Ouch! Postone steps on his dick about 25 minutes into this lecture

by Jehu

I like Postone. I like him a lot. I find him very illuminating. But let me bitch just a bit about Postone. In the lecture below Postone makes what I think is an unforgivable mistake. (Okay, perhaps not unforgivable, but stupid anyways.)

At about 25 minutes into this talk Postone says:

“There is no way you can prove it going down. That isn’t the way value theory works.” –Moishe Postone

What possible good is a theory that cannot be verified or falsified? Marxists are such complete idiots that it is painful to watch them sometimes.

I love reading Postone, but he spends far too much time hanging out with useless German value theorists. It is beginning to rot his judgment. If he had any goddamned sense, he would have entitled his paper, “The Anachronism of Labor”, not “Value” — or, better yet, “The Anachronism of Wages”.

What makes Postone’s view so frustrating is he makes a number of rather startling assertions regarding capital that he then states cannot be proven. These assertions include his assertion that there are patterns to events we have witnessed that can only be explained only when we adopt his reading of Marx. A reading that includes the assumption that Marx does not employ the categories of political-economy transhistorically but only as they appear within the capitalist mode of production.

This means, among other things, that the commodity Marx refers to in Capital is solely labor power; that value Marx refers to is the value of this labor power; and, that labor Marx refers to is wage labor. Thus Marx:

  1. is not talking about commodities in general, but only about labor power;
  2. is not talking about value transhistorically, but only the value of labor power, which is expressed in the price of labor power, i.e., wages;
  3. that labor power is  social relation that mediates the production of material wealth and all other social relations in capitalist society;
  4. that labor power reconstitutes itself as necessary even as it renders itself anachronistic;
  5. that this self-reconstitution explains both the lack of vision of the future and has enormous destructive consequences presently;
  6. that wage labor is specific to capital and cannot be the basis for a future communist society;
  7. that wage labor has rendered itself anachronistic — a statement that was not true in Marx’s day;
  8. that labor power may be the only commodity whose value is equal to the socially necessary labor time required for its production;
  9. that labor within the specific historical conditions of capital specifically produces the value and use value of labor power itself;
  10. that socially necessary labor time refers to the labor time required for production of labor power alone;
  11. finally, that the wage labor of the worker reproduces her absolute dependence on the sale of her labor power.

These are some pretty extravagant claims in any case, but they become quite incredible when Postone expects us to take them on face value without offering any proof or evidence of their validity save the rather nebulous, and moreover specious, argument of a bourgeois simpleton economist like Piketty, who once argued the Marx’s “Das Kapital, I think, is very difficult to read and for me it was not very influential.”

Postone can to do better than this. He has to spend more time linking his ideas to the empirical evidence or at least explain how his ideas might be expressed concretely. Without this, the idea that wage labor is now anachronistic will never get standing among communists. Most communists will continue to rely on bourgeois neoclassical theory.