Tag: Marx

Excerpt: Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism

In one form or another and in varying degrees, Marxists have generally adopted modes of analysis which, explicitly or implicitly, treat the economic ‘base’ and the legal, political, and ideological ‘superstructures’ that ‘reflect’ or ‘correspond’ to it as qualitatively different, more or less enclosed and ‘regionally’ separated sphere.

This is most obviously true of orthodox base-superstructure theories. It is also true of their variants which speak of economic, political and ideological ‘factors,’ ‘levels’ or ‘instances’, no matter how insistent they may be about the interaction of factors or instances, or about the remoteness of the ‘last instance’ in which the economic sphere finally determines the rest. If anything, these formulations merely reinforce the spatial separation of spheres.

Other schools of Marxism have maintained the abstraction and enclosure of spheres in other ways – for example, by abstracting the economy or the circuit of capital in order to construct a technically sophisticated alternative to bourgeois economics, meeting it on its own ground (and going significantly further than Marx himself in this respect, without grounding the economic abstractions in historical and sociological analysis as he did). The social relations in which this economic mechanism is embedded – which indeed constitute it – are treated as somehow external. At best, a spatially separate political power may intervene in the economy, but the economy itself is evacuated of social content and depoliticized. In these respects, Marxist theory has perpetuated the very ideological practices that Marx was attacking, those practices that confirmed to the bourgeoisie the naturalness and eternity of capitalist production relations.

Bourgeois political economy, according to Marx, universalizes capitalist relations of production by analysing production in abstraction from its specific social determinations. Marx’s approach differs from theirs in his insistence that a productive system is made up of its specific social determinations – specific social relations, modes of property and domination, legal and political forms. This does not mean simply that the economic ‘base’ is reflected in and maintained by certain ‘superstructural’ institutions, but that the productive base itself exists in the shape of social, juridical and political forms […]

Scratchpad: Labor & Value

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651):

[…] As for the Plenty of Matter, it is a thing Limited by Nature, to those commodities, which from (the two breasts of our common Mother) Land, and Sea, God usually either freely giveth, or for labour selleth to mankind […]

William Petty, Treatise of Taxes and Contribution (1662):

[…] All things ought to be valued by two natural Denominations, which is Land and Labour; that is, we ought to say, a Ship or garment is worth such a measure of Land, with such another measure of Labour; foras-much as both Ships and Garments were the creatures of Lands and mens Labours there upon; This being true, we should be glad to finde out a natural Par between Land and Labour, so as we might express the value by either of them alone as well or better then by both, and as we reduce pence into pounds […]

William Petty, Treatise of Taxes and Contribution (1662):

[…] Labour is the Father and active principle of Wealth, as Lands are the Mother […]

William Petty, Verbum Sapienti (1665):

[…] It seems reasonable, that what we call the Wealth, Stock, or Provision of the Nation, being the effect of the former or past labour, should not be conceived to differ from efficiencies in being, but should be rated alike, and contribute alike to the common necessities […]

William Petty, Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672):

[…] this brings me to the most important Consideration in Political Oeconomies, viz. how to make a Par and Equation between Lands and Labour, so as to express the Value of any thing by either || alone […]

William Petty, Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672):

[…] the days food an an adult Man, at a Medium, and not the days labour, is the common measure of Value, and seems to be as regular and constant as the value of fine Silver […]

William Petty, Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672):

[…] I valued an Irish Cabbin at the number of days food, which the Maker spent in building of it […]

William Petty, Political Anatomy of Ireland (1672):

[…] By the same way we must make a Par and Equation between Art and Simple Labour […]

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (1690):

[…] I think it will be but a very modest Computation to say, that of the Products of the Earth useful to the Life of Man 9/10 are the effects of Labour: nay, if we will rightly estimate things as they come to our use, and cast up the several Expences about them, what in them is purely owing to Nature, and what to labour, we shall find, that in most of them 99/100 are wholly to be put on the account of labour. […]

Richard Cantillon, Essai sur la nature du commerce en général  (1755):

[…] The Land is the Source or Matter from whence all Wealth is produced. The Labour of man is the Form which produces it: and Wealth in itself is nothing but the Maintenance, Conveniencies, and Superfluities of Life. […]

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776):

[…] That money or those goods indeed save us this toil. They contain the value of a certain quantity of labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the value of an equal quantity. […]

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776):

[…] a commodity which is itself continually varying in its own value, can never be an accurate measure of the value of other commodities. Equal quantities of labour, at all times and places, may be said to be of equal value to the labourer […]

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776):

[…] Wages, profit, and rent, are the three original sources of all revenue, as well as of all exchangeable value […]

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776):

[…] The revenue of an individual may be spent, either in things which are consumed immediately, and in which one day’s expence can neither alleviate nor support that of another; or it may be spent on things more durable, which can therefore be accumulated, and in which every day’s expence may, as he chuses, either alleviate or support and heighten the effect of that of the following day […]

Karl Marx, Capital:

[…] The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labour of society incorporated in it […]

Karl Marx, Capital:

[…] In contradistinction therefore to the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of the value of labour-power a historical and moral element. Nevertheless, in a given country, at a given period, the average quantity of the means of subsistence necessary for the labourer is practically known […]

Karl Marx, Capital:

[…] In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must he so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, The labour theory of value 170 therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power […]