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This book demonstrates the continuing relevance of Marx’s critique of the capitalist system, in which value is simply equated with market price. It includes chapters specifically on the environment and financialisation, and presents Marx’s qualitative theory of value and the associated concept of fetishism in a clear and comprehensive manner. Section I demonstrates how fetishism developed in Marx’s writing from a journalistic metaphor to an analytical device central to his critique. In Section II, commodity fetishism is distinguished from other forms: of money, capital and interest-bearing capital. There follows an analysis of Marx’s complex attempt to distinguish his argument from that of Ricardo, and Samuel Bailey. The section ends with a discussion of the ontological status of value: as a social rather than a natural phenomenon. Section III considers the merits of understanding value by analogy with language, and critically assesses the merits of structural Marxism. Section IV challenges Marx’s emphasis solely on production, and considers also exchange and consumption as social relations. Section V critically assesses recent Marx-inspired literature relating to the two key crises of our time, finance and the environment, and identifies strong similarities between the key analytical questions that have been debated in each case.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

1. Introduction

Abstract
In this brief chapter I set out the purpose of the book: to analyse what Marx called the ‘qualitative’ theory of value which has generally been ignored by economists—even those sympathetic to his views. This involves undertaking a critical analysis of the closely associated concept of fetishism, which has also been largely ignored, or misunderstood, in the literature.
Desmond McNeill

The Concept of Fetishism

Frontmatter

2. The Origins of Fetishism in Marx’s Writings

Abstract
Marx first used the term fetishism in almost his first published work, as a young journalist on the Rheinische Zeitung. Here, he criticised the members of the Rhineland assembly in their debates on the theft of wood, taking his first step towards a detailed critique of private property. I discuss where Marx may have come across the term fetishism, and why it appealed to him as a metaphor. I also briefly discuss how others—anthropologists and psychologists—have made use of the concept.
Desmond McNeill

3. The Development of the Concept over Time

Abstract
I trace Marx’s frequent use of the term fetishism throughout his writings, including references in The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx’s Letter to Annenkov (1846) and the Grundrisse (1858). I distinguish three separate stages. In the first, the word fetishism is used, but Marx’s analysis is only in an embryonic state. In the second, Marx’s ideas are developing but the word is not used. In the third and final stage, Marx adopts fetishism as a central concept in his analysis. I also note a shift in the development of Marx’s use of the term fetishism, from an emphasis on property to an emphasis on the social relations of production.
Desmond McNeill

4. Fetishism: A Preliminary Exegesis

Abstract
I present a preliminary exegesis of the concept of fetishism, based on the famous quotation from Chapter 1 of the first volume of Capital: “There (with commodities) it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic from of a relation between things”. I discuss what other writers have made of this, before analysing each component of the statement in turn: ‘a relation’; ‘a social relation between men’; ‘relation between things’; and ‘assumes the fantastic form of …’. This raises a number of issues: most notably Marx’s emphasis on the social as opposed to the material, or natural; and his rather equivocal phrasing: ‘assumes the fantastic form’. This appears to leave open the question of whether the capitalist system somehow ‘produces’ this form, and whether it is ‘real’ or a self-serving and deliberate mystification.
Desmond McNeill

The Ontology of Fetishism

Frontmatter

5. Fetishism of Money, Capital, Interest-Bearing Capital and Commodities

Abstract
I suggest that in order to comprehend commodity fetishism it is helpful to begin by analysing the fetishism of money, capital and interest-bearing capital. I therefore draw on a selection of quotations from Marx’s writings, mainly from Capital Volume III and Theories of Surplus Value. With commodity fetishism, Marx asserts that relations between producers appear ‘as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things’ (my stress). This contrasts with the self-serving mystification of ‘higher’ forms of fetishism, most notably expressed in the Trinity Formula, which leads me to distinguish my position from that of Analytical Marxists, most notably Cohen.
Desmond McNeill

6. The Form of Value: The Scylla of Bailey and the Charybdis of Hegel

Abstract
In this long chapter, I trace Marx’s route beyond Ricardo, as his criticisms become gradually more apparent. In Theories of Surplus Value, the break is clear; here, Marx criticises Ricardo for failing to analyse the form of value. But what exactly does this mean? To address this question, I examine the first chapter of Capital Volume I in great detail. It is particularly enlightening to analyse the revisions that Marx makes in the Second Edition. Here it is clear that he wishes to distinguish his position from that of an influential contemporary economist, Samuel Bailey who, like other economists, ‘exclusively give their attention to the quantitative aspect of the question’. But in doing so, Marx risks indulging in the sort of speculative philosophy that he had earlier criticised. A close analysis of the first, and revised, texts thus offers a valuable insight into what precisely Marx was seeking to communicate.
Desmond McNeill

7. Appearance and Reality: Some Ontological Issues

Abstract
In this chapter, I take up the question that I briefly raised in Chap. 5 regarding the ontological status of value. Marx emphasises that value is not a natural but a social phenomenon. Social phenomena can be said to exist and indeed to be causally effective; but only by virtue of people’s shared beliefs. Here, the concept of fetishism is illuminating. To the native of West Africa, the fetish has real power; as Marx wrote in his doctoral thesis: “did not the ancient Moloch reign?”
Desmond McNeill

On Value and Meaning

Frontmatter

8. What Is Value? Marx’s Use of Analogy

Abstract
In this chapter, I analyse the challenge that Marx faced—most notably in Chapter 1 of Capital Volume I—in seeking an appropriate way to explain the mysterious phenomenon of exchange-value: what does it mean that 1 quarter of corn = x cwt. iron? He considers analogies with geometry, and with chemistry, and suggests that value is like weight. None of these entirely satisfies him, but he does not consider analogy with language, which I suggest would be more apt, in view of the fact that value is a social rather than a natural or material phenomenon. Indeed, Marx referred more than once to language as the epitome of the social. For example: “For to stamp an object of utility as a value is much as much as social product as language”. One passage in the Grundrisse indicates that he considered, but rejected, adopting this analogy, but I suggest that he would have strengthened his argument if he had chosen otherwise.
Desmond McNeill

9. The Limitations of Structural Marxism

Abstract
In this chapter I discuss the work of three social scientists who have written about Marx and have drawn on linguistics—or more broadly structuralist analysis—in studying social phenomena: Louis Althusser, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Maurice Godelier. While recognising the originality of their work, and the contributions that they made, I identify some major shortcomings in both Althusser and Lévi-Strauss, concluding rather that it is Godelier who comes closest to successfully combining the merits of Marxist and structuralist methods. But I also conclude that none of the three makes appropriate use of the analogy with language for understanding the complexity of value.
Desmond McNeill

10. The Commodity as Sign

Abstract
I argue that in seeking to comprehend value, the analogy with language extends remarkably far: precisely because economics is concerned not merely with material things but with social phenomena. I explore the analogy between value and meaning, between coins and words, drawing in part on writers from other disciplines, such as the semiotician de Saussure, some of whom have proposed the reverse analogy: from economics to linguistics.
Desmond McNeill

The Social Relations of Production, Exchange and Consumption

Frontmatter

11. Marx’s Emphasis on Production

Abstract
I argue that it is enlightening to consider not only production but also exchange and consumption as social relations. In this chapter, I note the central place that is occupied by labour and production in Marx’s theory and seek to better understand why this is so, which relates in part to Marx’s conception of human nature. I argue that to place such a heavy emphasis on labour was in no way novel for economists of his time. The originality of Marx, I suggest, was his emphasis on the social.
Desmond McNeill

12. Exchange and Reciprocity

Abstract
Marx interprets a famous passage in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in terms of his own labour theory. I contend that this explanation is flawed. Citing the work of several commentators on this passage, and drawing on an analysis of Marcel Mauss’ concept of reciprocity, I argue that in Ancient Greece (as also in many contemporary ‘traditional’ societies) the market was only incipient, and exchange was very much a social relation.
Desmond McNeill

13. Consumption, Need and Use-Value

Abstract
I argue that in modern capitalist society not only production should be seen as a social phenomenon; and, referring to the work of Baudrillard, that it may be enlightening to speak of the social relations of consumption. I critique what Marx wrote about consumption, and argue that ‘need’ is not merely a ‘natural’ phenomenon. I critique the writings of Marxist commentators, such as Rubin, Heller and Rosdolsky, who, while recognising the significance of consumption, nevertheless do not criticise Marx’s position.
Desmond McNeill

Marx in the Twenty-First Century

Frontmatter

14. Marx and the Environment

Abstract
I first briefly reiterate the purpose of the book: to demonstrate the crucial role that the qualitative theory of value and the associated concept of fetishism play in Marx’s critique of the capitalist system. I next review the work of commentators on Marx and nature, concluding that it is capitalism, not Marx, that adopts a ‘Promethean’ attitude to the environment. I discuss proposals that have been made to extend or supplement Marx’s labour theory of value so as to include nature and the unpaid work of others. And I critique the concepts of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ and ‘nature as accumulation strategy’. Against this background, I examine Marx’s theory of rent, emphasising the distinction between two types of appropriation: the extraction of rent (by landowners from capitalists) and the establishment of exclusive private property over land, broadly defined. I conclude that, despite claims that “value is back on the agenda”, much of the recent literature that refers to Marx relates only peripherally to Marx’s theory of value which some, indeed, treat as erroneous or irrelevant.
Desmond McNeill

15. Marx and Financialisation

Abstract
After demonstrating the massively increased scope of finance in recent decades, I summarise and critique Marx’s analysis of interest-bearing capital. I then discuss recent literature on the financialisation of everyday life, which now constitutes quite a substantial body of work, ranging across different disciplines, some inspired by the post-structuralism of Foucauld. Against this background, I explore two key questions that have generated controversy: ‘is finance productive?’ and ‘what kind of appropriation is involved?’—drawing largely on work by Fine, Christophers and Lapavitsas. Regarding the latter question, I distinguish between ‘Appropriation 1’: the relation between lender and industrial capitalist, and ‘Appropriation 2’: the relation between lender and individual (not necessarily a worker). The former relates to Marx’s analysis of interest-bearing capital, the latter to the financialisation of everyday life.
Desmond McNeill

16. Conclusion

Abstract
In this brief final chapter, I note strong similarities between the key questions that have arisen in recent Marxist literature concerning the environment and financialisation, showing how these relate to two fundamental issues in Marx’s analysis: the production of surplus value and the appropriation of this surplus by capital. I reiterate my claim that Marx’s qualitative theory of value and the associated concept of fetishism have continuing relevance to an understanding of twenty-first-century capitalism, but that this has not been sufficiently recognised.
Desmond McNeill

Backmatter

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