Marcuse on Marx’s Theory of Value

The following is an appendix in Crisis and Commonwealth: Marcuse, Marx, McLaren

“Wert und Tauschwert fallen nicht zusammen,” is filed as HMA 0109.01 (Herbert Mar- cuse Archive, Stadt- und Universitäts Bibliothek Frankfurt). It contains a handwritten notation at the top, “15. IV. 36,” which could indicate the date of the typescript following the German convention of noting first the day, then the month, and then year: 15. April 1936. Marcuse’s use of the German- language and the economic content would testify also to this as its time frame. It would place Marcuse in New York City at the time when he and his Frankfurt School colleagues, including Max Horkheimer, were developing their now classic 1937 formulations of critical theory in the German lan- guage for the Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung. The original publications of Max Horkheimer’s “Traditional and Critical Theory” and Herbert Marcuse’s “Philosophy and Critical Theory” both occurred in German versions in the same Zeitschrift issue that year. In the remarks that follow Marcuse treats the central philosophical notions undergirding the Marxist critique of the com- modification of labor and economic life. My translation.—CR


1. Value and exchange value are not identical; rather, they overlap. What is the meaning of their difference?

2. The differentiation between value and exchange value in itself contains a critical element. This is because in bourgeois society value and exchange value are regarded as completely identical insofar as human beings and goods are defined in terms of the exchange values they happen to possess. Within (philosophical and religious) ideologies value usually is treated with greater dignity and is seen as seemingly detached from the prices that express exchange value; however the Marxist concept of value clarifies that this apparent detachment is illusory. This is because his concept of value—devel- oped out of the economics in which bourgeois society values everything in terms of exchange value—shows itself to be a value conception from which several other insights can be derived and explained which permit criticism of the conventional ideology. Although the concept of value is introduced from the perspective of economics, it overlaps with other insights that go beyond the sphere of economics.

3. The value of a good can never be understood isolated within a particu- lar sub-division of the production or circulation process, whether this would be by deriving it from the market alone or from the production process alone. In the assessment of value and exchange value the temporal sequence must be left out altogether; when assessing the value of a good, it is meaningless to inquire at what point before it reached the market its value was determined or whether it attained its value just as it was offered on the market or just at the time it was in fact sold. Whenever one wants to understand the value aspect of any particular exchange event, one must comprehend the totality of pro- duction and circulation relationships within the society.

4. The method of Marxism has logical presuppositions that correspond to the historical presuppositions of an object. Simple commodity production is not only a conceptual oversimplification, but also an historical preliminary stage (Vorstufe). Marx wanted above all else, given his completion of the analysis of the economic system, to furnish simultaneously an adequate anal- ysis of the historical epoch. This interpenetration of the logical and the his- torical categories is an important characteristic of the dialectical method.

5. Marx understands value on the basis of abstract labor time. The catego- ry of abstract labor time is not immediately intelligible. Is it an axiom? If it is, then only in this sense: his explication of the total system allows its axiomatic character to be superseded [aufgehoben]; it is shown to be the decisive historical relationship.”



About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
This entry was posted in critical theory, Marx, Value and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s