Review of Reichelt and Rubin by Paul Mattick

Review of H. Reichelt, "The logical structure of the capital concept & I.I. Rubin "Studies on Marx's theory of value", June 1974.

Paul Mattick

[Review of H. Reichelt, "The logical structure of the capital concept & I.I. Rubin "Studies on Marx's theory of value"]
(June 1974)

From: Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, Berlin, Vol 10, June 1974, Issue 2, p. 257-261.

REICHELT, Helmut: Zur logischen Struktur des Kapitalbegriffs bei Karl Marx. Mit einem Vorwort von Iring Fetscher. - Frankfurt / M.: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, fourth, revised edition, 1973. 276 p.

RUBIN, Isaak Ilyich: Studien zur Marxschen Werttheorie. Eingeleitet und aus dem Amerikanischen übersetzt von A. Neusüss-Fögen. Frankfurt/M Europäische Verlagsanstalt 1973. 256 p.

As Hegel's philosophy reflects and systematizes the historical development of capitalist society and in part relates directly to classical economics, Marx's inversion of the idealistic dialectic by means of the materialist conception of history was the concretization of the recorded development by Hegel of the laws of capital. What Hegel dressed up in philosophical and ideological considerations, Marx laid bare in the language of economics and its underlying actual social relations. Marx's dialectic is for instance to be found in Capital, as capital makes the social activity into a dialectic. Just as Marx once wrote to Kugelmann that one doesn't have to prove the concept of value, as the analysis of real conditions shows it by itself, the dialectic requires no special treatment, since, as Reichelt formulates , it "is impossible, to present the Marxian method irrespective of its object".

Just because this is so, there is no contradiction between the primarily philosophical-dialectical mode of expression in the Grundrisse, and the language used in Capital. The "Rough Draft" was written for the self-understanding of the Marx coming out of philosophy, Capital was directed to the public and has been terminologically amended accordingly, without changing the method or its object and its unity. Reichelt's book is a significant contribution to the brightening of these facts, especially by rejecting the ideas of the dialectic as a simple method that can be approached as a method to learn a variety of contents from the outside.

Reichelt begins with the Marxist development of the materialist conception of history and points to its still originally adhering defects, which could be overcome only through the knowledge of real capitalist conditions, such as the unauthorized overemphasis on the division of labor as the defining element of alienation, private property and class society. Reichelt also points to Marx's difficulties in grasping the capitalist system in all its varied details, and the for him resulting solution of the problem through the focus on the "general notion of capital." Reichelt correctly notes, however, "that this is not a superficial reduction, but was considered by Marx as a completely adequate treatment of the whole matter".

Marx wrote Capital in close engagement with the classical theory because this is the theory of capital and stands or falls with it . "In the strict sense," writes Reichelt, "there can be Economic Theory only in bourgeois society, economic theory of a socialist society is a contradiction in terms." The specificness of the capitalist economy is the disguise of the actual relations of production through the exchange relations, though these themselves also have real importance, but only on the basis of social labor under capitalist relations of production. Marx's critique of the capitalist system is not the criticism of its economic categories, but their underlying class relations, which can be removed only by the removal of such conditions, not by the economic criticism. Demonstrating the mere historical character of the capital, however, requires a study of its laws of motion and thus a thorough analysis of the capitalist economic processes.

Marx's revolutionary rejection of the capitalist system is preceded by his disputes with the representatives of classical economics. The existence of the proletariat, exploitation, competition, accumulation, evinces by itself the inherent contradictions of capitalism but without thereby showing their historical consequences. The search for the key antagonism determining the capitalist movement, led Marx to deal with the theory of the capitalist economy in detail, as it, though in inverted form and with false consciousness, relates to the real world.

Reichelt demonstrates the Marxist critique of bourgeois economics with examples of his engagement with the Physiocrats, A. Smith and D. Ricardo. After a description of the relationship between logical and historical method in Marx, he turns to the Marxian theory of value to highlight the here often overlooked connection between labor time value and monetary theory. The law of value is derived from the necessity of the social division of labor, which can be achieved under the conditions of commodity production only if "the various products act as quantitatively different expressions of the same unit in appearance."

However, the labor theory of value doesn't stop with the division of social labor in commodity-production, as the commodity of labor-power exchanges only in appearance, but in reality gets appropriated by the capitalists without charge.

The division of the social product in value and surplus-value indicates that, behind the value relationships hides not only the necessity of the social division of labor, but also capitalist class relations. For this reason the unconscious social division of labor is not about the proportionalities of economic relations per se, but about the division of labor for the reproduction of class relations, and thus the division of labor for accumulation purposes, thus, about an entirely particular division of social labor, not to achieve the socially necessary proportionality as such, but the particular capitalist-necessary proportionality, from where all the contradictions of capitalist development result. On this connection Reichelt unfortunately does not elaborate, so that his interpretation of the theory of value principally refers to on an imaginary commodity production, not the capitalist commodity production.

This neglect takes its revenge then also in Reichelt's - albeit fleeting - consideration of the crisis, which is found for him in "the contradiction between production and consumption under capitalist relations," or in "the development of productive forces and the limitation of consumption" . If this were so, then the Marxist theory of crisis would only be a plagiarism of Sismondian crisis theory, and today's "left" Keynesians would be nothing but followers of Marx's crisis theory. But as the Marxist theory of accumulation and crisis as the dynamic of capital is not elaborated on by Reichelt, it cannot be determined how he derives the laws of motion of capital from the theory of value, which underlies the concept of capital. Nevertheless Reichelt's book is an interesting contribution to Marxism.

Also the studies of I.I. Rubins on Marx's value-theory put limitations on themselves, namely those of value-theory itself. For Marx, the value-theory is a key to the understanding of capital and its laws of motion, though also here, as Reichelt remarked in another context, the method cannot be separated from the object . Behind the value relations are hidden actual labor relations upon which the laws of motion of capital depend. Nevertheless, the object with which Marxism is occupied remains capital, and value-theory the means to properly master this object.

Like the work of Reichelt, Rubin's interpretation of value-theory is based on to the aforementioned letter from Marx to Kugelmann, in which the indispensableness of the proportionality of social labor is highlighted. Value-theory thus appears as a theory of social equilibrium and is different from the bourgeois equilibrium theory only in that instead of subjective price relations it speaks of objective value ratios. That is why Rubin bases himself not only on the cursory remarks of Marx, but to a much greater extent on the ideas of Rudolf Hilferding, for which the law of value was only another expression for the materialist conception of history, that alludes to the bondage of society to labor and its rational allocation.

"As Marx started from human labor," he shows, according to Rubin, "that in a commodity-producing society, the labor necessarily leads to the value form of commodity production." Certainly, the capitalist and worker are ordered to each other by production relations. Nevertheless, "they conclude contracts with each other as formally equal commodity producers". Rubin seems to overlook that the worker "exchanges" against capital not a commodity but his labor-power, which itself, as accumulated surplus value, is his own product. In other words, that in reality there is no exchange here, but only the semblance of such, by the capitalist control of the means of production. In developing the concept of value Rubin refers thus also to the for the time being so-called non-existing "simple commodity production", which is then contrasted with the capitalist commodity production. But the by means of the law of value resulting economic balance remains for him also in existence in capitalist commodity production, though with the "difference that the objective balance in the distribution of social labor results from competition", i.e., by the prices of production, not the values. Thus for Rubin it remains that "the balance and distribution of labor is the basis for value and its changes, both in simple commodity production as well as in capitalist society. This is the meaning of Marx's labor theory of value. "

On the other hand, Rubin however points out, that "Marx never tired of repeating that value is a social phenomenon, that the objectivity of value is 'purely social' and not an atom of nature goes into it." So the value-creating, abstract labor for Rubin can be understood as a social category in which every material element is missing. If that's so, it is not comprehensible how the law of value brings with it, Rubin's emphasized and on real labor relations based, equilibrium. However abstractly, labor-time expresses itself in production, and the total production must correspond to the capitalist-specific social division of labor. The objectification of value implies production, so that the value of natural products and labor cannot lack, even if value itself is neither the one nor the other. What Rubin is trying to say is that goods in commodity production first must take on value-character to be realized as commodities, that this however is not a necessity of production, but a peculiarity that arises solely from commodity-production. In that sense, value is a purely social phenomenon, as it would disappear under other social conditions, without thereby abolishing the "economy of time" to handle social needs.

The theoretical development of Marx's concept of value is equated by Rubin with the in the capitalist system currently dominating law of value. If Marx, with reference to the historical materialism assumed "human labor" as well, with regards to capitalism he meant capitalist wage labor. And if Marx derived the value from the exchange ratios and made this clear for an imaginary "pure commodity production", these cannot be separated from the actual capitalist relations of production. But Rubin's adherence to value exclusively given by the exchange, is explained by his view of the law of value as a balance mechanism. "In the unplanned production of commodities," he writes, the by abstract labor determined law of value plays "the role that socially equated labor plays in a deliberate planned socialist economy." Thus the law of value for Rubin is an unconscious regulation of the economy which, while under socialism comes to an end, is replaced by a plan which makes conscious what is taking place unconsciously in commodity-production.

From the misunderstanding of the theory of value as a balance mechanism come a series of misinterpretations of Marx's theory, which will here not be considered further. That being said, Rubin's book has also many successful representations of individual aspects of the theory of value, so that his reading is recommendable. But the equilibrium approach and the close identification of historical materialism with the theory of value, prevent Rubin to deal with current problems of capital, such as the accumulation and crisis theory. The introduction of Annette Neusüss-Fögen already points out the weaknesses of the book, according to which although the labor theory of value is the subject matter of these studies, the question arises "whether the form of presentation here not passes over the meaning of the theory of value". It must be remarked that the German translation from the American is greatly reduced and that the omitted parts actually belong to the best of the book.

Translation of


Noa Rodman
Sep 5 2010 13:20

The Freddy Perlman translation of Rubin's Essays on Marx's theory of value excluded the appendix, 'Response to critiques'.

Jun 6 2012 00:39

This is a poor translation and gets some things seriously wrong. For example, an accurate translation of
'Marx’ revolutionäre Ablehnung des kapitalistischen Systems geht seinen Auseinandersetzungen mit den Vertretern der klassischen Ökonomie voraus.'
'Marx's revolutionary rejection of the capitalist system precedes his arguments with the representatives of classical economics.'
'Marx's revolutionary rejection of the capitalist system is preceded by his disputes with the representatives of classical economics.'

Noa Rodman
Jun 13 2012 20:55

I'm to blame. I should've added a disclaimer that this translation was hastily done, moreover, the truth is that I don't grasp Mattick's train of thought entirely. I add that the afterword to Dialektik der Kategorien makes reference to this review by Mattick.

I add also a good critique of Rubin:

The journal from which Dashkovskij's article is taken also contains a review of Henryk Grossman: Das Akkumulations- und Zusammenbruchstendenz des kapitalistischen Systems. No.9, 208-213, 1929 by V. Poznjakov, an excellent Marxist theoretician.

I would like to translate it, but there are so many interesting articles in that journal, that I (since basically I'm on my own here) have to prioritize. But I would do my best to translate the review of Grossman accurately, if there is an interest for it.