I.I Rubin "Essays on Marx's Theory of Value"


Introduction - Synopsis

Sun, 27/01/2013 - 7:01pm


As Hilferding pointed out, the labour theory of value and the materialist conception of history have the same starting point; that labour is the basic starting point of human society and ultimately determines it's development.

The process of labour activity change involves two types of change; changes in the productive forces (the technical methods of production) and changes in production relations (social relations between producers).

Types of societies (modes of production) can be differentiated according to differences in production relations.

In order to understand the the totality of social relations in a society it is necessary to separate by abstraction the technical and socio-economic aspects. Marx's theory attempts to understand commodity-capitalist society by using this method. “This theory analyses the production relations of capitalist society, the process of their change as caused by changes of productive forces, and the growth of contradictions which are generally expressed in crises”

The 'vulgar economists' undertake economics as though it is a study of relations of things to things, the proponents of marginal utility (Austrians etc.) as though it is a study of relations of people to things. Political-economy correctly perceived should be the study of relations of people to people.

Marx's political economy grounds production relations within a specific historically developed type of society. The theory of the fetishism of commodities is the general theory of production relations in a commodity-capitalist society.

[Note: Unattributed quotes are directly taken from the text]


My preliminary thoughts

The guiding principle of Marx's studies is "social being determines consciousness".

Almost no theoretician now runs with this insight since Leninism "demolished" it. They generally fail to see how, if social being determines consciousness, we can ever distinguish anything from anything — reality from appearance, science from ideology, fact from fiction.

Rubin takes Marx at his word, and studies a very important problem for social being determining consciousness.

It's not going to be easy because, for this problem, the formation of our consciousness happens without our being aware of it happening. Rubin wants to demonstrate that our consciousness is here determined unconsciously.

That's precisely why we need a social science to unravel it — the materialist conception of history.

[Apology.  Although I was instrumental in requesting a reading group, I have been detained by other matters that have temporarily prevented me from actually reading the book. I should see my time free later this week, and will contribute to the discussion then. Thanks to DJP for his excellent overviews.]


Just finished Chapter 3, and will post my specific thoughts there.  Here are some general thoughts on it [from the Intro up to Chapter 3]

What an Excellent Book!

Marx solved a deep theoretical crisis in classical economics by changing its foundation [just as Einstein and Planck did for classical physics]. The crisis that wrecked classical economics was: where does surplus value come from when equals exchange for equals.

Marx's new foundation for classical economics is the materialist conception of history. Marxian economics is normally taught as the refutation of classical economics, but it is really its rebirth on a new foundation. [Otherwise it has no meaningful existence at all.]

When a student asks David Harvey how Marx was able to see further than his contemporaries [let alone see further than we, who are trying to catch up with Marx, can], David is visibly non-plussed. The answer, of course, is that Marx derives everything from political economy's new foundation — the materialist conception of history — of which David is openly skeptical. To that extent David's insights are inspired, not consciously Marxian.

Well, Rubin is a Marxian scholar, who consciously derives everything — as a scientist must — from his scientific foundation: the materialist conception of history. That sets his book apart from those that offer inspired interpretations based on something else.

In Rubin's book, as in Marx's Capital, the materialist conception of history is continually on the line. It is everywhere vulnerable. That's science — deterministic from the foundation up.

[Karl Popper, who mistakenly imagined only a crucial experiment tested science, forgot that in deterministic science, the foundation — and so the science raised upon it — is tested on every occasion the science is applied. The crisis that wrecked classical political economy was theoretical — the experimental phenomenon of profit was known even to street urchins from time immemorial.]


Chapter 1. "Marx's Theory of Commodity Fetishism" - Synopsis

Sun, 27/01/2013 - 7:06pm


Proponents and opponents of Marx have mainly dealt the theory of commodity fetishism as a separate entity hardly related to Marx's main body of economic theory. However the theory of fetishism is the basis of the whole system and the theory of value in particular.

What is in reality a relationship amongst people appears as a relationship between things – this is what is meant by “commodity fetishism”. Marx shows not only that relationships between people are veiled by a relationship between things but that also in a society based on commodity exchange social production relations can only be expressed through things.

The distinctive feature of a commodity economy is that production takes place between independent producers of commodities. “Production is managed directly by separate commodity producers and not by society.” The independent producers are bought together by exchange. It is through the market that the working activity of people is indirectly regulated. The rise and fall of the prices of commodities leads to changes in the allocation of working activity, the entry and exit from branches of production and the redistribution of the productive forces.

The interaction of individual commodity producers takes place through things, through the products of labour as they appear on the market.

The commodity economy has the following three elements.

  1. Production is split into independent productive units

  2. The productive units are materially related to each other due to the division of labour

  3. All productive units are directly linked through indirect exchange. This mediates their respective productive activities.

Producers are not free to determine the proportions that their commodity exchanges with other commodities, they must submit to conditions of the market and it's ups and downs.

“The capitalist process of production taken as a whole represents a synthesis of the processes of production and circulation” Marx – Capital Vol. III

Exchange becomes part of the process of reproduction, the ratios of exchange is the subject of our enquiry.

“When we bring the products of our labour into relation with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever by an exchange we equate as values our different products, by that very act we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expanded upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it.” Marx – Capital Vol. I

“We consider it necessary to mention that by "things" we mean only the products of labor, just as Marx did. This qualification of the concept of "thing" is not only permissible, but indispensable, since we are analyzing the circulation of things on the market as they are connected with the working activity of people.We are interested in those things whose market regulation influences the working activity of commodity producers in a particular way. And the products of labor are such things. (On the price of land, see below, Chapter Five.)”

“The thing acquires the property of value, money, capital, etc., not because of its natural properties but because of those social production relations with which it is connected in the commodity economy. Thus social production relations are not only "symbolized" by things, but are realized through things.”

[Note: Unattributed quotes are directly taken from the text]


Chapter 2. "The Production Process and It's Social Form" - Synopsis

Sun, 27/01/2013 - 11:13pm


There is a close connection between the process of production and it's social form.

“The correspondence between the material process of production, on the one hand, and the production relations among the individuals who participate in it, on the other, is achieved differently in different social formations. In a society with a regulated economy, for example in a socialist economy, production relations among individual members of society are established consciously in order to guarantee a regular course of production.”

Within a commodity producing enterprise production relations are organised in advance for the purpose of the production of things, and not by means of things.

“In the commodity economy, the commodity producer is connected only with the indetermined market, which he enters through a discrete sequence of individual transactions that temporarily link him with determined commodity producers.”

The market organises production relations in the following manner:

  1. Social relations take the form of private transactions and are established depending on the advantages for the individual participants.

  2. Fleeting exchange and impermanent connections form the basis for the continuity of the social process of production.

  3. Relations amongst people are established through the equalization of transfers amongst things.

“Social-economic (relations among people) and material-objective (movement of things within the process of production) aspects are indissolubly united in the process of exchange. In the commodity-capitalist society these two aspects are not organized in advance and are not adjusted to each other.”

The material process of production, on one hand, and the system of production relations among individual, private economic units, on the other, are not adjusted to each other in advance. They must be adjusted at each stage, at each of the single transactions into which economic life is formally broken up. If this does not take place, they will inevitably diverge, and a gap will develop within the process of social reproduction. In the commodity economy such a divergence is always possible. Either production relations which do not stand for real movements of products in the process of production are developed (speculation), or production relations indispensable for the normal performance of the production process are absent (sales crisis). In normal times such a divergence does not break out of certain limits, but in times of crisis it becomes catastrophic.”

In a feudal society permanent production relations exist between the serf and the landlord. The serf directly owns his means of production and control of his labour. The landlord owns the land and through the use of common law extracts surplus product from the serf.

In a capitalist society production relations are not established on the basis of permanent personal relations between determined persons. Relations between capitalist, landowner and labour are determined through purchase and sale.

The capitalist exists “only as the personification of the conditions of labor in contrast to labor, and not as political or theocratic rulers as under earlier modes of production” Marx – Capital Vol. III.

“The capitalist's status in production is determined by his ownership of capital, of means of production, of things, and the same is true of the wage laborer as the owner of labor power, and the landlord as owner of the land.”

“This tight connection of production relations among people with the movement of things in the process of material production leads to the "reification" of production relations among people.”

[Note: Unattributed quotes are directly taken from the text]


Thoughts on Chapter 3

Tue, 05/02/2013 - 2:51pm


Factory Relations

People scoff at deterministically planned production, but it happens, and must happen, every day in Capitalist production.

In a factory — components [things] are combined to create a product [another thing], and people must relate to each other according to the way things must relate to each other in the production process.

For example, the product's concept designers must relate to its prototype modellers, who must relate to the engineers, who must relate to the manufacturers, who must relate to the quality controllers, who must relate to the packager, etc, all according to the way their special "things" must inter-relate. They must necessarily establish social relations that directly reflect the necessities of the production process. They have little free will in this, because their wills are necessarily subservient to achieving an objective process.

[Aside 1. The Austrian economists claim that such a situation is impossible because it goes part way to solving the unsolvable Socialist Economic Calculation Problem. Well, sadly for them, this is precisely what already happens deterministically in planned Capitalist factory production.]

[Aside 2. Contemplation of factory production must have played a sugnificant part in crystallizing Marx's materialist conception of history — the more general insight that, in production under any social system, the relationships between people are subservient to the relationships of ownership and control of the necessary conditions of social production.

Which, of course, is why we aim politically as a Party for social ownership of the necessary conditions of social production — our Object — and against class ownership of them.]

Market Relations

In the market — social relations don't reflect relations between things within a deterministic process, because the market is not a directly deterministic process unlike factory production.

Yet Marx has stuck his neck out and insists that social being determines consciousness — and so he now must show how social relations do determine our consciousness of the market.

This is a problem specific to Marx and not to classical political economy, which doesn't know the materialist conception of history. If he can't solve it in terms of the materialist conception of history, that conception is useless. If the materialist conception of history tells him something else, then it's in crisis, and his enterprise is wrecked.

We are now entering the realm of scientific explanation, testing the explanatory power and so the scientific utility of Marx's new foundation for classical political economy. The materialist conception of history is fighting for its life. If it acquits itself, this new foundation deterministically gives us unexpected insights into the workings of capitalism that the old foundation couldn't.

This is what deterministic science is for — what it's about..

To be continued...