Sharing, Not Selling: Marx Against Value
The originality of Marx’s Capital is often underestimated. Countless commentaries have appeared, but only a few have taken the full measure of Capital’s truly unique and counter-intuitive outlook. Critics generally assume that Marx was pursuing familiar questions of economics or philosophy in a fresh way – that his aim was to explain profits, history, or ontology. Those goals were indeed part of his mission. But Marx’s wish to revolutionize society ran deeper than most commentators have realized. His goal was not just socialism or a classless society but, even more profoundly, a post-commercial society in which self-emancipated workers associate freely to share what they make, rather than producing for sale. He envisioned a society entirely free of commerce, in which products cease to be commodities and become freely shared goods that satisfy human needs directly, without facing daunting obstacles of cost and affordability. Visions of this kind are ordinarily called utopian. And despite Marx’s reputation for radicalism – his standing, in the immortal words of Jimmy Carter, as “the grand daddy of Communism”1 – his utopianism is rarely fully appreciated. Several factors have contributed to this result. Not least is the fact that Marx’s name and ideas were coopted by parties that sought, and won, state power. These parties portrayed Marx as an advocate of centralized planning, and they had the resources to give this claim the veneer of orthodoxy. Marx’s actual vision of a society with neither exchange nor an executive branch of government was neglected.2 Another barrier to insight is the assumption that Marx’s agenda can be found mainly in his political writings. In fact, the deepest roots of his thought appear in Capital, where Marx not only “theorizes” value but opposes it, with utopian implications. To clarify this point, which Marx explains awkwardly, I offer a fresh account of his core argument.
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