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In the course of his critique of Samuel Bailey and David Ricardo in the 1861-63 Economic Manuscript, Marx asks "what is it that grounds the reference of value to labour?" The category of labour as the substance of value is not properly grounded, as it maintains an internally necessary reference to money as a commodity, i.e. to commodity money with intrinsic value, which makes Marx's question irresolvable. In the course of this talk, which discusses Prof Bellofiore's recent paper, we find that the answer to this question – "what is it...?" – lies in capital's consumption of the living bearers of labour-power. The key concept which makes this link is absolute value, a category that has been lost in the English secondary literature. Its specific meaning can be understood by re-reading Marx’s confrontation with Bailey and Ricardo and then tracing its evolution through the various editions and drafts of Capital I. This paper reconstructs that theoretical path.

'Absolute' here refers not only to the detachment and incarnation (the 'abstraction') but to the despotic command that is thereby executed over isolated producers, and thus also stands for the development of value into an automatic Subject, as an overgrasping and self-reproducing totality. The success of the antagonistic process of consuming labour power cannot be taken for granted in capitalism’s historically and socially specific situation, but must be actively posited. The monetary imprinting referring labour to value must be prefigured by financing for the purchase of labour power at the beginning of the productive cycle, this moment functioning as the ex-ante validation of the living labour to be expended. That is why capitalist production is nothing but labour; this fact is the ultimate foundation of Marx’s (monetary) value theory of labour. In this perspective, Marx’s Capital is a journey from intrinsic value (an ethereal “ghost”) into money as an absolute value (a “fetish”), which becomes capital (a “vampire”).

Riccardo Bellofiore is a retired Professor from the University of Bergamo, and and Adjunct Professor of History of Economic Thought at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. He has recently published Le avventure della socializzazione (Mimesis, 2018), and co-edited with Giovanna Vertova The Great Recession and the Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism (Edward Elgar, 2014).

Event details:

This hybrid event can be attended in person or through Zoom.

The talk will take place in King's College London on Thursday, 25 of May, at 16.00. You will be required to book a free ticket through Eventbrite to access the event.

Alternatively, please sign up here for access to the online event on Zoom. You do not need to obtain an Eventbrite ticket to attend on Zoom.