E. Germain

(Ernest Mandel)

Marxism As Seen By Bourgeois Economists

Source: 4th International [Amsterdam], Winter 1959-1960, No. 8
Transcription/Markup: D. Walters in 2009 for the Marxists Internet Archive
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

For a few years now, Marxist theory, and more especially Marxist economic theory, has enjoyed a kind of revival in academic circles.[1] It is not that this theory is being studied or lectured on objectively at the western universities. It is rather a curious by-product of the economic successes realized by the workers’ states, and more precisely the technical exploits of the U S S R. The most “liberal” spirits of the bourgeois world again and again ask themselves if these results are not due, in the last analysis, to the superiority of Marxian theory. To rephrase a famous sally of Marx: these gentlemen are more ready to admit the correctness of 38 theses of Marxism among 39, than to admit the inherent superiority of a single socialized factory in a planned economy compared to a capitalist one.

Nevertheless, each time, these bourgeois economists come back disappointed from their strange queries into the unknown land of Marx. Their disappointment has a double origin. One, the (practical and theoretical) models of Stalinism to which they address themselves mostly in order to know what Marxism is all about; second, their own ideological (and in the last analysis, class) prejudices, which do not permit them fully to comprehend the particularities, complexities and remarkable suppleness of the method of investigation and interpretation of economic phenomena developed by Marx and his disciples.

Jean Marchal and Jacques Lecaillon, two French University professors of political economy, have recently published a long book on Marxian economics.[2] They have undertaken a doubtless honest effort of analysis and synthesis. Nevertheless, their results are mostly disappointing, as much to the well-informed reader as to the authors, who do not lack information either. The sources of this disappointment are precisely those which we have just indicated.

Objections To The Labor Theory Of Value

Whatever may be their goodwill, these two professors do not succeed in understanding certain nuances, certain basic notions, although they are rather simple ones. They develop a real obsession for presenting Marxist theory as a closed, abstract and logical system. There is of course an element of truth in that; but at the same time, the categories of the Marxist “system” cannot be simply understood as pure abstractions. They are always abstractions which result from an analysis a a real historical process, which afterwards is “reconstructed” by thought in a more or less simplified manner, in order to become fully understandable.

Let us take the example of the basic notion of Marxist economic theory: the value (or exchange value) of the commodity. It is well known that Marx developed and completed the labor theory of value first elaborated by the classical school of political economy (Petty, Adam Smith, Ricardo). This theory states, shortly, that the value (exchange value) of a commodity is determined only by the human labor necessary for its production. Marx made this definition precise by adding: socially necessary human labor is the only source of value production.

Our two professors admit that this theory is correct—but only in the very long run. They admit, in other words, that in the last analysis all value can be retraced to the only source: of human labor. Even if one admits that there are two “inputs of value”, labor and capital, one has still to examine whether “capital” (e g, machines) is a “source of the last resort.” It is clear that these machines have also been created by labor and other machines. If one goes back far enough, one arrives first at raw materials, in which labor already represents 50-60 ’,’o of’ the production costs. Going back still further, one can finally discover that all man-made instruments received their original value only from human labor. Adding everything together, one then arrives at labor as the only source of value.

But our authors go on by stating that this analysis becomes incorrect if one substitutes a short period (e g, one year), or a very short period (e g, one production cycle, or one month), for this very long period. For,

the building of equipment implies also that the builder [?] does not receive immediately [?] a remuneration for this effort, that he consents not only to work but also to forego consumption, that he gives time. Marx poses implicitly that this time isn’t worth anything (p 88.)

We admit that we do not understand at all the distinction which Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon introduce between normal, capitalist production of equipment, and any other form of capitalist commodity production.

Between the beginning of any productive process and the moment the value of the produced commodity has been realized there is always some period of time during which the capitalist “foregoes remuneration”; the only exception is the one of producing on fixed order and being paid on delivery. In that case, only during the actual period of production does the capitalist forego remuneration. It is true that it takes quite a bit more time to build a modern transfer machine than to produce, say, a table and four chairs. But on the other hand the transfer machine is nearly always sold the moment it is produced, whereas the table and chairs may remain six months in a shop before being sold. As for the workers, they don’t receive an “immediate remuneration” either; they are paid at the end of the week, of two weeks, or of the month. What qualitative difference there exists between these situations, and why “waiting” should “produce value,” we cannot very well comprehend.

Our authors in reality seem to suggest (p 90) the case of a handicraftsman, building himself, with his own means of production, and without wage-labor, new productive equipment. In this case, it is quite true that the handicraftsman “foregoes consumption” by using his revenue for buying raw materials etc—which is of course not true at all in the case of a capitalist.[3] But here again, it is not a special case of a handicraftsman building some productive equipment; this is the case of anybody engaged in petty commodity production and not working on orders. There is, from this point of view, no difference whatsoever between, say, an independent toolmaker, a tailor, or a chemist who is launching all by himself a new beauty product.

Each one of these petty producers runs a terrible risk: his product may not be sold at all; his sacrifice may have been—commercially—useless. This risk is implied in any form of commodity production for an anonymous market. But far from being an argument against the labor theory of value, it constitutes one of its most striking applications.

Marx did not conceive the labor theory of value simply as a logical” explanation of the “mysteries of the capitalist jungle.” This theory had to explain also, in his eyes, how exchange, how the market, could coordinate and weld together the seemingly individualistic and disorganized activities of millions of persons, independent of each other and following only their ’self-interest.’’ It isn’t the whim, the malice or the relative skill of thousands of individual producers which determine the value of their commodities; it is only that portion of the labor time they spend which satisfies a valid social need. It is not the total labor time spent by each producer which automatically creates new value; it is only the portion of that time which is socially necessary labor. And only the act of selling—or, more correctly, the act of paying, for beware of insolvent creditors!—decides which is this portion of socially necessary labor present in each commodity.

To return to our handicraftsman building tools all by himself: inasmuch as he “has to wait” in order to sell his product, not only does he not get the right to impute more “value” to this product, but rather the longer he waits, the less the chance that his commodity incorporates any socially necessary labor, i e any value, whatsoever! If in the end he cannot sell his commodity, he has “failed” in the eyes of society, not in contradiction but in application of the labor theory of value. His labor spent was not socially necessary but socially wasted labor. And as such it has no equivalent whatsoever.

If they had approached the question in a historical spirit, our authors could have easily solved the problem. In an eleventh-century demesne “income distribution” follows often a very simple pattern. The peasant serf works three days a week on his own plot of land, and three days on his landlord’s. The origin of the landlord’s income is not hidden by any mystery; it is simply the serf’s unpaid labor.[4]

Some people could say, of course, that “in exchange” for this unpaid labor, the serf gets the “protection” of the landlord, and, if his landlord be clerical, spiritual solace as well. This may be as it is, but it is clear that the words “in exchange” are used here in an absolutely non-economic sense.

The same situation applies to the capitalist wagearner. To say that profit is not only unpaid labor of the wagearners, but also the “price,” the “equivalent,” the “result of an exchange” for the “waiting” and “foregoing of consumption” by the capitalist, is simply playing with words. “Waiting” has no more price than the “security” offered by the manor, or the “spiritual solace” offered by the abbey. As a matter of fact, the serfs had to pay specially for each and every mass they wanted for the “spiritual solace” of themselves or their families. Under capitalism, the workers do not “buy” the “waiting” of the capitalists any more than the serfs “bought” the “protection” of their robber barons. They are obliged to abandon their surplus-product to the capitalist entrepreneur, in the same way as the serf was obliged to leave his surplus-product to the landowner: because otherwise they cannot get their means of livelihood under the given social setup.

Value And Prices Of Production

But Marx made a very significant amendment to the operation of the labor theory of value under the capitalist mode of production; this amendment once again stresses the social role of exchange. The total mass of surplus-value is distributed between the different capitalist enterprises not according to the surplus-value directly created in each of them—the number of workers they employ and their degree of exploitation—but proportionately to the mass of capital each capitalist enterprise commands. This is the problem which the theoreticians call the problem of “transformation of value into prices of production,” the price of production of each commodity being determined by the capital (constant plus variable) spent for its production, plus this same capital multiplied by the average rate of profit.

More simply we can call this problem the problem of equalization of the rate of profit.

Our professors develop a tremendous lot of difficulties in this respect; they discover a thousand “contradictions” which they then set out to “solve” in the most ponderous manner possible. And in reality the problem is a rather simple one.

First objection which they raise: Marx says that only variable capital (used to buy labor power) is “productive” of new value. But the distribution of surplus-value between capitalists, the equalization of the rate of profit, transfer surplus value created in one factory to another factory where it wasn’t created. Isn’t there a contradiction? This is a theme they constantly refer to, e g on pages 115-6, 119, 122-3, 190-1 etc.

Our authors forget here that accumulation of capital is not simply the expression of the “thirst for wealth” or the “thirst for power” of the capitalists, as they somewhere state; this accumulation is forced upon the capitalist class by competition.

In order to succeed in the competitive process, it is necessary to lower the cost price of the products. In order to lower this cost price, it is in the last analysis necessary to lower their value, i e, to produce more commodities of a type in the same length of time. This again means to increase the productivity of labor, and this is done by developing equipment, i e, constant capital. Our authors try to imply that Marx did not consider constant capital an element of productivity of labor. The thought is of course ridiculous; Marx stated that the development of constant capital was the typical capitalist way to increase the productivity of labor.

The distribution of surplus-value among various capitalists is realized through the competition between various capitals. Through this competition, the enterprises which, thanks to their bigger constant capital, work above the average level of productivity, can undersell their competitors while realizing at the same time a profit above average. The enterprises which work below the average level of productivity will have to sell their commodities for a lower profit, or even at a loss. As a result, there is in fact a transfer o f surplus-value from the last ones to the first ones. This transfer is no mystery at all; it is a result of price competition on the market.

But doesn’t that mean that unpaid labor is not the only source of profit? Our professors now formulate their second objection, e.g. on p 124. Doesn’t that mean that besides unpaid labor, the very act of exchange can under given conditions be a source of surplus-value?

Our authors are quite wrong. The transfer of surplus-value from one enterprise to another, “through the process of exchange,” is not in contradiction with the labor theory of value. Only socially necessary labor determines the value of commodity. But under the capitalist mode of production, with the exception of work on order, no capitalist knows in advance if his commodities contain only socially necessary labor, and to what extend they do. It is only after having sold them that he can establish a balance sheet.

But enterprises which operate below the average level of social productivity of labor precisely waste social labor, for which they do not receive an equivalent on the market, in exactly the same way as a badly skilled or lazy handicraftsman isn’t paid for his lost hours under petty commodity production. On the other hand, enterprises which operate above the average level of labor productivity receive more than the equivalent of the actual labor time spent on pro ducing their commodities: they get exactly the difference between this actually spent amount of labor, and the amount which would have been socially necessary, in order to produce the same quantity of commodities.

Third objection: no equalization of the rate of profit is actually, possible, if the organic composition of capital is different in the different branches of industry, while at the same time the rate of surplus-value is everywhere the same. Our authors arrive at this “penetrating” conclusion after a long and complicated series of ten equations. They could have found this truism much more easily.

The rate of profit is the relation between surplus-value and the total capital spent in production, constant as well as variable. Surplus-value. on the other band, is the product of variable capital and the rate of surplus-value. The formula for establishing the rate of profit,

rate of profit=surplus-value
constant + variable capital

can thus be written as follows:

rate of profit=surplus value Χ variable capita
constant capital + variable capital

which means

rate of profit=rate of surplus value Χ variable capital
constant + variable capital

In other words: if the rate of surplus-value is equal in two industrial sectors, the rate of profit cannot be equal if variable capital is not an equal portion of total capital or, what is the same, if the organic composition of capital is different.

Let us state in passing that our authors have written their book in a very hasty manner (and probably each of them has written a separate part). For whereas on some pages we find the correct definition of the organic composition of capital (the relation between constant and variable capital), in some passages the author implies that the organic composition of capital is the relation between variable capital and total capital. This leads him to the statement that the organic composition of capital “falls,” when constant capital increases more than variable capital, which is quite “unorthodox” indeed (see e g pages 124 and 173).

Is there a contradiction between the theory of the equalization of the rate of profit, the fact of the differences in the organic composition of capital on the one hand and the equal rate of surplus-value on the other hand in various industrial sectors?

Once again, our authors needlessly complicate their job. Contrary to what they say (p 118), Marx never taught that the rate of surplus-value was identical in all industrial sectors. This would have been a monstrous statement indeed, completely contrary to the logic of his “system” and to the historical evolution of capitalism. Marx simply stated that he wanted to abstract from the very real difference in the rate of surplus-value, while working out his famous schemes of reproduction. It is necessary to recall here that these schemes in general abstract from all “laws of motion” of capitalism, and that to try to discover these laws from the workings of the schemes means to commit a very serious methodological error.

The solution of the ’contradiction” is thus very simple. In different branches of industry there exist different organic compositions of capital, and also different rates of surplus-value. In general, the higher the organic composition of capital, the higher the rate of surplus-value. These two factors cannot, however, increase in the same proportions. This is the “last resort” reason for the tendency to a fall of the average rate of profit, as our authors correctly and surprisingly!—state at one stage of their enquiries (p 195). quite at a loss however in many other passages of the same book.

When the rate of profit is higher in a branch of industry, new capital tries to break into this field. This means an increase of competition, an increase in the organic composition of capital, an increase in the average level of productivity, and thereby a lowering of the rate of profit. On the other hand, when capital leaves a sector where the rate of profit is below average, production falls (relatively or absolutely), the socially necessary labor time allotted to the production of that commodity by socially useful demand is no longer exceeded (there may even be “under-production” for a period). Prices rise, and the rate of profit increases.

In other words: Marx never taught that the rate of profit was actually always equal in all sectors of industry. He started, on the contrary, from the assumption that these rates were different, and that these differences determine the movement of capital (the processes of investment). There is thereby a tendency towards equalization, but only a tendency, constantly counteracted by competition between capitals. The “average rate of profit” is an abstraction: real rates fluctuate around this average, being below it or above it, and thereby guiding” investment movements.

Productive And Unproductive Labor

Another source of difficulties and constant “contradictions” for our authors is the ’lack of homogeneity” of the working class; the differences of wages inside this working class; the “difference of status” between the productive and the unproductive workers etc. This is another of the recurrent themes of the book.

Let us underline, in passing, an incredible passage which shows how the author is hypnotized by Stalinist influence:

Mao Tse-Tung was probably [!] the first among the important Marxist authors who insisted on the contradictions which can exist “within the working class” (p 87.)

Without doubt the author of this remarkable sentence has never heard about Marx’s pamphlet on the Paris Commune, which dwells on the problem of bureaucracy, nor about Kautsky’s Origins of Christianity which ends with a whole passage on the (possible) contradiction between the mass of the workers and the workers’ bureaucracy; nor about Rosa Luxembnrg’s articles which treat the same question in the light of the German labor movement 1900-1914, nor about Lenin’s Imperialism which treats at length the problem of the “workers’ aristocracy,” starting from some remarks Engels made on that subject 25 years earlier; nor about the enormous mass of analysis which Leon Trotsky, the world Trotskyist movement, and later on the Jugoslav Communist Party devoted to the subject of the “contradiction between the mass of the workers and the labor bureaucracy.” Or perhaps our author considers neither Engels, nor Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky... or Marx himself as “important” Marxists, compared with Mao Tse-Tung!

In their treatment of the differences between productive and unproductive labor, our authors are confused by an abundant mass of quotations from Stalinist authors who excel in byzantine dogmatism on this subject. The confusion is felt right from the start, for our authors do not understand that Marx discerns three notions which are not “contradictory” but complementary:

1) Labor which produces surplus-value: this is all wage labor which creates commodities owned by a capitalist, be it factory labor, or home industry labor, or even labor of some small sharecroppers. The only conditions are that the products must be sold on the market and must he at least in part: this is true for the small sharecropper—the property of a capitalist.

2) Labor which produces value but not surplusvalue: this is all labor of petty independent producers, provided their products are cominodities (sold on the market), and they do not employ wage labor. One could, in theory, add that if such petty producers succeed in exceeding the average level of productivity of labor, they could accumulate a (small) part of the surplus-value produced in the capitalist sector Outside of periods of exceptional shortness of goods, the case has no practical importance.

3) Labor which produces use-values but neither surplus-value nor exchange-value. This is the case with all servants who manufacture products for their masters, or of all production within the household which is not sold on the market. However, especially in underdeveloped countries, quite a part of the material wealth of the nation is composed of these use-values, and they cannot be passed over if one wants to assess realistically the national wealth of such a country.

Our authors correctly state that Marx makes a fundamental distinction between “unproductive labor” (i e labor which does not produce material goods or commodities) and “socially harmful” (or unnecessary) labor. Poisoned food sold in the market, pornographic literature, armaments, are all products of “productive labor,” because they are sold on the market and bring their owners surplus-value (or only value, if they are products of petty commodity producers). But the work of doctors, teachers, scientists occupied with “pure” research, many artists not working for the market is “unproductive” labor, while being socially highly useful and important. In fact, socialism would have the tendency to constantly increase these “unproductive” human activities, compared with activities which ’produce value” and which would wither away.

A big part of the book is concerned with the problem of “absolute pauperization,” drawing again heavily on Stalinist sources. We shall not treat this problem here, as we have analyzed it in a previous article.[5]

Let us say simply that when Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon try to deny “relative pauperization” of the working class, they do not sound very convincing. They quote some statistics from UN sources which indicate a rising trend of “wages and salaries” in the national income. Unfortunately, these statistics do not tell us anything on the wages of industrial workers, for they lump together these workers with factory directors, hairdressers’ aides, soldiers and officers drawing pay, bank administrators and state functionaries (lower, middle and high) etc. Our authors only quote a few figures comparing industrial workers’ wages in France, Italy and Norway during the last 20 years, which don’t tell anything either for or against the tendency to “relative pauperiza-tion.” We can assure them that there are many serious statistics on the subject which quite con-firm that law.

Who Pays For The Services?

One of the most interesting questions posed by this book is the question regarding the place of the so-called “tertiary sector” (the “services”) in contemporary economy and in the Marxist “sy-stem.” Marx often wrote on this subject. But he considered only “services for the enjoyment of the capitalists,” as was quite correct in his time. Can one still defend the same point of view to-day?

The correct answer is given on page 172 by the authors themselves, in a confused paragraph how-over, where they mix together the “wage-earning bourgeoisie” (?) and the “wagearners working in the sector of the services.” Nobody could deny that the needs of the workers have become great-ly diversified in the course of the last 75 years, at least in western Europe. In the typical budget of a western European workers family, the pur-chasing of such “services” as the barber’s and hairdresser’s, the cleaner’s and presser’s, not to speak of the doctor’s, the schoolteacher’s and the public services (water, gas, electricity, public transport etc) has become a standard need. In the US A, Canada, Australia, one should add the services of garages and service stations inasmuch as the use of automobiles has become widespread in the working class.

In other words: services are at present bought by all incomes created in the production process. They are being exchanged against wages as well as against profit and land rent. Certain “popular” services are mostly exchanged against parts of salaries; certain “de luxe” services are more ex-clusively exchanged for surplus-value.

Could one consider that the income of wage-earners working in the “service” sector is a de-duction of the industrial wagearners’ incomes (i e, results in a lowering of the industrial wor-kers’ real wages)? Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon examine this question so to say in the light of Stalinist scholastics and sow thereby a lot of con-fusion.

The redistribution of national income by

{... ] high prices of the services [1?] [... results in a decrease of the real wages of the workers,

writes the Handbook of Political Economy, pu-blished by the Academy of Science of the Soviet Union. And our authors quote also (on page 144) a sentence by Maurice Thorez, relative to the “pauperization” of the working class:

If the working class knows increasing difficulties, it is also because an always heavier pyramid of non-producers, from the yellow press pirate to the super-prefect, from the finance inspector to the priest, weighs down on its back.

These various statements do not resist an ob-jective inquiry. When a working girl buys the service of a beauty parlor instead of buying her-self a new sweater, she isn’t “pauperized” in any sense whatsoever. She simply replaces one form of consumption by another. Workers who buy ears but eat or dress less well than before, do not get poorer nor do they get richer. Inasmuch as their nominal wages have not changed, and as the average cost of living has remained the same, their real wage has not been modified in any sense, when the way in which they spend it has been changed as the result of a diversification of needs.

One doesn’t understand very well what the “high cost of services” has to do with it all. If prices rise without a proportional increase in no-minal wages, there is of course a decline of real wages, “absolute pauperization.” But this applies for any rise of commodity prices exactly as it does for an increase in the price of “services.” An increase of 100/0 in the price of potatoes has exactly the same effect on the real wages of wor-kers as an increase of 10 in the price of the public transport services, provided public trans-port represents the same part of the average working class family’s budget as potatoes do.

Even more confusing is the Stalinist Handbook’s reference to “redistribution of national income” in relation to services and their costs. When a worker buys the services of a cleaner’s, he doesn’t any more “redistribute” the national income as when he buys a pound of butter. These are acts of exchange, of buying and selling, and not of redistribution of national income. The fact that in one case a commodity is bought, and in the other case a specialized labor service doesn’t mo-dify in the least the nature of the act as an act of exchange.

This confusion stems from two sources. In the first place, the Stalinist authors on which Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon draw so heavily confuse services paid for by the consumers with public services paid for by the state (e g, free education). When such services are handed out free, there occurs of course a redistribution of national in-come, for somebody has to pay for this in the last resort (either by taxes or by inflation). In order to find out in whose favor this redistribution is carried out, it is necessary to analyze first the class structure of the tax payments, and secondly the class structure of the beneficiaries of the said publicly paid service. It is doubtful that this anal-ysis will prove that there exists any serious redistribution of national income in favor of the industrial workers, contrary to what apologists of present-day capitalism so loudly claim. But it is even more doubtful that anybody will be able to prove that this redistribution of income actual-ly increases the share of the bourgeoisie. As for the thesis that the state redistributes income in favor of the ... capitalist entrepreneurs in the “services” sector, it is slightly ridiculous.

The second source of confusion is more serious but not less false. It is in fact the notion, inherited from certain 19th-century economists, according to which there exists a rigid “wage fund” corres-ponding to each given mass of capital, in each given period. If this were the case, then of course the distribution of wages to non-productive wor-kers automatically would cut down the remnants of the fund to be distributed among the product-ive workers. The greater the total wages of wor-kers occupied in the services, the less the residue which could be distributed among the industrial workers. Any increase in the former could only be realized at the expense of the latter.

But this ’wage fund theory” has been discredit-ed for a long time and proven completely wrong. It has never been part of the Marxist theory; in fact, Marx has vigorously polemized against it. Such a theory not only establishes an antagonism between workers in the services and industrial workers. It also establishes an antagonism be-tween employed and unemployed workers, be-tween workers asking for higher wages and the other categories etc. For following this theory, any advantage in income for any part of the working class derives always from a disadvantage for all other parts.

Reality is of course completely different. There isn’t any preestablished “wage fund.” There is only a maximum capacity of productive forces, a given supply of means of production and man-power in society, and, in a capitalist society, a given mass of capital. The way it is divided, be-tween constant and variable capital (wages), be-tween the two big sectors of capitalist production, between totally or partially utilized plants and idle ones; the way surplus-value is in due course again divided between the unproductive consump-tion of the capitalists, the new constant capital and the supplementary variable capital (wages)—all this depends on many factors, among which the relationship of forces between the working class and the capitalist class is not unimportant.

It is from this distribution of capital [6] between different branches of activity that one must start in order to determine the influence of the “services” on the whole of the capitalist economic mechanism. Inasmuch as contemporary, largely monopolized, industry has a tendency to limit the fields of new capital investment, the development of the “service” branch, far from “depressing” wages, has rather played the historical rôle of a “new industry,” i e, has procured supplementary sources of employment and thereby relatively reduced unemployment and pressure on real wages. It is true that inasmuch as the average productivity in the “services” sector is much lower than in industry, and capital invested in this sector must thereby operate with lower wages in order to enjoy more or less the average rate of profit, a contradictory tendency has counteracted this positive effect on the general wage rates.

To state that surplus-value invested in the “services” sector has been “deducted” from in-dustrial investment is true, of course, only in a general abstract sense. Under present-day conditions, industry is suffering in most advanced countries not from under-capitalization (shortage of capital), but of over-capitalization. It is not capital but fields of profitable investment which are lacking. It is in the light of this obvious fact that the problem of the development of the “services” sector must be seen.

An Overall Appreciation Of Marxist Economic Theory

What is the final appraisal of Marx’s economic theory by our two professors? Marx succeeded in integrating political economy and sociological (as well as juridical) analysis. Instead of reducing the economic activities to a unique form of human behavior—as is done by the neo-classical school which developed the marginal utility theory of value—he reduced these activities to two kinds of behavior—the behavior of two social classes—each determined by specific social conditions in which it occurs.

On the other hand, instead of considering the economy’s social framework as stable and eternal (as the classic school of political economy more or less implies), Marx tries to integrate the mechanism of the capitalist economy (its laws of motion) and the evolution of society.

In other words: our authors admit that Marx-ism tries to reintegrate economy, sociology and history which were arbitrarily separated from each other by bourgeois ideology at a given stage of the class struggle in capitalist society. This merit is not a slight one.

But Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon oppose to these merits some “solid” reproaches. The sociological analysis of Marx has been “too schematic” (p 377). Exploitation could operate not only vert-ically (between workers and capitalists), but also horizontally (between different industries, be-tween different groups of workers etc). We have answered that argument already. At the same time our authors argue that Marxist analysis gets further and further from reality, in as much as capitalist economy becomes more and more com-plex (and, our authors seem to imply, in as much as it becomes less and less capitalistic).

As for the historical approach of Marx, which our authors consider quite valuable in itself, it seems to them unfit to take into account a gradual transformation of social structure, i e, it includes only the possibility of “global reactions” (social revolution) and not of “partial reactions” (trade union activities; state intervention; nationaliza-tion of some branches of industry etc.)

Our professors thus express in a somewhat learned, nay pedantic manner, a current truism of liberal bourgeois and petty-bourgeois circles: Marx’ analysis would apply to the “capitalism of the 19th century,” but would be more or less use-less in the “present reality, infinitely more complex than in Marx’ epoch.”

In a general sense, this objection is of course incorrect; it is a typical expression of ideological, i.e. class prejudices. Even if one were to admit that Marx “has forgotten” the middle classes, it would be difficult to deny that the American economy of to-day is based fundamentally on the relations—and the antagonism—of the two great classes of capital and labor. Even if one were to admit that Marx “has forgotten the im-portance of trade-union activity,” it would be equally difficult to deny that between these two classes is waged today, as it was a century ago, a class struggle, not only for the distribution of the industry’s “net product,” but also for the ul-timate purpose to know who has to be the master in the shops, i e who has command over the means of production. During the recent great American steel strike, this has been openly stated by the steel bosses. They are, in their own pragmatic way, much better specialists on Marxism than our two university professors.

Needless to say: Marx neither “forgot” the middle classes nor trade-union action, and his system is infinitely more elastic and complex than is implied by superficial manuals written by Sta-linists, on which Messrs Marchal and Lecaillon lean much too heavily.

What is, however, true is the fact that Marx’ disciples have been too much occupied with repeating and interpreting the master’s formulas, and much too little with analysing and comment-ing on contemporary economic developments in the light of his theory. Stalinism, which led to a pragmatic and apologetic degeneration of theory, has a tremendous responsibility in that respect. It is necessary to demonstrate in practice the superiority of the Marxist method, and to rebuild with the materials of contemporary reality the imposing and majestic theoretical construction of Marx. But that is another story.

December 15, 1959


1. Famous bourgeois economists like Joan Robinson. Samuelson and Fr Perroux have devoted articles and books to Marxism recently.

2 La Répartition du Revenu National, tome 3: Modèles Classiciques at Marxisles—Edition Géoin. Paris 1958, pp 393. Of these 393 pages, only 50 odd treat classical political economy: all the rest is devoted to Marxism,

3. Could one seriously say that Lady Docker, who hasn’t exactly a modest standard of living, “foregoes consumption’ when her husband invests his millions? What could she do otherwise with them? Buy a hundred gold-plated Bentleys instead of a couple of them?

4. Sophists say that the serf has to pay the landowner because otherwise “he couldn’t find access to the land he needs.” This is of course history turned upside down. In general, the serfs were living on their land for a long time, when the feudal lords arrived or arose and took away their surplus-product.

5. See Quatrièrne Internationale, June-July 1957.

6. It is absurd to pose the question: are the investments in the “services’ sector deductions from wages or deductions from surplus-value? In the first place. all surplus-value is a “deduction” from the wages (i e unpaid labor). In the second place, all capital derives from surplus-value. i e. is capitalized surplus-value. In the third place, the sums invested in the “services” enterprises are, directly, neither a result of the distribution of wages nor of surplus-value. They do not spring from a distribution of income, but are a result of the distribution of capital. Only the payment for services rendered derives from either wages or surplus-value.


Last updated on 27 November 2009