From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: Marxist-Humanist Archives
"A Restatement of Some Fundamentals of Marxism against 'pseudo-Marxism'"
by Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.
Editor's Note: As a continuation of our discussion of the "Dialectics
of Marx's CAPITAL and Today's Global Crisis," as our just concluded class
series was titled, we print for the first time an excerpt from the polemic
Raya Dunayevskaya wrote in 1943 against a leading theoretician of the Workers
Party, Joe Carter, on Marx's concept of capitalist "production for the sake of
production." A RESTATEMENT OF SOME FUNDAMENTALS OF MARXISM AGAINST CARTER'S
VULGARIZATION (Nov. 14, 1943) was published in a Workers Party mimeographed
bulletin, March 1944 as a defense of J.R. Johnson's (C.L.R. James') article,
"Production for Production's Sake" (see THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION,
225-40), that had been subject to debate within the Workers Party. The full
text of Dunayevskaya's essay can be found in the THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA
COLLECTION, 167-191. Page references to Johnson and Carter are cited in the
text. The page references to the Kerr editions of Volumes I and III of CAPITAL
(1906, 1909) that Dunayevskaya cites in the footnotes are followed by added
page references to the Vintage Books editions (1977, 1981).
REIFICATION OF PEOPLE AND THE FETISHISM OF COMMODITIES
Com. Carter is horror-struck when Com. Johnson says that under capitalism
machines exploit labor. "Capital is then a MATERIAL THING which exploits
labor" (p. 13). Instead of analyzing the capitalist labor process and thus
discovering HOW a material thing becomes an exploiting force, Carter accuses
Johnson of having fallen victim to the fetishism of commodities, and
indignantly reminds him that for Marxists capital is not a thing but a social
relation of production established by the instrumentality of things. What
Carter does not perceive is that the thing, means of production, has become
the social relation, capital, because of what Marx calls "the contradiction
between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by
The focal point of Marx's analysis of capitalist society is his
critique of capitalist production. The ideology which flows from this historic
mode of production is enveloped in the perverted relation of dead to living
labor. Marx pointed out that the very simple relationcapital uses
laborexpresses "the personification of things and the reification of
people."(2) That is to say, the means of production become capital and are
personified as capitalists at the same time that the workers become reified,
that is, their labor becomes objectified into the property of others.
Marx's critique of capitalist society, based primarily on this inverted
relation of dead to living labor at the point of production, extends also
to the surface of society (the market), where the social relation between
people assumes "the fantastic form of a relation between things."(3) This
is the fetishism of commodities. Com. Carter sees only that. But he is
blind to the inverted relation of dead and living labor. This relation,
without which Marx's political economy is vitiated, never gets one single
line in all Carter's theorizing. He thus bungles both of Marx's theses.
Had Carter kept in his mind Marx's plan for Volume I [of CAPITAL], this
would have become clear to him.
In Part I of Volume I Marx deals with capitalist wealth as it appears
to be: "an immense accumulation of commodities."(4) Because he deals only
with the appearance, or what Marx calls the phenomena, of capitalism, he
does not here analyze the class relationship under capitalism. Here our
capitalist is still only Mr. Moneybags, who has bought a commodity, labor
power. That is why, in "The Fetishism of Commodities," Marx uses the words,
"social relation," or "personal relation," not capitalist relation. In the
market, then, where rule "Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham,"(5)
where the cardinal tie between men is exchange, the social relation between
them appears as a relation between things. Marx ADVISEDLY does not analyze
the class relationship until after Mr. Moneybags has left the market and
gone into the factory, where his capital can expand and he becomes a real
capitalist, that is, where the class relationship is created.
Marx proceeds to analyze the capitalist mode of production. Now that the
worker is in the FACTORY, the "social relation" becomes a PRODUCTION RELATION.
By virtue of that fact his relationship to the boss is very clear; it in no
sense assumes the fantastic form of a relation between things. On the contrary,
there the worker overestimates the capitalist's might. He thinks that the
capitalist alone is responsible for his plight instead of seeing the cause in
the mode of production which the capitalist represents. There the worker
personifies things: the means of production used as capital become the capitalists.
We are here confronted with what Marx called "the personification of things and
the reification of people." Marx was most emphatic in laying bare this "reification
of people" because that is the very heart of his critique of political economy. He
grasped this very early. "When one speaks of private property," wrote the young
Marx in 1844, "one thinks of something outside of man. When one speaks of labor,
one has to do immediately with man himself. The new formulation of the question
already involves its solution."
PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION, OR "PRODUCTION TAKEN AS A WHOLE"?
Carter has discovered that Johnson "by sleight-of-hand has passed from the notion
of CAPITALISM to the NOTION OF THE 'STRICT PROCESS' OF CAPITALIST PRODUCTION....
[C]apitalism is not and cannot be confined to a 'strict process of production' or
reduced to this by any ever-wonderful miracles" (p. 14).
Our theoretician is anxious to show us that his hand is on the pulse of life, and
not on Hegel's LOGIC. He is eager to demonstrate his opposition to any such
"sleight-of-hand" as Johnson practices. Hence he clearly distinguishes his conception
of the strict process of production from that of Johnson:
"Without the preliminary social distribution of the material factors of production,
without the preliminary process of circulation in which the products are sold and
profits are once again converted into capital, the immediate process of production
is a meaningless abstraction; a complete impossibility" (p. 15).
Insofar as distribution, both of the means of consumption and of the elements of
production, is concerned, there is no ambiguity whatever about Marx's emphasis that
production is the determining factor from which a certain type of distribution flowed.
He went to great length to argue against those who thought that either distribution
or conquest was a determining factor. He demonstrated how even the Mongol devastation
of Russia logically flowed from the Mongol METHOD OF PRODUCTION.(6)
Insofar as social distribution, or circulation of the aggregate capital is concerned,
Marx was equally emphatic as to which is the determining factor and which the subordinate.
Let us follow Marx. Volume I [of CAPITAL] is subtitled: The Process of Capitalist
Production; Volume II: The Process of Capitalist Circulation; and Volume III: The
Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. It is clear that capitalism there is not
the process of production AND the process of circulation, as if each is an equally
important movement of the development of capitalist society. Rather the summation of
the analysis of capitalism is the process of capitalist production "TAKEN AS A WHOLE."
That is so because circulation or social distribution is but the other side of the
same coin, production.
Marx tells us that Volume III deals with:
"THE MOVEMENTS OF CAPIALIST PRODUCTION AS A WHOLE . . . (which) approach step by step
that form which they assume on the surface of society in their mutual interactions,
in competition and in the ordinary consciousness of the human agencies in this
Here Carter always remains. Here, then, we learn that commodities sell, not at value,
but at price of production; that surplus value is not an abstraction, congealed unpaid
labor, but that it has the concrete form of profit, rent and interest; that capital is
not only a social relation of production, but has the bodily form of money-capital.
Here we study the role of credit and even learn about gambling and swindling.
What is the grand result of learning all the facts of life? In order to get at the
real cause of crisis Marx has to make an abstraction of "the bogus transactions and
speculations which the credit system favors."(8) In order to ascertain the cause
which will doom capitalist production, we revert to the law which dominates over
production, the law of value and hence of surplus value:
"In order to produce the same rate of profit when the constant capital set in motion
by one laborer increases ten-fold, the surplus labor time would have to increase ten-fold,
and soon the total labor time, and finally the full 24 hours a day would not suffice
even if wholly appropriated by CAPITAL."(9)
Marx thus brings us back and "confines" us to the strict process of production and to
that supreme commodity, labor power.
Compare this with Carter who never leaves the surface of society even when he thinks
he is in the inner abode of production:
"...in the immediate process of production of commodities, the capitalists may not be
found physically present; in such cases they are represented by the managers, foremen,
etc." (p. 14).
And this is supposed to teach Johnson that if the "capitalists are nowhere," they are
represented by managers, foremen, etc.!
VALUE AND PROFITS
In Carter's thought-formations the appearance and the essence are always identical.
His failure to understand the quotation on pages 1028-9 [p. 1022] of Volume III is a
good example. Let us examine the structure of the chapter, "Conditions of Distribution
and Production," in which this quotation appears. Marx shows, first, how the condition
of distribution appears to "the ordinary mind."(10) He then counterposes "the scientific
analysis."(11) Marx completes the part regarding the condition of DISTRIBUTION with
the conclusion that the condition of distribution "is merely the expression of this
historically determined condition of production."(12)
Thereupon, without restating his method or treatment, he reverts to the appearance
of the condition of PRODUCTION to the ORDINARY MIND: "And now let us take profit . . . .
It is a relation which dominates reproduction."(13) Marx analyzes this concept of the
ordinary mind by saying that profit "appears here as the main factor, not of the
distribution of production, but of their production itself."(14) But, Marx continues,
that is not true at all. To the SCIENTIFIC MIND profit arises "primarily from the
development of capital as a self-expanding value, creating surplus value."
Carter is blind to all this. He is certain that he has not used the quotation out of
context. To "prove" his point, he quotes "supporting evidence" from Marx's analysis
of the thing which worries Ricardo, "the fact that the rate of profit, the stimulating
principle of capitalist production" is declining. Once again Carter has picked the
wrong quotation. A few lines further he could have read that this characterization of
profit is from "a bourgeois point of view, within the confines of capitalist
Marx has stated thus the theory of the law of the declining rate of profit: "The
fall in the rate of profit therefore expresses the falling relation of surplus
value itself to the total capital."(16) Bourgeois economists do not understand
this law. They are, however, struck with the EXPRESSION of this law, the manner
in which it asserts itself: the declining rate of profit. Marx considers it
significant that a bourgeois economist is worried about this law because thereby
Ricardo reveals that he "vaguely feels" that "something deeper" than the declining
rate of profit is hidden in the decline itself. That something deeper is the fear
that the bourgeois mode of production is not an absolute but a historically
transitory mode of social production. Marx could not prove this to a bourgeois
economist by lecturing to him on the historical development of labor. But because
the same point was brought home to him "in a purely economic way, that is from a
bourgeois point of view," he shows the first signs of understanding: confusion
Had Carter not used "THE LANGUAGE OF THE CAPITALISTS,"(17) he would have understood
the quotation on page 1028 [p. 1022] and would have realized as well the scientific
reason why Marx refused to analyze profits in Volume I where he analyze "pure"
capitalism, stripped of all its phenomenal and confusing forms:
"We shall show in Book III that the rate of profit is no mystery so soon as we know
the laws of surplus value. If we reverse the process we cannot comprehend either
the one or the other."(18)
Com. Carter has reversed the process and hence has understood neither the one nor
the other. He may, if he wishes, repeat that the scale of production is determined
by what profit the capitalist thinks he may get (p. 15). However, I underlined
for his benefit that Marx considers such language to be the "language of the
capitalists." Carter's theorizing is a vulgarization of Marxism. Because we live
in a bourgeois world and are bound by a thousand threads to bourgeois concepts,
language which is "within the confines of capitalist understanding" is easy for
the simple-minded to grasp. That is why pseudo-Marxism always "seems to make
1. CAPITAL, I, p. 128; p. 209.[BACK]
2. ARCHIVES OF MARX-ENGELS, p. 159 [ECONOMIC-PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS OF 1844,
"Alienated Labor," Russian edition].[BACK]
3. CAPITAL, I, p. 83, p. 165.[BACK]
4. Ibid., p. 41; p. 127.[BACK]
5. Ibid., p. 195; p. 280.[BACK]
6. CRITIQUE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY, p. 288.[BACK]
7. CAPITAL, III, p. 38; p. 117.[BACK]
8. Ibid., p. 568; p. 615.[BACK]
9. Ibid., p. 468; p. 523.[BACK]
10. Ibid., p. 1022; 1017.[BACK]
11. Ibid., p. 1023; p. 1018.[BACK]
12. Ibid., pp. 1028-9; p. 1022.[BACK]
15. Ibid., p. 304; p. 368.[BACK]
16. Ibid., p. 250; p. 320.[BACK]
17. Ibid., p. 303, my emphasis; p. 367.[BACK]
18. CAPITAL, I, p. 239, footnote; p.324.[BACK]
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