[OPE-L:7345] MONOPOLY CAPITAL and value theory

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 04:42:05 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "John Bellamy Foster" <jfoster@oregon.uoregon.edu>
Sent: Thursday, June 06, 2002 2:03 AM
Subject: MONOPOLY CAPITAL and value theory

 Dear Jerry,

 I am sorry I was unable in the end to participate on the Ope-l list.
Editing MR and my teaching have left me little time for other things--no
matter how exciting. Paul Burkett forwarded to me a message that you sent
to the list on MONOPOLY CAPITAL, value theory and Marxist ecology. Upon
reading that I went to your list and looked at that whole string of
messages. I was struck by your contention that Baran, Sweezy and Magdoff,
as well as others such as myself, have abandoned Marxian value theory. Of
course you note that none of these thinkers viewed it that way (you quote
Sweezy in that regard). But you contend that the actual practice of such
theorists has involved adopting the redundancy argument, the Ricardian
surplus concept and giving up on value-theoretic analysis--and that this
has been carried forward in works on Marxist ecology, such as my book

 There is no way to answer all the concerns you raise without discussing the
whole theory of capital, since the value theory permeates all of Marxist
economics. Naturally, I cannot do this in a short note. But I would like to
make a few points that might be helpful in understanding the position of
the thinkers you refer to. Baran, Sweezy and Magdoff, and other later
political economists within that tradition such as myself, Bob McChesney
and Paul Burkett, have all subscribed to the labor theory of value. The
"two Pauls" and the "two Harrys" always contended that this was the mark of
a Marxist economist (and not some secondary criteria such as a particular
approach to crisis). The use of the surplus concept was never meant to be a
substitute for an analysis of surplus value, but rather as a concept that
overlapped with and complemented the concept of surplus value in various
ways. I wrote a whole book on this subject in 1986 called THE THEORY OF
MONOPOLY CAPITALISM. One of the thinkers that I dealt with there was Mario
Cogoy who had accused Baran and Sweezy of abandoning Marxian value theory.
I tried to show why this was not the case, and that their understanding of
the implications of value theory went much deeper than in the case of Cogoy.

 As far as redundancy is concerned I understand how this relates to
Sraffa-Steedman, but the application of this to Sweezy seems to me
misplaced, particularly as he strongly opposed the neo-Ricardian model and
the redundancy argument. Paul's argument was that neo-Ricardians invariably
lost sight of the central concept of Marx's economics, the rate of surplus
value. In the debates on economic crisis theory in the 1970s, '80s and
'90s, in which I played a part, this was shown again and again. It was
always understood within the MR tradition that the root of the problem was
the abandonment of the labor theory of value in the analysis of capitalism,
and the confusion that this caused. With all their claims of redundancy the
neo-Ricardians ended up jettisoning a critical perspective.

 In relation to the issue of Marx's ecology, Marx's value theory is
essential for understanding capital's destructive relation to nature. My
work was predicated on that and I have written fairly extensive discussions
of the misunderstandings resulting from a failure to appreciate basic
concepts within Marx--value, wealth, use value, exchange value, "nature's
free gifts," etc. Many of these discussions have been in the form of
articles (for example in the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY, September
1999). MARX'S ECOLOGY did not, it is true, focus on the value-theoretic
realm. This is because that book concentrated not so much on the political
economy itself as on the historical, philosophical and scientific--indeed
intellectual--background to his ecology. But that would have been, in my
view, impossible (indeed nonsensical) if I could not have pointed (as I did
in the preface to my book) to Paul Burkett's analysis as one that covered
the value-theoretic terrain and complemented my own. In this respect a
certain division of labor came into play. Why repeat what had been said so
brilliantly in MARX AND NATURE? My review of Paul Burkett's book in the
September 2000 MR was entitled "Marx's Ecological Value Analysis"--thereby
pointing to what I regarded to be the essence of his book, which sought to
show how economic and ecological value relations were linked in Marx.

 I hope all of this helps. I should add that far from supporting the views
of someone like Lipietz I have strongly opposed these. On this see the most

Yours, John

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