presenting labour contained in commodities as uniform social labour, i.e. as money – is overlooked by Ricardo.80
Marx explicitly refers to money as ‘uniform social labour’ (‘uniform social labour, i.e. money’), as the presentation of the labour contained in the commodities, which is necessary in order to obtain a uniform objective existence. However, Ricardo’s mind is fully absorbed by, first, the analysis of the magnitude of value, and second, the search for an ‘invariable measure’ of value. But Marx had shown that the sole emphasis on the magnitudes of relative labour quantities in the first misses the specific condition of possibility by which magnitudes of value can even be compared to one another – uniform social labour, expressed in money.81 The labour theory of value, for Marx, is nothing but the theory of money, and the analysis of money essentially comes down to the labour theory of value. The latter grounds both the quantitative and the qualitative aspect of value, as the indicator of capitalist exchange relations, and the basis on which different labours can be meaningfully exchanged with one another. This is also the context in which Marx emphasises the necessity of money – as demonstrated in the third particularity of the equivalent form – to invertedly represent the product of individual private labour (and not self-determined labour, as Carterlier wrongfully suggests) as directly social labour. In his critique of Bailey’s nominalist theory of money – money as the ‘direct expression’ of the ratio in which different use values exchange for one another – Marx notes:
… the labour which constitutes the substance of value is not only uniform, simple, average labour; it is the labour of a private individual represented in a definite product. However, the product as value must be the embodiment of social labour and, as such, be directly convertible from one use value into any other … Thus the labour of individuals has to be directly represented as its opposite, social labour; this transformed labour is, as its immediate opposite, abstract, general labour, which is therefore represented in a general equivalent. … This necessity to express individual labour as general labour is equivalent to the necessity of expressing a commodity as money.82
Mukai however counterfactually insists on the irrelevance of the recourse to abstract human labour for the phenomenology of money – even after quoting these indeed relevant passages! To sustain his argument, he contrasts the concept of ‘abstract human labour’ in the ‘physiological’ determination of value with the concept of ‘abstract, general labour’ in the above quote to claim that the former was a category of production, i.e. still attached to the old ‘embodied labour’-discourse of the classics, while the latter was a category of the ‘new domain’, a category of exchange:
‘Abstract general labour’ here mentioned as an opposite of private labour is quite different from the above-mentioned ‘abstract human labour’. It was newly created by Marx in order to clarify the secret of money, which makes the different products of private labors in the market commensurable and reduce them to the same unit. ‘The equality of labor’ means this commensurability, which does not exist before exchange, but emerges only in exchange, correctly speaking, in the relation of the commodity to money. As such an ‘abstract labor’ is ‘purely social’, it cannot be acquired by imagining real human labor in production, e.g. the factory, and therefore its quantity cannot be measured by the duration of labor, but only by money.83
However at no point does Marx say that value is constituted in exchange. To the contrary: it is precisely the position Marx polemicised against. To maintain the opposite means to wittingly ignore Marx’s critique of the classics. It is therefore difficult not to view Mukai’s reading as a conscious misjudgement (or ignorance) of Marx extensive discussion of 1.) Ricardo’s negligence of the substantial dimension of value in the social form of abstract-general human labour represented by money, as shown above (‘abstract-general’ and ‘abstract human labour’ are not two different concepts in Marx) and 2.) Bailey’s ignorance of the simple fact that, if money ‘measures’ different heterogenous use values, a common denominator of these different use values becomes a logical prerequisite for the comparison (tertium-problem), and this common denominator cannot be money itself.
… for commodities to express their exchange value independently in money, in a third commodity, the exclusive commodity, the values of commodities must already be presupposed.84 Now the point is merely to compare them quantitatively. A homogeneity which makes them the same – makes them values – which as values makes them qualitatively equal, is already presupposed in order that their value and their differences in value can be represented in this way. For example, if all commodities express their value in gold, then this expression in gold, their gold price, their equation with gold, is an equation on the basis of which it is possible to elucidate and compute their value relation to one another, for they are now expressed as different quantities of gold and in this way the commodities are represented in their prices, as comparable magnitudes of the same common denominator.
But in order to be represented in this way, the commodities must already be identical as values.85
According to Bailey, it is not the determination of the product as value which leads to the establishment of money and which expresses itself in money, but it is the existence of money which leads to the fiction of the concept of value.86
To claim that the common denominator is money itself, as Bailey, Uno, Ebitsuka, Benetti/Cartelier, and Mukai do, is to identify substance and form, essence and appearance – in sum, it means to identify what generates a phenomenon, no matter how its appearance inverts the underlying constitution, with the phenomenon itself. This becomes prevalent in the discussion of Bailey’s identification of value with its external measure, money. Marx here neatly summarises what it means to determine the value of a commodity by, first, the quantity of labour inherent in it, and second, by the ‘value of labour’ that produces it (a conflation originally produced by Smith, but prevalent also in Bailey):
In the first case one investigates the genesis and immanent nature of value itself. In the second, the development of the commodity into money or the form which exchange value acquires in the process of the exchange of commodities. In the first, we are concerned with value, independent of this representation, or rather antecedent to this representation. Bailey has this in common with the other fools: to determine the value of commodities means to find their monetary expression, AN EXTERNAL MEASURE OF THEIR VALUES.87
It is precisely this conflation for which Marx called Bailey not only a ‘fool’, but also a ‘Fetischdiener’ (‘fetish-worshipper’).88 It must however be asked whether this characterisation does not also apply to Marx’s modern Marxist critics. As though to further substantiate this, Mukai concludes:
It is true that the qualitative and the quantitative sides of Marx’s value theory are incompatible with each other under developed capitalism. But we need not make them compatible in a particular model, as Rubin did. In order to understand the qualitative side completely, we should only abandon the quantitative one, the labor theory of value.89
Accordingly, Mukai, like his peers, ignores the task of value form analysis, in that it is the analysis of the necessity of the emergence of the money form as universal equivalent from the defects of the expanded value form, measured in different use values. Mukai does not understand this:
Where does value as ‘something purely social’ (etwas rein Gesellschaftliches) appear? Marx would say, ‘it can appear only in the relation of commodity to commodity’.90 So he begins his analysis of the value-form with the ‘simple form of value’: x commodity A = y commodity B. But why not x commodity A = y money? In reality, we can find a direct relation of commodity to commodity without money nowhere in today’s developed commodity circulation … In this sense, Marx’s analysis of the value-form beginning with x commodity A = y commodity B should be called a ‘pre-monetary’ one.91
Like Uno, Mukai mistakes the analysis of the value form for an analysis of commodity exchange (or ‘circulation’).92 However, exchange is not the object of the analysis (in fact it only becomes thematic in Chapter 2, ‘The Exchange Process’). The object of the analysis is the precondition of exchange, i.e. the money form: how a commodity obtains general exchangeability against all the other commodities of the ‘whole world’ of commodities. The question is not whether 20 yards of linen actually do exchange for 1 coat, but what conditions a commodity must fulfil in order to serve as the universal equivalent. In other words, it is the analysis of the preconditions of exchange. However, Mukai’s rejection of the alleged ‘premonetary’ character of value form analysis has a deeper, two-fold motivation: if Marx’s ‘derivation’ of money from the commodity in the analysis of the value form were illegitimate, following the Benetti/Cartelier paradigm, then money cannot be a commodity:
Marx took over not only the labor theory of value, but also a theory of money from classical economists – the commodity theory of money. In his analysis of the value-form, therefore, it is presupposed without a doubt that money is a commodity which has its own value and use-value, and that a commodity becomes money as the result of exchanges. But as Backhaus says, ‘The concept of a premonetary commodity (sic) should be recognised as something impossible to think’.93
In his critique of readings that hypostatise a money commodity in Marx, Heinrich has shown that Marx at no point assumes that money must necessarily be a commodity.94 Mukai’s reading falls short by believing that the derivation of money from the commodity form is the same as assuming that money must necessarily ‘be’ a commodity. These however are two separate things, and their conflation provides a truncated, if not outright wrong, reading of Marx’s analysis.
5.1.5 With Backhaus and Heinrich against Marx? The ‘Historicist Turn’ and the Labour Theory of Value as Remnants of the ‘Old Discourse’
The argument of Marx’s alleged inability to break with the ‘old discourse’ is further supported by Mukai’s claim that Marx ‘introduced’ historical elements in the derivation of the value form, in that the emergence of money was ‘deduced’ from barter. Backhaus’s problematisation of the ‘popularisation of the presentation of the value form’ gives Mukai a buttress for his view. To prove that the historicist turn was already introduced in the first edition of Capital, Mukai quotes from the appendix:
Let us consider exchange between linen-producer A and coat-producer B. Before they come to terms, A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 2 coats (20 yards of linen = 2 coats), but B responds: 1 coat is worth 22 yards of linen (1 coat = 22 yards of linen). Finally, after they have haggled for a long time they agree: A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat, and B says: 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen.95
This is the first step to the ‘historization of the logical’ (Historisierung des Logischen, Backhaus)96 in the second edition. With the popularization of the description as a turning point, his analysis of the value-form has been reduced to a ‘story telling’ about ‘historical occurrences’ (‘Fabeleien über Historisches’, Backhaus)97 – the genesis of money from barter. Although he had quite a new answer from his analysis of the value-form, [Marx] reverted to the old answer – the labor theory of value and the commodity theory of money.98
However, the question remains what the diagnosis of the ‘historisation of the logical’ in the ‘popularised’ version of value form analysis is actually supposed to prove. Commentators like Mukai and Backhaus – though his intervention is more complex and metatheoretical, as we will see – seem not to be aware that by admitting that Marx’s ‘historically grounded’ reformulation of value-form analysis is owed not to a content-related reconsideration, but a reconsideration of form (in order to make his analysis, e.g., more ‘reader-friendly’, i.e. to ‘popularise’ it), they have implicitly admitted that Marx’s original methodological vantage point was indeed a systematic and logical one. It addresses the analysis of the nexus between value and money in specifically capitalist societies.99 The logical-historical interpretation, as Backhaus correctly sees, is therefore actually owed to a misunderstanding, even if it presents a misunderstanding whose scope Marx himself obviously was not aware of.
More pertinent however is Mukai’s appropriation of Backhaus’s intervention for his own ends, the delegitimisation of the labour theory of value. While Backhaus is often inconsistent (or rather indecisive, as we will see) towards Marx’s own ‘monetary theory of value’, he stresses that the specific cognitive gain of Marx’s intervention – and the new problem-horizon it provides, as opposed to that of the classics – consists in having precisely demonstrated the necessity of the money-value nexus. The labour theory of value therefore does not present an opposition, but the necessary explanatory framework for the theory of money. The appropriation of Backhaus’s intervention for Mukai’s ends – notwithstanding Backhaus’s own ambiguities – is therefore utterly problematic. In the following, we will briefly characterise Backhaus’s intervention and stress what, for Backhaus, the specific cognitive interest in Marx’s theory is.
Already in his relatively early text ‘On the Dialectics of the Value Form’ (‘Zur Dialektik der Wertform’, 1970), Backhaus, according to his overall methodological standard of presenting a meta-theoretical evaluation of the reception of Marx’s theory of value, holds that
[n]umerous authors ignore the claim of the labour theory of value to derive money as money and thus to inaugurate a specific theory of money. It is then no longer astonishing that these interpreters only present the theory of value, but exclude or correct the theory of money and therefore become unable to make the difference between the classical and the marxist (sic) labour theory of value plausible. They misconceive that the basic concepts of value theory are only understood when they on their part make the understanding of the money-theoretical basic concepts possible. Value theory is adequately interpreted when the commodity is grasped in such a way that it posits itself in the process of an ‘immanent moving-beyond-itself’ (im Prozess eines ‘immanenten Über-sich-Hinausgehens’) as money. This inner nexus between value and money forbids acceptance of the Marxian theory of value that simultaneously disavows the theory of money posited with it.100
The ‘inner nexus between value and money’ is where, for Backhaus, Marx’s advancement, indeed his break with the classical ‘labour theory of value’, must be situated – and not, as some representatives of the post-Uno school (or Benetti/Cartelier, for that matter) would have it, in the disavowal of the theory of value in favour of a ‘monetary approach’. The opposition of the two is a false one. The money-value nexus can only be disrupted at the risk of jeopardising Marx’s specific intervention, and the misrecognition of the new problem-horizon that his predecessors were not even aware existed: namely, the specific social form of labour whose characteristic is to take on specific forms of value, predominantly money. This question, tantamount to the question of how fetishism is possible under the specifically capitalist mode of production, is what guides Marx’s exegesis – and his critique.101 In Backhaus’s 1978 text, Part III of the ‘Materials’ (‘Materialien zur Rekonstruktion der Marxschen Werttheorie’), the crucial theoretical distinction between Marx and the ‘classical’, i.e. premonetary labour theory of value, but also to neoclassical, ‘subjectivist’ theories of value, is further delineated. Interestingly, Backhaus sees striking parallels between the objectivist labour theory of value, and both its ‘logico-historical’ and its ‘model-platonic’ variants, on the one hand, and subjectivist theories of utility (subjektive Nutzenlehre) on the other. He presents them as two sides of the same coin: ‘They tacitly and unreflectedly posit the logical permissibility of a procedure which abstracts from the “money veil” in order to be able to interpret the result of this abstraction as a model of a fictitious, or as the structure of a historical, natural economy (Naturalwirtschaft), and ultimately as the “essence” of modern monetary economy hidden beneath the “money veil” ’.102 In other words, both the objectivist and the subjectivist premonetary theories of value disregard (and therefore misconceive of) the constitutive function of money for the functioning of capitalist social relations: they are therefore paradigmatically theories of value without fetish. Instead, according to Backhaus,
Marx was … concerned primarily with the evolution of the thesis that the nexus between value and money must be comprehended as the nexus between the ‘immanent’ and ‘appearing’ (erscheinend) measure of value, [as the nexus] between the substance and form ‘of’ value. Value therefore cannot be thought as a premonetary substance existing for itself, which is externally related to a third thing called money. Value does not exist beyond and independently of its ‘adequate’ form of appearance … the organic nexus of value and price has its theoretical expression in the fact that value theory must be ‘sublated’ in a specific theory of money.103
Interestingly, Backhaus (unwittingly) rejects the claim made by Benetti/Cartelier and also Mukai that Marx was unable to show the necessity of money from the ‘development’ of the commodity form. According to Backhaus, in the analysis of the value form, Marx precisely sets it as his task to demonstrate that ‘the construction of an exchange process of premonetary commodities must fail by necessity’.104 These are the ‘Defects of the total or expanded form of value’ (Form II), in which the ‘series of representations never comes to an end’, and which is therefore ‘a motley mosaic of disparate and unconnected expressions of value’.105 Benetti/Cartelier, apart from misrecognising value form analysis as the explanandum of money, and not as an analysis of ‘barter’, also underestimate its critical function: namely, to show that the failure of the hypothesis that commodities can relate to one another without an equivalent, is fully intended. Also fully intended, therefore, is the presentation of money’s genesis in which the ‘dazzling’ money form ‘leav[es] no trace [of the process by which money emerges] behind’.106 Taking no notice of Marx’s explicit references to the ‘defect’ of Form II, Benetti/Cartelier, Ebitsuka and Mukai take the ‘derivation’ of money from the commodity for a positivistic model in which the latter is a direct ‘result’ of the former. The ‘monetarists’ declare Marx’s theory of value bankrupt, fully unaware of Marx’s intent and method of showing the necessity of money from the incompleteness of Forms I and II.107
In sum, for Backhaus, Marx’s theory of value is constituted of four different tasks:
the rationale (Begründung) and unfolding of value as the basis of the determination of exchange relations (quantitative theory of value),
a critique of premonetary theories of value,
the rationale of a specific theory of money,
a critique of money theories corresponding to premonetary theories of value, which proceed from the aporia of the separation between the organically interrelated categories of value and money.108
Especially the last of these must be regarded as Marx’s specific cognitive interest, in refuting any ‘nominalist’, as well as ‘realist’ theory of money, taking their vantage point from either symbol theories or functionalism (‘money as facilitator of exchange’). However, as announced before, Backhaus is indeed ambivalent in his own theorisation, so that it must be asked if his endeavour to establish a ‘binding consensus’ in the history of the reception of Marx’s theory of value is not rendered rather more difficult by his own indecision. Here is also the place to recapitulate the appropriation of Backhaus’s and Heinrich’s interpretation for the purposes of rejecting labour theories of value. First, though, we will stay with Backhaus, before moving on to a striking problematic in Heinrich.
5.1.6 The Conflation of Value and the Value Form, or: The ‘Original Sin’ of Conventional Political Economy
The claim that Marx’s labour theory of value was a ‘residue’ of the discourse of the classics, is an argument to be found in almost all newer discussions of Marx’s value theory.109 We, however, think that this contention cannot be upheld. It builds on the assumption that the classics had a ‘labour theory of value’ at all, which we have refuted in Chapter 1. Only Marx, we argue, in fact had a consistent, social, and consistently social labour theory of value at all. To therefore claim that Marx’s labour theory of value as a theory of the quality and the quantity of value is a ‘Classical residue in Marx’s value theory’ (Itoh), ‘derived from Classical political economy’ (Reuten), even a theorem that Marx ‘refused’ (Harvey), has no theoretical basis. Yet, even if the claim of the ‘old discourse’ prevailing in Marx can be successfully refuted – are the claims of the NML thoroughly consistent with regard to the ‘organically interrelated categories of value and money’? To give an example: in the same text (the Materials III), Backhaus meanders between different conceptualisations of the ‘prevalence’ of money. Having just shown that the nexus between value and money, and therefore the derivation of money from the commodity, must be thought of as a critique of premonetary theories of value, he verges on digressing into the nominalism he has just admonished – even though these considerations are formulated very hypothetically:
If it can be proven that Marx’s path of the ‘development’ of the money form of the commodity cannot be followed, then the category of money will have to be accepted as the logical prius of economic theory, as the basic concept irreducible by the means of economic analysis. It may be hypostasised that value theoretical consequences follow from it. The objectivist theory of value would lose its object if the objectivity of intersubjectively valid units of money can be provided.110
But Backhaus has already formulated the insight that money is not an explanans: that, in his own words, the category of money is precisely not an ‘irreducible basic concept’, but itself in need of an explanation – hence Marx’s task to answer the ‘riddle’ of money. What is more, Backhaus in this passage seems to confuse what an ‘objectivist’ theory of value could provide with what money itself (‘intersubjectively valid units of money’) could provide. However, a theory of B and B are not the same thing: even if these ‘intersubjectively valid units of money’ exist objectively, they still require an explanation. This being given, the theory of value would not lose its object, because money would still be an explanandum. Backhaus seems to admit the epistemological dimension of this problematic when he says: ‘Ultimately, the point is whether an “empirical principle” is demanded to give an argument for the intersubjective validity of economic unities’.111 One can therefore evade the impression of ambiguities in Backhaus’s theory of money, verging on the neoclassical identification of value with its external measure (money), only with difficulty.
Marx has time and again stressed that value, and with it, abstract labour, is never constituted in exchange. To the contrary, the idea of a mere Formwechsel (change of form) from the commodity to money, or an interchange of their specific locus in the exchange process being generative of value, is precisely the target of Marx’s critique.112 Yet, even prominent Marxist theorists deeply engaged in reconstructing Marx’s theory of value, do not always sufficiently delineate their distance to ‘exchange’ or ‘circulation’ theories of value. We contend that the assumption that value is constituted in exchange relies on a conflation of value and the value form, a conflation of Wert and Wertgegenständlichkeit. This conflation is unfortunately also to be found in Heinrich. In The Science of Value, Heinrich quotes from the fetish chapter: ‘It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a socially uniform objectivity as values (Wertgegenständlichkeit), which is distinct from their sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility’.113 He comments: ‘In this sense, abstract labour [i.e. the substance of value] is a specific social determination of labour that is only brought about in exchange (erst durch den Tausch zustande kommt)’.114 But Marx does not speak of value (Wert) in the quote Heinrich provides – instead, he speaks of value objectivity (Wertgegenständlichkeit): the form in which value becomes objective (gegenständlich), that is, as the value form of money. And it is a matter of fact that ‘only by being exchanged’ the different labours can appear as uniform labour in money.115 Wertgegenständlichkeit therefore has to be understood as the form of value, not value itself (Wert). This distinction is crucial. Its neglect informs what we might call the ‘original sin’ of conventional political economy. If the systematic fetish-character of money and the further, even more ‘mysterious’ forms of value (capital, profit, rent, interest, etc.) are to be correctly understood and targeted in the nexus in which they constitute the categories of political economy, it is essential to distinguish value and its forms. And it is only the latter (the value form), as a necessary form of appearance of the former (value) that has its locus in exchange. But it is precisely because the ‘sphere of exchange is the only sphere known to the bourgeois economist’, that their relation to value, i.e. the social form of labour in its confrontation with capital, is obfuscated. In consequence, to the naked, i.e. conventional economist’s, eye, it is unclear what value has ‘got to do’ with money. If accordingly, the constitutive conceptual difference of value and the value form is collapsed, it is easy to conclude that value, and not the value form of money, is constituted in exchange. Marx, in his economy-critical work, especially in the 1861–3 Economic Manuscripts through Capital, has shown precisely this identification of the two to account for the fetishistic horizon, the ‘original sin’ of bourgeois political economy. As we have shown, his critique of Bailey, but also of Ricardo, is pertinent here.
That said, however, neither Backhaus’s nor Heinrich’s interventions are attempts to discard (or ‘abandon’, as Mukai suggests) the theory of value. It is quite the opposite: an understanding of how deeply the theory of money penetrates the theory of value – and vice versa. Consequently, their appropriation by Mukai, as well as other Japanese theorists working in value theory since the 1990s towards a position that rejects Marx’s core critical theorem, is indeed rather difficult to defend. While it is true that the labour theory of value is the vantage point for any meaningful analysis of the fetishistic forms of value in the capitalist mode of production, this does not mean it must be separated from the theory of money. To the contrary, it is precisely because the labour theory of value is the methodological and analytic heuristic – the ‘tool’ – to unravel the forms that value takes, paradigmatically money, that it presents the theory of money. This is how the ‘monetary theory of value’ must be understood – and this has nothing to do with ‘embodied’ theories of labour.
It is, however, difficult to diffuse the suspicion that, by the appropriation of the NML to delegitimise the labour theory of value – attempts which we can also find in the Benetti/Cartelier paradigm and which they ironically share with their neo-Ricardian ‘adversaries’ – a new framework can be found in an attempt to delegitimise Marx’s critique of the capitalist mode of production. That without Marx’s critique, the most holistic and concise analysis of the capitalist mode of production that we have even today, we would be thrown into a kind of ‘stone age of cognition’ as to the mode of socialisation in which we now live, is hopefully shown to be obvious. Yet, authors working in the post-Uno school seem to concentrate their energies on precisely this kind of deconstruction, whatever their motives. It may, however, just be that with their emphasis on the category of the ‘market’ as economic object, the ‘monetary approach’ with its nominalist, Baileyan identification of value/price and money, and the declaration of the predominance of ‘circulation’ over ‘production’, these theories have long succumbed to the fetishisms of the bourgeois relations of production they, or so we at least like to believe, must have questioned at some point.
5.2 The ‘Dialectic of Capital’ as the Apologetic of Capital in the Anglophone Uno School
As we have seen in Chapters 3 and 4, the analysis of Uno’s reconstruction of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy as the critique of capitalist relations of production provided the following results:
the reference to the framework of methodological individualism implied in the reinterpretation of value form analysis as structurally depending on the personal ‘wants’ of commodity owners,
the basic concept of capital derived from merchant capital, i.e. ‘buying cheap and selling dear’ (arbitrage),
an understanding of ‘social reproduction’ unhinged from the exploitation of alien and unpaid labour,
the reinterpretation of the ‘law of value’ as the law of general equilibrium of supply and demand,
the dismissal of a concept of crisis in favour of a concept of business cycles consolidating that equilibrium,
the dismissal of labour values in favour of market-regulated price as a) the ‘solution’ to the problem of the transformation of labour values into prices of production and b) the ‘real enactment’ of the law of value in which values and prices of production coincide.
In sum, these results can be diagnosed as the hypostatisation of use value as the primary locus of capitalist economic mediation, which implies Uno’s theoretical proximity to the paradigms of classical, and consequently (albeit more problematically) neoclassical economy, in its acceptance of a ‘harmonious’ interplay of factors of production and consumption, in which the aim of capitalist production is the satisfaction of ‘needs’. As we have previously shown, Uno’s theory of value and money is basically informed by the methodological framework of marginalism and shares its core features – methodological individualism; functionalism (‘money is what money does’); the understanding of capital as not primarily defined in its contradictory relation to labour, but in being a ‘commodity economy’; and the vantage point of surplus value production not primarily in the exploitation of living labour, but other factors, such as arbitrage. Marx’s predominant Problemstellung, namely the capitalist production process itself, whose objects, the categories of conventional political economy, assume their fetish-character by disavowing the problem of abstract living labour and its unequal exchange with capital, remains a theoretical sideline in Uno. Most of all, however, the prevalence of the idea of general equilibrium as the ‘enactment’ of the law of value, balanced social reproduction, and the structural impossibility of crisis within the framework of ‘pure theory’, are detrimental to Marx’s critique of the prevailing social mode of production.
The general aim of this chapter (5.2.) is to present and problematise the relatively recent reception of Uno’s work by the Anglophone Uno School which, for reasons of their sheer prolificness, we identify rather reductively with the works of Thomas T. Sekine and his best-known follower, Robert Albritton.116 By evaluating which of Uno’s theorems have been emphasised in this line of reception, we in turn investigate its specific interest in Marxian theory and how it served to produce an independent theorisation of Marx’s legacy. We can here identify a central problem which has already confronted us in the analysis of Uno’s intervention: the capital relation, i.e. the confrontation of capital and labour, is not understood as the object and target of critique, but as a ‘logical’ and transparent entity, devoid of any problematic as to the inversion of capital’s own self-presentation in the rationalisations in bourgeois economy and its real basis in the social form of labour, i.e. the problem of fetishism. In this perspective, indeed, ‘[c]apital … cannot lie to us or deceive us’.117 Therefore, despite its claims of presenting, in the case of Sekine, a ‘Critique of Bourgeois Economics’,118 this intervention must much rather be characterised as capital’s apologetic, as will be shown in this chapter. For a large part, this is owed to the invocation of the term ‘law of value’ as a central analytical category in this line of reception. Following Uno, the ‘law of value’ in Sekine’s perspective indicates balanced and evenly distributed production and the general equilibrium of supply and demand as the core feature of capitalist reproduction,119 not the sustenance of capital through increasingly crisis-ridden forms of exploitation and appropriation of living labour as its basic condition. It therefore betrays a euphemistic and apologetic outlook on the concept of capital as the ‘god of our own “economic motives” ’ in the style of Feuerbachian anthropomorphism, in combination with an asocial, idealist, and arguably ‘rational choice’-inspired ‘utility maximising’ conception of the individual:
According to Feuerbach, God did not create us in his image, rather it is we who create him in our image … If … these wonderful attributes of ours, or human essences, as Feuerbach calls them, are made infinite and absolute, and extrapolated as attributes of an entity beyond us, we have created God … Similarly, I would say that we, finite human beings, are all to some extent greedy and acquisitive, avoid waste and pursue efficiency (sic), wish to accumulate material wealth, etc.; in short, we maximise gains and minimise losses. But we never do so infinitely. Let these ‘economic motives’ be made infinite and absolute, and be extrapolated in an entity beyond ourselves (sic). Then we have created ‘capital’. In other words, capital is the god of our own ‘economic motives’.120
Consequently, the de-problematisation of capital as a social relation in the Anglophone Uno-School leads to an unconscious conflation of what is called the ‘dialectic of capital’ with the idea of pre-established harmony, reflected in the (mis-)use of ‘law of value’ as ‘balanced’ conditions of reproduction – and hence the rejection of the inherent crisis-ridden character of capital, the rejection of Marx’s analysis of surplus value as the direct exploitation of living labour as the point of reference, and, ultimately, the problem of ‘labour’ remaining external to its analysis. Capital’s fundamental dependence on forms of appropriation of living labour without an equivalent remains unaddressed in Sekine’s approach.
We do not only ascribe this insufficient awareness of the Problemstellung with regard to the law of valorisation (rather than the euphemistically named ‘law of value’) to a lack of awareness of the contradiction between dead labour (capital) and living labour as the source of (surplus) value. We also detect a radical divergence of the pragmatic and the semantic aspects of Sekine’s and Albritton’s contentions, or, in common parlance, a divergence between the assertion and the reality of their claims. First, we will evaluate Sekine’s position, followed by an evaluation of Albritton’s central works and claims.
5.2.1 Sekine’s Idealisation of Capital
Like that of Itoh Makoto around the same period, the work of Sekine, who studied with Uno and came to accept a position at York University in the late 1970s, helped to introduce Uno’s theory to a non-Japanese audience for the first time. His English publications, such as ‘Uno-Riron: A Japanese Contribution to Marxian Political Economy’ (1975) and ‘An Uno School Seminar on “The Theory of Value” ’ (1984–5)’ arguably contributed to the reshaping of questions of basic Marxian methodology and value theory to include a wider, non-European or US scholarly reception. His translation of Uno’s Principles in 1980 arguably gave Uno’s theory and attempt to reconstruct Marx’s Capital the greatest impact. Unlike Uno, however, Sekine sees his specific contribution in having established a correlation between the methodological architecture of the tri-partite structure of Hegel’s Logic and Marx’s Capital that ‘[o]nly the Unoist approach’121 has adequately articulated. In Sekine’s view, therefore, in the Principles, ‘Uno treats the theory of a purely capitalist society in the three doctrines of circulation, production and distribution in just the same way as Hegel expounds his Logic in the three doctrines of being, essence, and the notion’,122 which can be considered a more rigorous systematisation of Marx’s structure. Central to this understanding is that Uno’s doctrine of distribution (bunpairon) ‘shows how the capitalist mode of production develops and regulates its own market so as to produce all use-values that are socially needed in a manner that is most satisfactory to the self-adopted claim of capital’,123 thereby short-circuiting the alleged pre-established harmony of capitalist reproduction with a certain understanding of the Hegelian ‘Absolute’.124
Before we come to understand the idealistic hypostasis of Sekine’s concept of capital, we must note that Sekine’s work, unlike that of Itoh and despite its alleged Hegelian habitus, addresses a non-academic audience. This is evident in terms of both style and content: the introductory and schematic character of explanations,125 the use of simple (if not overly simplifying) examples and language,126 the lack of reference to original sources, the often anecdotal style in which certain claims are upheld,127 and, last but not least, the missing engagement with other schools of thought, especially in the Hegelian Marxist vein, whose arguments might or might not reflect or situate Sekine’s own work. It is striking that Sekine at no point seems to find it necessary to engage with the efforts of the Neue Marx-Lektüre, Postone, or even the Althusserian problematisation of Hegelian Marxism in discussing his own idiosyncratic parallelisation of Hegel’s and Marx’s system, despite the common rejection of the logical-historical method and the delineation from traditional Marxism.128 His engagement with related positions is limited to a critical response to Chris Arthur’s original critical engagement with the Uno School’s conception of money and exchange.129 Pointing out the non-academic character of Sekine’s writings should however not make the reader prone to take less seriously his high claims to interpreting the ‘dialectic of capital’ as a self-sustaining and enhancing system in the vein of Hegel’s ‘absolute spirit’. If anything, it should make the reader more sensitive to it. For we detect a considerable gap in Sekine’s (and, as we will see, Albritton’s) fairly high claims of the ‘Dialectic, or Logic that Coincides with Economics’ and the very validity of this claim in a Marxian framework. In fact, we contend that Sekine’s idiosyncratic interpretation of the concept of capital raises no suspicions of having been developed in a Marxian framework at all – including, pertinently, capital as a form of value emerging from the conditions of unequal exchange between itself and labour on the basis of the appearance of equivalent exchange, i.e. as a specifically conditioned and contradictory social relation, presupposing class society as the specific relation of production. The rejection of the very core of Marx’s analysis, i.e. the rejection of what is arguably the defining feature of Marx’s intervention against classical political economy, further consolidates this lack of engagement with Marx’s problem-setting. The height of this misconception can be found in Sekine’s almost alienating assertion that ‘the more we study economics, the more “capitalist” we tend to become. Only Karl Marx knew this danger from the beginning, and thus undertook to criticise that “opium-like” science of political economy’.130
For Sekine, as briefly summarised above, capital is nothing ‘outside of us’, but, analogous to Feuerbach’s anthropomorphism of God, the extension and extrapolation of our own economic interests and motives: ‘To understand the logic of capital, we only have to ask ourselves what we, as economic man, would do in this or that situation’.131 The ‘fundamental core of economic theory’, for Sekine, is therefore ‘the definition of capitalism by capital itself’,132 or method copying, as he calls it elsewhere. This includes the detection of capital’s own laws, i.e. that of general equilibrium, not by the ‘experimental, trial-and-error method’ of the natural sciences, but ‘by introspection’. As though this reference to the realm of religion were not sufficiently unsettling, Sekine further mobilises hyper-idealistic motives as the ‘method’ by which to gain access to capital’s functioning. Let us see how.
A use-value space is ideal when no part of it resists or exceeds subsumption under the logic of capital. Only by presupposing such an ideal use-value space, can we let capital synthesize pure capitalism, the theoretical definition of capitalism. The way in which this kind of economic theory is synthesized is, in fact, quite simple. In this ideal use-value space, we need only specify a particular situation or context, before asking capital, ‘Now what do you want to do?’ We always get the right answer from capital, and economic theory is no more than an ordered totality of such answers.134
As though this assertion were not already deeply set in the framework of a Fichtean identitarian idealism (which Hegel has fiercely objected to), Sekine expands the idealistic hyperbole to the individual, culminating in Novalis-style romantic metaphysics:
But how do we know that capital’s answer is always true? Because the truth is already in ourselves. Recall that capital originated in us before it transcended us. Since capital is our ‘economic motives’ made infinite, we are in fact asking the question of ourselves and answering it. There is nothing inside ourselves that we do not know.135
We shudder to think what Marx, whose wit and scathing criticism far surpasses our own, would have made of these claims. Certainly we must halt to ask what bearing this combination of naive romanticism and dogmatism has on the critique of political economy. Yet, for Sekine ‘[o]nly when we see the whole body of economic theory as the definition of capitalism by capital itself, i.e., as the logic of capital the unfolding of which constitutes capitalism, do we understand how the structural (or equilibrium) aspect of it and the dynamic (or cyclical) aspect of it can be brought together into a unified system. This we call the dialectic of capital’.136 Equilibrium instead of the necessary rupture between (over-)production and moneyed demand, and cyclical operations of the market instead of the inherent tendency to the increasingly exacerbating crisis, as problematised in Uno’s approach in Chapter 4, accordingly become the hallmark of this line of interpretation, for which Sekine explicitly claims Uno’s legacy: ‘It is the signal accomplishment of Kōzō Uno (1897–1977) to have understood Marx’s Capital as essentially a book of the dialectic of capital’.137 The difficulty here arises in reconciling such a reading with what Marx actually proposed, due to the lack of e.g. references to the source that Sekine claims as authoritative to his interpretation – i.e., Capital and Marx’s other critical-economic writings. Similarly underdeveloped are critical engagements with texts that might further substantiate Sekine’s idiosyncratic perspective.
The non-fulfilment of even the most minimal scientific standards notwithstanding, Sekine’s view of the law of value as the ‘law’ of general equilibrium becomes the defining feature of his economic theory, i.e. the ‘dialectic of capital’. In it, the production of surplus value is not denied, but it is understood to complement the law of equilibrium, and not to contradict or considerably unsettle it. The price-value divergence must hence be ‘corrected’ in such a way that, ultimately, prices regulate balanced production and demand through their fluctuations on the market, in which labour values no longer exert any influence on real price formation. By discarding the problematic of surplus value and profit as the unpaid labour time of total social production, unpaid labour appears as paid labour in Sekine’s approach, without any means to discern how this very transformation could have taken place. However, as shown in Chapter 4.3., in the context of the theory of profit, Marx’s intention is no longer to explain the origin of surplus value, but the appearance of capital as self-valorising, or, in Heinrich’s words, ‘how the origin of profit becomes invisible’,138 i.e. how the appropriation of unpaid labour can appear as paid labour in total social production. This cognitive interest is beyond Sekine, for whom the labour theory of value is no longer the determining framework by which the discrepancy of value and price, but also that of paid and unpaid labour, can be accounted for as soon as labour values assume the form of production price. Sekine’s intention much rather is to explain the ‘law of value’ as the law of equilibrium price formation on the market, where value ‘is that which expresses itself as a price in the sphere of circulation and that which consists of abstract (in the sense of “socially-necessary”) labour in the sphere of production.’ However, this explanation is tautological: according to Sekine, labour values automatically become prices of production by the workings of the ‘law of value’, which is however at no point derived from a set of assumptions not already presupposing what is supposed to be explained. The tautological character of Sekine’s approach is further exacerbated by his decision to explain the substance of value by ‘the real cost that society bears in producing it in terms of the expenditure of productive labour’.139 In this view, the substance of value is the ‘real cost’ of its own production, value is explained by its ‘cost’, and cost by ‘value’. The vague notion of ‘society bearing costs’ completely evades the class character constitutive for this kind of production. The extraction and appropriation of alien unpaid labour is anathematic to Sekine’s theory.
In this context, Sekine criticises the ‘non-equilibrium’ approach of Marxist economists who insist that value and prices (prices of production) do not converge, but that the sum total of unpaid labour time is directly proportional to the total sum of profits. They therefore do not abandon Marx’s axioms formulated in Chapter 9 of Capital Volume III and can simultaneously account for capital’s false appearance as ‘self-valorising’. In the following, we will set Sekine’s equilibrium approach in contrast to one of the ‘non-equilibrium’ approaches he criticises, developed by Duncan Foley, Gérard Duménil, and Alain Lipietz in the early 1980s.140 Here, the concept of the ‘value of money’, or in later terminology MELT, upholds the labour theory of value as the sine qua non frame of reference for showing that, in the problematic surrounding the ‘transformation problem’, ‘the proportionality of profit and unpaid labor time in the face of any deviations of prices from labour values’, are ‘retained’.141 This theory in our view has at least three advantages over Sekine’s, in that it is a) monetary (defining capitalist production as specifically capitalist, i.e., not mediated by use values), b) defining, explaining and solving the value-price deviation without abandoning the necessity of this deviation, and c) retaining class struggle as historically specific to the capitalist mode of production. The explicit reference to the labour theory of value as the defining framework undertaken in Foley’s approach is not only missing from Sekine, but emphatically rejected, in that he dissolves the ‘non-equilibrium’ inherent to the value-price deviation and the deviation between supply and moneyed demand into the pre-established harmony of ‘balanced production’ and an understanding of the law of value as reflected in optimal or equilibrium price. Here, the meaning of ‘socially necessary labour time’ is no longer tied to the ‘optimal allocation of unpaid labour’ through intersectoral competition of firms (and, to a lesser extent, demand) and its effect on price formation, but euphemistically referred to as the optimal allocation of resources for balanced production in which supply and demand are regulated by the market, and in which crises can and do not occur. This problematic shall be addressed in the following.
5.2.2 General Equilibrium and the Linearity of Capital
According to Sekine,
[o]ne of the commonest claims that Marxists make is that economics should stress the instability and not the equilibrium of the capitalist economy because the latter is a ‘contradictory’ system doomed to automatic breakdown. According to such a claim, ‘equilibrium’ is nothing more than a false vision of capitalism, complacently entertained by the bourgeoisie, and should have no place in Marxist economic analysis.142
The reason why Marxist theorists reject the equilibrium approach is not, as Sekine thinks, the belief in capitalism’s ‘automatic breakdown’, or, as he states further down the page, the belief in ‘Nostradamus-style’ prophecies about the ‘future of human civilisation’, but equilibrium’s blindness to capital’s incessant accumulation of abstract wealth in the form of profit on the one pole and, by this very process, the simultaneous creation of conditions for labour’s increasing redundancy, in the form of superfluous industrial reserve army and its subforms (the precariat, the surplus population), on the other. This fundamental contradiction, which is much more likely to characterise the law of value as the law of crisis than of ‘general equilibrium’, is a dynamic inherent to the very mode of production whose ultimate raison d’ être is never use value, but value, embodied in money or abstract wealth. Money here marks the very cleft between capital’s necessity of self-valorisation and the laws of its realisation. As long as the specificity of a particular mode of production does not consist in producing commodities that meet demand, but only commodities that meet moneyed demand, this contradiction will be constitutive for its mode of operation.
Conceptually, capital therefore operates on the logic of its own contradiction, a contradiction that is exacerbated by historical progress. We have shown the operations of this dynamic in Chapter 4 and contrasted it with Uno’s thesis of the law of value as the law of general equilibrium. Sekine’s strange disavowal of this logic of capital and the invocation of capital’s logic as ‘being for the best’ of capital does not even acknowledge that this ‘dialectic’ (which is in fact closer to the Fichtean concept of identity) does not even apply to capital’s own terms of operation. The development of the forces of production and its increasing contradiction with the relations of production is factual, both logically and empirically. For instance, the increasing hyper-inflation of businesses developing computerised applications for saving labour costs for major companies since the 2010s (ABB, Rockwell Automation, Allen-Bradley, Cognex Corporation, etc.) has spawned an economy-onto-itself, which is no less safe from crisis tendencies than the ‘real economy’ it helps to ‘optimise’. Capital does activate its powers to ‘tear down all barriers’ to accumulation, but precisely by doing this and inventing ever so intricate business models to enhance this process, it reaches its inner limits: all of these ever so innovative models, being of the logic of capital, stand or fall with the valorisation of labour. This is a tendency that is both very real as well as grounded in the deeper, very contradictory logic of capital’s secular tendency to crisis.
For Sekine however, the ideal model of the ‘dialectic of capital’ which by no means is ‘only a theoretical fiction’143 fundamentally rests on the precondition of 1) an ideal use value space (in which use values are ‘controlled or “neutralised”; that is to say, rendered in thought more amenable to the logic of capital’144 than they ‘actually’ are), and 2) the limitless availability of labour-power. These being given, capital can operate according to its own logic of inherent equilibrium, allocate productive ‘resources’ and ultimately produce all commodities in accordance with their ‘socially necessary labour time’, or value, which then simply coincides with their production price:
The law of value, after all, can never be adequately accounted for except in the light of a general equilibrium of the capitalist economy, in which resources are presumed optimally allocated (sic) to all branches of production. In the dialectic of capital, a state of general equilibrium exists when no commodity is either overproduced or underproduced relative to the existing pattern of social demand, i.e., when all commodities are capitalistically produced in their socially necessary (i.e. equilibrium) quantities. In such a state, capital allocates the productive resources available to society ‘optimally’ to all branches of production, in which a uniform rate of profit prevails. In such a state all commodities will be exchanged one for another at their respective production-prices, while embodying no more or less than the socially necessary labour for their production as value.145
If one were to think that the discrepancy to Marx’s critical cognitive interest in capital’s logical convulsions could not be stronger at this point, capitalism, for Sekine, is sufficiently defined by equilibrium production. In fact, for Sekine, if empirically a state of equilibrium cannot be accounted for, then ‘the economy, which fails to embody the definition of capitalism (sic), cannot be a capitalist one’.146 At the same time, it is true that capital accumulation must undergo ‘cycles’, i.e. a ‘special macro-mechanism’ that ensures ‘the continued existence of capitalism’.147 This, for him, is the ‘law of relative surplus population’ that, by the expulsion of workers superfluous relative to the demands of capital, ensures the sustenance of capital’s functioning (i.e. further accumulation) through the depressive phase of the business cycle, as we have seen in Uno in 4.4. It is crucial to Sekine that the interchange of cycles in the ‘widening’ or ‘prosperity’ phase (absorption of labourers) and ‘deepening’ or ‘depression’ phase (expulsion of labourers) relative to the demands of capital makes capital steadfast against real crises of valorisation. The relation between social change and crisis for Sekine is therefore entirely arbitrary: ‘A crisis can lead to a revolution for contingent reasons but not as a necessary consequence of the operation of the logic of capital’.148 It is as though the whole conceptual problematic of the production of relative surplus value is beyond the scope of Sekine’s interest. Sekine’s is precisely not a dialectical, but a linear conceptualisation of capital.
This becomes even clearer in Sekine’s concept of surplus value, which ultimately discards Marx’s theoretical framework and resorts to the conception of ‘profit as arbitrage’ (or ‘profit upon alienation’) of the classics that Marx so fiercely objected to. In the context of the critique of the neoclassical economic notion of ‘utility maximisation’ or ‘substitution’, which Sekine contrasts with his concept of general equilibrium as the ‘enactment’ of the law of value, he claims:
The general equilibrium in the capitalist market (sic) results from the mercantile behaviour of ‘buying cheap and selling dear’ any commodity, i.e. from the indifferent act of ‘arbitrage’ on the part of the capitalist, and not from the consumer’s act of substituting one use-value for another. A merchant, which the capitalist most certainly is, shifts any commodity from where the demand for it is low to where the demand for it is high by the capitalist act of arbitrage, so that the available commodities in the market are reshuffled and shifted to where they are most needed by society. If production is also involved, capital sees to it that the most needed and wanted commodities are produced first, allocating society’s productive resources optimally to all industries. In other words, a general equilibrium of the capitalist market is achieved by the mercantile act of arbitrage.149
Counterfactual to Marx’s analysis of the origin of profit which, as explained earlier, lies in the difference of k (cost price) and C (commodity value), not in the difference between C and sales price, Sekine reiterates Proudhon’s (as well as Torrens’s and partly Steuart’s) argument that the cost price of the commodity constitutes its value, and that by virtue of its sale alone, surplus value (and finally profit) emerges. In short, for Sekine (as well as Marx’s predecessors), profit appears as the excess of the sales price of the commodity above its value. With arbitrage as the explanatory framework for surplus value (and profit), something is generated out of nothing. Because cost price is identified with the value of a commodity, surplus value must stem from exchange. However, the value of a commodity, as soon as it is produced as a product of capital, already contains profit in the form of C = k + p. Production price then marks the aliquot part of that share in the total sum of produced values that is in proportion to the capital invested: k + kp’. Here is what Marx says about conceptualisations like that of Sekine which falls victim to the fetishism of profit as being constituted in exchange – which was already dealt with extensively in Chapter 5 of Capital Volume I, the locus classicus of the refutation of theories of ‘value by exchange’:
Thus if commodity value is formed without any other element besides the capitalist’s advance of value, there is no way of seeing how any more value is to come out of production than went into it, unless something is to come out of nothing.150
Robert Torrens, one of first proponents of ‘productive factors’ theory,
manages to evade this creation from nothing only by shifting it from the sphere of commodity production to the sphere of commodity circulation. Profit cannot derive from production, says Torrens, for if it did it would already be included in the costs of production and would not be an excess over and above these costs … The sum of values of the products exchanged is evidently not affected by the exchange of the products whose value sum this is.151
Therefore, neither Torrens, nor the ‘socialist’ Proudhon, can explain the origin of profit:
The unthinking notion that the cost price of a commodity is its real price and that surplus-value springs from selling the commodity above its value, i.e. that commodities are sold at their values when their sale price is equal to their cost price – i.e. equal to the price of the means of production consumed in them, plus wages – has been trumpeted forth by Proudhon with his customary pseudo-scientific quackery as a newly discovered secret of socialism.152
Sekine’s inability to understand, not to mention explain the ‘real contradictions’153 of developed categories of political economy, such as profit, within his framework of the reconciliation of a theory of arbitrage with the law of value as general equilibrium, is therefore only mildly surprising.
What Sekine really takes issues with, however, is the ‘non-equilibirum’ approach of the single system interpretation (A. Kliman, A. Freeman, G. Carchedi) and the New Interpretation, especially the proponents of the ‘value of money’ or MELT approach, D. Foley et al., as mentioned earlier. As Sekine correctly sees, these authors reject Bortkiewicz’s ‘dual systems’ approach (of two different equilibriums, one measured in value, one in price), continue to regard Marx’s labour theory of value as absolutely indispensable, and ‘vigorously defend Marx by claiming that his reasoning, based on what they call the “single (value-price) system” approach was flawless without the transformation of input values into prices’. The signature claim of these authors (also including F. Moseley and others, who differ much in the details – which Sekine ignores) is, according to Sekine, to take the constant and variable capital advanced by industries and firms as given and as already expressed in price, not value. It determines the output values and prices on the basis of whether each sector or firm receives the surplus value it has actually produced or only on the basis of the share of the aggregate social surplus value proportional to the total capital which it has advanced. Hence, they do not abandon Marx’s two axioms of the equality of the sum of values to the sum of prices and that of the equality of the total sum of surplus values to the total sum of profits. Generally, Sekine agrees with this ‘definitional stage-setting’. Viewing the ‘micro-dynamic’ of competition, Sekine argues, equilibrium is rather the exception than the rule: in intrasectoral competition, the equalisation of profit rates does not take place, so that equilibrium in this case must be ‘limited to the sub-phase of “average activity” of business cycles’.154 Intersectoral competition does only take place when the labour market (the availability of labour power) is in equilibrium and must be regulated by intrasectoral competition which by itself does not (except in ‘average activity’) equalise the profit rates. Interestingly, Sekine’s departure from the ‘non-equilibrium approach’155 is motivated by a methodological differentiation:
Since capitalism is most of the time out of equilibrium and does not always necessarily point towards it, why should one attach such a disproportionate emphasis to the idealist state of equilibrium? There seems to be a consensus in the negative on this point among the authors of the book. The dialectic of capital, however, is not am empiricist theory. Consequently, it takes a different view on this issue …156
However, the ‘New Approach’ or New Interpretation (NI), which we will look at more closely presently, is not an empiricist theory either, but precisely criticises the approach of establishing the correlation between embodied labour coefficients and production and market prices empirically, i.e. ‘Ricardo’s position’, Foley associates with the work of A. Shaikh, P. Cockshott and A. Cottrell.157 Rather, regarding method, the NI ‘proposes a definitional ordering of the key abstractions of the labor theory of value’.158 The NI therefore abstracts entirely from the question of quantity-correlation and focuses on the theoretical significance of the labour theory of value for explaining the value-price divergence.
For Sekine however, what is at stake is the ‘status of the theory of value in non-equilibrium’.159 For if, e.g., the value of a commodity ‘or its production-price’ is 5 hours of labour per unit, the market however only acknowledges 4.2 hours of labour, ‘this contradicts the law of value; for 8 hours of surplus labour, actually performed, in the production of every unit of this commodity systematically fails to become surplus value’.160 The only solution, as Sekine proposes, is to introduce a technical change, so that the commodity unit can be produced in 4.2 hours or less. But what else than precisely the ‘law of value’ has Sekine just described here? The fact that under conditions of (intrasectoral) competition, e.g. 0.8 hours of labour could be redundantly expended, so that capital needs to readjust the productive conditions for its most profitable valorisation, is not a ‘contradiction’ of the ‘law of value’, but its exact expression. If we view the law of value from Marx’s standpoint, namely capital’s incessant drive to optimise the exploitation and appropriation of unpaid labour for capital’s maximum valorisation, the constant readjustment of productive conditions is but one of its defining features. Naturally, no individual capital can afford to let labour time go to waste through unfulfilled valorisation on the market. Two things must be noted in this regard: Sekine’s misconception of the notion of ‘socially necessary labour time’ and the static interpretation of the ‘law of value’.
First, it is the law of capital’s maximum proportion of the aliquot share in the total aggregate surplus value produced, conditioned to the largest part by competition, that defines the ‘socially necessary labour time’ that in turn defines the magnitude of value of a commodity. The meaning of the term ‘socially necessary’, contrary to what Sekine believes, is completely unhinged from the ‘optimal allocation of productive labour for the provision of the use-values that society needs and wants’,161 as the appropriate amount of labour time necessary to satisfy social demand. The meaning of ‘socially necessary’ is quite different: it is solely defined within the logic of capital’s most profitable and optimal share in surplus value.162 Needless to say, this must evade an approach that sees the aim of capitalist production in use value, not in value.
Second, Sekine only seems to acknowledge a static condition, with given inputs and no technical change. Any assumption acknowledging the dynamic of capital, i.e. capital’s readjustment of productive techniques, etc., seems to fall out of the scope of this idiosyncratic and rigid definition of the law of value, for Sekine.
Yet, Sekine has a more fundamental concern, namely to disqualify the interpretation delivered by the New Approach or NI, and to disavow the usefulness of the labour theory of value for the explanation of the emergence of a general rate of profit and prices of production: ‘It has not been clear what they (D. Foley and G. Duménil) and their followers wish to accomplish by means of the newly interpreted labour theory of value, since none of them have so far shown a significant result of its application (i.e. a significant thesis which cannot be advanced without depending on it), going beyond a trivial proof of Marx’s infallibility’.163 Sekine, in other words, has two objections to the NI: the alleged tautology of their line of argument, and the question of its use. In the following, we will, for reasons of space, give only a brief overview of Duncan Foley’s conceptualisation of the term ‘value of money’ or the monetary expression of labour time, to show that Sekine’s allegations are unfounded. Specific attention is given to the retention of Marx’s axioms of the aggregate sum of surplus value being equal to the sum of profit, i.e. the correspondence of unpaid labour to profits.
5.2.3 Duncan Foley’s Concept of ‘Value of Money’ and MELT as the modus operandi of the Labour Theory of Value
As said previously, Foley refers to the labour theory of value when he shows that, with the concept of the value of money (or the MELT which is the more practical mathematical inversion serving the same function), ‘the proportionality of profit and unpaid labor time in the face of any deviations of prices from labour values’, are ‘retained’.164 This is indeed the main desideratum of showing the coherence of Marx’s value theory, if not economic analysis in toto. Foley’s approach is therefore at least a valid contribution to the problem surrounding the ‘transformation problem’. We will show that it is also a minimalistic and desirable approach, in which the emphasis on a specific set of axioms (or rather, definitions) is methodologically put to use to solve the problem addressing the total operation of the real economy. The minimalistic redefinitions concern the value-price distinction, for which the labour theory of value can still be held accountable. It is therefore in its general outline close to the view of the labour theory of value held here, in that it can be regarded as the ‘Turing bombe’ or decoding machine to the fetishisms of the conventional categories of political economy (for Foley, the labour theory of value ‘plays a role in political economy analogous to the role played by Newton’s Laws in mechanics’).165 The question in this quantitative approach is of the operability of the labour theory of value as a theoretical approach, not whether certain determinations of magnitudes can be confirmed.
The novelty (hence ‘new’ approach or interpretation) of Foley et al. is the redefinition of the value of labour power. The value of labour power, Foley contends, is not in general equal to the labour value of workers’ consumption. This is almost intuitively confirmed, because workers do not receive the ‘value’ of their labour power (a bundle of commodities measured in labour values produced during a certain part of the working day), but a money wage (i.e. the price of the labour power commodity), which are not necessarily the same. This holds also for any other commodity aside from labour power: ‘Any particular commodity can be seen as embodying a certain fraction of the total abstract labor expended in producing commodities; it also exchanges for a certain amount of money (its price), which represents a possibly different fraction of the aggregate abstract social labour expended’.166 The value of labour power is the mathematical product of the money wage multiplied by what he calls the ‘value of money’, a mathematical term of conversion which is defined as, in the special case of equivalence of labour values to prices, the ratio of the labour value of the commodity to its price. This definition, which is in line with Marx’s own conceptual determinations, allows us to ‘consistently … translate back and forth between labor time and money value’.167 The presuppositions of this definition are rooted in Marx’s determination of the convertibility of value and labour time. In Foley’s words:
… the labour theory of value [is] the claim that the money value of the whole mass of net production of commodities expresses the expenditure of the total social labor in a commodity-producing economy …168
This way of thinking of the labor theory of value requires us to think of a strict relation in a commodity-producing economy between the monetary unit (whether that unit is linked to a general equivalent money commodity or not) and abstract labor time. A unit of money, in this approach, can be thought of as a claim to a certain amount of the abstract social labor expended in the economy.169
The expenditure of labor creates value, which is expressed in the price of the commodity. A quantity of money under these assumptions is the expression of a certain amount of labor time (for example, 1 hour of labor equals 10 dollars).170
These presuppositions within Marx’s own conceptual framework allow Foley to give a set of definitions that conceptualises the ‘value of money’ as the coefficient of the labor value of the commodity to its price.171 ‘Its dimensions are hours of labor per dollar’. This also holds for the case in which prices are not uniformly proportional to labour values, and can thus be generalised: viewed in the total economy with aggregate products, the value of money expresses the ratio between the aggregate direct labour and the aggregate money value added to production (the price of the commodity minus the non-wage costs, i.e. means of production etc.), or the ratio of the aggregate direct labour to the net product (= added value). The monetary expression of labour (time), MEL or MELT, is the reverse: the ratio of the net domestic product at current prices to living productive labour (e.g. per annum).172 Both the value of money and MELT are integrated to determine the value of labour power which is the modus operandi of the labour theory of value even in cases where prices diverge from labour values. The following presents an overview of the definition of the value of money in the case of (I) coincidence of labour values and prices, (II) divergence of labour values and prices, and the new formula for the value of labour power using (III) the definition of the value of money (= aggregate direct labour / aggregate value added) and (IV) the definition of MELT (= net domestic product at current prices / living productive labour).
value of money = labour value of the commodity (hours of labour time expressed in a unit of money) / price
value of money = aggregate direct labour / aggregate value added
value of labour power = money wage × agg. direct labour / agg. value added
value of labour power = money wage / MEL(T)
The significance of this approach is the deviation from the ‘classic’ interpretation of the value of labour power in that the money wage multiplied by the value of money implies ‘that the value of labour power is equal in magnitude to the wage share in aggregate value added’.173 In other words, the value of labour power is already transformed in terms of price expressing its exact value, i.e. the ‘fraction of the working day that is paid labour’.174 With the introduction of the new determination of the ‘value of labour power’ by the conversion unit of the ‘value of money’ or MELT, a minimalistic approach to understanding the value-price divergence, Foley retains ‘at a global level the relation between money and embodied labour which is central to the idea that money is a form of value and that the substance of value is abstract social labour’.175 This approach is therefore strictly monetary, in line with Marx’s analysis.
Second, it builds a logical correspondence between surplus value or profit and unpaid labour time.
Since the value of money is the ratio of aggregate direct labor time to aggregate value added,
if we multiply it by the average level of money wages, we get the wage bill divided by value added, or the share of wages in aggregate value added, on the assumption that one hour of labor power sold yields one hour of actual labor time. An immediate corollary of these stipulations is that the aggregate profit in the system of capitalist production as a whole multiplied by the value of money is exactly equal to the unpaid labor time, in the sense of the time worked for which workers receive no equivalent in the wage. With these interpretations, the most central of Marx’s claims about the ‘transformation’ of values into prices of production, that profit arises from unpaid labor time, is sustained …176
Third, and probably most importantly, Foley emphasises a specific sense of capitalist exploitation and class struggle which the struggle over the distribution of profit otherwise obscures. While class struggle, under capitalist relations of production, seems to be ‘a struggle over what part of the net product will go to workers and will constitute the social surplus’, this should not at all be viewed as the impetus, for its logical end would only be the disappearance of the surplus product altogether, and a standstill to social development. He therefore pleads for a different approach to the significance of class struggle, namely that ‘we keep clearly in mind the specific form the surplus takes in capitalist society, a surplus value appropriated by a particular class’ whose consequence is not the elimination (or different distribution) of the surplus product, but ‘to transform the social relations that make the social surplus take the form of surplus value’.177 This is indeed a ‘more historical conception of class struggle than the notion of a purely distributional conflict’,178 fulfilling the condition of Marx’s discernment of the central problem of capitalist relations of production, namely that the form that social labour necessarily assumes are the fetish-characteristic forms of value.
None of the three features of the NI and other approaches in the ‘non-equilibrium’ or ‘single system’ spectrum, namely that it is monetary, that it retains the equivalence of unpaid labour and profit, and that it specifies the meaning of historical class struggle on the basis of the meaning of value – positions that we have shown are crucial to Marx’s economic analysis – is addressed in Sekine’s ‘dialectical’ approach. Contrary to what Sekine believes, they are also neither tautological, nor useless. To the contrary: with a precise grasp of the significance and explanatory power of the labour theory of value, the ‘riddles’ of the ‘transformation problem’ can be solved.179 At no point is there a question begging involved, unlike Sekine’s own view of social cost explaining value and value explaining social costs. But this would precisely require an understanding grounded in the problematic direct relation between living and value-adding labour in the production process and value (and its monetary forms) that is denied in the Sekine approach, as well as in that of his mentor, Uno Kōzō. Instead, Uno views the forms of value, such as the commodity, money and capital, as if they were detached from production, and instead locates them in exchange, treated as the primary form of the social metabolism which then (when?) ‘absorbs’ the production process. This is tantamount to misconceiving the direct interrelation of labour and value that gives rise to this particular historical social nexus without which capitalist relations of production cannot be adequately addressed. Indeed,
[o]ne of the virtues of the New Interpretation is that it firmly links the value of the net product at market prices to the expenditure of living labour and profit to unpaid labour time. It is true that the New Interpretation identifies the phenomenal forms of price to the categories of the labour theory of value, but it is hard to see why this turns the relation on its head. The New Interpretation locates the course of new value in the expenditure of living labour in production, not in market exchange, the relation Marx insists on.180
Sekine’s objections to the tautological character of the NI and its ‘uselessness’ for explaining a very specific set of assumptions involving equilibrium production cannot be maintained.
But on what grounds does Sekine think the identitarian, i.e. non-contradictory ‘dialectic of capital’, helps to grasp the nature of capital better than the framework Marx develops throughout Capital? It seems that the ‘self-sustenance’ of capital is given a greater emphasis than the contradiction within capital’s logic of self-valorisation. Yet, this self-sustenance is neither logically, nor empirically verified. For this reason, it seems, Sekine draws on the sterility of equilibrium models close to the Walras’ law (which he explicitly refers to).181 Methodologically, the incantation of an ominous ‘dialectic’ or ‘logic’ of capital which is never explicitly spelled out forms a crude opposition to the actual presentation of the proof of equilibrium which is suddenly and without mediation (hence poorly Hegelian) deferred to formulas of output levels, means of production and labour times in linear schemas.182 Sekine’s approach therefore lacks a coherent method that redeems its own claims. Instead, the separation between assertion and reality, or the semantic and the pragmatic, is indeed unbridgeable and makes for a logically poor and conceptually dissatisfactory interpretation that shares with the Marxian template it claims to engage with nothing but the invocation of Marx’s name. There may however exist a more general problem than merely the reconciliation of Sekine’s general equilibrium view of the pre-established harmony of social production and demand for use values with the Marxian framework. We hold that the more general problem of the unfolding of Sekine’s proposition seems to be the unawareness with which he uses concepts such as ‘value’ and ‘capital’, ‘fetishism’, ‘price’ and ‘money’. Not once does Sekine provide a systematic definition of these concepts, not once does he mobilise their semantic dimension in their nexus, i.e., relation to one another, and not once do we hear in what way they are significant for Marx’s critique (or not). They remain utterly external to the analysis. Their sematic dimension and pragmatic use are unrelated. For a self-proclaimed ‘Hegelian’ approach to the concept of capital, this is quite a striking deficit.
Now let us see how another allegedly Hegelian legacy is further put to use in understanding Uno’s interpretation of Marx’s analysis in the work of Robert Albritton.
5.2.4 Use Value as Central Category in Stage Theory: Robert Albritton’s Contribution
A strange externality of the analytical framework invoked and the object of investigation – the capitalist mode of production – also informs Robert Albritton’s work. This is all the more baffling, since Albritton insists on the coherence and inner structural logic of the method he applies and its object. Like Uno and Sekine, in understanding the capitalist relations of production as primarily use value-mediated, ‘self-sufficient’, and ‘self-regulating’, Albritton’s analysis is also inflicted with the apologetic character of the interpretation of capital that we have found in both Uno and Sekine.
In the following, we will show how 1) Albritton’s theory, in accordance with what we have seen in Sekine and also in Uno, assumes the form of an apologetic towards capital which is thoroughly disinterested in the fundamentally contradictory character of the law of value and its implementation, and 2) Albritton’s conceptualisation of method and object assumes a truistic, if not outright tautological character, that fails to deliver precisely the inner nexus it claims to provide. Both aspects, as we will show, are related.
More profoundly than Sekine and Uno himself, Albritton’s research focuses on the concrete implementation of the ‘levels-of-analysis’ approach (sandankairon) which, as we have seen in Chapter 2, Uno has sketched in the Methodology and, in broader terms, in the Principles, the latter of which Albritton orients himself toward. To recapitulate, in sandankairon, which Uno conceptualises as the ‘correct method’ of political economy, a first level of analysis, pure theory or the theory of principles (genriron) ‘establishes the foundation of political economy’183 by making a ‘pure capitalist society’ its object of analysis. More specifically, for Albritton, it addresses a hypothetical society in which all use values are ideally subsumed by value and the capital-labour relation. It is therefore an ‘ideal’ capitalist society from which all empirical and historical ‘impurities’ are eliminated, both on the level of presentation and analysis. From this follows, for Albritton, that this level of abstraction has no real historical equivalent (we have seen that Uno’s view is more ambiguous). The second level, dankairon, addresses the stages of capitalist development in their rough succession of economic models and forms of capital as they appear in history: mercantilism based on merchant capital, liberalism based on industrial capital, and imperialism based on finance capital. The third and final level, genjō bunseki, addresses the ‘analysis of actual phenomena’ in Uno’s dictum, or ‘the historical analysis’ of capitalism in concrete terms (no longer tied to rough economic schemas) in Albritton’s view.
It must be noted that Albritton is only familiar with Uno’s Principles in translation, so that his interpretation and understanding of sandankairon is mainly informed by this work and Sekine, who was Albritton’s close associate at the University of York since the 1970s. In the following, we shall concentrate on Albritton’s voluminous monograph A Japanese Reconstruction of Marxist Theory (1986) that gives the most inclusive outline of his Sekine-informed interpretation of what he calls ‘Stage Theory’.
The main contention is that pure theory, while it is the most holistic and general analysis of the law of value and the workings of capital in a ‘pure’ capitalist society, cannot account for the ‘historical impurities’ that capitalism in its real historical development has shown to possess: ‘The distance between the inner logic of capitalism and its historical development is great. To apply the law of value directly to history would therefore produce an economistic and reductionist history’.184 Yet, we never hear why this is the case. After all, Marx’s project in Capital was to show how the law of value prevails precisely in a historically real economy – see his elaborations in ‘The Working Day’. The methodological objection and resentment against demonstrating the intrinsically devastating effects of the law of value, or rather surplus value, in a real historical situation, which was Marx’s incentive for many of his illustrations in Capital, bears a significant symptom of the inherently apologetic character of Albritton’s contribution, as we will see.
For Albritton, the ‘gap’ between theory and history ‘must be addressed by developing mediations’.185 Stage theory, according to him, is successful in doing so. The object of the second level of analysis, dankairon, is no longer the most abstract capital vs. worker-relation in which ‘ideal use values’ are produced – i.e. use values which ideally constitute the wage basket needed for the reproduction of the working class: ‘A use-value such as a shirt fits these requirements perfectly and hence may be considered an “ideal” use value’.186 In the concrete analysis of historical stages of capitalism, which is the topic of stage theory, on the other hand, not all use values produced are ‘so capitalistically manageable’.187 His example here is grapes and other agricultural produce whose successful production depends on a number of varying factors, such as the fertility of the soil, the weather, etc., and which require a shorter (though Albritton does not use that term) turnover time. Why grapes should not present an ‘ideal use value’, however, is never explained. In times when mass fertilisation and turnover times are integral factors of the standardisation and automatisation of agricultural production, grapes are as easily produced as T-shirts.188 It is also difficult to comprehend why ‘grapes’ should not belong in the workers’ ‘wage basket’.
The problematic of deciding which use values are produced as ‘ideal’ (corresponding to pure theory) and which are ‘less capitalistically manageable’ (corresponding to stage theory and the historical analysis of capitalism), however, permeates the discussion of the legitimisation of levels-of-analysis-approach in Albritton. For him, ‘if the motion of value has difficulty subsuming agriculture at a historical level, it also has difficulty subsuming other types of use-value production’.189 His examples are fine art, spaceships, battleships and thermonuclear weapons. Indeed, these use values (with the exception, under very exceptional conditions, of fine art) usually do not constitute the worker’s wage basket. But what does that prove? Are thermonuclear weapons ‘less capitalistically manageable’ in the sense that grapes are ‘less capitalistically manageable’? Hardly. But we are left in the dark as to what exactly the criterion of difference between grapes, battleships, and a Van Gogh painting is in their common denominator of being ‘capitalistically less manageable’. How exactly in these instances use value production is not subsumed by value is never addressed. It would require the demonstration that battleships are not sold for money, and therefore not part of the valorisation nexus of capital (which should however prove to be difficult), a requirement not met by Albritton.
Nevertheless, Albritton insists that stage theory comes in where pure theory fails in conceptualising the real character of use value production, which is not exhausted in ‘ideal’ or ‘capitalistically manageable use values’ alone. The argument of the ‘passive use value-restraint’ has also been substantial for Uno, as shown in Chapter 4. As much as it is decisive for recapitulating capital’s alleged ‘partial grasp on historical reality’190 (capital can never subsume all and every use value), it is lacking persuasive power. The examples of thermonuclear weapons, grapes and spaceships not adhering to the ‘law of value’ are absurd. Why art must be exempted from the value-nexus, however, is very persuasively argued in Dave Beech’s work.191 But Albritton fails to make this case explicit, because he nowhere defines an exhaustive criterion for his much-invoked ‘law of value’: it is not ‘the use-values which constitute the wage basket’, but in that value is measured in socially necessary abstract labour time that defines the law of value and which allows us to meaningfully speak about the production of value in the first place192 (from which follow the equalisation of profit rates and the distribution of surplus value, etc.). It would indeed have to be shown that grapes and weapons are not produced as the products of capital, involving the employment of productive capital, c + v, the equalisation of profit rates (i.e. their production measured in socially necessary labour time), and the realisation of surplus value in the circulation process with their transformation into money, in order to prove that, here, use value ‘overwhelms value’.193 To say that products of capital are not produced capitalistically, is not only logically contradictory. It is absurd.
Yet, it is precisely capital’s alleged ‘failure’ to subsume the production of all use values that motivates Albritton to come up with a description of the role of capital in the future world historical development:
Capitalism is a historically limited mode of production because the law of value can only subsume a limited range of use-value production … That the motion of value has only limited success in taming use-values explains the limited grasp that capitalism has on history (i.e. historical capitalism never becomes pure). That value can successfully manage only a limited range of use-values explains the limited duration of capital’s passage on this planet (i.e. capitalism only holds sway over a limited period of history).194
Indeed, of all the conventional reasons usually provided for why capitalism is going to die a natural death (see the debate on the LTRPF we referred to in Chapter 4.4.), saying that it fails ‘in taming use-value’, is probably the most counterfactual one. As though to emphasise that point however, Albritton insists that the time for class struggles is over:
Starting with the stage of imperialism, there is no longer a historical tendency towards two homogeneous and polarized classes (of course there may be conjunctural tendencies towards polarization). Class struggle is increasingly overlaid with national struggles and struggles of particular strata and fractions within classes or even intermediate strata between classes. In fact the strong state required by the imperialist stage with its welfare state policies is the beginning of the modern service sector with its intermediate strata that have fuelled so much controversy within Marxist discourse on class.195
Because class struggles have become obsolete in the face of national struggles and the establishment of the ‘welfare state’ – we shall point out that this assessment is not a critique, but Albritton’s neutral observation ‘proving’ the obsolescence of class struggle – we can basically only wait and see how capital, unable to ‘manage all use-values’ it has itself produced, simply withers away. Moreover, in this text from 1986, Albritton has good faith in the establishment of the socialist project via the ‘transition away from capitalism’ introduced by ‘the first successful socialist revolution in 1917’:
Referring to the period from 1917 to the present as a transitional phase does not mean that exploitation or the production for profit cease, but only that the structural dynamics of economic life can less and less be understood by the law of value … It is necessary to understand both that the law of value has failed and why it has done so in order to understand the stratified economies that have developed. It is necessary to see that this is a transitional stage in which increasingly the world is becoming socialist, albeit at first with often rather primitive forms of socialism.196
Albritton’s assessment of the ‘failure’ of the law of value has only been disproven a few years after these lines were written. The world has never been as capitalist to date as the world only a few years after Albritton’s statement, and in its history it has never been as ‘capitalist’ as it is now.197 For Albritton in general, however, ‘the law of value increasingly does not apply and that therefore the world must be understood primarily in terms of socioeconomic forces and power relations and not in terms of value theory’.198 The implication of this kind of postmodern jargon is a pervasive reluctance to grapple with the contradiction that the law of value presents insofar as it is fully realised: it is precisely because the production of relative surplus value is fully operative that capital reaches its contradictory and crisis-ridden limits. In other words, it is not use value as ‘external’ or a ‘passive constraint’ to value that capital fails – and Albritton never specifies the exact character of capital’s ‘historical limit’ – but capital’s thorough absorption of the ‘use-value space’ that expresses itself precisely in the contradiction between the conditions of the production of surplus value and the conditions of its realisation, which is the significant, encompassing contradiction of the capitalist mode of production grounded in the ‘law of value’.199 Because the capitalist mode of production is not, and never was, ‘aimed at (producing) use values’, as Marx says in the Grundrisse, but subsumed the rationale of production under the auspices of value and surplus value (the latter which is bizarrely out of the scope of Albritton’s theorisation of capital’s ‘limits’), that it cannot contain itself. As we have seen in Chapter 4, the result is an increasing exacerbation of crisis – and not just a business cycle of ‘alternating widening and deepening phases of accumulation’,200 as Albritton states in accordance with Uno. It is the systemic devaluation and substitution of the source of value and surplus value, the value-producing use value of labour power, that leads to an equally systemic devaluation of the mass of surplus value produced, which in turn makes it impossible for capital to realise increasingly higher profits, and fulfil its only raison d’ être, namely optimised profitability. It is precisely the historical trajectory of the so-called ‘digital revolution’ which so blatantly demonstrates not capital’s ‘versatility’ and ‘agility’ in dealing with the obstacles of valorisation, but to the contrary, capital’s inability and ineptitude in realising the foundation it is built on: the ‘limitless approximation to abstract wealth’ in the realisation of increasingly higher amounts of moneyed surplus value.201 Capital’s ‘other’, to remain in the postmodern jargon, is not use value: it is the mode of its own operation. It is inherently contradictory.
The fact that Albritton nowhere thematises the striking contradiction between the conditions of the production of surplus value (competition-induced cost saving techniques, ‘investing in little value’) and the conditions of their realisation (maximum share in profits, ‘expecting huge gains in value’), is a misrecognition not only of the often-invoked topos of the ‘dialectic of capital’ – which would at least indicate that the contradictory character of capital were recognised – but barely conceals the disinterestedness of the Uno School in critically engaging with their object, the capitalist mode of production. Instead, we hear that capitalism cannot lack ‘internal integrity’. In his critical discussion of classic theories of imperialism, Albritton objects to Rosa Luxemburg’s idea that capital bears an intrinsically ‘parasitic’ character. Instead, for Albritton,
[if] capitalism is basically parasitic, as Luxemburg claims, then it cannot be rigorously theorized as a mode of production that has internal integrity.202
Because capital rests on a fundamentally contradictory mode of production that completely evades the analysis of the Uno School, they fail to see that, indeed, capital has no ‘internal integrity’. However, not only is there a baffling denial of the principally contradictory and destructive character of capital’s mode of operation, but by invoking an ethical category – ‘integrity’ – Albritton also suggests that capital were, indeed, a viable and ethically defensible economic model – or at least, he at no point gives the impression that it is not. This is further accentuated in his view, against Arghiri Emmanuel,203 that
[in] a purely capitalist society all exchange is equal exchange. To the extent that a society is capitalist, systematic unequal exchange cannot take place.204
Probably even more than Uno and Sekine, whose equilibrium approach to reproduction is all-pervasive, Albritton makes the case for the neoclassical assumption of ‘equal exchange’ which informs his apologetic interpretation of the capitalist mode of production. This wilful blindness against the very definition of what allows someone to speak of a mode of production as being capitalist at all – namely through the unequal exchange of capital and labour which is fetishised (but only fetishised!) as that of ‘equal exchange’ – is quite astonishing.
This apologetic is also reflected in the conceptualisation of stage theory as an ‘externalization of pure theory’ that disengages from the actual implementation and operation of the law of value in real history and thereby absolutises its workings and effects on humans existing in capitalist actuality.
5.2.5 Stage Theory as Tautology and the Apologetic of Capital
The transition from the logically contradictory diagnosis of capital as unable to manage all capitalistically produced use values, to the concrete implementation of stage theory, is even more incomprehensible and inflicted with logical inconsistencies. One of them is the non sequitur-exposition of stage theory that does not follow from the premises Albritton has previously unfolded. The other is the tautological characterisation of the objectives of stage theory. We shall turn to these now, in this order.
For Albritton, the stages of capitalist development correspond to particular modes of the accumulation of capital: while ‘in pure capitalism, society is governed by a self-regulating market’ – the foremost apologetic topos of the Uno School – in history, on the other hand,
capital always develops within and between territorial states, and the development of capital and of the nation-state are up to a point mutually supporting. Also capital develops very unevenly when viewed spatially on a global scale. So in constructing stage theory we look for the form or forms of use-value production that most characterize the stage … Thus at the level of stage theory, we look for the dominant form of capitalist accumulation, we look for its geographical location and we look for the types of ideology and state policy that support it.205
These forms of accumulation in the historical development of capitalism correspond to merchant capital with the state policy of mercantilism, to industrial capital with the state policy of laissez faire, free market-liberalism, and to finance-capital with the state policy of imperialism, ultimately adding the ‘transition away from capitalism’ with socialist planned production as the last stage. To these economic models correspond different kinds of dominating use value production: ‘Wool production is the type of use-value production that is most characteristic of the activities of merchant-capital in so far as it directly lays the foundations for the development of capitalism’.206 In the liberal stage, ‘which is closest to pure theory … the sort of light manufacturing represented by cotton manufacturing is closest to the ideal use-values assumed by pure theory’.207 In imperialism, ‘the most characteristic type of use-value production … became iron and steel’.208
The explanatory power of the determination of forms of capital accumulation on the basis of the production of particular dominating forms of use value is evident.209 As is well known, in his analysis of primitive or original accumulation, Marx demonstrates the emergence of the capital relation on the basis of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century wool production in the English countryside. In other words, this is not where Albritton’s argument lacks a rational explanatory basis. But the question is how it is related to the aforementioned thesis that capital is increasingly unable to manage and ‘tame’ the realm of use values. If anything, Albritton here precisely gives a coherent argument for the opposite view, namely that in each and every stage of capitalist accumulation, use value is subsumed by capital as one of its forms of structuring production for the maximum share in profits. This is why particular use values such as wool have become dominant in the stage of mercantilism, cotton in the stage of liberalism, steel and iron in the stage of imperialism: because they respectively allowed capital to extract unpaid surplus labour from the production process in the most developed, dynamic, and effective way. In each case, production was organised in a way that best conformed to the development of the forces of production. It is therefore a mystery how the thesis should hold that capitalism ‘loses its grip’ on use value production, and use values present an ‘obstacle’ to valorisation. To the contrary, Albritton precisely demonstrates the valorisation postulate of capital by highlighting the dominant forms of particular use value production facilitating capital’s firmer grip on the production and valorisation process. It is the process of the development of the forces of production in which capital increasingly operates independently of the given structures and use values and itself dynamically transforms the process to adhere to its own conditions of existence, the valorisation postulate – in other words, the process of real subsumption in the production of relative surplus value. The specific use values are therefore by no means gaining an increasing independence from the reign of capital. To the contrary: they are capital’s means in securing its global procession. The argument does not follow from the aforementioned thesis on the status of pure theory: it is a non-sequitur.
At the same time, the usefulness of stage theory in explaining how history becomes ‘detached’ from theory becomes even more unpersuasive.
To be sure, if the ‘three levels of analysis’-approach should hold any explanatory power at all and be distinguishable from a positivistic model or ‘schema’ whose criteria remain external and arbitrary (which Albritton clearly aims at), their inner relation of the three must be self-reflexively elucidated. This is why Albritton calls for ‘intermediary steps’. Unlike Uno, who wrongly believes the model is self-explanatory in delivering the inner nexus, Albritton’s attempt starts from the dubious premise that ‘pure theory’ is only an abstract model that has no bearings on ‘real history’ at all:
Knowledge of the inner logic of capital achieved at the level of pure theory helps to interpret the historical material in constructing a stage theory, but stage theory is in no sense a deduction from pure theory. Rather, stage theory represents an externalization of pure theory, such that the use-value obstacles become more concrete and historical as do the motions of value in overcoming these obstacles.210
Stage theory is a distinct level of analysis arrived at neither by a deduction from pure theory nor by an abstraction from history. The concepts of stage theory are essentially abstract ‘material-types’ arrived at by using pure theory and history to help determine the main structures and processes of the dominant mode of capital accumulation in that historical stage. Stage theory is essentially static since it aims to grasp the dominant type of capital accumulation and not actual historical change and development.211
That the two levels somehow must be ‘mediated’ (‘concepts of stage theory are arrived at by using pure theory’), but remain ‘external’ to each other, certainly presents the biggest obstacle to their explanatory potential. The meaning of ‘externalisation’ of stage theory as a benchmark of the differentiation against ‘pure theory’ is nowhere explained; yet it would be precisely the definition of criteria that allow for pure theory’s implementation on the level of stages, and those cases in which this is impossible, and as well as a coherent argument for the criteria of this difference, that would give significance to the pure theory-stage theory nexus – and their difference. At no point however do we hear about meaningful criteria of either their nexus or their difference. That the realm of use value should historically evade the grip of pure theory has been shown to owe to a faulty and self-contradictory assumption. The usefulness of pure theory, however, stands and falls with the demonstration of its actual applicability to the capitalist mode of production. Because Albritton cannot establish the necessary relation between pure theory and its explanatory power, pure theory stands at a hypothetical model with no bearings or effect for the theorisation of the capital relation.
That, however, is not all. In close relation to this problem, there is a further obstacle that directly concerns the apologetic character of Albritton’s, as well as the wider Uno School’s, approach. How do we arrive at history/the real/the actual implementation of history if we cannot show that the law of value is real? Like in Uno, we can witness a lack of insight into the epistemological status of value in Albritton. Uno and his school defer the analysis of ‘pure capitalism’ to ‘pure theory’, where the law of value prevails and has a ‘full grip’ on the mode of production and reproduction.212 This ‘full grip’ however is mitigated by actual historical production where ‘use values are not so capitalistically manageable’. However, like Uno, Albritton does not fully grasp the idea of real abstraction, the fact that value is both an objective as well as an immaterial structuring phenomenon; it is both merely ‘social’, as well as a ‘real’ category. It is not a mere ‘illusion’, a ‘construction in thought’, a ‘tacit premise’, or an ‘abstraction’ without objective validity.213 One must here remember Marx’s well-known statement from Volume II of Capital: ‘Those who consider the autonomization [Verselbständigung] of value as a mere abstraction forget that the movement of industrial capital is this abstraction in action’.214
Marx’s incentive, as written in the famous letter to Kugelmann, is to demonstrate ‘how the law of value prevails’ in societies where the mode of production is organised capitalistically. This is why the illustration of the real living conditions of the working class cannot be abstracted from in the presentation of value’s domination: it is one and the same context that delivers critical information as to the effects of the real implementation of the law of value. Setting apart ‘pure theory’, where supply always corresponds to demand, workers can seamlessly reproduce, and capital produces a great many use values ‘needed by society’ – a theory that, in fact, has little to do with the capitalist mode of production – from a theory of stages and the ‘historical analysis’, neither of which thematise the devastating effects of capital accumulation on humans and nature, is therefore probably the single most capital-apologetic assumption we find in academic Marxism as a whole. It is detached from the object of Marx’s critique.
Moreover, as we have seen, because value prevails as the structuring underlying mode or essence in which social reproduction is organised, it appears in fetishistic forms of e.g., use value-mediated or ‘self-regulating’ market mechanisms which can be traced back all the way to the ‘three particularities’ of the ‘equivalent form of value’, which has been so fatally ignored by Uno. That the fetishistic dimension of value’s appearance should be taken as a fact by the Uno School – that the appearance should be taken as essence – is the key problem of this particular line in the reception of Marx. It is however a problem that Marx has already detected in the elaborations of vulgar economy, predominantly Bailey and Say, which we have referred to as the ‘original sin’ of political economy.
In sum, grasping the critical function of Marx’s method is tantamount to understanding that the ‘theory of pure capitalism’ is unnecessary, because the law of value always-already operates within the framework of impurity, namely the fetishistic appearances it delivers. It is also unfeasible, because the inner coherence of the whole structure, the sandankairon, cannot be maintained unless we presuppose the standpoint of totality from which the ‘instances’ or the ‘levels’ of analysis can be meaningfully abstracted from. What is lacking is a coherent superordinate conceptual heuristic which explains the formation of stages which they are instances of. Sandankairon does not provide a coherent angle which would explain the formation of stages and inform the history of the ‘concrete phenomena’: in other words, it leaves method and object external to each other. In Marx, we argue, the demonstration of ‘how the law of value prevails’ precisely relates the ‘law’ to its actual operation, the labour theory of value functioning as the precise nexus between method and object. In Albritton’s version of stage theory, the three levels remain external to each other, as well as to a common grounding nexus that would offer a coherent conceptual bond. As it stands, stages theory can only remain on the terrain of logical inconsistencies with regard to itself, as a truistic and tautological assurance that ‘the distance between the inner logic of capitalism and its historical development is great’. The truistic character of its assertions – that ‘pure capitalist society is global, but in history capital always develops within and between territorial states’215 do not deliver any conceptual insight from which a meaningful critique can be arrived at, and which is the biggest obstacle to a meaningful conceptualisation of capital, even in a concrete global, and historical context.
5.3 The Meaning of Real Subsumption or the Real Subsumption of Meaning: Aspects of Anglophone Uno School Historiographies
The relation between theory and history that forms the incentive for Albritton’s interpretation of stage theory also forms the specific interest of historiographic approaches in the Uno School, exemplified in the following in aspects of Harry Harootunian’s and Gavin Walker’s works.
Unlike Albritton, their impetus is motivated by both overcoming the tautological argument of pure theory concerning a ‘purely capitalist society’, and stage theory concerning the ‘historical formations’ of capitalism. At first at least it seems as though Harootunian and Walker in their respective works are more interested in fundamentally relating these seemingly disparate theoretical objects. However, their success also depends on a thorough conceptualisation of that relation as one mediated by capital itself. Operating with the truistic concept of ‘uneven development’ (or ‘different trajectories’ in Harootunian’s dictum) in global capitalist societies, the capital relation and the laws which govern them, however, as in the Anglophone Uno School approach, remain external to their analysis. This is especially clear in Harootunian’s both theoretically and empirically counterfactual and theoretically (and politically) questionable preference for the concept of formal subsumption over real subsumption as an explanandum for the global rise of capital.
What is to be gained for the understanding and, more importantly, for the critique of the capital relation if we acknowledge so-called uneven development and the ‘different trajectories’ that e.g. Western Europe and Japan have taken in the generation of their respective histories? The main intervention of Harry Harootunian’s Marx after Marx consists in delegitimising ‘Western Marxism’s’216 alleged claim to the ‘completion of the commodity relation’ which ‘trumpet(s)’ the ‘triumph of capitalism’, expressed in the conceptual framework of ‘real subsumption’. The book instead argues for a recognition of ‘the very unevenness lived by all societies, both the putatively advanced and the backward, as a condition of fulfilling capital’s law of accumulation’,217 expressed in Marx’s concept of ‘formal subsumption’. The simple heuristic of disavowing Marx’s concept of real subsumption and substituting it with that of formal subsumption in order to avoid Western Marxism’s alleged one-sidedness and its ‘abandonment of a meticulous historical materialism founded on a close investigation of specific and often singular contexts’218 forms Harootunian’s overall argument. Formal subsumption, used as analytical category to understand the (geographically) different trajectories that subsumption of labour has taken, serves, among other things, to ‘widen(s) the angle of vision to include the world beyond Western Europe’.219 The appeal of the concept of formal subsumption consists in ‘a way out of both the vulgate Marxian and modernising bourgeois historical narratives constrained to fulfilling teleologically determined agendas of capitalism that have the unfolding of a singular trajectory everywhere’.220 It is not clear which ‘vulgate Marxian’ historical narratives Harootunian refers to, since he provides no references. As Harootunian claims, Marxists like those in the Frankfurt School tradition and their intellectual heirs (Hans-Georg Backhaus, among others) can be said to be guilty of a more serious offense, namely, in ‘their patient desire for the accomplishment of real subsumption’ to not acknowledge the ‘great unevenness’ existing in different geographical areas in the course of time and the expansion of capitalism, as there are instances of the past ‘mingling with the present’, the ‘residual traces that embodied untimely temporalities announcing their unevenness and difference’.221
The major irritation to the reader is to be found in Harootunian’s judgment that the full capital relation, comprised in the analytical concept of real subsumption, has not prevailed as the social form that dominates economic life on a global scale. In other words, the capital relation described by the term of real subsumption, in reality and globally, has not been completed. Hence, the concept of ‘real subsumption’ only points to a theoretical model that bears no significance for the real historical diversity to be found in the ‘different historical temporalities’ and the ‘synchronous nonsynchronisms’ (Ernst Bloch) Harootunian finds represented in the concept of formal subsumption: ‘Marx has posited the achievement of real subsumption as a model, perhaps as a proto-ideal type that envisions the possible realization and completion of the commodity relation in an as yet unreached future, in a last instance that never comes’.222 As we have seen, quite the opposite is true – De te fabula narratur! – if we look at the evidence in Marx. What is more bizarre, however, is Harootunian’s underlying assumption that real subsumption may have some justification as a hypothetical model, but cannot be used as a template to analyse the present – not even the ‘past in the present’. As though the obvious empirical evidence indicating the actual completion of the commodity form on a global scale were a far-fetched, even absurd, illusion, Harootunian expatiates: ‘Whether Marx actually believed capital would ultimately realize the completion of the commodity relation … is hard to say. What seems certain is that he needed such a concept in order to present capitalism as a completed totality’.223 Indeed, for Harootunian, the ‘claim of capitalism’s inevitable completion everywhere’ is ‘illusory’. Allegedly, it is formal, not real subsumption that more accurately theorises ‘the constant interaction of coexisting times and practices in a ceaseless process that might lead to the final realization of capital but probably not everywhere’.224 The remnants of the past in the present – outdated modes of production existing alongside new technologies, but also religious and cultural practices etc. – in Harootunian’s view hamper the ‘Western European’ export of the capital relation to distant parts of the earth where the ‘old’ prevails and, as Harootunian suggests in an astonishing argumentative move, the process of expropriation and exploitation may not have exerted such a ‘harsh’ impact on the particular social edifice found in regions of uneven development (pace colonialism!):
In a sense, it is possible to argue that the undisturbed accompaniment of older modes of work and tools, along with customs and religious beliefs that were seen as vital to or indistinguishable from work, may very well have blunted the direct consequences of both expropriation and exploitation or masked their harshness and contributed to delaying the realization of real subsumption. A good deal of agricultural practices in Japan carried associations of work and Shintō beliefs well into the Meiji period and probably beyond … And we know that even in post-War Japan, firms and companies recruited Zen Buddhism to inculcate a sense of ‘spiritual’ discipline into employees designed to reinforce their work performance.225
To support his view that the violent process of primitive accumulation Marx describes so vividly in the Grundrisse and in Capital did not exert its savage powers so cruelly in late developers like Japan, or had been avoided completely, Harootunian leans on Uno’s reflections in the work Outlines to the Agrarian Question (Nōgyō mondai jōron, 1965), published shortly after the Methodology. Here, Uno discusses the import of the capitalist production mode and its particular effects on agrarian production and the social edifice of rural Japan after the Meiji restoration. Uno was interested in theorising ‘late development’ as being especially significant in agrarian production that still made up 65 percent of the national net product in 1900.226 But the agrarian sector did not undergo a process of ‘enclosures’ and the expropriation of the small scale farmers (that made up more than half of the Japanese populace), so that the farming sector did not only come out of the capitalisation process relatively unscathed, but constituted a means of promotion for capitalism’s self-implementation: ‘Agriculture that remained within the sphere of production of direct consumer items such as grains lingered in its prior form and was only gradually invaded by capital as it assisted the process of reproduction of capitalism’.227 The village therefore ‘remained committed to “small-scale agricultural production” in contrast to the appearance of large-scale industrial enterprises in the cities and provided the recruiting ground for male (?) and child labor when urban industrialization required it’.228 Hence, for Harootunian, primitive accumulation had been ‘bypassed’ in Japan, which initiated a development of unevenness and verified that, although older relations of production were no longer directly involved, the ‘ “influences” of the remnant still constituted a primary factor in the development of productive power’.229 In other words, acknowledging the Japanese development, exempted from ‘real subsumption’, could give clues as to how capital ‘intentionally’ left the prior medieval village intact, ‘delaying the alienation of large numbers of peasants from their means of subsistence’.230 Yet, against Harootunian’s verdict, one should not lose sight of the empirical and historical: the development of rapid modernisation and the release of land from the feudal han-system that went hand in hand with the dissolution of the bushi as a class, lifted the prohibition of the purchase and sale of agricultural land, so that, to the contrary, ‘the erosion of the medieval agrarian village’ indeed took place and, like in England and greater parts of Europe before, generated a whole new class of ‘free’ wage workers. Harootunian’s verdict that primitive accumulation has been ‘bypassed’ in Japan is counterfactual.231
In the case of Japan, the new proletariat was incorporated into the two emerging new industries that would mark Japan’s economic success on the globalised world market at the dawn of the imperialist age: silk and cotton manufacturing industries (women and children) and the mining and heavy metal industries (men). However, Uno was less interested in the details of the ‘formal subsumption’ process in the uneven development of Japanese capitalism as an object of economic analysis, as Harootunian believes, than in the ‘preservation and continuation of the form of older precapitalist practices and ways of thinking that had taken command over time’ beyond the economic sphere, including ‘areas of social and cultural life dominated by the involuntary interaction of conscious life and the force of other, unconscious habits and modes of behaviour’.232 While we find the culturalist assumptions bordering on (self-)orientalising schemes of explanation in this assessment problematic, it is less Uno’s than Harootunian’s own specific disposition that is to be detected here.
More rewarding than the probable culturalist consequences one may draw from Harootunian’s interpretation is a look at the specific uses and misuses of Marx’s terminology and theorisation of ‘real and formal subsumption’. As a matter of fact, theorising late development does not preclude specific usages of Marx’s terminology, quite to the contrary: a fruitful application of Marx’s theory could imply a ‘creative’ way to deal with his categories when it is productive of cognitive gain. The creative usage of Marx’s conceptualisations however should be asked to meet the requirement of at least attempting to grasp Marx’s specific intervention. It could further be enhanced by meeting Marx’s own method at eye level. This however implies the identification of the object of critique, namely socialisation under the directive of the full operation of the capitalist mode of production. However, as I will show, Harootunian neither meets this requirement, nor seems to be particularly interested in recapitulating Marx’s specific Problemstellung. What we find in Harootunian’s theoretical approach is that the meaning of real subsumption instead turns into the real subsumption of meaning, irrespective of whether we have Marx’s conceptual framework or the target of Marx’s critique in mind. We contend that Harootunian’s project of ‘deprovincialising Marx’ against the postcolonial attempt to delegitimise or ‘provincialise’ Marx becomes itself an unwitting attempt at Marx’s ‘provincialisation’, in that it not only counterfactually mobilises formal against real subsumption – in direct opposition to Marx – but makes the reference to Marx’s central theoretical question about the operation of not only how capital produces, but how it produces itself – the very definition of what the heuristic of real subsumption that Marx devotes the analysis of Capital to clarifying – redundant. Because if the central question surrounding Marx’s project is expurgated from the research programme, then another question suggests itself immediately: why draw on Marx at all? The apparent non-applicability and insignificance of Marx’s intervention for Harootunian’s ends (of which he seems little aware) seems a far greater concession to Marx’s ‘provincialisation’ than the postcolonial project which at least recognises the theoretical fertility of Marx’s intervention. As we will see, the eschewal of Marx’s principal interest in the conceptual interrelation of real subsumption, value and the development of the forces of production on a systematic global scale, is due to a use value-fetishistic hyperbole that Harootunian, like other authors discussed in this chapter, mobilises against the value form. As I will show, this strategy also betrays Harootunian’s neoliberal agenda, which downplays actual human suffering effected by the global implementation of the law of value.
Again, as shown throughout this volume, the realm of use value, which Harootunian mobilises as the space ‘mitigating’ the sphere of the valorisation, is beside the point for capitalist production. And if it is true that an imagined ‘use-value space’ allegedly hampers the ‘completion of the commodity relation’ which ‘trumpet(s) the triumph of capitalism’, as Harootunian thinks, then it does so only in order to present another barrier for the realisation of surplus value, which must be overcome. This is what the analysis of the production of relative surplus value, corresponding to the real subsumption of labour under capital, signifies. With the breakdown of the barriers to the appropriation of unpaid labour, also the legal and extra-economic barriers increasingly vanish. As Marx neatly illustrates in this passage from the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’,
… on the one hand, [capital] creates means by which to overcome obstacles that spring from the nature of production itself, and on the other hand, with the development of the mode of production peculiar to itself, it eliminates all the legal and extra-economic impediments to its freedom of movement in the different spheres of production. Above all, it overturns all the legal and traditional barriers that would prevent it from buying this or that kind of labour-power as it sees fit, or from appropriating this or that kind of labour.233
What characterises capital is its indifference towards the particular ‘forms of the labour process it acquires’,234 once real subsumption is enacted. The talk of ‘singular contexts’ (understood in terms of national/regional unevenness) barely conceals the commentator’s desideratum of ‘preserving’ intact and innocent spaces, ‘untouched’ by the capital relation, preserved in the notional sphere of formal subsumption, concrete labour and use value.235 Against this unabashed ideological, moralistically motivated rejection of real subsumption, we will present a radically different reading of real subsumption that focuses on real subsumption as a methodological heuristic indicating the ‘completed’ fetishisation of the capital relation. We will show that real subsumption 1) presents a critical category directed against the ‘fetishism of the political economists’, 2) forms not only the incentive, but the actual object of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production, and 3), by directly corresponding to the production of relative surplus value, allows us to conceptually confront the mechanism that effects the dominance and perseverance of capital on a global scale, the ‘overcoming’ of any obstacle, economic or political, that may impede the appropriation of unpaid surplus labour. As against formal subsumption, real subsumption then indicates a methodological tool for deciphering the context of fetishism and the increasing mystification of the capital relation, which the present work highlights as the crucial aspect in Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. Contrary to what Harootunian believes, it is formal, not real subsumption that serves as no more than a preliminary ‘hypothetical model’, lacking the form determination of capitalist reproduction that only real subsumption – indicating the self-reproductive subsumption of wage labour under capital implied by the production of relative suplus value – can offer.
5.3.1 The Meaning of Real Subsumption I: Against the ‘Capital Fetish’ of Conventional Political Economy
Formal and real subsumption, as the two heuristic-interpretative diagnoses corresponding to the production of absolute, and, respectively, the production of relative surplus value and their inner relation,236 are clearly defined in their loci classici in Capital (parts 3–5) and the ‘Results of the Immediate Process of Production’, a chapter initially included as Chapter Six, but then discarded from the third draft of Capital, the 1863–5 Manuscript.237 However, the ‘Results’ offer a rich, if very dense, summary of what Marx thought was crucial about both the immediate effect of the capitalist mode of production – that ‘capitalist production’ is first and foremost ‘the production of surplus value’, as one section title asserts – as well as what the bourgeois ‘interpreters’ in their ahistoric, generalising, and hence, fetishistic approach to capital missed about capital’s specific social form. The significance of the analysis of the general features of capital is on a par with the critique of its fetishism in the political economists. With the concepts of formal and real subsumption in the context of this debate, the ‘Results’ are therefore a useful source for analysing the impetus Marx intended with these heuristic concepts. Here, we can immediately discern that the conceptual distinction between formal and real subsumption is decisive for grasping different levels of abstraction concerning the object in question (i.e., the capitalist mode of production). This impetus remained completely beyond the scope of classical and vulgar political economy. The importance of different levels of abstraction is evident from Marx’s explication that formal subsumption ‘is the general form of every capitalist process of production’, while it can be found as a ‘particular form alongside the specifically capitalist mode of production’.238 While the specifically capitalist mode of production requires the formal and general characteristics of the formal subsumption of labour under capital, the reverse does not hold (i.e. formal subsumption exists, or rather, existed in the absence of the specifically capitalist mode of production). In the view of historical succession which Marx points at throughout the chapter, formal subsumption corresponds to ‘an earlier state of independence’239 of the direct producers (self-sustaining peasants, farmers who only pay a rent on their direct produce, rural or domestic secondary industry, independent handicraft), with labour being subsumed under the directive that it produce surplus-value, but without yet a direct transformation of the labour process by technological innovation of the means of production, and hence, changes of scale, for the production of surplus value. We can therefore state that formal subsumption remains at the level of a general and formal, merely social relation, whereas real subsumption also indicates the incessantly dynamic transformation of the material conditions of production which in turn more radically transforms the social relationship between capital and labour.
To understand how formal and real subsumption point to different levels of the fetishisation of capital and the capital relation, we should first look at their common features. The connecting thematic nexus between formal and real subsumption is the unity of the labour and valorisation process that is specific to the capitalist mode of production. The capital fetish, the perception of capital of being directly ‘fruit-bearing’, is a direct result of the valorisation process itself, which Marx so rigorously describes in the ‘Results’ as the effect of viewing the form determinations of capital’s use value (the means of production, i.e., raw materials, auxiliary materials, means of labour, tools, etc.) in abstraction from the historically specific social form they serve: namely, to be means for the production of surplus value. Capital thus appears as a ‘necessary feature of the human labour process as such’.240 This applies to both formal as well as real subsumption. Formal subsumption however cannot account for the same degree of mystification as real subsumption, because it is necessarily limited to the production of absolute surplus value, and with it, the lengthening of the working day and the proportional rise in the value of labour power, as well as the proportional rise in the value of the commodity. In other words, the relation between labour and value is still cogent; less labour employed in the final product implies less value, more labour employed will result in a higher value of the commodity. The source of value is not yet thoroughly mystified.
In real subsumption, however, the relation between labour and value is fully obscured. With the production of relative surplus value, the development of the forces of production and the devalorisation of labour power, the proportion of labour in the final product – and the commodity is the immediate product of the process of capitalist production – becomes smaller: work is increasingly substituted for ‘technology’241 and machines (‘capital’ in the bourgeois dictum), profits ascribed to the ‘fruit-bearing’ power of the means of production, the ‘productive power’ of capital. In the capital fetish, the obfuscation of the relation between labour and value is completed. A propos the ‘productive powers of capital’, Marx notes:
It does not appear as the productive power of labour, or even of that part of it that is identical with capital.242 And least of all does it appear as the productive power either of the individual worker or of the workers joined together in the process of production. The mystification implicit in the relations of capital as a whole is greatly intensified here, far beyond the point it had reached or could have reached in the merely formal subsumption of labour under capital.243
Accordingly, formal and real subsumption correspond to different levels of mystification of the value forms. Marx identifies formal subsumption by ‘the takeover by capital of a mode of labour developed before the emergence of capitalist relations’, an ‘available, established labour process’, a ‘traditional established labour process’ in which only ‘gradual consequences’ of that form of subsumption of labour under capital can appear:244 ‘The work may become more intensive, its duration may be extended, it may become more continuous under the eye of the interested capitalist, but in themselves these changes do not affect the character of the actual labour process’.245 This is quite contrary to ‘the specifically capitalist mode of production’246 – the production of relative surplus value: ‘[The] latter not only transforms the situations of the various agents of production, it also revolutionizes their actual mode of labour and the real nature of the labour process as a whole’.247
What is interesting here is that Marx directly identifies the ‘specifically capitalist mode of production’ with the production of relative surplus value248 and explicitly distinguishes it from the production of absolute surplus value of formal subsumption. In other words, we may add, formal subsumption may be a prerequisite for capitalist relations of production to arise249 (and the fertile ground for the mystification of capital); however, it is not itself specifically capitalist. Something else aside the mere subjugation of the labour process under the directives of capital must happen in order for the real, for the specifically capitalist mode of production to develop. What we can witness here is a classic case of the Hegelian ‘transformation of quantity into quality’, in that Marx largely gives reasons attributable to measure, quantity and scale, i.e. the expansion of the scale of production, i.e. large scale industry, the establishment of the factory, etc. – in other words, a certain degree of the development of the forces of production – so as to account for the emergence of real subsumption of labour under capital, just as quantitative relations were a precondition for the emergence of the formal subsumption against older modes of labour:
The distinction between labour formally subsumed under capital and previous modes of labour becomes more apparent, the greater the increase in the volume of capital employed by the individual capitalist, i.e. the greater the increase in the number of workers employed by him at any one time. Only with a certain minimum capital does the capitalist cease to be a worker himself and [begin] to concern himself entirely with directing work and organizing sales. And the real subsumption of labour under capital, i.e. capitalist production proper, begins only when capital sums of a certain magnitude have directly taken over control of production, either because the merchant turns into an industrial capitalist, or because larger industrial capitalists have established themselves on the basis of formal subsumption.250
The choice of the plural – industrial capitalists – is not accidental. As we have discussed at length in Chapter 4.3., it is only with competition that the concept of the magnitude of value of socially necessary labour time receives its full meaning, as well as its immediate appearance in the form of price (and the notion of the existence of a single industrial capitalist makes little sense). We have also seen that the ‘social value’ of the commodity no longer corresponds to its ‘individual value’, because of the systematic and fetishistic distortion induced by competitive suppliers in intrasectoral competition and technological innovation. It is here that relative surplus value establishes itself as the primary mode of the extraction of unpaid labour. Here, the price form allows the individual capitalist who first establishes cost-saving technological changes (i.e., before other suppliers within the same branch of production do so) to sell his commodities at a price above its social value. For Marx, ‘[with] the production of relative surplus value the entire real form of production is altered and a specifically capitalist form of production comes into being (at the technological level, too)’.251
However, with the emergence of economies of scale, general wage dependency comes into play. When the commodity form becomes the universal and exclusive form of social reproduction, pushing back older forms of self-subsistence, the wage form simultaneously arises as the universal and exclusive possibility of workers’ reproduction. This is how the Umschlagen von Quantität in Qualität is concretely enacted in the emergence of specifically capitalist relations of production.
Consequently, it is the concept of real subsumption, not that of formal subsumption, that formed the essential interest and motivation behind Marx’s attempt to analyse not only the way that capital produces, but to describe how the capital relation (re)produces itself by dynamically transforming the process of technological and therefore also social production.
This is also more specifically the thematic of the ‘Process of Accumulation of Capital’, Part 7 of Capital, and especially the chapter on ‘The Political Economists’ Erroneous Conception of Reproduction on an Increasing Scale’, which profoundly draws out the blind spots of classical political economy and its failure to explain not only the origin of surplus, but how the surplus reinstantiates the subsumption of labour under capital by the very process of capitalist production itself. Real subsumption and the reproduction of the capital relation completely fall out of the framework of classical political economy.252 In that sense, the analysis of the capital fetish and the concept of real subsumption serve the common goal of the critique of classical (and vulgar) political economy, which Harootunian, like Uno, do not recognise as the first and foremost function of Marx’s critical project.
The analogy of formal and real subsumption with simple and extended reproduction, respectively, is striking. The production of absolute surplus value can only ever be a limited form of production, due to the ‘natural limit’ of the working day. In the presentation of reproduction in Part 7 of Capital Volume I, as well as the Reproduction Schemes in Volume II, Marx, for didactic reasons, begins with simple reproduction. Simple reproduction however is only a formal and general hypothetic model. It does not describe the actual capitalist reproduction process, which cannot be anything other than reproduction on an extended scale, reproduction yielding surplus value for the capitalist class. Indeed, ‘[there] is no “simple” capitalist reproduction. Without self-expansion capital is not capital, its circulatory movement is, echoing Hegel’s description of dialectical development, “a spiral, an expanding curve, not a simple circle” ’.253 Claudio Napoleoni confirms the analogy between the formal, general model of simple reproduction with formal subsumption, and the actual reproduction on an extended scale with real subsumption:
Before the emergence of the capital relation, the goal of production was not surplus value; production therefore took place within confined limits. Now that the goal of production has clearly become surplus value and it has no other determination than that of quantity, and the capitalist has no other goal than augmenting this quantity, the labour process is, so to speak, constrained by formal subsumption. While it remains the same, it underlies the attempt to expand its scale, so that it can actually serve the specific goal of capitalist production, which consists in the unlimited increase in surplus value. It is precisely this constraint of the labour process which causes the transition from formal to real subsumption, because at a certain point it becomes impossible to expand its scale if it remains in the previous form.254
In other words, formal subsumption corresponds to a ‘general’ mode of the subsumption of labour under capital. Here, however, the object, a process of production, in which the value of labour power is constant, does not correspond to its concept or ‘idea’, the maximal extraction of unpaid surplus labour. This is a definite constraint to the aim and purpose of the capitalist mode of production. Only with real subsumption and the production of relative surplus value does the object correspond to its concept, in that only with the devaluation of the value of labour power, and the potential extraction of infinite quantities of surplus value, do we have the final ‘realisation of the ideal’ of capital’s self-valorisation. And this, as shown in Chapter 4.4., immediately becomes the reason for capital’s crisis tendency, the inherent contradiction in the law of value.
5.3.2 The Meaning of Real Subsumption II: The Capital Relation as Marx’s Specific Object of Investigation
Hence it is formal, not real subsumption that serves as a ‘hypothetic model’ for analysing the actual conditions of capitalist reproduction, as a historical precursor, but more significantly, as a rough approximation that still lacks the specific form determinations of capitalist reproduction. The single most important form determination of the real capitalist mode of production is, however, the subsumption of labour under capital that is reproductive of itself, i.e. not hinging on anything else but the process of production. This is provided in the form determination of the wage. Wage dependency marks the differentia specifica between the preliminary heuristic of formal against real (‘actually implemented’) subsumption: ‘… the production of relative surplus-value completely revolutionizes the technical processes of labour and the groupings into which society is divided’.255 In formal subsumption, with the ‘earlier state of independence’ of the individual producers and reproduction on an even scale, the dependence on the wage was peripheral. In real subsumption, the wage relation becomes central. In fact, it becomes the single form determination that fully expresses the transition of the objective conditions of production (means of production) away from the direct producers towards the capitalist class – and with it, also the subjective conditions of reproduction (means of subsistence). Through the sole dominance of the wage form, the production of relative surplus value establishes itself as the confrontation between capital and labour which is the object of Marx’s investigation (and not, e.g. the ‘hoarding of riches in the hands of the few’). Based on the production of relative surplus-value, ‘and simultaneously with it, the corresponding relations of production between the various agents of production and above all, between the capitalist and the wage labourer, come into being for the first time’.256 In his analysis of the production of relative surplus value, Marx was finally able to determine the specific object of critique, namely the systematic contradiction between the classes, between capital and wage labour, or the capital relation:
Capitalist production therefore reproduces in the course of its own process the separation between labour-power and the conditions of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the conditions under which the worker is exploited … It is no longer a mere accident that capitalist and worker confront each other in the market as buyer and seller … The capitalist process of production, therefore, seen as a total, connected process, i.e. a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capital-relation itself; on the one hand the capitalist, on the other hand the wage labourer.257
Hence the two different forms of the production of surplus value correspond to two different forms of the subsumption of labour under capital, and not to, say, two different forms of the ‘accumulation of wealth’. Because the production of relative surplus value reproduces the capital relation itself, it indicates the real, the total and absolute subordination of labour under capital, a relation, in which the ‘object (Sache)’ corresponds to its ‘concept (Begriff)’, and the form determination of the capital relation is complete. This is the object of Marx’s investigation.
Let us briefly recapitulate, with Marx, how exactly the production of relative surplus value effects the reproduction of the capital relation. The ‘curtailment’258 of necessary and, with it, the extension of surplus labour, on which the production of relative surplus value rests, obviously entails a wage decrease for the workers. Without a certain ‘standard of living’, however, the reproduction of labour power proves to be difficult. Capital itself therefore must change the conditions of production under which it can valorise itself. Production is transformed under the auspices of velocity, efficiency, quantity of output – in short, cost-saving administrative techniques and technologies.259 With the lowering of production costs, especially in variable capital, and the intensified and/or extended use of constant capital, a bigger mass of commodities can be produced in a shorter period of time. At the same time, and by the same process, the value of the commodities necessary for worker consumption260 decreases. Insofar as the production of relative surplus value decreases the value of labour power (the money wage), it also decreases the value of the commodities that can be bought with it. The socially necessary labour time they contain becomes smaller. By this dynamic, the subsistence of the working class has become directly subordinate to the logic of capital. This is what is meant by the form determination of wage: in its phenomenal form of abstract and general human labour – money – it may be exchanged for any use value available on the market, but it cannot present anything else than use values available on the market, again feeding into capital’s valorisation process. But if the value of the newly produced commodities is lower, valorisation can only keep up with its own imperative if a greater mass of commodities is being produced in a shorter period of time – and, again, bought by the workers with their wage. With it, working hours and days become longer, surplus labour and output increases. The circle repeats itself. This process is inherent to the ‘constant revolutionising of production’.
Bigger, not better, but faster, and more: it is this dynamic transformation of the conditions of production which spurs the development of the forces of production.261 The means of choice for the capitalist class to lower the value of labour power is the substitution of living for dead labour, i.e. the substitution of labour for technical auxiliaries, advanced computerisation in the production process, robotics, assistant systems, etc., today known as ‘digitalisation’. Because the general division of private labour and the competition between capitals, however, still dominate this mode of production – never mind the stage of the development of the forces of production – every single capital employed is viewed solely with regard to cost saving procedures – while every single capitalist endeavours to achieve the most effective and potent valorisation of his capital. By no means the single capitalist consciously decides to shorten necessary labour and lower the value of labour power, but ‘he contributes towards increasing the general rate of surplus value only insofar as he ultimately contributes to this result. The general and necessary tendencies of capital must be distinguished from its forms of appearance’.262 As we have seen, it is precisely the capital fetish, i.e., the notion that the substitution of living for dead labour enhances a more efficient valorisation, which is a form of appearance, a fetish dominating capital’s self-perception and its prospective survival strategies, regardless of its increasing inherent contradiction manifested in the crisis of valorisation. Yet, capital’s infinite ‘hunger for surplus labour’, the shortening of necessary labour, the substitution of living for dead labour, and the development of the forces of production is directly tied to the emergence and consolidation of the capitalist mode of production as a class-based social relation. Competition spurs ‘the individual capitalist … to seize the initiative’263 by shortening necessary and extending surplus labour through the employment of technological innovation; this in turn lowers the value of labour power, and finally the circle towards the consolidation of the class relation is closed, because wage dependency is no longer an accidental social relation between capital and labour, but its exclusive and solitary form.
However, just as obviously, this development is not a new one. Wage dependency is as old as the system of capitalist production itself. Looking at the history of real subsumption, we can go back almost 300 years to find the same logic of automatisation that we find today. In mid-eighteenth-century France, engineer and inventor Jacques de Vaucanson’s (1709–82) programme-controlled spinning machines helped accelerate the production process and increased the output level.264 Yet, for the capitalist class, the ‘flexibility’ of automated machines was a desideratum in the early days of mass production, as it is one today:
[The development of automatons with higher flexibility] goes back as far as the cylinders and wooden punch cards, which were used for machine control systems in the 18th century. In the 1740s, the French clockmaker and inventor Jacques Vaucanson developed the first programme-controlled machine. He received an order by Louis XV to modernise the French textile industry. Frustrated by the resistance of the weavers’ guild of Lyon,265 he developed a weaving loom in which the textile pattern was no longer crafted by humans, but by punch cards. Just like the pins on the cylinder of a music box generate a melody, the punches in the wooden plates guide the spinning needles and the thread’s different colours, to craft a cloth whose pattern corresponded to that of the punch cards … the weaving loom could now be operated without induction by the handicraftsmen, which had hitherto determined the sequence of the multi-coloured threads. Vaucanson … made their labour knowledge ‘machine-readable’.266
In other words, even in its earliest mercantilist days, capitalist production could not survive without a constant revolutionising of the mode of production, the introduction of the newest techniques and technologies. Louis XV’s incentive was the growing competition on the world market for sales, and in that sense there is little to suggest a qualitative difference in motivation between his enhanced production method of the early eighteenth century and China’s mega-factories of today. In other words, capitalism without competition is a contradictio in adiecto. Yet, in its general framework, formal subsumption abstracts from market competition, and in doing so, it abstracts from general wage dependency generated by the development of the productive forces. As a general, abstract concept, it leaves the specific form determination of the subsumption of labour under capital unconsidered.
It is clear from the greater bulk of passages in the ‘Results’ that Marx invites a reading in which formal and real subsumption correspond to different historical stages.267 Yet, when we consider the wider context of the discussion, it is clearly embedded in a more theoretical and conceptual concern, the ‘mystification’ process of capital generated by its confrontation with labour. Hence, Marx’s discussion of formal and real subsumption fundamentally concerns the increasingly persistent dominance of the capital fetish. Already with the emergence of formal subsumption,
[the] mystification inherent in the capital-relation emerges … The value-sustaining power of labour appears as the self-supporting power of capital; the value-creating power of labour as the self-valorizing power of capital and, in general, in accordance with its concept, living labour appears to be put to work by objectified labour.268
How the social creates the real mystification whose outcome is a technologically defined mode of production is the real concern of Marx’s discussion of subsumption. When, in the heuristic of real subsumption, the technological comes to dominate the social, things become persons, persons become things, and the wage relation establishes itself as the sine qua non of reproduction, the capital fetish is complete. With this framework, we must conclude that Harootunian errs not only on the level of grasping the function of formal and real subsumption as critical concepts, but he errs in believing that the framework of formal subsumption meaningfully contributes to understanding the real and actual workings of capitalist sociation on a global scale. We will shortly elucidate this misunderstanding by pointing not only to the theoretical, but the political perniciousness of Harootunian’s intervention following from his theoretical apotheosis of formal against real subsumption.
5.3.3 The Use Value-Fetishistic Hyperbole of Formal Subsumption
The critical function of Marx’s main work, Capital, as previously stated, is already clear from the very first conceptual abstraction presented to us in the value form of the commodity, this most complex, and by no means ‘simplest’ category that Marx utilises to deconstruct the fetishistic sphere of ‘simple exchange’, as seen in Chapter 1. For already in the commodity, the contradiction between value and use value implies a subsumption, as Sáenz de Sicilia notices:
Capitalist social relations … involve the instauration of the commodity as the elementary form of social wealth, a form whose value aspect stands over and above the qualitative particularity of its use-value aspect and subsumes it as a result of its subjection to commercial circulation.269
The value aspect of the commodity, subsuming and subordinating use value, has become the structuring force of capitalist production. The actual production of relative surplus value, to which real subsumption and its techniques of ‘constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society’270 correspond, and of which the ‘digital revolution’, massive global technological reconstruction, economies of scale, automatisation, the increasing substitution of living labour for digitalised automatons and robots, etc. are direct expressions, blatantly defies production of absolute surplus value and, with it, formal subsumption. Formal subsumption, as we have seen, essentially assumes a constant organic composition of capital, i.e. reproduction on an even scale.271 Formal subsumption is incompatible with specifically capitalist relations of production. Today, it exists nowhere but in the mind of the theorist.
Indeed, a thorough critique of Marx’s category of real subsumption of labour under capital would have to be formulated as a general critique of Marx’s analysis of the capital relation and the theory of social form on which it is based. Such a critique would have to show that
the capitalist mode of production does not insist on a systematic subsumption of living labour under the imperatives of the valorisation process of capital, encroaching on the labour process, [it would have to show] that the class-form relation of the domination of capital is not constantly being reproduced by the dynamic of capital growth, and that in its historical progress, capital did not transform the previous labour modes and labour forces according to forms necessitated by its need for expansion. This would be tantamount to presenting evidence that the capital form of value were not the organising and synthetisising principle of modern bourgeois society.272
One may rightfully ask what motivates Harootunian’s intervention to taxonomically subordinate the concept of real under that of formal subsumption. We must return here to the problematic of the fetishism of use value that informs most Uno-affiliated research. Here is precisely the second objection to Harootunian’s project for the ‘recognition’ of uneven development, because, strictly speaking and on the basis of the conceptual framework elaborated by Marx, Harootunian contends that capitalism proper does not exist as a global social system. For a writer working in the historical present, Harootunian’s insistence on the ‘illusion’ that real subsumption should count as a social reality is at best ignorant and, at worst, cynical – not only if we face the reality of the hardship of billions of people who live under the conditions of capitalism in its specifically globalised mode (which Harootunian strangely never refers to). This denial of actually existing capitalism also coincides with the neoliberal agenda Harootunian unwittingly pursues. To be sure, if Harootunian’s claim is that next to the ‘capitalist everyday’, there exist ‘other’, ‘hybrid’ forms, which survived as ‘remnants of the past’, this amounts to a truism. Harootunian’s claim, however, is a stronger one: namely that the ‘hybrid forms’ – Zen Buddhism in corporate activities, customs and religious beliefs – weaken the experience of exploitation and the everyday grind in dependent wage labour. This claim reads as if it had been taken from the catechism of corporate propaganda (‘work-life-balance’), considering, for example, that Zen Buddhism in Japanese corporations has not been able to mitigate the problem of karōshi (and how, indeed, could it?).273 The karōshi phenomenon however is a direct and real effect of real subsumption’s production of relative surplus value in that capital’s appropriation of unpaid surplus labour has become potentially infinite, driving employees to ‘work-onto-death’ and having to expect informal sanctions when they do not. Harootunian’s confidence in the mitigating factors of ‘diverse cultural practices’ and ‘religious beliefs’, categories of use value, cynically ignores this actual and real implementation of the law of value in the fabric of economic life. To claim that ‘singular contexts’, ‘uneven temporalities’ etc. weaken ‘the experience of exploitation’ does not change the fact that this amounts to support for the euphemistic image neoliberalism likes to present of the real capitalism which it ideologically and politically orchestrates. This is especially clear where Harootunian attempts a critique of Marx’s analysis of real subsumption, not only misrecognising the specific object of critique it establishes, but confronting it with a conceptual catalogue allegedly indicating a ‘different’ agenda – the ‘archaic in the present’, ‘unevenness’, ‘untimeliness’ (yet the view that capital had a specific ‘agenda’ remains Harootunian’s alone) – thus inviting the view of use value as a possible field of political resistance to capital by virtue of its alleged ‘externality’:
… Marx may have … understated the political consequences of recognizing and mobilizing these spectral reminders of temporal unevenness, untimeliness, and arrythmia in producing discordance, consequences such as disturbing the homogenous linearity projected by the nation-state busy promoting the claims of another kind of contemporaneity. For these ‘ready-mades’, taken over and utilized in a different way, released from the role they once played in modes of production that generated them, were not completely emptied of their historicality but still indexed the intimation of a time external to and dissimilar from capitalism, a world where use-value and the non-differentiation of subject and object still supposedly prevailed, bringing with it possibilities for different forms of political economy.274
However, categories of use value, mobilised as ‘arrythmia’ or ‘areas of life’ that are not ‘fully subsumed’ by the capital relation (‘external’ to them) do not hamper the hard interests of valorisation. ‘Cultural practices’ do not ‘weaken’ the ‘experience of exploitation’. Moreover, as a critical category, exploitation is not an ‘experience’. This is precisely why it could become the secret to the self-representations of alleged equivalent exchange. Harootunian’s empirical hypostases miss Marx’s crucial analytical and critical intervention against capital’s self-definition. They cannot be empirically redeemed as they miss the overall specificity of Marx’s method in relation to that of bourgeois political economy’s empiricism.
Because of the fact that, by the process of really subsuming labour as a use value-producing activity, capital renders value the ultimate and only goal of the production process, the ongoing valorisation process is veritably indifferent275 to the ‘use-value space’ of cultural practices. It is indifferent to the fact that Pakistani day labourers in Dubai’s shipbuilding industry read the Koran, or that Bangladeshi textile labourers perform Hindu rites, or that Chinese toy factory slave workers, when asked, name ‘Buddhism’ as their religion of choice – as long as these practices do not hamper capital’s drive towards surplus value. Consequently, Harootunian cynically ignores the conditions under which workers in regions having undergone ‘uneven development’ live and suffer, with no perspective for the future being one of the milder self-assessments. ‘Hybrid forms of subsumption’ is the theorist’s euphemism for a reality in which workers provide the ‘human material’ absorbed for capital’s valorisation process. At the same time, and counter-intuitively, considering the strong emphasis Harootunian puts on ‘uneven development’, his approach also ignores the effects of globalisation. It is difficult to ignore real subsumption in the face of the reality of child labourers in Africa’s Congo digging rare earths like cobalt and cassiterite as raw materials for the production of smart phones in China – not to mention the anxiously anticipated effects of an even stronger globalised capitalism, manifested in political and economic tools such as Transatlantic trade treaties like the TTIP which mainly rely on real subsumption to perfect the exploitation process. In view of his objective of ‘gaining access to the historically concrete’,276 Harootunian’s assessment that the commodity form has not been completed everywhere becomes grotesque. His criticism of theorists who ‘fail to see what clearly is around and before them, everywhere: the persisting traces of historical-temporal forms from the past, the shadowed silhouette of “living labour”, and the ever present signals they emit of continuing unevenness’,277 expresses not the slightest discernible theoretical or practical interest in changing the conditions of the real capitalist predicament. To the contrary: this romanticising view of the ‘shadowed silhouette of “living labor” ’ betrays his apologetic view to the capital’s subsumption mode.278 It delivers no conceptual instrument to confront the actual conditions of our historical present. Like the Anglophone Uno School’s approach to the analysis of the capitalist relations of production, Harrootunian assumes an apologetic stance toward the present. In this framework, capitalism is no longer a problem – in fact, a social relation of production that must be overcome if humankind were to be free – but an object of discourse to be viewed more empathically, with more nuance, more ‘diversely’. This is in line with the propaganda of neoliberalism, in which the concept of ‘different capitalisms’ – another word for ‘singular contexts’ of capital – serves to extenuate resistance and critical action against a clearly identified target of critique.
In sum, Harootunian’s theoretical hypostatisation of an alleged realm ‘outside’ of capital’s global dominance assumes a fetishistic attitude to the conceptual circumference of use value which it attempts to mobilise against value as ‘the organising and synthetisising principle of modern bourgeois society’ (R. Schmiede), choosing to imitate the neoliberal impetus of highlighting the ‘mitigating effects’ of use value-mediated cultural practices and/or ‘remnants’ of ‘different temporalities’, thereby downplaying and ignoring human suffering induced by the law of value.
Like the projects of Uno, of the value theorists of the post-Uno School, and of Sekine and Albritton, respectively, Harootunian presents a travesty of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy. While the concessions to neoliberal tropes and the apologetic stance they take may be due to academic necessities – and today, the university is the neoliberal institution per se – their work presents a serious obstacle to an emancipatory struggle, which also always takes place in the realm of theory.
5.3.4 The Fetishism of Use Value as the ‘Site of Resistance’
In his The Sublime Perversion of Capital. Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan, Gavin Walker posits a question directly relevant to our own inquiry, namely whether Uno, decisively rejecting any consequences for a theory of revolution from the analysis of Capital ‘was not … also giving up on Marx’s revolutionary project?’279 For Walker, this question must be answered in the negative, while we have seen in the previous that it is the inadequacy of the categories by which Uno attempts to grasp the phenomenon of capital in contrast to Marx that already renders the object of critique Uno addresses obscure. In accordance with our analysis, it is little surprising then that Uno disrupts pure theory from the question of revolution: capital, understood as a principally ‘self-regulating’ heaven, an equilibrium form of production which sees to the satisfaction of social needs does not exactly urge one to call for an overcoming of such a production form. In Walker’s interpretation, however, Uno offers a ‘suspension that ruptures the apparently smooth cycle’ of capital, found in the concept of the ‘(im)possibility of the commodification of labour power’ or the ‘muri’ of capital which serves as capital’s site of resistance. The tenet of the following critique will be to show, however, that a conceptual ‘apparatus’ mobilised against a particular predicament which is itself misconceived cannot help but be itself a faultily constructed theoretical, and hence also political, claim.
In his work, Walker follows a unique, if not to say idiosyncratic approach: rather than viewing Uno’s pure theory as a conceptualisation of the ‘general norms of economic life’, as Uno contends in the Introduction to the 1964 edition of the Principles, Walker sees pure theory as capital’s ‘fantasy’: ‘Uno intervenes in theory to show that capitalism can be systematized as a pure circuit: he calls this internal dream or fantasy of capital “the world of principle”, or pure capitalism’ … Strictly speaking, this “world of principle” does not exist as such’.280 As we have seen, Uno’s ‘purification’, restructuring and condensation of the analysis in Capital, completely evading the topos of the Critique of Political Economy, is what is striking about Uno’s work, as it is responsible for the shortcomings we have analysed. Walker’s approach is not only different: he sees the striking feature not so much in the ‘purification’ of the theory of capital, but in the new positing of questions seemingly unrelated, but directly related to the ‘general analysis’ of capital: the national and the agrarian question. Like in Harootunian therefore, the agrarian question assumes a pivotal role in Walker’s interpretation of pure theory. Let us see how Walker contextualises the agrarian question in relation to the question of the inter-relation of history and logic and the ‘paradoxical’ solution he offers in his interpretation of the ‘muri’ or the ‘(im)posssibility of the commodification of labour power’.
In his essay ‘The World of Principle, or Pure Capitalism: Exteriority and Suspension in Uno Kōzō’ (2012), Walker, like Harootunian, draws on Uno’s Agrarian Question to indicate that the ‘transition’ from feudalism to capitalism in the nation-state of Japan did not occur ‘smoothly’. To the contrary, what was perceived as ‘feudal remnants’ were not ‘remnants’ at all – they formed auxiliary means and even vital presuppositions to the implementation of the capitalist mode of production in Japan: ‘The debate on Japanese capitalism, and therefore on the nature and location of the agrarian question in theory, leads Uno to a seemingly paradoxical conclusion: that the so-called “feudal remnants” were not in fact “remnants” of feudalism in the strong sense, that is, obstacles or blocks on capital’s local deployment, but rather precisely the opposite …’281
Unlike Harootunian, however, Walker has a specific philosophical interest connected with Uno’s text that goes far beyond its being a mere intervention in the debate on the evaluation of Japanese capitalism. In Walker’s view, Uno’s historical understanding of capitalism is here interrelated with its logical ‘unfolding’ as presented in the theory of principles. The historical herein provides a key to situate the logic, and even exerts ‘a certain theoretical pressure on the logical form of capital’s functioning: the role of the mechanisms or apparatuses that would allow for the development of this paradoxical relation [of the historical and logical ‘impossibility’ of capital] in which what should be an obstacle instead functions to buttress, to nurture, to support, to aid’.282
However, this ‘paradox’ becomes thematic in Uno’s theorisation of the agrarian question only in relation to the historically inexplicable ‘event’ (Badiou) of the commodification of labour power – an event neither explicable by history, nor by logic, but only as something forgotten within the apparatus of explication delivered by the means of capitalist logic itself, and hence a ‘nihil’ (muri) of reason. Walker: ‘This is exactly how Uno will repeatedly disclose to us capital’s essential dementia, a dementia that should arrest or obstruct its function, and yet through the formation and maintenance of these apparatuses, capital will be able to overcome its own demented logic without resolving the “nihil of reason” that characterizes its inner drive’.283 What could this possibly mean?
According to Walker, while the three-level method (or ‘schematic of three levels of analysis’, as Walker prefers to call it) – designating the theory of pure capitalism, the stage-theoretical analysis of capitalist development and the ‘conjunctural analysis of the immediate situation’ (genjō bunseki) – ‘seems at first to exclude the historical from the “world of principle”, in fact Uno’s work presupposes that this logical “world” is not a pure circle but a torus, a structure that constantly folds onto itself’.284 Capital may present itself as a ‘perfect’, indeed, a ‘smooth’ circle, but Walker contends that the geometric figure of a torus would much better symbolise the ‘hidden’, indeed, the ‘forgotten’ agenda of capitalist valorisation. In his explication, Walker puts special emphasis on the conceptual oppositions of inside/outside (of capital’s logic, respectively, history) and presence/absence to concede that Uno has worked on these oppositions so as to show the fundamentally ‘irrational’ or the ‘absence of reason’ in attempts that explain the capitalist accumulation process as a perfect circle. Capital’s self-instantiation, like the famous ‘course of love’ Marx quotes from Shakespeare in the chapter on value-form analysis, ‘never does run smooth’. Not only does capital for its self-functioning rely on a social relation outside of its immediate grasp – the reproduction of labour power that takes place in the sphere of consumption –, it also constantly suppresses its historical condition of possibility, the absence of the original commodification of labour power, in order to make its presence visible, according to Walker. Hence, with his three levels of abstraction, Uno, according to Walker, has figured out a way, or rather, a ‘weapon’, to show how the existence of capitalism can be grasped as a social system that is in and out of itself, logically and historically, incomprehensible:
The analysis of ‘pure capitalism’ shows us that while we can determine the specifically logical drive of capital’s interior motion, the logical interior itself is always paradoxically dependent on and coextensive with the historical exterior for its conditions of interiority. This paradox is expressed as the (im)possibility, the ‘nihil of reason’, or muri of the commodification of labor power, the Ur-Akt or arché of capital’s logic … when Uno argues, for example, that logically the circuit of commodities and money is interrupted by the consumption process and not by the production process, he is pointing out the paradox that the historicity of social relations is always-already suspending the pure and smooth circulation process.
But where is the ‘paradox’? To say that the consumption process constitutes an ‘interruption’ to the logical process of circulation is not paradoxical. The ‘historical’ in this case may be external to the ‘logical’ process of valorisation, but it is by no means ‘paradoxical’. To claim that a logical operation hinges on factors it cannot provide itself may therefore question the status of its logicity, but is itself neither self-referential,285 contradictory, a vicious circle, nor ‘paradoxical.’ That logic and history may be constitutive for each other in order to constitute a whole or to legitimise their own specific status only confirms the status of their respective exteriority. Yet they are in no ‘paradoxical’ positon. A paradox only appears in the logical procedure of a self-contradiction in a = ¬ a, but the dependence of the logical on the historical does not indicate such a contradiction. A paradox requires that one category contradicts itself, not another one. These concepts simply designate two different categories. In other words, the relation of the logical and the historical does not seem to be elucidated by the conceptual apparatus Uno’s theory provides. Like in Albritton’s stage theoretical elaborations, both remain external to one another and require separate theorisations. It is also implausible why the ‘interruption’ in the consumption process of labour power should be categorised as a ‘historical’ event. One might as well, and with greater plausibility, argue that the consumption process of labour power belongs to the very logic of capitalist reproduction, as Marx does, when he insists that ‘[it] is not the worker who buys the means of production and subsistence, but the means of subsistence that buy the worker to incorporate him into the means of production’.286 We will return to this point soon.
Uno’s thesis that Japan’s feudal remnants served not as an obstacle, but as a support for the newly emerging capitalist system here finds another ‘paradoxical’ expression. According to Walker, for Uno the new economic order was already at work ‘within’ capitalist social relations, as ‘a violence of the interior of capitalist social relations’,287 namely in the role of the proletariat:
The rural village structure, which had formed the social basis of the ancien régime, was thus seemingly dismantled through violence, yet at the same time, this was also in fact an expression of the planned balancing and harmonization [sic] of capitalist production. The pastures, expanded to accommodate the goal of wool exports, offered raw materials to the domestic wool industry, and the peasantry, expelled from the land in precisely the same process, became the laboring proletariat, the force that spurred on the capitalist industrialization of the wool and other medieval industries, which were at that point still being managed and administered on the level of simple handicrafts. Thus the emerging proletariat was itself used as a powerful force of pressure in order to forcibly subordinate the existing artisans to capital.288
Again, what Walker here identifies as a ‘basic paradox’289 is not a paradox at all.
The proletariat emerged from the dissolution of the rural village structure that constituted the ‘social basis of the ancien régime’ when production was still organised by peasants and artisans in domestic production in semi-dependent relationships, i.e. individual producers manufacturing goods in domestic, often family labour, under the supervision of overseers. With industrialisation, this kind of labour organisation was no longer possible: on its basis, peasants were expelled from the land, the enclosure system established, and the proletariat as the ‘free worker in the double sense’, i.e., the wage system emerged. This process indeed did not happen ‘smoothly’, and it may well have been necessary to use parts of the emerging proletariat to force (wage?) pressure on the remaining artisans. However, this is not a ‘paradox’, but the specific form of development that the emergence of the proletariat had assumed in early sixteenth-century England. If anything, the new capitalist classes’ use of the proletariat to ‘forcibly subordinate’ the artisans to capital, is a logical, not paradoxical strategy. It helps them to subordinate production to production on a greater scale, and therefore favours the conditions for the production of greater amounts of surplus value. For the capitalists, this is quite a logical tactic. In other words, just because a specific historical transition does not occur ‘smoothly’, does not imply its being ‘paradoxical’. In Walker’s – not so much Uno’s – theorisation of original accumulation, we can detect a conceptual overreach of what it means for a certain historical development/logic to be ‘paradoxical’.
The real point for Walker, however, is that capital utilises means and ‘apparatuses’ that make its historical conditions of production appear as part of capital’s logic, internal to it: ‘… capital not only encloses the outside while relying on it but, more specifically, forces the outside to invert or reverse itself into the inside; it “folds” the historical exterior “inside out” so that it can function as the putatively logical interior’.290 But hasn’t Walker just attempted to show that capital in its historical unfolding relies on something always-already internal to capital, namely, the ‘proletariat as pressure’, to mark this as the specific ‘basic paradox’ of capital’s emergence? Is capital’s emergence the result of a force from the ‘outside’ (‘history’), disguised as ‘its’ inside – or the result of something ‘always-already inside’ (the proletariat, used as pressure)? This is never clear in Walker’s conceptualisation, and we are left in the dark as to what the ‘paradox of inside and outside that obtains in the volatile amalgam of logic and history in the form of capital in general’ is actually supposed to indicate, or what cognitive gain it is supposed to provide.291
To be sure, to elucidate the ‘gaps of the supposedly perfect circle of capital’s self-movement’292 is what motivates Walker’s intervention and his interpretation of Uno’s muri of the commodification of labour power. Walker views Uno’s three level-method as a ‘weapon’ or ‘device that is forcefully inserted or shoved into the situation that bears the name “capital”. By ramming this weapon into capital’s smooth self-definition, Uno attempts to see how capital behaves when it is forced to disclose its essence, by being purified or determined in accordance with a schema that disables capital’s own techniques of insinuation’.293 Herein, finally, consists the secret to Walker’s theoretical riddle, the ‘paradox’ of the apparatus that makes capital’s dependence on factors external to itself seem as though it belonged to the internal logic of capital itself: it is the ‘elementary form of resistance’294 that results from the muri of the commodification of labour power. With the ‘historically contingent’ process of original or primitive accumulation, the commodification of labour power presents itself as this weapon of resistance, something defying incorporation into capital’s logic, even if capital would have us think differently.
… the proletariat discovers that it has ‘nothing to lose but its chains’ only through the experience of being divorced form the land in the process of primitive accumulation and forcibly reconstituted as the owner of a single thing: labor power that can be commodified. Through the insertion of this labor-power commodity, the foundational input for capital’s operation, the elementary form of resistance insinuates itself within the interior (capital’s logic), and capital, in confronting the fact that it cannot itself produce this labor-power commodity, is forced to plug up its own gaps with the material of this resistance. Thus the proletarian outside discovers for itself the openings for the project of communism only, paradoxically, by being exposed to the weaknesses and limitations of capital from the inside: it is not a pure absence, but an ‘indiscernible’ element that structures the exchange between interior and exterior.295
Again, there is no such thing as an ‘independent existence of living labour’ under capitalist relations of production. The muri of the commodification of labour power cannot be upheld as the site of ‘rupture’ or ‘break’ (much less ‘resistance’) to the law of value, because it is itself constitutive of this very law. Walker himself neatly illustrates this fact in his discussion of the term Umschlag, which Marx used to indicate the transition of the law of equivalent exchange (between the labour power commodity and its exchange value) into the law of appropriation (of the unpaid surplus value produced beyond the exchange value of labour power):
This ‘inversion’ or ‘reversal’ [Umschlag] arises from the fact that the use value of labour capacity, as value, is itself the value-creating element; the substance of value, and the value-increasing substance … [The worker] is absorbed and incarnated into the body of capital [wird er absorbiert vom und inkarniert in das Kapital] as a cause [Ursache], as activity [Tätigkeit]. Thus the exchange turns into its opposite, and the laws of private property … turn into the worker’s propertylessness and the dispossession of his labour [Eigentumslosigkeit des Arbeiters und Entäußerung seiner Arbeit], [i.e.], the fact that he relates to it as alien property and vice versa.296
But if the aspect of use value is not the site of resistance to capital, then what is?
To answer, let us first summarise the problem of the hypostatisation of use value as site of resistance we have found in both Walker and in Harootunian, to conclude our investigation with the contradiction (and not merely ‘paradox’) of the capital relation itself.
The real stakes of the problem both in Harootunian’s and Walker’s approaches consist in their reliance on the assumption that capital has not perfected (‘really subsumed’) virtually all human social relations under its own logic (a logic of Sachzwänge, ‘practical constraints’ or ‘necessities’), because we can detect a failure, a rupture, a ‘gap’, to capital’s drive to self-valorisation in notions of ‘formal subsumption’ (Harootunian) or ‘the nihil of reason/the muri or the (im)possibility of labour power’ (Walker). As we have seen, both theorisations are haunted by the spectre of resistance that the concept of use value seemingly provides. Particularly Walker deduces this claim from the fact that the labour power commodity has to reproduce itself in the sphere of consumption in which capital’s circuit is allegedly interrupted. Here, the commodification of labour power and its reproduction as a commodity becomes a ‘force’ against capital, or a muri, an ‘impossibility’ in Uno’s view, for the perfect totality of the production and reproduction process. Harootunian’s discourse is informed by the same presumption. Despite his insistence on the importance of the site of production, his discourse being informed by Luxemburg’s criticisms from the viewpoint of (under)consumption, he also retreats to the positive effect he concedes to use value against the completed value form of real subsumption. This can also be seen in his romantic affiliation with the concept of ‘the freedom of living labour’ that he sees not as generating the exchange relation, but as the ‘radical other’ of the ‘unfreedom’ generated by abstract labour. His critique of value form theory that allegedly ‘fail[s] to see what clearly is around and before [it], everywhere: the persisting traces of historical-temporal forms from the past, the shadowed silhouette of “living labour”, and the ever present signals they emit of continuing unevenness’299 summons an empirical access to the ‘immediacy’ of life that fails to meet the Marxian critique at eye level, even at its most empirical. In this interpretation, living labour produces not for value (and is appropriated without an equivalent through exchange), but for use value that resists real subsumption into ‘even’ and singular trajectories, confirmed by a nostalgic view of the present that defies the reality of the hardship of billions of people in our historical time.
Moreover, both theorists more or less declare the sphere of circulation (or ‘consumption’) and the effects of use value as the site where capital collides with its own limits and the sphere of production subaltern to their discourse: ‘… when Uno argues, for example, that logically the circuit of commodities and money is interrupted by the consumption process and not by the production process, he is pointing out the paradox that the historicity of social relations is always-already suspending the pure and smooth circulation process’.300 Second, this very understanding of the commodity and money forms – abstracted from their own conditions of possibility in the way in which production is organised in capitalist societies – owes to a reading of Marx’s central concepts that completely sidesteps the problem of the fetish in relation to value. Here we might even draw a wider circle to incorporate not only the direct heirs of the Uno School, but also the post-Uno School of value theory in our critique. As we have seen in Chapter 5.1., Ebitsuka and Mukai, by systematically rejecting the importance of the substance of value in abstract labour, do not overcome the theoretical circumference of the Baileyan nominalist view of value and money. It is, however, precisely the rejection of the essential and grounding social relation – value as both a qualitative and quantitative determination – that renders their explanation of exchange relations confined to the aspect of use value. This is in line with their neoclassical argument of specific ‘wants’ of commodity owners as the motivator for exchange relations whose Baileyan implications we have already analysed in Uno.
Again, the ‘paradox’, ‘gap’, or ‘outside’ is not determined by the use value aspect of capitalist sociation. If anything, it is determined by the logic of production itself. This, we hold, is the real Verrücktheit – ‘derangedness’ or ‘displacement’, in Walker’s idiom – that constitutes the irrationality of capitalism: the production of (surplus) value for the sake of surplus value under conditions in which people suffer ‘from the dead’. It is this logic according to which the production process of capital undermines and negates the ‘original sources (Springquellen) of its own wealth’,301 the exploitation of Man and nature, regardless of needs, that qualifies as ‘mad’ (verrückt). By no means can use value, signifying the aspect of consumption or ‘specific wants’ or ‘needs’ of commodity owners, sidestep, evade, interrupt, or deliver any means of resistance against the principles of capital’s self-valorisation which is itself inherently contradictory (and not just merely ‘paradoxical’). In the following, let us elucidate the concept of use value fetishism and its lopsided view of the capital relation to articulate a radically different locus of resistance to capital which lies in the concept of capital, the law of value, itself.
In her epochal essay ‘Use Value Fetishism’ (‘Gebrauchswertfetischismus’) (1993), Kornelia Hafner contends that use value as a category of ‘resistance and revolt’, as can also be found in the works of Helmut Reinicke302 or Wolfgang Pohrt,303 is often owed to a conflation of use value with the category of the non-identical, as theorised by Adorno.304 The incommensurability of the non-identical to the ‘concept’ (Begriff) then functions as the theoretical model for the same alleged incommensurability to be found in the relation between use value and value, ‘use value’ being identified with the non-identical or the ‘thing’ (Sache), ‘value’ with the concept (Begriff). This equivocation however is lopsided and has its basis in the misrecognition of the Hegelian dialectic as a ‘philosophy of identity’. Moreover, in this strategy, the interpretation of the non-identical as ‘moment of resistance’ becomes the direct model for the hypostatisation of the sphere of use value as ‘resisting’ real subsumption. However,
the fact that the thing [Sache] is not absorbed in the concept [daß die Sache im Begriff nicht aufgeht], even if it is made into the object of thought, may for some be an ever new stimulus for a more pronounced formation of thought while for others, who mistrust [thought] as a stealthy agent of capital, this fact is a soothing reassurance that its reach does not extend everywhere.
Yet, by no means is it an indication for the resistance [Widerständigkeit] of use value in the sense of potential opposition [Gegenwehr], or even revolutionary activity … Even if scientific knowledge [Erkenntnis] has in the meantime actually been more or less subordinated to the valorisation interests of capital, the non-identical of an object does not constitute its use value dimension. On the contrary: only as known is the object available for use [erschliesst er sich dem Gebrauch].305
Similarly to Reinicke, who attempts to ‘reveal the history of the subversion of the use value-side of the commodity’,306 the authors discussed here attempt to mobilise a sphere ‘beyond’ value, ‘unsettling’ the ‘supposedly perfect circle of capital’s self-movement’ to identify it in the ‘other’ of valorisation, in the ‘shadowed silhouette of living labour’ (Harootunian), or the consumption sphere (Uno/Walker), in short, in the use value-dimension of the commodity form, fetishising it as the site of ‘resistance’. Indeed, as we have seen in the discussion of crisis in Chapter 4.4., use value does mark a boundary to capital, but only insofar as it presents a ‘barrier’ [Schranke] in the Hegelian sense, i.e. only as it makes its appearance as something always-already vanquished by capital itself, inducing it to re-instantiate the production process on an extended scale (incorporating new technologies, new labour processes and techniques, creating new areas of demand), until it again confronts new barriers provided by the sphere of use value, repeating the process of an ever more effective, intensified and extended procedure for the extraction and appropriation of alien unpaid surplus labour on a larger scale. In other words, use value is indeed an active ingredient of the valorisation process in production, as we have seen, not only on the side of the worker and the ‘productive consumption’ of labour power, but also on the side of capital: ‘Capital has consumed its material with labour, and its labour with material; it has consumed itself as use value’.307 But that does not mean that use value can in any way function as an independent variable within the production and valorisation process – and even less so in the process of circulation or consumption:
Its [capital’s] consumption as use value therefore in this case falls within circulation itself, or rather it itself posits the beginning of circulation or its end, as one prefers. The consumption of the use value itself here falls within the economic process, because the use value here is itself determined by exchange value. In no moment of the production process does capital cease to be capital or value to be value, and, as such, exchange value.308
Is resistance, then, impossible? We argue that it is impossible if we rely on the ‘revolutionary potential’ of the aspect of use value, torn from its interrelation with the totality of the capital relation, fetishised as the ‘incommensurable’ and hypostasised as capital’s alleged ‘other’, thereby regressing to the illusions of bourgeois classical and vulgar political economy, which share the use value-mediating impetus of social reproduction with many modern Marxist intellectuals.
‘Since Marx’, Hafner argues in this context, ‘it is actually well known that if one surrenders to this temptation [of de-contextualisation], one always only evokes those fetishised forms whose penetration is the actual prerequisite for any political agency [politische Handlungsfähigkeit], which wants to be more than just blind [blindwütige] reaction’.309 ‘Actual reality’ cannot be grasped in the mode of immediacy. The dilemma of the attempts to conceive of capitalism at eye level consists, as Hafner says, ‘in evoking mediation and simultaneously severing it’.310
What directly follows is that mediation must remain the object as well as the method of critique. Marx’s (labour) theory of value, the tool of that very mediation, presents not only a deciphering method or the ‘Turing Bombe’ to conventional political economy and its modern repercussions at the level of ‘pure’ theory. It is the critical force behind which revolutionary action can and must, indeed, be generated. Precisely because capital is indifferent to the private circumstances by which labourers take care of reproducing their labour power311 and indifferent towards the specific relics of the past or ‘formal subsumption’ that still find their way into the contemporaneous organisation of cultural life – in sum, precisely because capital is indifferent to use value – the hypostatisation of this very realm of use value as site of resistance remains at the level of capital’s own ‘self-image’, as a historical law of nature, whose aim is the satisfaction of social needs. It remains ideological. However, capital is not indifferent to the modes in which it can or cannot extract surplus labour, modes which it shapes in its own image. It is here that resistance must occur. This is the main lesson to be drawn from reading Capital. Capital and Marx’s other economy-critical writings therefore do not ‘suggest’ revolutionary action. They comprise the theory of revolution:
It becomes clear that, when Marx hoped for the revolutionising of society, he did not think of natural-sensual qualities and needs, but of the explosive force of social relations themselves, the collapse of a mode of production based on exchange value due to its own contradictions.312
Capital is destructive towards, and constantly revolutionises, all this, tearing down all barriers which impede the development of the productive forces. The extension of the range of needs, the differentiation of production, and the exploitation and exchange of all natural and spiritual powers.
But from the fact that capital posits every such limit as a barrier which it has ideally already overcome, it does not at all follow that capital has really overcome it; and since every such limit contradicts the determination of capital, its production is subject to contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited. Moreover, the universality for which capital ceaselessly strives, comes up against barriers in capital’s own nature, barriers which at a certain stage of its development will allow it to be recognised as being itself the greatest barrier in the way of this tendency, and will therefore drive towards its transcendence through itself.313
Uno Kōzō’s rejection of Capital as a revolutionary theory – or rather, as the work that paradigmatically establishes the link between epistemology and social theory – along with his reluctance to posit the problem of the fetishism as the central problem of the capitalist ‘self-image’, instead relying on an alleged ‘muri’ of capital in the sphere of use value mediation, in short, his theory of value without fetish, thereby makes itself accomplice to the very logic it attempts to undermine.
But it is precisely this gap which is illusory: capital does not produce for the satisfaction of needs, it produces for profit. As long as the circle consists in this theoretically simple, yet, for some theorists, evasive fact, along with the global and deadly success of real subsumption that exposes its horrible grimace to us, we still have not even come close to disrupting it. The true challenge still waits for us.
Hafner 1993, p. 84. Many thanks to Eric-John Russell for his help with the translation.
Harootunian 2015, p. 20.
Harootunian 2015, p. 19.
Harootunian 2015, p. 19.
Harootunian 2015, p. 62.
An abridged version of this chapter can be found in Lange 2019c.
Cartelier 1991, p. 257.
Cartelier 1991, p. 260.
Cartelier 1991, p. 257.
In 1989, R. Bellofiore already made the cause for a ‘Monetary Labour Theory of Value’. The present essay rather diverges from Bellofiore’s results, while sharing its general impetus. See Bellofiore 1989.
See Ebitsuka 1982, where he argues that Uno’s ‘proof’ of the labour theory of value in the context of the production process of capital was still too tied up with a ‘substantialist’ view of value. Instead, the labour theory of value was to be conceptualised as a theory of equilibrium, i.e. a theory of exchange, in which supply and social demand are directly proportional.
In his critique of Cartelier, William J. Urban does not beat around the bush: ‘… we suspect that Cartelier disavows his true bourgeois agenda: believing to be acting on behalf of Marx’s cause despite his exclusive utilization of the non-dialectical logic of ordinary economic theory, he dismisses Marx’s arguments for deficient reasons in order to clear the way for an alternative model that is not needed’. Urban 2010, p. 2.
Urban 2010, p. 2.
With the exception of Itoh, all the contributors were faculty members of British or US higher education institutions.
Steedman’s view is elaborated in his Marx after Sraffa (1977), the discussion of which is beyond the scope of this chapter.
See Steedman 1981, p. 15; Heinrich 1999, pp. 275–6.
Steedman 1981, p. 13.
Steedman correctly sees that Marx did not think labour values and ‘relative prices’ (production prices) were ‘equal’, but that ‘the rate of profit and normal prices, under capitalist conditions, can be explained in terms of labour quantities’. Steedman 1981, p. 14. Original emphasis. The question of course remains how the expression ‘in terms of’ can be more precisely defined.
Steedman 1981, p. 15. For a critique of this ‘solution’ to the transformation problem, see Moseley 2016, pp. 230–43; Heinrich 1999, pp. 272–84.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 684.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 685. Ebitsuka here relies on Michel de Vroey’s assumption that abstract labour is socially validated through exchange: ‘Labour is first performed as private labour, initiated by an independent decision. It is transformed into social labour through, and only through, the sale of its product. When social labour is formed in this context, it is called abstract labour, the adjective referring to the operation of homogenization or abstraction achieved by exchange on the market’. de Vroey 1981, p. 176. The problem of the monocausal linearity of this approach aside – is privately performed labour and its elements, the means of production and labour power, not already bought on the market? If yes, the production process, which is initiated with these elements, must be equally social – de Vroey, as well as the other proponents of the ‘exchange theory’ of abstract labour, are begging the question: they forget that the condition of possibility of exchange cannot be exchange itself. They don’t explain on the basis of which of its faculties different use values can be exchanged – and therefore relate to each other as commodities – at all.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 684.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 684.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 685.
See Ebitsuka 1984, p. 681.
Benetti/Cartelier 2013, pp. 19–20. Thanks to Michael Gaul for bringing this article to my attention.
Benetti/Cartelier’s theory has been accused of various ‘reductionisms’ and misreadings, including a ‘conceptual limitation to a form of “monetary purism” ’, where ‘this limitation makes it incapable of attributing any theoretical status either to the labour force or to the wage-labour nexus’. See, e.g. Sobel and Postel 2014. See also Stavros Mavroudeas’s critique, who however claims Benetti/Cartelier belonged to the ‘Rubin school’. Mavrouedas 2017. See also William J. Urban’s discussion of Cartelier 1991, to which we pointed earlier.
See Ebitsuka 1984, p. 687.
Cartelier 1976, p. 94. Quoted in Ebitsuka 1984, p. 686.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 688, quoting de Vroey 1981, p. 178. Somewhat counterfactually to his previous proposition that exchange is the locus of social coherence, de Vroey now assumes value to be defined as ‘a space of commensurability without which no relation of equivalence could be established. Prior to any measurement, an abstraction must be constructed’. Emphasis added. De Vroey 1981, p. 178.
Benetti/Cartelier 1980, p. 90. Quoted in Ebitsuka 1984, p. 688.
Benetti/Cartelier 1980, p. 12. Quoted in Ebitsuka 1984, p. 690.
Ebitsuka uses an equals sign between social relations of market society and ‘separation’, the latter of which he attributes to Aglietta 1976, pp. iv–v.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 690.
As for the problem of private labour, see next page, and the referenced footnote.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 692.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 692.
Ebitsuka 1984, p. 692.
‘If an economy without money is assumed as a starting point, it is logically impossible to get a monetary economy as an outcome’. Benetti/Cartelier 1998, p. 158.
Marx 1976, p. 139.
‘The monetary form of value cannot be obtained by inversion of form II of value. In an economy composed of n commodities, form II does not contain (n-1) expressions of relative values (or particular equivalents) as Marx states. It contains n(n-1) expressions. It follows that the result of inversion of form II is nothing but form II itself’. Benetti/Cartelier 1998, p. 162. See also Benetti 1985, pp. 96–7 and Benetti 1990.
For a critique of Benetti’s interpretation of Marx’s development of the value form and the ‘Necessity of Money’, see Moseley 1998b (
As Engster has pointed out, ‘[a]ll symbol and sign theories of money misrecognise the productive meaning that [the act of] measuring has for the valorisation (Verwertung) of labour and capital, because no sign and no symbol theory of money can adequately grasp capitalism as a valorisation process measuring and realising itself in money’. Engster 2014, p. 488.
Marx 1976, p. 187.
Marx 1976, p. 188: ‘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 commodites, namely labour-time’.
Marx 1976, p. 229.
We will come back to the Baileyist implications of the post-Uno School’s and Ebitsuka’s money theory further down.
The first and second particularities of the equivalent form, i.e. money, consist in taking the form of appearance of their opposite, i.e. value (not use value), and abstract labour (not concrete labour). See Marx 1976, pp. 148, 150–1. These three particularities are logically simultaneous. In the first edition of Capital, the fetish-character of the commodity formed a fourth particularity.
Marx 1976, p. 151.
‘The labour processes are private ones, that is, oriented according to the labourer’s own views. Essentially, individuals have the choice, and this generates the market as the adequate form for the confrontation of the products of labour. Labour processes have to be private and independent in order to be considered part of the commodity division of labour. To assume that some people are deprived of any means of production amounts to saying they are excluded from commodity production. Labour performed by wage workers is neither private nor independent. The choice of commodities produced and the way of producing them are determined by capitalists’. Cartelier 1991, p. 263.
Cartelier 1991, p. 263.
Cartelier 1991, p. 263.
Urban 2010, p. 12.
Cartelier 1991, p. 263.
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.
Marx 1976, p. 186.
Sasaki 2011, pp. 125–6. The Kuruma ‘school’ emphasises the third particularity – private labours appearing as directly socially mediated labour – as the defining specificity of the capitalist mode of production, as against theories that emphasise the historical specificity of abstract labour. See also Sasaki 2012, pp. 48–50. In this reading, however, it is also important not to forget the other two particularities. All of them however have their origin in the specific kind of labour that is productive of value as a social totality. Abstract labour is the shorthand for it. Also see Sasaki and Saitō 2013.
See Mukai 1995, p. 98.
Engels’s review of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), his postface to the third edition of Capital Volume I, and his preface to the third volume of Capital are pertinent in this regard. In his review of the Contribution, Engels claims that ‘the logical method of approach’, understood as ‘simplified’ method (see Elbe 2008, p. 19), was ‘indeed nothing but the historical method, only stripped of the historical form and of interfering contingencies. The point where this history begins must also be the starting point of the train of thought, and its further progress will be simply the reflection, in abstract and theoretically consistent form, of the course of history, a corrected reflection, but corrected in accordance with laws provided by the actual course of history, since each moment can be examined at the stage of development where it reaches its full maturity, its classical form’. Engels 1980, p. 475.
See the ‘Methodenstreit’ between Haug, Heinrich, and Backhaus taking place in the German Marxist journal (edited by Wolfgang Fritz Haug) Das Argument in 2003. The best overview and commentary on the Methodenstreit is to be found in Wolf 2008b.
For an extensive discussion of both positions, see Dieter Wolf’s work. Especially Wolf 2008b.
Marx 1976, pp. 138–9.
Heinrich 1988, p. 30 and Heinrich 1991 , p. 13. Quoted in Mukai 2014, p. 5.
We have explicit personal permission from Mukai Kimitoshi to discuss his work in a publication.
See Mukai 1990, Mukai 1992, and the two-series article on the ‘Phenomenology of Money’ (Mukai 1995 and Mukai 1996). See also Mukai 2010.
Mukai 2014, p. 3.
According to Backhaus, within the ‘secondary literature’ on Capital, three different ‘relatively homogenous’ streams can be detected: 1. the ‘logico-historical’ stream, as represented by the ‘old orthodoxy’ (Engels, Marxism-Leninism) (see Footnote 58), 2. the ‘logical’ interpretation, as represented by the ‘new orthodoxy’ arisen around the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. In it, the rejection of ‘reflection theory’ (Widerspiegelungstheorie), Engels’s dialectic of nature, and the basis-superstructure paradigm are commonplace. 3. the ‘model-platonic’ interpretation, held by modern (Marxian) economists solely interested in quantitative problems and terms (the transformation problem, etc.). Backhaus 2011, p. 136.
Though not a Marxist, Morishima Michio may be counted among the latter type as well.
Backhaus 2010 (1978), p. 138.
Backhaus 2011, p. 154: ‘The historicist turn in [Marx’s] later works would remain thoroughly mysterious (rätselhaft) if it couldn’t also be shown that Marx attempted to relate the “logically” developed categorial analysis to a “logical-historical” development of the same’.
Mukai 2014, p. 3.
Mukai 2014, p. 5. The Heinrich quote is provided in German, translation my own. Heinrich 1999, p. 13.
See Mukai 2014, pp. 3–4.
Marx 1976, p. 137.
Mukai 2014, p. 4. The quotes by Heinrich and Backhaus are given in German.
Mukai 2014, p. 4.
Marx 1989, p. 318; orig. MEGA2II/3.4., 1318 (Marx 1979). Original emphasis. Quoted in Mukai 2014, p. 4, without the emphasis.
Marx 1976, pp. 138–9; orig. MEW 23, p. 62 (Marx 2008), quoted in Mukai 2014, p. 4.
Marx 1989, p. 318. Original emphasis.
The second misses that there is no need for an ‘invariable measure’ of value: the abstract labour that is the substance of value is variable, because the working day is variable. His unsuccessful search for an ‘invariable measure’ of value is precisely the context which prevented Ricardo from detecting the unequal exchange between capital and labour in the variable proportions of necessary and surplus labour in an equally variable working day. In other words: abstract or uniform social labour as the substance of value is an absolute, not a relative determination, but it is equally variable, not invariable. While Ricardo’s critic Bailey correctly refutes the necessity of an ‘invariable’ measure of value, he is of course completely unaware of the reason for the necessity of a variable measure.
Marx 1989 pp. 322–3; Marx 1979, p. 1322. Quoted in Mukai 2014, p. 4.
Mukai 2014, p. 4.
Emphasis added. Marx 1989, p. 321.
Marx 1989, p. 332. Original emphasis.
Marx 1989, p. 341. Original emphasis. Note how Marx stresses that value were ‘antecedent’ to its representation in money.
Marx 1989, p. 317.
Mukai 2014, p. 4.
The question is indeed whether Marx would say this. In fact however, he has nowhere said it. Mukai succumbs to the identification of value and value objectivity (Wertgegenständlichkeit).
Mukai 2014, p. 6.
For the problem of Uno’s reading of value form analysis as a theory of exchange, see Lange 2014.
Mukai 2014, p. 6. See Backhaus 2010, p. 150.
See e.g. Heinrich 1999, p. 233: ‘What [Marx] demonstrates is not the necessity of another commodity to serve as the value expression, but that this value expression is incomplete and defected, if it clings to a single, accidental commodity. By the value expression of one commodity in another commodity, Marx demonstrates which requirements a value form must fulfil in order to adequately express value. That the bearer of this value form itself be a commodity, is not shown, but presumed from the beginning. Therefore, value form analysis provides the form determinations of the universal equivalent, but it does not provide an argument whether the universal equivalent must be a commodity or not’.
See Backhaus 2011, p. 155.
See Backhaus 2011, p. 155.
Mukai 2014, p. 9. All quotes from Backhaus are in German.
Backhaus’s doubts towards a ‘purely logical’ reading are 1. the failure of the reception to produce an ‘intersubjectively binding detailed definiton of the basic concepts’, which all interpreters could agree on, and 2. the failure of the ‘logical reading’ to explain such a gross misconception as that of Engels’s theory of ‘simple commodity production’. See Backhaus 2011, pp. 157–8. The question is whether these different interpretations can be ascribed to the ‘logical’ reading, or not rather the opposite, its misreading. Backhaus’s claim to a good theory is that it must deliver an ‘intersubjectively binding’ interpretation (Backhaus 2011, p. 191), an interpretation on which ‘consensus is to be obtained’ (ibid.), containing a ‘non-falsifiable’ theoretical core (Backhaus 2011, p. 192). The question is whether, in the intellectual history of men and women, such a theory has ever existed – or indeed, whether it will. That Marx’s, and Marx’s theory alone, should comply with such a claim, is probably slightly unfair.
Backhaus 2011, p. 45. Emphasis added.
It is all the more regrettable that an author like Backhaus, who identifies his work as being ultimately guided by ‘the problem of fetishism’ (Backhaus 2011, p. 34), never applies this claim to the actual theory he puts forward.
Backhaus 2011, p. 147.
Backhaus 2011, p. 150.
Backhaus 2011, p. 150.
Marx 1976, p. 156.
Marx 1976, p. 187.
That this deeply Hegelian motive in Marx’s analysis of the value form has gone missing in the interpretations of the post-Uno School and Benetti/Cartelier, should not be too surprising now. Cartelier however sees the deliberate ignorance of ‘an alleged deeper level’ (Cartelier 1991, p. 260) as the specific advantage, not disadvantage, of his approach.
See Backhaus 2011, p. 151.
Apart from the authors mentioned here, see Itō 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.
Backhaus 2011, p. 181.
Backhaus 2011, p. 183.
The locus classicus of course being the chapter of the ‘Contradiction in the General Formula [M-C-M’]’: ‘Circulation, or the exchange of commodities, creates no value’. Marx 1976, p. 266. Marxist theorists often forget that M-C-M’ is the object of Marx’s critique, and not a ‘neutral’ formula. The standpoint of the ‘neutral’ or ‘formal’ form is the standpoint of conventional political economy. For this argument, see also Brentel 1989, pp. 244–5: ‘The ideological semblance of simple circulation precisely results from the fact that their economic determinations appear to the immediately acting subjects, as well as their theoretical interpretors, as exlusively formal determinations … in the mediating forms C-M-C and M-C-M, simple circulation merely presents the “formal process” (Grundrisse, 919) of mediating or realising both determinations of the commodity as use value and exchange value in so far as these – polarly distributed to the extremes of the exchange process – interchange with one another as money and the commodity … money as economic form therefore seems to have no further content-related (inhaltlich) determination or rationale than the mediating movement of simple circulation itself’.
Marx 1976, p. 166, quoted in Heinrich 1999, p. 208.
Heinrich 1999, p. 209.
Throughout the following section ‘Value Objectivity’ (‘Wertgegenständlichkeit’) (Heinrich 1999, pp. 214–15), Heinrich identifies value and value objectivity. While Heinrich’s endeavour is in proving that value – a specific social relation – is constituted in exchange, he exclusively refers to value objectivity: ‘Value objectivity … is assumed by the commodity only under specific social relations (commodity production) and is therefore a social property that however appears as an objective property, which constitutes the fetish character of the commodity. It is however essential that this social property only exists in the social relation between commodities, i.e. in exchange’. Heinrich 1999, pp. 215–16. This is true as far as value objectivity, i.e. the value form, is concerned. But, in line with Marx’s overall argument reconstructed above, it is wrong as far as value is concerned. It seems odd that Heinrich conflates the question of value’s necessary appearance (as Vergegenständlichung) with the cause of the same, i.e. the specificity of the social form of labour under capitalist productive relations – despite his attempt to emphasise the latter. His argument about the specificity of abstract labour in the capitalist mode of production therefore only goes halfway. (That value objectivity is constituted in exchange is uncontentious to our interpretation.)
Other members include John R. Bell, John Simoulidis, Richard Westra. We have referred to their works in Chapters 3 and 4. See References for the major publications by Sekine and Albritton.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 188.
This is the title of Sekine’s collection of essays from 1980–2013 (Sekine 2013).
‘The law of value … can never be adequately accounted for except in light of a general equilibrium of the capitalist economy, in which resources are presumed optimally allocated (sic) to all branches of production.’ Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 191.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 7.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 2.
In the appendix to Uno 1980, pp. 147–8.
Ibid., p. 148.
In this context, see also: ‘Here the dialectic of “capital” replaces the dialectic of the Absolute; with Marx “capital” plays the same role as Hegel’s Absolute …’ Sekine 1986, p. 39, quoted in Versieren 2018, p. 220.
A schoolbook-style explanation of the difference between ‘natural’ and ‘social sciences’ forms the introduction to at least three of Sekine’s essays (see Sekine 2013, pp. 4–6; Sekine 2013, pp. 13–16; Sekine 2013, pp. 35–41). In these, we hear that ‘[f]or instance, we may be able to predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, that an earthquake of a certain magnitude is about to occur in a given region … We cannot, however, stop the earthquake itself from occurring … In summary, we can never know nature from inside out. We can only observe it from the outside to learn the regularity of its motion in various specific contexts, and conjecture what it might do next. Since we cannot get to the Ding-an-sich … of nature, we had better conform to its motion wisely and subtly, without becoming too arrogant … This wisdom, however, does not apply, as soon as we put “society” in place of “nature” in the above argument. Society is that which we ourselves make up. We are its creator, and we are (or ought to be) fully privy to its inner logic’. Sekine 2013 (1994), pp. 4–5. Original orthography. Note also that with this transhistorical view of society, the specificity of capitalist societies, in which ‘the process of production has mastery over man’ (Marx 1976, p. 175) akin to a force of nature, as well the ‘socio-natural properties’ (Marx 1976, p. 165) of commodities which account for their fetishism, remains unaddressed.
‘Dialectic, however, never claims that A and Ā’ are simultaneously true. It merely says that if Mr. Jones is a husband, that does not prevent him from being a son, a father, an uncle, a brother, a cousin, etc. of someone other than his wife’. Sekine 2013 (1980), p. 47.
‘In the course of my training as an economist I have learned that true economic theory should take the form of the dialectic of capital, whose structure is a mirror image of Hegel’s logic. My reason for writing this essay is to explain to you what all that means. With this preamble-caveat, I wish to begin with a personal episode relating me with Hegel …’ Sekine 2013 (2003), p. 12.
Versieren’s claim that Sekine, in his latest contributions, ‘also underlines his differences in conceptualizing totality with Adorno, Neue Marx-Lektüre and New Dialectic – three Hegelianized interpretations of Marx’s Capital’ can – with the exception of Sekine’s response to Chris Arthur – not be confirmed.
See Arthur 2006 and Sekine’s response in the same journal (Capital and Class) in 2009. See Sekine 2013 (2009), pp. 163–84.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 6. Italics in the original. This use of decontextualised and arbitrary quotes, without providing the original source, is another feature of Sekine’s populist scientific approach.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 7.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 7.
Sekine 2013 (2003), p. 19.
Sekine 2013 (2003), p. 20.
Sekine 2013 (2003), p. 20.
Sekine 2013 (1994), p. 8. Emphasis in the original.
Sekine 2013 (1994) p. 8.
Heinrich 1999, p. 283.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 195.
For reasons of space, we must limit our commentary to Foley’s work.
Foley 1982, p. 37.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 191.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 192.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 191.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 192.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 192.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 192.
Sekine 2013 (1999). p. 194.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 197.
Marx 1981, p. 128.
Marx 1981, p. 129.
Marx 1981, p. 130.
Himmelweit and Mohun state that the significance and status of Marx’s value theory ‘are such that its apparent inconsistencies can be recreated as the expression of the real contradictions of capitalist society’. Himmelweit and Mohun 1981, p. 231. ‘Hence Marx’s transformation procedure is not, as it would be for Ricardo, an attempt to correct an unfortunate disjuncture between an embodied-labour theory of value and the requirements that the equalization of the rate of profit makes of prices. Rather, that disjuncture is recognized as the necessarily contradictory link between value, as the explanation of capitalist production relations, and its expression as exchange-value in prices. Hence it is not surprising that, when competition is accounted for, the one-to-one relationship of values to exchange-value disappears’. Himmelweit and Mohun 1981, p. 264. This interpretation is close to our view of the transformation problem as a problem of fetishism developed in Chapter 4.3. It must however be more clearly stressed that Marx’s theory of value, while it explains the contradictions of capitalist production relations, is not itself contradictory. This is akin to Hegel’s dialectic which at no point violates the laws of logic, but makes violations of the laws of logic its object. The confusion of the two has led some authors to believe that Hegel was ‘illogical’.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 209. Sekine argues that in the phase of depression (the ‘deepening’ phase), it is intrasectoral rather than intersectoral competition that ‘induces the adoption of new techniques. Thus, when the labour market is out of equilibrium in the depression phase of the business cycle, the market for commodities has not yet acquired firmly given technical parameters to operate by’. Ibid.
We use this umbrella term out of convenience for the different approaches associated with the rejection of the dual system approach (the New Interpretation, the (T)SSI, Moseley’s macro-monetary approach), despite their internal differences, in opposition to the ‘general equilibrium’ approach.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 209.
See Foley 1997, p. 17.
Foley 1997, p. 19.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 209.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 212.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 196.
We would think that an approach that relies on the ‘definition of capitalism by capital itself’ would at least acknowledge a basic feature of its operation such as this.
Sekine 2013 (1999), p. 212.
Foley 1982, p. 37.
Foley 1997, p. 23.
Foley 1982, p. 37. Emphasis added.
Foley 1982, p. 39.
Foley 1982, p. 37.
Foley 1982, p. 37.
Foley 1982, p. 39.
‘If we want to hold to the idea that labor produces value, and that money is a form of value, the question of how much abstract simple labor a unit of money represents still makes sense’. Foley 1982, p. 41.
‘We argued that the core content of Marx’s labor theory of value was that the expenditure of living labor in production adds money value to the inputs of production … Thus we concluded that the appropriate definition of the monetary expression of labor was the ratio of the net domestic product at current prices to the living productive labor expended in an economy over a period of time’. Foley 1997, p. 18. Needless to say, the equality of value and price is redefined by limiting it to the newly produced or added value component of value and price of production. There is however no reason to assume this is not within Marx’s framework.
Foley 1982, p. 42.
Moseley 2016, p. 256.
Foley 1982, p. 41.
Foley 1982, p. 42.
Foley 1982, p. 43.
Foley 1982, p. 43.
Needless to say, the NI is also criticised by eminent Marxist economists. Of these, probably the criticisms by F. Moseley (Moseley 2016, pp. 253–64), M. Heinrich (Heinrich 1999, pp. 276–7), and A. Rodriguez-Herrera (Rodriguez-Herrera 1996) are the most to the point. See also Makoto Itoh’s critique (Itoh 2005). While Moseley agrees with the general contentions of the macro-monetary approach of the NI, he thinks the NI ‘only goes halfway’ (Moseley 2016, p. 253) in transforming the inputs of the value of labour-power, but forgetting constant capital, thereby 1) remaining in the framework of the neo-Ricardian input-output matrix of physical quantities, and 2) failing to establish ‘the logical connection’ to a theory of individual price and the level of the rate of profit (the macro-micro connection). In his view, NI is therefore limited to stating the equivalence between total surplus value and unpaid labour which Moseley, however, agrees is the ‘main conclusion of Marx’s theory’ (Moseley 2016, p. 255). Heinrich however doubts that the NI is monetary at all. The ‘value of money’, he states, is merely a ‘factor of conversion’ for the redistribution of the surplus (Heinrich 1999, p. 277). The notion of the ‘redistribution’ of surplus value in the ‘transformation’ process is also criticised in Himmelweit and Mohun: ‘Surplus-value is not redistributed between capitals so as to equalize the rate of profit, because there is no state from which this redistribution occurs’. Himmelweit and Mohun 1981, p. 240. None of these however argue from a ‘general equilibrium’ theory of value standpoint.
Foley 1997, p. 22.
Sekine 2013 (1999), pp. 191, 197, 200. Interestingly, Foley indirectly criticises Sekine’s approach by targeting John Roemer’s criticism of the identification of social labour time with money. Foley: ‘Roemer’s failure to find much resonance in the New Interpretation may also be connected with his commitment to the Walrasian model of market equilibrium as a vehicle for the analysis of commodity relations. The Walrasian approach is in striking contrast to Marx’s in its inability to integrate money, which is precisely the point on which the New Interpretation definitions rest’. Foley 1997, p. 24.
Sekine 2013 (1999), pp. 200–2.
Albritton 1986, p. 73.
Albritton 1986, p. 73.
Albritton 1986, p. 73.
Albritton 1986, p. 74.
Albritton 1986, p. 74.
On the standardisation and automatisation of agricultural production, see Becker 2017, pp. 195–201. This is a process that has been actively implemented in the West (but not only) since the agricultural industrialisation or the ‘Green Revolution’ in the 1960s, and could have been known to Albritton. Becker also points out that as early as the nineteenth century, especially in slavery-based cotton farming in the US South, standardisation methods were employed: ‘Slavery formed the vantage point for the global valorisation chains of the textile industry. Between 1800 and 1860, the harvest per slave quadrupled after some new species [of cotton] were cultivated which were easier to pick’. Becker 2017, p. 197. This also shows that the implementation of capitalist relations is unlikely without a simultaneous implementation of technological means to increase productivity.
Albritton 1986, p. 75.
Albritton 1986, p. 76.
‘If the labour-time of the worker is to create value in production to its duration, it must be socially necessary labour-time.’ Marx 1976, p. 987.
Albritton 1986, p. 76.
Albritton 1986, pp. 76–7.
Albritton 1986, p. 75.
Albritton 1986, p. 86.
It is of no small irony that one of the incentives of stage theory both for Uno and Albritton was Marx’s inability to correctly assess the future of capitalist development in its increasing ‘impurity’. Even in the follow-up work A Japanese Approach to Stages of Capitalist Development, published in the year of the end of the Soviet Union and a year after the fall of the Soviet bloc (1991), Albritton was little inclined to modify his theory of the increasing use value dominance over value. Counterfactually, he merely supplements yet another stage, that of ‘consumerism’, as though precisely ‘consumerism’ – were it not inflicted with the one-sidedness of the use value perspective alone – would show that the reign of value had taken full control of society. See Albritton 1991. pp. 225 ff.
Albritton 1986, p. 79. Had Albritton not attempted a critique of postmodernism in an article critically directed against Baudrillard – see Albritton 1995 – (‘Theorizing the Realm of Consumption in Marxian Political Economy’, in: A Japanese Approach to Political Economy, ed. Sekine and Albritton), one could have almost suspected him a promoter of the very same ideology.
In Capital Volume II, Marx points to two contradictions: first, the contradiction between the importance of ‘workers as buyers of commodities’ and the restriction of workers as sellers of their commodity, labour power – the source of value-creation – to their ‘minimum price’. Second, the contradiction between the conditions of the production of surplus value and the conditions of its realisation. Marx 1978, p. 391.
Albritton 1986, p. 91.
Stock market shares of the digital economy are therefore the most volatile, in comparison to the Dow Jones, Nasdaq and Dax.
Albritton 1986, p. 103.
See Arghiri Emmanuel 1972.
Albritton 1986, p. 108.
Albritton 1986, p. 79.
Albritton 1986, p. 81.
Albritton 1986, p. 83.
Albritton 1986, p. 84.
‘The economies of scale associated with large fixed capital investments in steel production required the long-term mobilisation of large amounts of capital and credit. The development of the limited-liability joint-stock company accompanied by the development of the banking system facilitated the rapid centralisation of capital in the late nineteenth century. Large banks became very interested in the operations of heavy industry since the banks committed large amounts of credit to the fixed capital investments of heavy industry. The resulting merging of industrial-capital and banking-capital is referred to as “finance-capital” ’. Albritton 1986, p. 84.
Albritton 1986, pp. 79–80.
Albritton 1986, p. 78.
The problems in Uno’s understanding of the law of value have been analysed in Chapters 2, 3 and 4.
As unfortunately some proponents of the Neue Marx-Lektüre, e.g. Helmut Reichelt, also seem to believe. For a critique, see Elbe 2018, and my commentary in Lange 2021 (forthcoming).
Marx 1978, p. 185. Emphasis added. The original reads: ‘diese Abstraktion in actu’. Marx 1963, p. 109.
Albritton (1986), p. 79.
With the term ‘Western Marxism’ – introduced by Merleau-Ponty and subsequently used by the Soviets to separate party line Marxism-Leninism from the ‘philosophical’ Hegelian Marxist discourse initiated by Lukács – Harootunian refers to Marxist theory primarily concerned with ideology and ‘cultural criticism’ contextualised within the problematic of the value and the commodity form, hence ‘Frankfurt Marxism’ with their special emphasis on ‘circulation’. According to Harootunian, they ‘follow a homogeneous interpretative strategy, founded on the presupposition of a unity based on geographical contiguity that had long given up on the anticipated “withering of the state” or indeed the prospect of an imminent worldwide social revolution for critical cultural analysis of capitalism’s domination of the social formation’. Harootunian 2015, p. 4. There are reasonable doubts regarding this contention, which we hope to address in future publications. Harootunian’s contention, however, that ‘Western Marxism’ (i.e. the Frankfurt School and their intellectual heirs) strived for a ‘progressive distancing from the economic for the cultural’ (p. 5) is highly questionable, as studies in the Frankfurt School’s reception of Marx and the Critique of Political Economy have shown (see Behrens 2005, Braunstein 2011).
Harootunian 2015, pp. 4–5.
Harootunian 2015, p. 5.
Harootunian 2015, p. 9.
Harootunian 2015, p. 19.
Harootunian 2015, pp. 17–18.
Harootunian 2015, p. 8.
Harootunian 2015, p. 18. Emphasis added.
Harootunian 2015, p. 62.
See Furihata 1987, p. 76. Furihata points out that the silk and the cotton manufacturing industries made up the majority. More than half of Japan’s populace consisted of small-scale farmers, most of these in turn produced rice and silk worms. The raw silk extracted from this process had been nearly completely exported to the United States, so that the export revenues could in turn be used to import raw cotton. ‘… the processing of raw cotton and the export of manufactured cotton goods formed the most important activity of capitalist enterprises’ in Japan’s Meiji period. Furihata 1987, p. 77.
Uno 1974 , p. 41. Quoted in Harootunian 2015, p. 190.
Harootunian 2015.p. 190.
Harootunian 2015, p. 187.
Harootunian 2015, p. 186.
For reasons of space, we consider it sufficient to point to the vast literature on the capitalisation of Japanese agriculture and the introduction of the factory system in the Meiji period. See Saitō 1986; Toby 1991; Brandt 1993; Francks 2005; Marcon 2014; Smith 1986. I thank Raji C. Steineck for his help with evaluating the literature.
Harootunian 2015, p. 192.
Marx 1976, p. 1013.
Steineck correctly points to the theoretical consequences of such a view: ‘[Harootunian] believes that there exists, in capitalism, spheres of purely concrete labour, in which pre-capitalist formations of the metabolism of human beings with their environment remain intact. In other words, he succumbs to an essentialism of the concrete that is also the hallmark of the fetishism of use value – meaning the identification of the production of use values as the ultimate goal of capitalist production and the concomitant glorification of concrete labour and its products over and against abstract labour and money. This is no minor mistake, because it is precisely the elevation of use value that consistently supports reactionary anti-capitalism’. Steineck 2017, p. 1344.
Marx more specifically distinguishes between four types of subsumption: formal, real, hybrid, and ideal. For a detailed discussion of the latter two, see Murray 2004, pp. 263–66. For reasons of space, they cannot and need not be presented for the purpose of the present chapter.
For the locus of the ‘Results’ in the structure of Capital, see Antonowa 1982. For the wider context of the ‘Results’ in Marx’s work, see Napoleoni 1974, pp. 108–18.
Marx 1976, p. 1019.
Marx 1976, p. 1028.
Marx 1976, p. 981. Marx counters the claim of the existence of capital as the ‘eternal law of nature of human production’ with an impressively polemical comparison: ‘I could prove with equal facility that the Greeks and Romans celebrated communion because they drank wine and ate bread, and that the Turks sprinkle themselves daily with holy water like Catholics because they wash themselves daily’, Marx 1976, p. 999.
In contradistinction to ‘Technik’, Bellofiore, drawing on Guido Frison, notes that ‘Technologie defines the potential relationships between labour power and its means, so it is strictly related to innovation … it is one of the many examples of the fetish character of capital (in this case, the immediate process of production) leading to fetishism: the social powers created by capital, which are effective, are attributed to things as such (here, the means of production), and not to a specific social relation’. Bellofiore 2018, p. 373.
By the labour that is ‘identical with capital’, Marx presumably means dead labour.
Marx 1976, p. 1024.
Marx 1976, p. 1021. Original emphasis.
Marx 1976, p. 1021.
Marx 1976, p. 1021. Original emphasis.
Marx 1976, p. 1021. Original emphasis.
In his critique of Derek Sayer, Murray emphasises this: ‘Sayer does not recognize that Marx’s phrase “specifically capitalist production” is equivalent to production that has undergone real subsumption’. Murray 2004 (ed. Bellofiore/Taylor), p. 251.
The ‘more completely’ the objective and subjective conditions of labour confront the worker as capital – we will soon thematise this crucial aspect in greater detail – the ‘more effectively the formal subsumption of labour under capital is accomplished, and this is turn is the premiss and the precondition of its real subsumption’. Marx 1976, p. 1026. Original emphasis.
Marx 1976, p. 1027. Original emphasis.
Marx 1976, p. 1024.
See e.g. ‘The Political Economists’ Erroneous conception of Reproduction on an Increasing Scale’ (Marx 1976, p. 734), mainly targeting Ricardo and Smith’s schemes, which are scrutinised again and more meticulously in Volume II.
Sáenz de Sicilia 2016, p. 224. The author refers to the Grundrisse. See Marx 1973, p. 266.
Napoleoni 1974, p. 117.
Marx 1976, p. 645.
Marx 1976, p. 1024.
Marx 1976, p. 724. Emphasis added.
Marx 1976, p. 432.
These are the subject of every Business Administration Bachelor or Master degree programme worldwide.
Needless to say, not only consumer goods, but means of production as well ‘lose in value’.
Murray strangely puts the cart before the horse: ‘… the whole strategy of relative surplus-value is to increase productivity in order to drive down the value of labour power’. Murray 2004, p. 262.
Marx 1976, p. 433.
Marx 1976, p. 1023.
The prototype wasn’t used widely, but Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s optimised and elaborated loom, based on Vaucanson’s original machine, was employed in textile production in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the beginning of industrialisation, after a longer period of unsuccessful resistance by France’s textile guilds. Allegedly, Jacquard came upon a destroyed specimen of Vaucanson’s machine which was kept at Napoléon Bonaparte’s ‘Conservatoire des arts et métiers’ in 1804. He used the parts for his own invention, which first systematically applied the punch card system and became the cornerstone for automation in the production process.
In 1744, the weavers of Lyon did not expel Vaucanson because of his invention, but because, on the crown’s authority, he attempted to employ a more liberal trade and investment system. See Becker 2017, p. 213.
Becker 2017, pp. 43–4. Own translation.
See also Postone’s discussion on the emergence of abstract time in medieval society, especially the cloth manufactures in Flanders: ‘Because workers were paid by the day, conflict became focused on the length and definition of the work day. It seems that it was the workers who, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, demanded initially that the work day be lengthened in order to increase their wages, which had declined in real value as a result of the crisis [the economic crisis of textile industry in the late thirteenth century]. Very quickly however, the merchants seized upon the issue of the length of the work day and tried to turn it to their advantage by regulating it more closely’. Postone 1993, p. 210. Postone draws on Jacques Le Goff, ‘Labor Time in the ‘Crisis’ of the Fourteenth Century’, in Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, Chicago and London, 1980.
Marx 1976, p. 1021.
Sáenz de Sicilia 2016, p. 138. Unfortunately, in the latter part of the book, the author revokes his previous insights to claim that ‘Marx … brackets the independent existence of living labour, reducing its reproduction to the functions it fulfils for the reproduction of capital … But the “certain limits” … are crucial in opening the system to an independent qualitative dimension beyond capital’s unilateral control and direct interest, because whilst the capitalist must cede a wage to the worker in order to ensure his or her reproduction, they do not directly oversee that reproduction’. Ibid., p. 231. This is an illustrative example for the confusion between the historically specific capitalist form determination of wage (and its monetary expression) with a historically unspecific necessity for general human reproduction. Sáenz de Sicilia overlooks that capitalist forms of consumption are confined by the form determination of the wage, so that one must ask to what extent we may speak of an ‘independent existence of living labour’ under capitalist relations of production. Sáenz de Sicilia’s argument seems to point in a direction similar to ‘feminist’ Social Reproduction Theory and its problems that we have addressed previously.
As Marx and Engels famously declare in the Manifesto. Marx and Engels 1976 [1845–8], p. 487.
‘[Capital] finds in existence the actual production process – the particular mode of production, and at the beginning it only subsumes it formally, without making any changes in its specific technological character’. Marx and Engels 1988 [1861–3], p. 92.
Schmiede 1988, p. 21. Own translation. Original emphasis.
One case of karōshi, proving the phenomenon no longer receives the media attention it once had, has become public with the death of NHK reporter Miwa Sado in 2013, who worked 159 hours overtime in a month. Companies have acknowledged that 93 cases of suicide among their employees could be directly related to their workload in overtime hours, which in all these cases were over 100 hours. In 2015, Abe has promised to cut overtime workloads of more than 100 hours per month and punish companies who made their employers work more. For a critical discussion of Abe’s work reforms, see
Harootunian 2015, p. 55.
‘Of course, the particularity of labour must correspond to the particular substance of which a given capital consists; but since capital as such is indifferent to every particularity of its substance, and exists not only as the totality of the same as the abstraction from all its particularities, the labour which confronts it likewise subjectively has the same totality and abstraction in itself’. Marx 1973, p. 296. Original emphasis.
Harootunian 2015, p. 38.
Harootunian 2015, p. 68.
As can also be detected in his pledge of allegiance to an underconsumptionist approach to the phenomenon of crisis Harootunian identifies in the work of Rosa Luxemburg. Luxemburg’s insistence on an ‘outside’ to the capitalistically organised global work market, as supply market for goods whose consumption becomes the condition of possibility for capital’s valorisation and ‘extended reproduction’, indicating capital’s immanent breakdown, also fatally ignores that ‘the aim of capitalist production is never use-value’, i.e. is never worker’s consumption. See Luxemburg. Also see Chapters 4.2., and especially 4.4.
Walker 2016, p. 153.
Walker 2016, p. 164.
Walker 2012, p. 20.
Walker 2012, p. 20.
Walker 2012, p. 20. Original Emphasis.
Walker 2016, p. 153.
The paradigm of the paradox remains the classic ‘This sentence is false’, or the Epimenides paradox according to which Epimenides, a Cretan, claims that ‘All Cretans are liars’.
Marx 1976, p. 1004. It is possibly the gravest mistranslation made throughout the Penguin/NLR edition of Capital and its manuscripts: the original MEGA reads (in accord with Marx’s argument at this point): ‘Es ist nicht der Arbeiter, der Lebensmittel und Productionsmittel kauft, sondern die Lebensmittel kaufen den Arbeiter, um ihn den Productionsmitteln einzuverleiben’. MEGA II/4.2., p. 78. It should be the ‘means of subsistence that buy the worker’, not, as in Livingstone’s translation, the ‘means of production that buy the worker’.
Walker 2016, p. 156.
Uno 1974 (UKC 8), pp. 24–5. Quoted in Walker 2016, p. 156. Italics Walker’s. ‘[Sic]’ the author’s.
Walker 2016, p. 156.
Walker 2016, p. 158.
Walker 2016, p. 158.
Walker 2012, p. 164.
Walker 2012, p. 23.
Walker 2016, p. 168. Emphasis added.
Walker 2016, p. 168.
Marx 1987 (MECW 29), p. 64, quoted in Walker 2016, p. 177.
‘In order to extract value out of the consumption of a commodity, our friend the money-owner must be lucky enough to find within the sphere of circulation, on the market, a commodity whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption is therefore itself an objectification [Vergegenständlichung] of labour, hence a creation of value’. Marx 1976, p. 270.
Marx 1976, p. 1026.
Harootunian 2015, p. 232 and p. 68.
Walker (2012), p. 16. Original emphasis.
Marx 1976, p. 638.
Hafner 1993, p. 69. My thanks to Eric-John Russell for helping with the translation.
Reinicke 1975, p. 22. Quoted in Hafner, p. 68.
Marx 1973, p. 311.
Marx 1973, p. 311.
Hafner 1993, p. 82. Emphasis added.
Hafner 1993, p. 82. Emphasis added.
In this sense, M. Lebowitz errs doubly when he identifies a ‘one-sided Marxism’ resulting from ‘the absence of the examination of the part of workers’ struggles in shaping the course of the development of capitalism …’ Lebowitz 2003 , p. 121. For one, he misrecognises the methodological centrality (despite his insistence on the importance of method) of value’s real abstraction, inimitably expressed in Alfred Schmidt’s commentary that ‘The one-sidedness idealistically lamented as “economism” … is an abstraction not performed by the theorist, but by social reality’ (Schmidt 1968, p. 33). As argued before, the demand for acknowledging ‘the goals of workers’, private (i.e. non-economic) reproduction, etc. loses sight of the specificity of the capital relation, for its is precisely the ‘dominance of abstraction’ (money) which is capital’s distinguishing feature as it constitutes the target of critique. Second, Marx was more than aware that resistance to capital has no other source than workers’ struggle, and that, where the length of the working day became a question of equal rights, ‘force’, i.e. class struggle, ‘decides’ (Marx 1976, p. 344). But the proof of the ‘righteousness’ of capital’s claim to the full product of the labour process – precisely what should instantiate workers’ struggle – does not result from workers’ struggle itself. To the contrary: Marx’s non-empirical analysis of capital’s ‘self-image’, to remain in the present idiom, is the precondition for a meaningful organisation of class struggle.
Hafner 1993, p. 73.
Marx 1986 [1857–61], p. 337.