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Theory, Ideology and Idolatry Author(s): John Weeks Source: Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 19, No. 48 (Dec.

1, 1984), pp. 2054-2056 Published by: Economic and Political Weekly Stable URL: Accessed: 14/07/2010 10:08
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Never does he pre. The actual labouring activity of human beings results in use values and is not the substance of value.2 authors are II compelled to establish that Lenin was right on every count. what is important in his view is not the correctnessof any particular IT is bitter irony that while the social theory view. as with Stalin and Mao. Sweezy and Baran are not padhyay who is primarily concerned with the orthodox. In fact.9 This distinction between concrete and abstract labour is the basis for (1) the revelation that capitalism is but a transitory form of class society. Any reasonably indemonstrate that the great thinkers made no telligent person should find it obvious whether errors. concrete labour is use value. Concrete labour is by its nature heterogeneous labour and cannot be aggegated any more than one can add use values themselves.'0 Until recentlythis orthodox interpretationof capitalism had been almost entirely squeezed out of the Marxist literature by neo-Ricardian or neo-Keynesian interpretations.8 Marx's theory of surplus value follows of Marx or Engels in any systematic fashion. Marx in his many writings made a number then later Stalin in the Soviet Umnon. Begin. of which 23 are devotedto Engels. but pervasive it is. In theoretical debate chapterof volume one of "Capital"and Engels' it takes the form of an obsessive desire to postscript to volume three.the cultof theoreticalmistakes. It is unfortunate that his women.6 Amin is not orrevolutionaryhas stood the test of time. to the point of understanding of value theory.labour theory of value in terms of the distincque of Engels.this definition. While concrete labour is directly observed.1 the socialist and communist move. and (2) that develops the Had I been concerned primarily with the criti.4 he spends five of his six pages taking treatments of the labour theory of value. The power of this insight is tremendous. regressin our understanding. Engels and Lehin. Unfortunately. it is concrete labour.3 the work of Marx and Engels. Specifically with regardto the comparison the canonised. Engels from any and all criticism.they denies the essence of the materialist method is are incidentalto the centralobsession-rescuing well known: the virtual canonisatiorl of Lenin. of course.5 abstract and concrete be that school of thought that (1) uses the siders to be the failings of Engels" than analys. in general Kautsky was wrong. it is abstract labour.labour theory of value as the basic element for ing the implications of Marx's theory.11In the last fifteen years there has been a new flowering of the orthodox school particularly in Great Britain. from the insight that labour has a twofold 2054 Economic and IVolitical Weekly vnl Mpj yIV AR I I QA I nature: in that it produces useful items (use values). and Marx identified it as one of the two best points in his book. Paresh living labour is the only source of expanded Chattopadhyay succumbsto this. I shall briefly summarise that discussion. I go into some detail to explain the nature and implications of the twofold nature of commodities and labour. but was and Engels about 'value'. I fear. and therefore.understanding the laws of motion of capitalist ning with the introduction. I recommend treatment of theory and ideology I cannot ex. rather than to proving the perfection of idols. and (4) the explanation of the existence of alternative theoretical frameworks to explain the capitalist economy. By to it. In his review of my a useful vehicle to identify two quite different book. Abstract socially necessary labour is the qssence of value and is measured in units of time. for what we observe is concrete labour. for they explicitly reject the concepts reputation of Engels. 12 The great contribution of this new literatureis that it has not succumbed to scholasticism. The 'concreteness' of concrete labour expresses itself in two ways: (1) labour processes involve workersof different skills. though thodox because he fails to distinguish between all of his theoretical writings have not. The labour which creates value is abstracted from skill differences (abstract labour as such) and abstracted from differences in efficiency (socially necessary abstract labour). Clearly. Engels' stature as a of value and surplus value. my book has 215 society. To deny the mistakes. suffers from pose of judging who was right.stimulated my thinking and deepened my ly Marx. and to resolvekey problemswithin the labour theory of value. From this conclusion derives Marx's analysis of 'commodity fetishism'. and that their antagonists got nothing I am correct that Marx and Engels are in conright.7 One aspect of the idolatrous tendency is to It is frequently stated that Marx's theory of be more concerned with who said what than surplus value is based upon the argument that with what was said. but has tried to build upon the insights provided by Marx. they are analysis of capitalism (particularlywith respect of little importancecomparedto the basic issue: to value theory). but ratherthe proof that Marx and Engels of Karl Marx is based upon the view that his. to rationafrom the absurdto the grotesque when political lise them and ultimately to perpetuate them is considerations have dictated a de-frocking of to move backwards. This denial of materialism has moved and practice.DISCUSSION Theory. however. In my book. This presents two questions: in what sense does it . It is not enough to say that Lenin overall tradiction or whether Paresh Chattopadhyay is was correctin analysingRussianagricultureand correct that they are not. The first of these issues relates to abstract labour itself. Fora page and value. (2) the explanation of the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism. This bizarre tendency which are not pursued. abstract labour manifests itself as price.argument is structured so scholastically.agreed (and that they were correct on all points tory develops in response to impersonal forces presumably is not to be contested or even suband not the volutional acts of great men and jected to analysis).Indeed. unobservable in its essential form. Here. it is Paresh Chatto. the basis of the critique pages of text. These insights religious idolatry. as well as the uncriticalreverencefor Marx and out and must be if we are to advance in theory Engels. not for the purParesh Chattopadhyay. Why there should be such a metaphysical of the views of Marx and Engels. the general explanation of why in capitalist'society class relations are obscured and economic relationships invariably appear in inverted form. particular. (3) the theory of the operation of the capitalist economy. France and Belgium.unable to derive a coherent theory of surplus sent my position or his own. One clear implication of this theory is that value cannot be directly observed.that the interestedreaderclosely inspect the first plain. He justifies such an allocahow is capitalist society to be analysed? tion of space on the grounds that "[Weeks] is What I have called 'orthodox' Marxism I take more concerned with showing what he con.On the contrary. me to task for suggesting that Marx and Engels Whether my judgments on these two great held contradictory views on the theoretical revolutionariesare correct or incorrect.These should be pointed like worship of the aphorisms of Mao lTe-lng. and Kautsky in error In "Capital and Exploitation" I compared across-the-board. Ideology and Idolatry John Weeks for that matter. for he ments of the world have been characterised by has many provocative insights which have an uncriticalreverenceof great men. in that it produces value and exchange value. and (2) producersmaking the same commodity do so at differing levels of efficiency. It is to these issues that debate should be directed. but rather as this unfortunate tendency. I might have devoted more space tion between abstract and concrete labour. This is incorrect. Out of this new literatureemerge three issues which I consider to be absolutely crucial to resolve theoretically if we are to deepen our understanding of modern capitalism. Ricardo maintained a half he flays me with quotations from Marx that only living labour created value. nor the pQsitions value. of capitalist society. Abstract or general labour only expresses itself as price.

Marx's own thinking on this point is suggestive. involves revealing the manner by which these contradictoryrelationshipsare acttiallyresolved in the accumulation process. However.all labour employed by capital is not productive. become the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows. not reflections of material life. purchasematerialinputs and utilise them as economically as possible.'5 Third. for it produces both objects of use and exchangeablevalue.ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY exist if it cannot be directly perceived. the production of steel. However.not a problem of reconcilingideas. he takes the position that labour is productive only if it is directly involved in the material metamorhposis of commodities. then manifests itself in exchange. while both abstract labour and value are not. The same holds for the three issues which I have raised. Certainly capitalists seek to force wages down.the appearanceof things is actually misleading. Basically. for example. However. productive labour is that labour which produces surplus value. lower costs. there is no competitivepressureamong workersto produce their labour power as cheaply as possible.13 yet it is unclear why transport is 'production'and wholesale and retailtrade 'circulation'. If all labour employed by capital were productive. Understanding will be achieved. December 1.but the subsequentoperation of the railroad is not. in order to raise their standardof living and. Labour in fact has a twofold nature.At one point he comments that the labour employed in transport is productive of surplus value (if engaged by capital). In other words. why is theory necessary. We perceive these conceptual difficulties at all only because they are difficulties or contradictions created by the concrete operation of capitalist ac- .Elsewhere. The productive-unproductive distinction is closely related to the resolution of the abstract labour phenomenon. and as such must have a value. phenomenal form (price) is also illuminated. does not create surplus value. Notes 1 "The general conclusion at which I arrived and which. and extract as much effort from labourers as the strength of worker resistance allows. it is not produced under capitalist social relations. Since the task is to understand capitalism rather than to understand theory. It could be said that atoms are the essence of matter (as abstract labour is the essence of value). Central to th. The tendency among workers is to unify. This characteristic of abstract labour and value makes Marx'stheory susceptibleto the criticism that abstractlabour and value are constructions of the mind.since theory is the conceptualisation of reality rather than the direct perception of reality. not a product of the mind.labour must be exchanged against capital (employed within capitalist relations of production). That we have not yet fully resolved the nature of these relationships indicates the power of the obfuscations generated by commodity circulation. therefore. All labour is not productive of surplus value. the labour which creates the surplus product which can be appropriatedas profit for accumulation. Take. the precise manner by which socially necessary labour time manifests its determiningrole in the case of labour power has yet to be fully understood. 17 This generates a productive norm. Marx's labour theory of value answers this question: capitalism cannot be understood by observing its appearance. therefore. not to understand theory as such. for example. the process of wage determination in capitalist society presents particular difficulty for understanding. called 'the lTansformation Problem' by Marx's critics. for the distinction between production and distribution is a real one. Marx gave the distinction scientific content by relating it to the reproduction of capital: in the first instance.. for each capital is proportional to variable capital advanced. but this is a separate issue. This contradiction between production and distribution. labour theory of value is the argumentthat value arises in production. but a problem for successful accumulation and the reproductionof capitalistclass relations. Surplus value is produced by living labour and. Breakingwith earlier writerswho made this distinction on subjective grounds. then either value and surplus value are not exclusively created in production. Since labour power is a commodity. and the term 'labour process' would be so broad as to be meaningless. and this commodity like other commodities has a value which is the hidden determinant of its price. The understanding of these relationships is a task set for us by the concrete operation of the capitalist economy. The pressureof competition forces steel capitals to employ the most efficient fixed means of production. This implies that in orderto be productive. the value of labour power. but not definitive. For present purposes. Both of these positions in effect deny that there is any importance to the distinction between production and circulation. or are they real phenomena whose precise nature we incompletely understand? Closely relatedto the first issue is the distinction between productive and unproductive labour. If all labour employed by capital is productive of surplus value.14 This implies. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence. i e. one can ask. largely treated as an interesting but peripheralissue in Marx's theory. 1984 his more extensivetreatment of productive and unproductive labour. not compete. I argue. This seems to me to correspond to the actual process of capitalist reproduction. Labour power is a commodity. The general rule is that the exchange value of a commodity reflects the socially necessary abstract labour time objectified in that commodity in the production vrocess. but both atoms and the more complex objects they form are directly observable. once reached. While a part of the production of labour power is achieved via the consumption of capitalistically produced commodities (but only a part). However. which are independent of their will . by rigorous adherence to what I have defined as the 'orthodox' approach to value theory: that labour and commodities have a twofold nature. The same process does not characterise the production of labour power. are abstract labour and value merely the way we think about the world (like the bourgeois concept of 'consumer utility'). as socially necessary labour time. men inevitably enter into definite relations. i e. thus. 16 This fact implies that socially necessary labour time is a more complex phenomenon in its relation to the commodity labour power than in its relation to other commodities. The most obvious example of this is the contradiction between the production of surplusvalue and its distributionamong many capitals. but their social existencewhich determines their consciousness' Karl Marx's "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" 7Mi III It is important to stress that the issues raised in the previous section are not at their basis problemsof the intellector of logic. Once one has a clear understanding of the necessary and sufficient conditions for the production of value (and surplus value). The advance of theory. the important difference is that while power is a commodity in capitalistsociety. calculated on total capital advanced (constant and variable). and in what way does it determine price? Anaiogies to the physical sciences are of no help here. the commodity labour power is differentfrom all other commodities. It is the tendency among capitalists to raise productivity (reduce values). Workerssell the commodity labour power. on the contrary. which implies the real basis of capitalist society is obscured by commodity fetishism. the central importance of the productive-unproductive distinction to the operation of capitalist reproduction has been insufficiently recognised. then the term 'production' would necessarilyinclude distributionalactivities. that the construction of a railway locomotive and the laying of tracks is productive. In the social production of their existence. their capacity to work. As a consequence. the competition among capitals generatesa tendency for profit ratesto equalise. it conforms to this general rule. the distribu tion of surplus value as profit and the pricei which affect this distributioncreate the impression that dead or past labour creates value. we seek to understand capitalism. then the relationship between value and it. Bourgeois 'pricetheory' locates itself analytically at this level of distorted appearances. is indeed a problem. and reduce selling price. However. or one must define the circulating of commodities to be part of their production..

SusanHimmelweit. At this level.of dual exchange rates is left to function is consumption. therefore. 11 For a discussionof neo-Keynesian inter. VolumeII (London and Moscow:Lawrence Wishartand and Progress Publishers.Amin tional exports.1970).December 1. And so. clearlywrong. hopes that benefits likely to accrue from these measures will offset additional burden. The system controls import prices for those p io of Marx.(Foreigninvestorshavesufficient power over their Indian counterparts to ensure that this happens. they don't have to buy the overvalued foreign 12 Amongothers.1982. 6 Baranand Sweezy argue that value and surplus valuearenot appropriate concepts Here are some of the possible loopholes and formodern See capitalist society.) And thus.The main attraction of the idea is its simpli that of prehensible I couldbe critical Engels and also considerhim a greatthinkerand city-it promises to ensure both import restric This reflects tion and export promotion without having to revolutionary. with a slight adjustment Kaldor's proposal might become workable.the weaknesses his earlier IN a recent article (EPW. See V I Lenin. therefore.p 54. P A Baran a suggestion for their remedy. Garware Marine Industries GARWARE MARINE INDUSTRIES has been registered under MRTP Act. I go to the Reserve Bank. Management is. Michel Aglietta Andre and (France). "The 2 Lenin's is analysis a textbookguideon how Categories of Productive and Unproductive to one movesfromtheabstract the concrete. 17 This competitive pressure also creates (NewYork: International 1970). 1969).Volume3 of "Collected Works'. the 5/6 share-holder in the concern. there may not be any difficulty in determining "Essays on Marx's Theory of Value' which exchange rate will apply to which tran(Detroit:Red and Black. Vol A more dramaticpossibility can be illustrated thus: Suppose I have a brother in the US who sends me $ 100 along with a receipt saying that we have sold geods worth that-amount in the US. However there are other difficulties. Conceivably one might try to deal with this situation by applying the dual system to capital transactionsand remittancesas well. "Onthe Issueof Capitalist Circulation theCon. Harris (Great Britain). incomprehension A 'theidolatrous tendency. imports is a short one and both the exporters 10 For a cleardiscussion.Ricardohad to adopta economy except the foreign exchange controls. 15 A useful review of the Western literaturein Publishers. based as it is on under. 3 (Fall 1979).250 to my brother in the US as Dual Exchange Rate &conomic and Political Weekly. and is 3 Kautsky a particularly good exampleof no discussion of productive and unproducuneven development among capitals. in I confess to failing to grasp the significance Capitalism Rustia"(Moscow:Progress of the distinction until recently.saction.genuity of the Indian capitalists. declarethe nature of the transactionand have the same source (deductionsfrom buy and sell foreign exchangeat the appropriate value). See the consequence idolatry.who have to buy foreign exchange to pay for and ceptsAppropriate its Analysis". from distinctionbetweenconcreteand abstract The list of traditional exports and essential labour. essential imports and all sorts arguesthat it is meaningless compare of remittances and capital flows and another to labour productivity across countries.I referto: BenFine. In myviewhertheoryof im. XLIII. and Paul Sweezy. himselfwith his standon the he disgraced First World War and later the Russian Abhijit V Banerjee of Revolution. of Whilehis early tive labour. and the importersin these items are well known "From Rousseauto Lenin" (New York: and easily identified.500 as being profits and theoryand practicewerediscovered. and Suzanne deflrunhoff. they are not produced at all. rent and interest Bank. company's working in current year has been affected due to a strike by workers at Ahmednagar factory. Thansfer pricing systems and capital reparation agreements would be worked out to protect the interests of the foreign investor. He grossly underestimates the inRosa major is an eample. directly is surplus derivative the rates. say. But in the case of these two. "Value Capital". 1983). English is found in E K Hunt. 5 Paresh Chattopadhyayfinds it incom. to Science the imports. Monthly Review. "The Developmentof Science and Society.see LucioColletti. 14 KarlMarx. Then Economic and Political Weekly Vol XIX No 48 December 1l 19R4 2056 . 1984 ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY 16 Land and money-capital (capital itself in commodity form) are also commodities in capitalist society which are not produced under capitalist relations."Capital". and I I Rubin.pp 5-7. Those who can get a loan from and Society (Summer. nd). 9 The second. he was revered a greatsocialistlargely as he because hadbeenEngel's Once secretary. "Theoriesof SurplusValue' (Moscow: Progress Publishers. that profit. 1972). abstractlabour. say. particularly manufacture of fishing nets. And nothing has been exported in the process. Orlean 13 KarlMarx. April 12.Butaspects automatically the way he has suggested. there of that theory and of her other writings will be massive potential for profitable her a qualify as making majorcontribution. B D Garware. Luxemburg sanguine.seeJohnVeks. Rs 10 to the dollar which applies to tradi7 In his discussionof 'worldvalues'. I. manipulations which will not go unexploited. while labour power is produced. pp 20-21. Ultimately there would be no controls in the 8 In orderto obtainthe distribution between wagesand profits. actively considering certain steps including diversification programmes. 4 Paresh and Chattopadhyay. if we do this four times a year we can together earn a profit of 200 per cent on our capital. Efforts are also being made to introduce additional incentives for workmen ligked to production and productivity and. Kaldor has suggested a dual exchange rate for repatriate Rs 1. If the system perialism. While these efforts will entail additional financial barden on company.i e. July 14) Nicholas I declare the Rs 1. This would also tend to discourage private foreign investment in rupee shares.Simon exchange and to repay the loan they can buy Mohun. Strike has been called off unconditionally and a three-year wage settlement with uni6n has been concluded.In my book. The low exchange rate applies and so my brother gets $ 125 back out of which he can send me $ 100 once again. Meanwhile. However. Rs 15 to the dollar which applies to inthat concrete labour is subsumed with essential imports and non-traditional exports. in writingswereundistinguished my view. this might not be very serious since much of foreign investment in India is in the form of collaboration agreements. 'Chairman. show the receipt and sell my dollars at the high exchange rate as proceeds from non-traditionalexports. 1966). Kaldor suggests two exchange rates. Laurence foreign exchange at the lower rate. writerneednot rely on a huge administrative apparatus. If the high rate is applied to all inflows and the low rate to all outflows the specific problems detailed above can be countered. one of. 1979). of. Importers and exporters will go to the Reserve subsistence wage theory. Publishers. "Capital and Exploitation" Chapter 8. necessary studiet in this connection vre under way. Labour in Marxist Economic Theory".abroad will therefore be at an advantage-they Ricardianinterpretation the fist two get imports at 331/3per cent lower prices since in chaptersof my book. "Monopoly Capital" (NewYork: MonthlyReview. I treat the neo. "Capital and Exploitation" there appears India to replace the current regime of complicated import controls and export subsidies. This might sound farfetched but things like this have happened before.Michele DeVroey (Belgium). But be all corrector even basicallycorrectto a closer look reveals that Kaldor has been too make contributions. This has limited scope for further expansion of its present activities.