The theory of surplus value explains how social reproduction takes place in the special situation of capitalist society. Its basic premises, unlike those of any other economic theory, satisfy all the conditions just laid down.


Social Capital Real Wage Capitalist Production Capitalist Society Underdeveloped Country 
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  1. 6.
    Although value has a quantitative aspect this cannot be measured in practice. There is no way we can measure the value of a pencil, or a car, or any commodity directly. Nor can value be measured indirectly through relative prices. Attempts to do so, or to criticise the law of value on the grounds that it cannot be done, miss the point altogether. Despite outward appearances the law of value is not a theory of relative prices: its object of concern is the relationship between capital and labour. Throughout Capital, Marx uses exchange relationships to illustrate his theory, but in many cases there are only illustrations not to be taken literally. The first chapter of volume 1 contains a complex argument which shows that the exchange of commodities is not of central importance and that the real nature and significance of exchange cannot be understood in its own terms. Marx’s theory, i.e. that commodities can only exchange because they are first objects of value and that the nature of value production is therefore the first thing to be considered, has been widely misunderstood by the economists who, confined within the narrow restrictions they have imposed upon themselves, are unable to give importance to any other question than these that concern relative prices. In other words, they take their own definition of economics so much for granted that they are unable to see that Marx has an alternative approach and that the way in which this alternative is constituted is a definitive criticism of their own. Moreover, Marx’s scientific method is quite different from that of orthodox economics, which telescopes its theoretical and analytical concepts into one. Thus they will not use a concept in theory which is not immediately applicable in practice. Joan Robinson has called this ‘hard-headedness’ in contradistinction to which Marx’s concept of value is ‘metaphysical’. See Joan Robinson, Economic Philosophy (London: Penguin, 1962), chapters 1 and 2. But the fact that we cannot measure value directly is no evidence that it does not exist, nor that it is not quantitative. Value is the reality inside reality. We cannot measure gravity directly, or isolate it in practice from the phenomena that it holds in relation, but this does not mean that it is metaphysical nor that its effects cannot be perceived quantitatively.Google Scholar
  2. 14.
    ‘Profit … is the same as surplus value, only in a mystified form that is nonetheless a necessary out growth of the capitalist mode of production’ (Marx, Capital vol. 3 (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), p. 36).Google Scholar
  3. 18.
    There is every indication that Marx took a higher rate of exploitation in the developed countries for granted. For instance, when comparing a European (i.e. a developed) country with an Asian (i.e. underdeveloped) one he assumed the rate of surplus value to be higher in the former as a matter of course −100 per cent compared with only 20 per cent. See Marx, Capital, vol. 3, p. 150. In volume 1 he is explicit: ‘… apart from … relative differences of the value of money in different countries, the wage in the first nation (in context this clearly means the more developed) is higher than in the second (the less developed), whilst the relative price of labour, i.e. the price of labour as compared with surplus value and with the value of the product, stands higher in the second than in the first’ (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 572). Charles Bettelheim, who cites this passage, adds his own emphatic comment: ‘In other words, the more productive forces are developed, the more the proletarians are exploited, that is the higher the proportion of surplus labour to necessary labour. This is one of the fundamental laws of the capitalist mode of production. Reciprocally, of course, this means that, despite their low wages, the workers of the underdeveloped countries are less exploited than those of the advanced and so dominant countries’. See Arghiri Emmanuel, Unequal Exchange (London: New Left Books, 1972); Appendix I, Theoretical Comments by Charles Bettelheim, p. 302.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Geoffrey Kay 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey Kay
    • 1
  1. 1.The City UniversityLondonUK

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