Althusser and Marx’s Value-Form Analysis


John Milios writes in this quarters Rethinking Marxism that the:

prevailing Marxist tradition portrays Marx‘s value theory as a continuation and completion of the classical labor theory of value, specifically in the version formulated by David Ricardo [1772-1823]….

In the context of this tradition, value is defined as the quantity of (socially necessary) labor contained in a commodity, and surplus value as the quantity of labor appropriated by the ruling classes…But there is a an alternative Marxist tradition that comprehends value and surplus value as historically specific social relations: namely, as the specific form assumed by economic relations, exploitation, and the products of labor in societies based on commodity production (i.e., capitalism).  This alternative tradition emphasizes Marx’s analysis of the value form and the money, above all in section 1 of volume 1 of Capital, an analysis that seems to have been neglected by all “classical” approaches to Marxian value theory. (Milios, 260)

Louis Althusser (1918-1990) himself also saw value as apart of social relations and understood Marx’s concept of value as seen in Capital: Volume 1.  But, at a certain point in volume 3 of Capital Marx seems to mix these two distinctive features by trying to compensate his theory of value in volume 1 with some way to measure it in volume 3:

Marx’s monetary theory of value demonstrates that value and price are not situated at the same level of analysis…

Nevertheless, at certain points in volume 3 of Capital (especially when dealing with the ‘transformation of values into prices of production’), Marx distances himself from the implications of his own theory…making quantitative comparisons between values and production prices. (267)

(All though, and I forget where I heard this, I believe it was during one of David Harvey‘s lectures, that Marx wrote Capital in reverse; starting with volume 3, then 2, then 1, and then editing it by starting with volume 1.  Which is why I believe Marx’s theory is more developed in volume 1 then in volume 3 and if he had lived to finish his series [he was notorious for not completing his works] he might have developed his theory of value more in relation to volumes 1 and 3.

Also, Marx’s theory in volume 3 was developed quite a bit by Engels in his edition, which one can see between the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe edition and Engels’ edits.)

Althusser, while grasping this concept:

did not systematically question the concept of value per se…He presented Marx’s break with Ricardo primarily in terms of the fact that the latter was not able to analyze the class relations determining the commodization of labor power…(270)


Milios, John.  “Rethinking Marx’s Value-Form Analysis from an Althusserian Perspective.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 2 (April, 2009): 260-74.

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