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Value form and class struggle 13 Value form and class struggle: A critique of the autonomist theory of value Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta This paper develops a critique of the ‘class struggle’ theory of value that emerged out of the autonomist Marxist tradition, arguing that although this theory has the merit of putting forward a production-centred, value-form approach, it eventually fails to grasp the deter minations of value-producing labour. In pa
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  13 Value form and class struggle  Value form and class struggle: A critique of the autonomisttheory of value Axel Kicillof and Guido Starosta This paper develops a critique of the ‘class struggle’theory of value that emerged out of the autonomistMarxist tradition, arguing that although this theoryhas the merit of putting forward a production-centred,value-form approach, it eventually fails to grasp thedeterminations of value-producing labour. Inparticular, the notion of value as a mode of existenceof the class struggle inverts the real relation betweenthem and, more importantly, deprives the latter of  both its historical specificity and the social andmaterial basis of its transformative powers. This paperexamines the political implications of these theoreticalissues in value theory.Introduction A t the beginning of the  s, the reigning ‘Ricardian’consensus within Marxist value theory started to fallapart. Upon its demise, new currents emerged thatconfronted the old orthodoxy, and attempted to unmask itsRicardian foundations through a reconsideration of theanalysis of the commodity form contained in Capital  . Thisreappraisal of Marx’s value theory eventually led to anenergetic rejection of the ‘technological’ paradigm that haddominated orthodox Marxism until the  s.   A renewedemphasis on the historical specificity  of capitalist social forms(starting with the value form itself) progressively came tobe shared by an increasing number of authors. However,  Capital & Class #  14beyond this common ground, reaction to the old Ricardian-Marxist orthodoxy has been very varied, and has resulted inthe emergence of a great diversity of perspectives on thedeterminations of value as a social form.At one end of the spectrum can be found what some criticalcommentators have labelled the ‘circulationist approach’(Mavroudeas,  ), for which abstract labour and valuecan only acquire reality through the exchange of productsagainst money.   This approach to value theory appears atfirst sight to be the most extreme way of keeping the chancesof ‘Ricardian’ retrogressions at bay. In e ff  ect, with thecomplete detachment of the social objectivity of value fromthe immediate objectification of productive activity, thepossibilities of misunderstanding the latter simply as ‘labour-embodied’ seem to disappear. Safe within the sphere of circulation, value cannot be grasped in purely technologicalterms.However, the limitations of the ‘circulationist’ approachdid not remain unnoticed by other Marxists; and indeed,they have served as the basis for further recent developmentsin value theory.   The challenge with these alternativeapproaches was that of how to avoid both the technologicalreading of Marxist value theory and   the antinomies thatarose from seeing value as existing only within circulation.Thus a new variety of approaches emerged, each of which,in its own idiosyncratic way, tried to re-establish theconnection between value and the immediate process of production while still seeing the former as a specific socialform (Arthur,  ; Postone,  ; Mavroudeas,  ;McGlone & Kliman,  ; Saad-Filho,  ,  ). Wewould like to focus here on what we will term the ‘classstruggle theory of value’, which emerged out of theautonomist-Marxist tradition. In particular, since itconstitutes one of the few direct   interventions by an economistfrom that tradition in the specialised debate on value theory,we will critically engage with De Angelis’s contribution inthe pages of this journal (De Angelis,  ).  The class-struggle approach stands out for two mainreasons. First, it constitutes, as it were, the extreme oppositepole of circulationism. In e ff  ect, it could be seen as aparticular version of approaches that put forward whatKliman and McGlone have called a ‘production-centred valuetheory of labour’ (Kliman & McGlone,  ). Furthermore,it also distances itself from circulationism in seeing the  15 Value form and class struggle abstraction of labour as deriving from its determination aswage labour as such. In other words, while for circulationismthe determination of labour as abstract labour—hence asvalue-producing—springs from the market-mediated generalorganisation of social labour, for the class-struggle approachit stems from its existence as work exploited by capital.   Inthis way, the approach has the merit of explicitly bringingpolitics back into value theory. Second, and more importantly,the class-struggle approach constitutes the incursion, withinthe rather technical debates on value theory, of a generalapproach to Marxism—autonomism—which has enjoyedgrowing popularity in recent years both among Marxistscholars and within radical social movements.  In a nutshell, this paper argues that the view of abstractlabour as mode of existence of the class struggle in capitalismobscures the specific nature of value—and hence of capital— as the objectified form of existence of an essentially indirect  social relation. It does this by presenting it as an expressionof a direct   one, i.e. as a concrete form of a political relation— a social relation of power. Hence the value form—a materialised   indirect social relation whose self-movement takesconcrete form in those direct social relations  —inevitably appearsinverted as the mode of existence of a direct social relationbetween abstractly free subjects. As we shall see, this has theadditional  political   implication of representing the revolution-ary consciousness of the working class as not determined by(and hence, external to) the movement of its alienated generalsocial relation, namely, the valorisation of capital. In otherwords, this conception of abstract labour as the specific formof labour in capitalism leads to revolutionary consciousnessof the proletariat being seen as residing outside its ownspecific social being. Abstract labour: A capital-specific class relation of struggle? De Angelis’s point of departure is to note that both the‘technological’ (i.e. Ricardian) and the ‘social’ (i.e. mainlycirculationist) paradigms su ff  er from positing the class struggleas external to the specific form of labour in capitalism (DeAngelis,  :  ). This has the merit of posing the questionof the determinations of the value form as referring not simplyto an abstract ‘theory of value’, but as pertaining to the political  Capital & Class #  16action of the working class. However, we shall see that thisinterpretation comes at the cost of an inversion whereby valueis seen as a mode of existence of a class struggle deprived of its specific historical determinations.De Angelis’s line of reasoning is very straightforward.First, he correctly points out that Marx’s critique of theclassical political economists does not boil down to theirinability to grasp the historicity of the value form of theproduct, and hence of its necessary appearance in money.Although this is a constitutive aspect of Marx’s critique, itoverlooks the fact that it is a consequence of a morefundamental shortcoming of Smith and Ricardo; namely,their incapacity to grasp the specific social form of labourthat produces value (De Angelis,  :  ).In the second place, he follows Marx’s discovery of abstractlabour as the substance of value, and then states that he considersMarx’s analysis of the commodity in chapter   of Capital   torefer to the capitalist mode of production. From this, he drawshis first conclusion: namely ‘that the substance of value, beingabstract labour, is work in its capitalist  form ’ (De Angelis,  :  ). In this sense, i.e. in its seeing abstract labour as a specificsocial relation, De Angelis’s approach coincides with manyrecent Marxist works on the value form. In e ff  ect, as a reactionto the ahistorical, Ricardian reading of Marx’s account of thevalue form, a ‘new consensus’ seems to be emerging that tendsto see abstract labour as a purely historical, specific social form(Postone,  ; Reuten,  ; Arthur,  ; Bellofiore & Finelli,  ; Kay,  ; Himmelweit & Mohun,  ; de Vroey,  ;Eldred & Haldon,  ). We do not agree with this. As Marxstates time and again, abstract labour is a generic materialform—a ‘productive expenditure of human brains, muscles,nerves, hands etc.’ (Marx,  :  ). What is specific tocapitalist society is the role it plays by being determined as thesubstance of the most abstract form of reified social mediationin capitalist society: namely value. Marx’s analytic discovery of (congealed) abstract labour, in the first pages of Capital  , onlyreveals what is the material   determination of that which incapitalist society is socially  represented in the form of value. Asany attentive reader can tell, the analytic process continues,and it is only in the section on the dual character of labour thatMarx finally finds the historically specific form of social labourthat produces commodities and, hence, value. The commodity,Marx concludes, is the objectification ‘of mutually independentacts of labour, performed in isolation’ (Marx,  :  ). In
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