‘Value without Fetish: Uno Kōzō’s Theory of ‘Pure Capitalism’ in Light of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy’ by Elena Louisa Lange reviewed by Pete Green

Reviewed by Pete Green

About the reviewer

Pete Green is an Independent Researcher and UCU Retired Member. …


Elena Louisa Lange has devoted over 500 pages of text to a critique of the work of Japanese Marxist Kōzō Uno (1897-1977) and some of his disciples. The opening sentences of the introduction incisively summarize the agenda: ‘This book wants to put the critique of the fetishism of the bourgeois relations of production back into the Critique of political Economy. Its aim is to demonstrate that the disavowal of the critique of fetishism strips the Marxist project of its critical core, its raison d’etre.’ (3)

The only theoretical work by Uno available in English (leaving aside, as Lange does, a recently translated historical work on economic policies in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain) remains the abbreviated edition of Principles of Political Economy: Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society (1980). Lange’s knowledge of Japanese has enabled her to read and summarize Uno’s collected works. One reason for the length of the book is that the author provides extensive quotations from Uno’s texts, frequently followed by equally extensive passages from Marx.

Uno is probably best known outside Japan for his three-level method which differentiates between a level of pure theory, the historical stages of capitalism and a level of analysis of ‘the actual phenomena’. Lange’s assessment does not address the differentiation of the historical stages. Her objection is to the criteria, or rather the lack of them, for which features of a capitalist society are included at the level of ‘pure theory’. Uno himself criticizes Marx for insufficiently differentiating in his work between supposedly ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ elements. But as Lange exposes, Uno’s own model of ‘pure capitalism […] oscillates between a non-historical, ideal-typological and radically abstract object […] and a historical one most paradigmatically linked to the era of industrial or “laissez-faire” capitalism in the 19th century.’ (78) The latter element in the model is also suggested by Uno’s dubious assertion in the Principles that states are ‘alien to capital’. This helps explain why some of Uno’s disciples, such as Robert Albritton, continue to argue that since 1917 the system has become progressively less capitalist, because it is supposedly less regulated by the ‘law of value’. Lange is absolutely right to respond that the world has never been as capitalist as it is now. (490)

However, Lange’s critical focus is on the theory of ‘pure capitalism’. Over two lengthy chapters she addresses first ‘Uno’s Theory of Value’, and secondly the proposed reconstruction of Marx’s Capital in the Principles. Her most distinctive contribution is her response to Uno’s proposed reconstruction of the opening chapters of Volume 1 of Capital.

Uno makes two arguments which have far-reaching implications for Marx’s value theory. Firstly, he argues that Marx’s introduction of ‘abstract labour’ as the substance of value in chapter one is ‘premature’ and based on a problematic claim that labour is the only ‘common property’ of two commodities in an exchange relation. For Uno ‘abstract labour’ is a property of labour which presupposes the sale of labour-power as a commodity and ‘mass production’ under capitalist control. Secondly, he claims that Marx’s analysis of the forms of value is deficient because it excludes consideration of the ‘subjective wants’ of the commodity owners for the use-values presented as equivalents. Chris Arthur, from a more explicitly Hegelian position, agrees with the first of Uno’s arguments, but not the second.

The most serious consequence of these moves by Uno is the separation of Marx’s derivation of money from its essential relation to abstract labour. As Lange correctly insists, money is the ‘explanandum’ not the ‘explanans’ in Marx’s analysis. (158) The whole purpose of the complex derivation of money in chapter one is to establish that money is the visible incarnation of social labour in general, and the expression of abstract labour in a material form. The section on the fetish character of the commodity, which follows the ‘forms of value’ section in later editions of Capital, derives from the inversion in which a social relation between private producers appears as a relation between things, money and commodities. Uno and his disciples having detached money from its relation to abstract labour, concluding with money as an autonomous fetish-object. The Unoists, like the classical political economists critiqued by Marx, remain ‘dazzled’ by money instead of explaining its necessity. Hence Lange’s well-founded charge that they present ‘value without fetish’ or as she states on the evidence of several quoted passages from Uno himself: ‘Uno’s momentous and decisive demarcation against Marx’s theory of value and money lies in suggesting the replacement of the notion of abstract labour with money itself as the “autonomous” existence of value.’ (222)

We have one fundamental disagreement over whether, as Lange claims in agreement with Arthur and other Hegelian readings, Marx presupposes a fully developed capitalist mode of production in the opening chapters of Capital. Marx evidently assumes a social division of labour with specialised private producers who can only survive by selling their product, but does not specify further at that point the class relations of production. As Engelskirchen proposes, following an Aristotelian rather than Hegelian procedure, this is a causally generative ‘structure of interdependent autonomy’ in which the producers could be peasant farmers, slaves on a sugar plantation or capitals employing wage-labour. That, I would argue, provides a firmer foundation for a critique of the proposed reconstructions of both Arthur and Uno.

In her more wide-ranging chapter four on Uno’s Principles, the exposition and commentary stretches over 164 pages, longer than the abbreviated edition translated into English. Lange relentlessly tracks the Unoists down a succession of paths which traverse the whole corpus of Marx’s work on Capital. One argument serves as a guiding thread. Uno presents Marx’s law of value as a ‘Law of General Social Equilibrium’ – similar, as Lange says, to Paul Sweezy’s interpretation. For Uno the law of value is inseparable from a theory of reproduction in which, as in Marx’s reproduction schemas, there is balanced growth and supply corresponds to demand. Lange challenges Uno’s appropriation of Marx’s schemas to support what she terms an idea of ‘pre-established harmony’. She also connects Uno’s ‘use-value based view of social reproduction’ to his earlier version of a value theory in which the goal is not the accumulation of surplus-value, but ‘the satisfaction of needs by use-values’ (308-9).

Lange is right to emphasize that for Marx the law of value is not primarily a theory of equilibrium prices but a law which asserts itself only in and through fluctuations and crisis. However, her own account of the law of value would have been clearer if she had connected it more precisely to the regulation of the competition between capitals by changes in the productivity of labour. Lange also counterposes Marx’s crisis theory to a theory of business cycles, although for Marx the two were interwoven – even though the weaving was left unfinished. Crises are cyclical not permanent in Marx’s account but their severity varies depending on the interaction of longer-term tendencies. There are, however, good grounds for a critique of the specific Unoist theory of crisis which proposes a profit-squeeze tendency as a function of a shortage of labour and ‘excess capital’. Regrettably, Lange ignores the work of the Uno-influenced Makoto Itoh, on the crisis period of the 1970s and 1980s, although this had more impact on Anglo-American debates at the time than Uno’s more general theory with its problematic ‘law of population’.

One problem of a presentation organised in response to the structure of Uno’s book is that Lange’s own position on specific questions of economic analysis is not always clear, or even consistent. An especially problematic example is her treatment of the notorious so-called ‘Transformation Problem’. To make the point briefly: Lange refers positively to work by both Michael Heinrich from 1999 and Fred Moseley in his recent book. But there is a fundamental difference between the two. Heinrich argues that Marx went wrong in his quantitative analysis and didn’t need to go there. Moseley argues that Marx got it right.

Another weakness is a tendency to overstate her case. To take only one example, from a cursory and unnecessarily dismissive commentary on Thomas Sekine, Lange quotes a passage in which Sekine refers to the formation of a general rate of profit through a process of arbitrage. She then concludes that he ‘ultimately discards’ Marx’s theory of surplus-value. But the passage quoted clearly refers to the process of equalization of profit-rates between sectors not to the underlying determinants of the general rate of profit which emerges from that process. Sekine, in his major work on the Dialectics of Capital, recently reissued by Lange’s own publisher, endorses Uno’s proposed reconstruction but he does not discard Marx’s analysis of surplus-value.

Lange’s scattergun approach in the final part of her book weakens the force of her earlier critique. It may also provoke howls of righteous indignation from surviving Unoists but hopefully they will respond to this critique with the seriousness it deserves. This is a significant contribution to an ongoing debate over value and crisis theory. It is also testimony to the continuing fertility of Marx’s texts at a time, however, when capitalism’s resilience as a global system is also very evident.

20 August 2021


  • Engelskirchen, Howard 2011 Capital as a Social Kind Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Sekine, Thomas 2020 The Dialectic of Capital Leiden: Brill.
  • Uno, Kōzō 1980 Principles of Political Economy: Theory of a Purely Capitalist Society trans. Thomas Sekine, Brighton: Harvester Press.


  1. Nonsense on stilts! Value as the basic principal of capital IS the fetish. But this cannot be established in any scientific sense without unfurling ALL the categories of capital to demonstrate how it wields the economic life of a human society as a byproduct of value augmentation and disavows its own historicity in the process. Lange is what happens when a Japanese language and culture prof with zero economics knowledge and a most superficial grasp of Marx tries to get into the Marx business….Remember too, as Polanyi makes crisply clear, nobody ever refers to such a thing as an “economy” prior to the dawn of the capitalist era precisely because it is only then that the economy tends to disembed from the social to constitute a separate sphere of society. But this phenomena of the economic disembedding from the social or “purifying” itself of other social practices with which it was previously enmeshed across the sweep of history has ontological foundations that need to be explained. This is what Marx, decades before Polanyi, attempts to do in CAPITAL. Yet, if as Marx explains, the phenomenon of the economic appearing to levitate from the social to constitute a separate sphere of society derives from the structural properties of capital as the transfactual causal mechanism operating in all capitalist societies then with the right epistemological resources it is possible explore this in economic theory. Put differently, economic theory and the theorizing of the capitalist mode of production are necessarily synonymous. Fortunately, Marx was no fool we need not be made ones by the likes of Lange and others…

  2. “cursory and unnecessarily dismissive commentary” is the first step in Lange’s usual method. Her second step is to cite a snippet out of context and complain about how unclear or incoherent it is, which naturally an out-of-context snippet is likely be. Finally she follows up with a long and erudite-sounding commentary that may or may not pertain to the dismissive comment and/or the decontextualized snippet. “She sounds smart, so she must be right.” The problem is that the erudite stuff is deployed opportunistically and isn’t entirely consistent.

    I don’t read Japanese, so I have no idea how much or how little she butchered Uno’s work before skewering it. But having read Gavin Walker on Uno, I know what he wrote and I know a hatchet job when I see one. Add this to her embrace of anti-vax conspiracy theories on social media and her contempt for “the left,” feminism and critical race theory and it is no surprise that Historical Materialism is embarrassed and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her bat-shittery.

  3. The stated aim of Elena’s book is “to demonstrate that the disavowal of the critique of fetishism strips the Marxian project of its critical core, its raison d’etre” (p. 3) given that “the critique of fetishism” is “the Leitmotiv of Marx’s whole project” (p. 5). This is an interpretation that is currently quite trendy in Marxist academia.

    Elena’s suggestion is, that Kozo Uno’s theory of ‘pure capitalism’ disavows the centrality of the critique of fetishism, or even disregards it, and therefore misinterprets the problem Marx tried to solve, and the methods he used to solve it.

    That is certainly an interesting interpretation, but how plausible is it? The best answer is probably that it has some validity, but also contains errors.

    Briefly, three relevant points are worth mentioning here:

    (1) In Marx’s 1859 Critique, and in the original first edition of Marx’s Capital Vol. 1 published in 1867, any explicit or substantial reference to the “fetish of commodities” was absent. The commentary on fetishism was added explicitly by Marx to the first chapter of Capital Vol. 1 only in the second edition of 1873, when the last section of the first chapter was considerably altered and expanded.

    The question then arises, of why, if indeed the concept of “fetishism” was the very “core” of Marx’s critique, he added a explicit comment about fetishism only as an afterthought in 1873?

    To my knowledge, Marx himself never used the concept of “commodity fetishism” (“Warenfetishismus”) as a generic term for the reifications of commercialism. That was a later interpretation by New Left academics, the Frankfurt School, and the “super-radical” fasco-Left.

    Instead, Marx referred to the “fetish” (or sometimes “fetishism”) of commodities, money and capital. The concept of fetishism illustrated how people respond to the reality that market relations and market laws have acquired a life of their own, and an independent power.

    (2) Kozo Uno presents his “pure capitalism” specifically as the total reification of all economic and social relations. It is certainly true, that Uno introduced many conceptual modifications of Marx’s theory, and adapted Marx’s theory to Japanese conditions and discourses (also in the light of theories by Hilferding, Lenin, Weber etc.). However, far from ignoring the reifying powers of markets, Uno deliberately aims to conceptualize the totality of economic activity in the most reified state that is conceivable, where all human relations among producers and consumers are completely mediated by, or take the form of commercial transactions. By doing that, Uno is certainly not “ignoring” the fetishes of commodities, money and capital, or the reifications of the economists (which he mentions a number of times).

    When Elena claims that “Uno does not consider the problem of the fetish-characteristic of value.” (p. 208) this is not literally true. It is just that Uno has his own interpretation of that problem, and that this interpretation diverges considerably from Marx’s and Elena’s. I think that Makoto Itoh (whom I regard as the greatest Uno scholar) could confirm that. Uno often thought that Marx’s story got it wrong in places, and therefore needed to be corrected.

    When Uno argues that labour becomes “form-determined” by value relations and proportions, he means among other things that use-value and exchange-value of the product are mapped to concrete labour and abstract labour in production, and that by implication (i) the worker becomes a replacable tool or working animal (a means) to produce products which enrich the business owner, (ii) that workers’ labour becomes a quantified, tradeable object in its own right, valued according to what they produce, and (iii) that the work itself is completely structured according to criteria of costs, sales turnover and profit margins.

    The worker “works to live”, exchanging labour for money, and money for consumer items, but in fact he “lives to work” with limited free time. Thus, I think Uno understood very well, that abstract labour refers not merely to the market valuation of labour, but also to how labour is practically treated in working life.

    (3) Marx’s criticism of capitalism as a social and economic system was not simply about fetishism, and that is not the only or the central theme of his critique. You can see that very clearly already in the contents lists of the three volumes of Capital. It becomes even clearer, if you read the all three volumes.

    Marx criticized the capitalist system for numerous different reasons, such as:

    *the exploitation, alienation and enslavement of workers;
    *the pauperization of a large part of the population;
    *the desacralization of all aspects of human culture via their conversion into reified commercial business;
    *the ruination of the health and development of the workers, and the loss of the best part of their lives in mind-numbing toil to enrich the bourgeois classes;
    *oppressive and destructive working and living conditions, where people are not infrequently treated worse than animals;
    *recurrent economic catastrophes and commercial crises, that result in the destruction of wealth and mass unemployment;
    *wars between competing capitalist classes, and wars of conquest to capture foreign territories and markets;
    *the pollution of destruction of human habitats and the biosphere;
    *the venality of bourgeois property, the moral hypocrisy of the bourgeois classes, and their contempt for human life outside their own habitats;
    *irrationality and waste in the commercial use of resources;
    *The pervasiveness of criminality, despoliation and corruption.

    These various themes – about which many books are already published in the Historical Materialism series – were originally referred to by Friedrich Engels in his book The condition of the working class in England (1845) and in his outline for a critique of political economy. These themes provided a narrative which explained why socialism was necessary, and why people had to fight for socialism.

    In his book Capital, Marx told the story in much greater depth, with a very comprehensive explanation of the nature and operation of the capitalist mode of production (“in its ideal average”).

    Elena is probably correct, when she suggests that Uno blunted the radical and revolutionary edge of Marx’s view of capitalism (in Uno’s bid to create an objective science of capitalism). Scholasticism and academic detachment were typical of Uno and his school (hence the reference to the “Uno Schoolmen”). Marx’s theory was preserved as a valid scientific pursuit, and as a coherent objective explanation of the big picture about market society.

    However, not all Unoists were scholastics; for example Makoto Itoh was involved in a number of political issues in Japan, and in the 1980s wrote for journals like Ampo etc. http://parc-jp.org/alter/ampo/ampo_backissue_list.pdf

    In each new epoch since 1867, different Marxist schools of thought have highlighted and accentuated particular themes in the work of Marx and Engels, namely the themes that particularly struck a chord among the Left at the time. So why is the notion of “fetishism”, and the idea of reconstructing Marx’s work around that concept now so popular? There are quite a few possibilities, such as:

    *the idea has a “super-radical” flavour and an intriguing mystique of erudition, for educated people who are critical of markets and the business world, without this topic being too dangerous to talk about.
    *Another explanation is that Western Marxist academia is dominated by ultra-leftists, who have little to say about the capitalist economy and have no coherent alternative to it, but who want to recover what they think are the most radical insights of Marx’s “hardcore anti-capitalism”.
    *in the digital era, just about everything we say and do is mediated by digital media, which is drastically changing human relations and behaviour, and sets people thinking about reifications in everyday life.
    *In Europe, North America and Japan, a lot of Marx’s themes seem to lack relevance now, because capitalism and the working class today are very different from what they were in Marx’s own time. Yet Marx’s criticism of false representations, idols and symbols in bourgeois society can still score a hit.
    *In the West, the working classes are politically rather passive and disunited right now, focusing academic attention more on how workers are dominated with ideological apparatuses and false ideas, rather than on how workers are changing the world.
    *Last but not least, the fascination with the critique of fetishism recalls the Judeo-Christian damnation of the pagan worship of the golden calf (the prohibition of idolatry). People might be “interpellated” by the fetishism story, for spiritual or religious reasons.

  4. Suppose that Richard Westra (a highly respected scholar) is correct when he says that “Value as the basic principle of capital IS the fetish”, a truth which is revealed when we comprehend the capitalist order in its totality. What would be the implication of that?

    I am not sure whether I interpret Richard’s claim accurately, but it suggests to me, that economic value in the commercial sense would really only a psychological, social, ideological or spiritual “projection” based on the attitudes and behavioural dispositions that people actually have. After all, a fetish involves attributing human characteristics or powers to objects which in truth they do not have.

    From this it would follow, that if people changed their attitudes and dispositions, and related in a different way, then “value” would not exist. Which is, of course, always an abstract logical possibility, if you can agree on a definition of what value is (the unsolved question remains how you would get there).

    I confess that I find this scenario for the disappearance of value rather implausible however. After all, every product or service has an average current replacement cost as a physical necessity, the magnitude of which can be expressed as a sum of money, a quantity of average labour-time, or as a quantity of other commodities. That cost will exist, regardless of how the allocation of resources happens to be organized. OK you can shift that cost from A to B across the whole world, sure, and with credit instruments you can do that in very sophisticated ways, but ultimately somebody has to pay for the cost, in whatever form it takes.

    Even when the communists tried their very best to eradicate commerce as much as possible, they were unable to eradicate “value”, insofar as they could not escape from the reality that the supply of products presupposed economic costs in labour, energy and materials. In order to reach any kind of sensible economic management, they had to account properly for the value of labour costs, energy and materials used.

    It is therefore rather unsurprising, that Joseph Stalin in the end acknowledged, after quite a lengthy ideological and scientific controversy, that the “law of value” did exist as a regulative principle under socialism, even within a system of administered prices and state organization of the economy.

    It is anyway rather improbable that human beings can simply get rid of “value”, since human beings in clans, chiefdoms, tribal and civil societies are always “valuing subjects”. Ludwig Grünberg (1933-1995, a philosopher and phenomenologist of Romanian origin, who taught in Bucharest and the US) commented:

    “A world without values stops being a human civilization, looking rather like a society of Hymenoptera. Human beings would return to animality or change into a bio-mechanical aggregate. Directly or symbolically, values express people’s projects, the constellation of their preferences professed and aimed at, the hierarchy of their preferences, their way of making a choice and being chosen. It is only through the values assumed and promoted that a person’s synthetic project called happiness acquires shape.” (Ludwig Grünberg, The Mystery of Values: Studies in Axiology. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000, p. 127).

    Stable and predictable ordering of values turns out to be an essential precondition for human freedoms, workable social relations, and efficient cooperation. In this sense, ethical inquiry is not a “luxury science” for intellectuals, but a science of decisive importance for the future of civilization.

    In brief, I think we could at best say that, while human beings will always value things, their valuation schemes could change (and in the course of history, they do in fact change).

    A broad range of possibilities exists to value things and activities in different ways, many of which have already been tried, in germinal form, or on a very large scale. In this sense, a large range of possible socialisms exist. If some of them failed, that was because, whatever the good intentions were, they proved practically to be inefficient and ineffective, and contrary to the interests of the community as a whole. Some of them were also amazingly effective and efficient though, in the sense that if people shared resources and cooperated, they reduced their costs, and increased their opportunities to achieve things, use and consume things etc. In that sense, there is still a lot to be learnt from all the socialist experiments there have been, even if Luddite scholars say it was “all a lot of rubbish” (it wasn’t, as time will tell).

    From the point of view I have sketched here in precis, the ultra-leftist ambition to “demolish value” appears not only as quixotic, but also reactionary, if there exists no comprehensive and credible theory of alternative methods of resource allocation which are efficient and effective, and socially acceptable.

    The Luddite sect of the late 18th century (originating in Nottingham) destroyed textile machinery, because they perceived it as a threat to their craft and employment. But if you destroy the ability to value things altogether (insofar this is at all possible, perhaps by destroying the banking system and big tech), this only creates a massive chaos, and you destroy any sort of predictability in the social order. Soon enough people would call out for order to be restored, with stable and predictable values, for the sake of a workable way of life. What sort of new order would emerge, I do not know, but it would most certainly contain systems for valuing things, people and labour.

    When Marx was criticizing notions of value, he had in mind the specifically *capitalist* valuation of people and things, and the valuations of the bourgeoisie as the dominant social class. A hundred and fifty years later, some of those valuations have stayed much the same as they were, but some valuations have also changed greatly, not in the least because many of the things to which values are nowadays attached simply did not exist in Marx’s time, or were as yet inconceivable.

    That certainly creates a whole new series of questions and problems for social scientists and economists to ponder, but it is unlikely that they can be resolved, if we do not properly consider both the discontinuities as well as the continuities in the pattern of human valuations across large intervals of time.

    Some Unoists have argued, that today’s world society has morphed into a “post-capitalist” society. I am myself skeptical of that idea, based on my understanding of what capitalism is, but it illustrates that there are a lot of controversies about what has changed and what hasn’t changed, in the structure of modern society and the economy since Marx’s time.

    The rather bizarre aspect of the controversies in Western Marxist circles is, that the different groups ands parties nowadays cannot even agree how capitalism should be defined, how socialism should be defined, and how each can be transformed into the other. If that is so, it might take a long time for any successful socialist movement to emerge again in the West.

    If Marxists now make a “critique” by jumping up and down and shouting that the bourgeois classes and businessmen are “fetishists”, I just don’t think this is going to cut much ice at all. I wouldn’t deny the importance of Marx’s insights about the workings of markets and market worship, but I think the real questions to be solved are different than the ones that most Western Marxist scholars nowadays write about.

    It may be very satisfying to probe the intricacies of the concept of value (particularly if you get paid a nice salary for it!), but what matters is why we are doing that, what the ultimate purpose of that exercise really is. These days I often get the feeling that the Western Marxists have lost the plot, ruminating about the narratives of the past, but not really learning from them what ought to be learnt. A new, persuasive grand narrative has yet to emerge out of the legacy of the past.

  5. Just reading over a few of these comments I can see that there’s a lot of stuff on Marx and Uno floating around that is hugely disempowering of the Marxist project. First, it is surprising that someone would seek to impugn Uno’s strengthening of Marx’s claim that CAPITAL constitutes an economic science. After all, what other kind of science is there than that which aspires to objective knowledge or capital-T truth about the world? Science would be nonsensical if it didn’t aspire toward such knowledge. What particular kind of objective knowledge seeking science CAPITAL or Marxian economic theory is can only be established by reference to the ontological properties of its subject-matter or theoretical object. In this regard Marx never claims to have discovered some Archimedean point from which to theorize capital and critique bourgeois political economy. Rather Marx grasped the ontological peculiarity of capital in its tendency for self-abstraction, self-reification, self-infinitization and so on. Marx’s argument is simply that in following the real, “material” abstraction of capital as it abstracts from the sensuous, concrete, qualitative, heterogenous properties of use value life to bring goods into abstract, quantitative, homogenizing value or price relations of the capitalist market, it was possible with the right epistemological resources to gain “inside” objective knowledge of capital as it revealed all its inner commodity-economic secrets. All Uno does is refine and consummate Marx’s project here. Bourgeois political economy and economics Marx and Uno maintain gain only partial, ad hoc knowledge of capitalism by focusing on its surface indicators. Complete, objective knowledge or the truth of capital for Marx and Uno demands the unfolding of ALL the categories of capital. CAPITAL, as refined by Uno, accomplishes this by following the contradiction between value and use value inhering in the commodity as the “cell form” (as Marx puts it) of capital to draw out all its inner logical interconnections as capital seeks to efface its own historicity in subsumption of the labor and production process of society for the purpose of augmenting abstract mercantile wealth to simply present as an “asset” the ownership of which miraculously accrues income as captured in the category of interest. In fact the fetishism of commodities is but a less specified form of the fetishism of capital. Marx demonstrates this as he closes CAPITAL V3 with discussion of the trinity formula. Marx, there, does not close CAPITAL to simply recapitulate what he has already demonstrated – that capitalism is a class society. Rather in the trinity formula of vulgar economics – capital/interest, land/rent, labor/wages – capital appears in terms of transhistorical “factors of production”. Included in labor/wages in the vulgar trinity formula, is no longer just productive labor but capitalist “work” buying and selling along with other incomes earned by human services. Capital (interest), in this fashion, appears as property or asset owner accruing income similar to land/rent, yet simultaneously part of the working class to which wages accrue for commercial service “work”. The fetishism of capital thus derives from capitalism presenting as a classless society divided simply by occupational or sociological statuses.
    Second, “value” has many meanings. For example, I hold socialist values as opposed to bourgeois values. Or, I truly value the working conditions afforded by my university here…But value in the specific economic or categorial sense referred to by Marx and Uno captures a social substance that, as the economic principle of capital, is like capital, historically constituted under very specific and delimited human social relations of production. What is transhistorical is use value. All human societies are necessarily predicated upon the metabolic interchange between human beings and nature through which a labor and production process of society is organized to furnish human society with use value sustenance. Value is the abstract, quantitative, homogenizing principle of capital. It poses a contradiction to use value because while in capitalist society it must attach it itself to use value as the substantive foundation of human material life, to express itself as pure quantity indifferent to the sensuous qualitativeness of use value life it must necessarily operate to incorporate the latter. What Marxian economic theory demonstrates is the historical possibility of capitalism as a society which wields the material use value life of an entire human society as a byproduct of value augmentation.
    Third, what is truly revolutionary about Marxian economic theory as drawn out by Uno is: 1) as already alluded to in unfolding all the categories of capital it completely (scientifically, objectively) exposes what capital in its most fundamental incarnation is and does. This provides the basis for the critique of bourgeois economics in all its forms; 2) Marxian economic theory shows how capital, in wielding the material life of a human society for the purpose of augmenting abstract mercantile wealth necessarily meets the general norms of economic life to reproduce a human society as a byproduct of its chrematistic. By demonstrating how capital meets the general norms of economic life Marxian economic theory confirms the feasibility of socialism. A society in which those same general norms are satisfied according to the concrete use value determinations of free associations of free peoples organizing human material life for the purpose of human flourishing. Put differently, in socialist society, value as social substance expressing historically constituted social relations of production of capitalism is supplanted by other socially and historically constituted economic principles. 3) Remember, it is only capitalism in which an ontological tendency for the economic to disembed from the social or for the economic to manifest a self-subsistence separate from the superstructure exists. Thus theorizing capital to produce complete knowledge of the economic base of society in its capitalist form provides the key to the study of economic life of other human societies where no such ontological tendency exists just as the “anatomy of man is key to the anatomy of the ape” as Marx puts it.
    Finally, whether Uno attended protests or not is besides the point. Knowledge is dangerous which is why the Japanese police state imprisoned him…

  6. Perhaps it is useful to mention for scholars that Elena’s discussion of Uno in her book is an elaboration of an earlier article she published in German, which you can download online:

    Elena L. Lange, Geldtheorie ohne Fetischcharakter: zur problematischen Rezeption des ersten Kapitalbandes bei Uno Kozo und der Uno-Schule. Zeitschrift für kritische Sozialtheorie und Philosophie,


    In her book, Elena discusses much more than Uno’s theory, especially in the second part.

    It is difficult for Western scholars to evaluate correctly Kozo Uno’s total contribution to Marxian scholarship, because good translations are almost non-existent, even just for the main works. It should be a priority for leftwing publishers to create and publish good English translations of Uno’s main works, but so far it is apparently not a priority (admittedly one volume was published in the HM series, but it is not Uno’s most important theoretical work).

    Unfortunately, there exists as yet no well-constructed Translator’s International, with supporting experts who promote translation projects and find translators, specialists in funding translation work, and jurists concerned with translator’s rights and working conditions.

    Often, the Marxist elites have tried and still try to be in control of what was published and what people can read, believing that the Marxist elite is best placed to steer the international discussions in the right direction. It’s a highly “political” area.

    So the most important works often haven’t been translated, or if they did get translated, it is usually because some individuals took the initiative. Often the result is a warped view of what the scholarly discussions in foreign countries are (or were) really about.

    To give a few examples from the German literature: Hilferding’s Finance Capital (1910) which had a huge influence on Marxist discussions was translated only 70 years later. Henryk Grossman’s book on the Law of Accumulation (1929) was translated 63 years later. Fritz Sternberg’s analyses of imperialism or Werner Sombart’s Modern Capitalism were never translated. Important writings by Elmar Altvater, Klaus Busch, Willi Semmler, Helmut Reichelt, Helmut Brentel, Günther Grunert, Christian Girschner etc. were never translated into English.

    Yet, interestingly, many writings in that genre were translated into Japanese, even when there was no English translation yet! It is only much later that Western Marxists acknowledged the quality of Marxian economics in Japan… partly enabled by… translators.

  7. An erratum: I have just noticed that in 2019, a New Zealand publisher (https://kanitzpublishing.com/) published a complete translation of the first volume of Sombart’s “Modern Capitalism” (1902-1927). https://www.amazon.com/Modern-Capitalism-Pre-Capitalist-systematic-Pan-European/dp/0473496747/

    Some readers will no doubt wonder or sneer at why I included Sombart among some significant untranslated German Marxian literature.

    Well, in his younger days Werner Sombart certainly claimed to be a socialist (and sometimes also a Marxist or inspired by Marx, though some would probably call it an “intellectual flirtation”), he corresponded with Friedrich Engels and reviewed Capital Vol. 3 when it was first published. What is more, Sombart’s sociological theories became quite influential in Germany and beyond; the popularization of the term “capitalism” owed much to Sombart’s writings (which were often intended constructively to add to, correct or improve on Marx’s theories).

    At a senior age, in the 1930s, Sombart’s sympathies shifted to the Nazis, and in 1934 he published a book on “German socialism”. This may also have helped him to survive, although a later anthropological text (Vom Menschen, 1938) was not to the taste of Nazi ideologists (Sombart died in 1941, when he was 77). After the end of world war 2, Sombart’s ideas were no longer taught at all in Western universities, mainly because of his association with anti-semitic and Nazi ideology.

    Marxist scholars have never explained satisfactorily or accurately how Marxism transformed into Stalinism and Nazism, but how could they do this anyway, when key texts and influences operating in that era were inaccessible to them? All of Sombart’s Modern Capitalism volumes, plus the 1929 lecture on “The transformations in capitalism” (in which he introduced the concept of late capitalism for the first time) deserve good translations, I think.

  8. Jurriaan wrote: “Yet, interestingly, many writings in that genre were translated into Japanese, even when there was no English translation yet!”

    ^ An example of that was the journal “Marukusu shugi no hata no moto ni” (1930), consisting of translated articles from the German and Soviet Marxist journals of the same name (Under the Banner of Marxism). Here’s an e-translation of the ToCs, only from 1931 (eg Preobrazhensky):

  9. @Noa: you may be very poetic, but…

    Under the Banner of Marxism was specifically a *Soviet Russian* journal, featuring mainly Russian philosophers. It was started in Moscow, on the recommendation of Trotsky and Lenin, and a German-language version was published in Berlin and Vienna, places where a communist breakthrough was considered by many a matter of life and death for the future of Soviet Russia. Probably the Japanese Left translated more from German than from Russian, because that was easier for them.

    There was no English version of Under the Banner of Marxism, although some articles from the journal were translated into English. In 1930, the Stalinists began to dictate the content of the journal directly, and from that time, articles had to conform very strictly to Stalin’s official Marxist-Leninist catechism.

    In 1936, the exiled Leon Trotsky complained bitterly in his text “The revolution betrayed” that:

    “In spite of the fact that Marxism is formally a state doctrine in the Soviet Union, there has not appeared during the last twelve years [i.e. since 1924] one Marxian investigation – in economics, sociology, history or philosophy – which deserves attention and translation into foreign languages. The Marxian works do not transcend the limit of scholastic compilations which say over the same old ideas, endorsed in advance, and shuffle over the same old quotations according to the demands of the current administrative conjuncture. Millions of copies are distributed through the state channels of books and brochures that are of no use to anybody, put together with the help of mucilage, flattery and other sticky substances. Marxists who might say something valuable and independent are sitting in prison, or forced into silence, and this in spite of the fact that the evolution of social forms is raising gigantic scientific problems at every step!”. https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch07.htm

    This trend also applied to the content of the journal Under the Banner of Marxism, which, after all, had its first issue in 1922, just one year after the ban on factions in the CPSU, the deterioration of Lenin’s health, and Trotsky’s Red Army repression of the Kronstadt revolt (the last big uprising against total communist power).

    Trotsky exaggerated – some substantive Marxist works were still being published by the Marx-Engels Institute and various independent scholars (like Isaac Rubin). However, very few people knew about those works, because they had no access to them, the print-runs were small, and they weren’t widely advertised. Trotsky himself was exiled in 1928, and his followers “on the ground” had to communicate in secret.

    What I talked about myself however, was not Russian Marxist literature, but “influential, important or classic German Marxian literature” that was never or only much later translated into English – distorting the Western debates.

    All kinds of foreign weirdo and obscurantist “Marxist” texts have meanwhile been translated into English, but much of the best Marxist literature (in terms of scientific and literary quality) was not translated.

    That is probably an important reason why today, weirdo and “super-radical” obscurantist Marxist ideology predominates in the West, and why very few people are interested anymore in Marx, never mind studying Marx. It also helps to explain why Marxian scholarship makes so little progress anymore these days, even although the ideological hegemony of neo-Stalinism and Maoism is long gone (except that Louis Althusser is still revered by the Western Marxist elite).

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