On Postone’s assertion that value is anachronistic

by Jehu

Anachronism: A chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, or customs from different periods of time.

Here is a short passage from Postone:

“a critical theory should be able to problematize its own historical situatedness.”

Jesus Christ, Postone, is this even English? When I first read this statement, I had no idea what the fuck Postone was saying. So I decided to break it into smaller bits:

  • Problematize (Verb)
    1. To make something into a problem.
    2. To consider something as if it were a problem.
    3. (intransitive) To propose problems.
  • Situatedness (Noun)
    1. embeddedness in a culture

Based on this, I would paraphrase Potone’s argument this way:

A critical theory should be able to account for itself within a specific historical context?

Applying this to Postone’s central thesis, I came up with this question:

Why is value anachronistic today, when value was not anachronistic when Marx wrote Capital?

Or. more concretely,

Why are wages anachronistic today, when they were not anachronistic when Marx wrote Capital?

In the second question, I am substituting “value” with “wages”, i.e., with the exchange value of labor power. People might objection to this sort of reduction, but I think it can be defended on the basis that there is only one true capitalist commodity: labor power and hence its exchange value is its wage. Essentially, the only value that counts in the capitalist mode of production is the value (or socially necessary labor time) of labor power.

Stated baldly, (and perhaps entirely too early), Postone must show how it is that wages were once a spur to social production, but now function as a fetter on social production. Postone only makes this assertion by proposing value is anachronistic, he does not prove it. The assertion still remains to be proven.

Not only does Postone fail to prove his central thesis, few of any of his followers have bothered to investigate this rather amazing hypothesis. No one has even bothered to investigate the question of what would constitute proof for his thesis that value (wages) is now anachronistic.

Some writers have suggested that Marx’s theory cannot be proven or disproved; rather, it provides a framework for analysis of social relations within the capitalist mode of production. I vehemently disagree with this view. Marx clearly thought his ideas were scientific and would be subject to empirical evidence that would support or falsify it.

To accept Postone’s reading of Marx implies that this reading must also be verified or falsified on the basis of actual empirical evidence.