Posts Tagged 'Marx'

The Proletariat and the “Creation of Class”

In an essay on Mao Zeodong’s philosophical  thought Richard Johnson writes:

Because, relative to that of the Communist, the socioeconomic persona of the proletariat is limited–and, give the empirical existence of political vicissitudes, may remain so indefinitely–the chance that from such a basis alone will be launched a coherent, direct, and enlightened politics, is slight.  Understandable then, in this light, is the enigmatic logic of the Manifesto, where, inscribed among the historic character of communists, is the task of the “formation of the proletariat into a class.”  The apparent paradox that an entity that is already a class, must be made to become a class, is comprehensible when it is remembered that the historical process of consciousness is not identical to the consciousness of the historical process; that, moreover, “ideological forms” have a historical depth related to, but not immediately determined by, material development.  It is thus by this logic that the qualitative transformation of empirical, perhaps sporadic, political action into direct, and conscious, class-based political programs exists within the historical scope of an organizing medium led by a group of enlightened elites, vis Communists (211-2).


Johnson, Ricahrd.  “A Compendium of the Infinite: Exercises of Political Purpose in the Philosophy of Mao Zedong.”  In Critical Perspectives on Mao Zedong’s Thought, eds. Arif Dirlik, et. al., 207-233.  Amherst, New York: Humanity Books.

Sartre on Class Consciousness

In his work, The Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre elaborates on class consciousness and the formation of working class groups fighting for their own interests:

The events we have studied occurred at a particular moment of the historical process, in a particular field defined by class struggle; and the class struggle itself takes place between [individuals] who are produced by the contemporary mode of production…Conversely the working class defined itself by and through this struggle by its degree of emancipation, that is to say, both by its practices and by its consciousness of itself (which amounts to the same thing). But in truth, the workers’ tactics, the militancy of the proletariat and its degree of class-consciousness are determined not only by the nature, differentiation and importance of the apparatuses (unions, etc.) but also by the more or less immediate opportunity for serial individuals to dissolve their seriality in combat groups, and by the aggressiveness, violence, tenacity and discipline of these groups themselves in the course of the action they undertake (699).


Satre, Jean-Paul.  2004.  Edited by Jonathan Ree and translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  Critique of Dialectical Reason: Volume 1.  New York: Verso.

Marx’s Contribution to Political Economy

Lego Marx (photo by Dunechaser).

Ken C. Kawashima writes:

One of the abiding insights made by Marx in Capital is that in the colonies of capitalist nation-states the illusions of the capitalist law of supply and demand of labor are shattered.  In the home country, the great beauty of capitalist production consists in being able to reproduce the wage worker by periodically setting him free, i.e., firing him, and producing a surplus population that stands in relative exteriority to capitalist production as the precondition for the commodification of labor power.  Periodically treating labor power as a disposable commodity is thus the way capitalist production can ensure that its most indispensable commodity–labor power–is always already there when capitalist production experiences so-called labor shortages during times of industrial expansion.  It is this reproductive mechanism that allows for the smug deceitfulness of the political economist, not to mention the Japanese colonial policy maker, to think, and to formalize into naturalized axioms of economic movement, that owners of labor power–who are in fact compelled to enter into a relation of dependence with the wage form–can enter into a free contract between sellers and buyers, between owners of the commodity labor power, on one side, and owners of capital, on the other.  In the colonies, however, “this beautiful illusion is torn aside” because the conditions for the appearance of owners of labor power on the stage of the capitalist market do not originally exist there.  The dependence on wages must therefore be “created by artificial means,” and until that happens, the law of supply and demand of labor is torn aside.  In this way, this artificial and historical process in the colonies represents that which originally took place in the home country, but which has long since been repressed and disavowed there.  The political and economic unconsciousness of the home country dwells in the artificial processes in the colonies (Kawashima, 25).


Ken C. Kawashima.  The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan.  Durham, USA: Duke University Press, 2009.

Marx and Mode of Production and Social Formation Theory

The Third International Comintern where some of the MPSF theory was hammered out.

The Third International Comintern where some of the MPSF theory was hammered out.

Erik K. Olsen writes about the historical formation of Mode of Production and Social Formation Theory (MPSF):

Looking beyond the Preface [to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy] to other parts of Marx’s mature writing, the claim that MPSF accurately represents Marx’s theory of society and history becomes even more difficult to sustain because the theory is plainly incompatible with them.  In the introduction to the Grundrisse (1973), for example, Marx describes the relationship among various aspects of the economy and society as “organic,” and his historical analyses illustrate this.  Marx’s nuanced and multifaceted discussion of the development of capitalism in Britain in volume 1 of Capital (1967, pt. 8), for example, would be irrelevant if he hled a view of society and social change based on a simple expressive totality.  Instead, the three basic sociological laws of MPSF theory imply that a history of technology would be sufficient to describe the origins of capitalism in Western Europe.  The analysis Marx does provide would not only be unnecessary, but it would distract attention from the prinum agens.  Marx’s writing on the prospects for changes in class relations in nineteenth-century Russia (collected in Shanin 1983) provide another, similar counterexample.  In neither case does he approach the question from the perspective of how the social structure conforms to the necessity imposed by production technology.  Instead, he analyzes these situations in terms of the complex set of forces and factors that contest and shape one another…The basis for the expressive-totality ontology in Marxist theory is found not in Marx but rather in Engels.  (Olsen, 183)


Olsen, Erik K.  “Social Ontology and the Origins of Mode of Production Theory.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 2 (April 2009): 177-95.

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.

Rate of Exploitation

Karl Marx Peace

In Capital Volume I, Karl Marx (1818-1883 CE) stated that:

Since, on the one hand the variable capital and the labour-power purchased by that capitalist are equal in value, and the value of this labour-power determines the necessary part of the working day; and since, on the other hand, the surplus-value is determined by the surplus part of the working day, it follows that surplus-value is in the same ratio to variable capital as surplus labour is to necessary labour…

The rate of surplus-value is therefore an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labour-power by capital, or of the worker by the capitalist. (Marx, 326)

Constant capital is capital that is constant throughout the labor process; all of the previous labor incorporated into the parts of production (money spent on gears and metal which a previous manufacturer had to spend money on in wages and other constant capital, etc.).

Variable capital is the value inputted into the labor process by the worker, or the value of the worker being interjected into the products she or he creates, makes, gathers, etc (value created by humans).

Surplus value is simply value created by the worker that gives the capitalist his or her profit.

Basically, Marx is showing us that profit comes from the workers and not from commodities or machines or capitalists.  Which is why capitalists get upset about strikes, as the workers are withholding their surplus value and surplus labor from the capitalist, causing a fall in profit during the period of the strike.


Marx, Karl.  Capital: A Critique of Political Economy: Volume 1.  Translated by Ben Fowkes.  New York: Penguin Classics, 1990.


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