Three Plays: The Political Theater of Howard Zinn: Emma, Marx in Soho, Daughter of Venus]
Value theory: is there any value in it? Is it still worthwhile to talk about it?
I wish you could know Jenny. What she did for me cannot be calculated. And she accepted the fact that I could not simply get a job like other men. Yes, I did try once. I wrote a letter of inquiry to the railway for a position as clerk. They responded as follows: “Dr. Marx, we are honored with your request for a position here. We have never had a doctor of philosophy working for us as a clerk. But the position requires a legible handwriting, so we must regretfully decline your offer.” (He shrugs.)
Jenny believed in my ideas. But she was impatient with what she considered the pretensions of high-level scholarship. “Come down to earth, Herr Doktor,” she would say.She wanted me to describe the theory of surplus value so ordinary workers could understand it. I told her, “No one can understand it without first understanding the labor theory of value, and how labor power is a special commodity whose value is determined by the cost of the means of subsistence and yet gives value to all other commodities, a value which always exceeds the value of labor power.” She would shake her head: “No, that won’t do. All you have to say is this: your employer gives you the barest amount in wages, just enough for you to survive and work; but out of your labor he makes far more than what he pays you. And so he gets richer and richer, while you stay poor.” All right, let us say only a hundred people in world history have ever understood my theory of surplus value. (Gets heated) But it is still true! Just last week, I was reading the reports of the United States Department of Labor. There you have it. Your workers are producing more and more goods and getting less and less in wages. What is the result? Just as I predicted. Now the richest one percent of the American population owns forty percent of the nation’s wealth. And this in the great model of world capitalism, the nation that has not only robbed its own people, but sucked in the wealth of the rest of the world . . . Jenny was always trying to simplify ideas that were, by their nature, complex. She accused me of being a scholar first and a revolutionary second. She said: “Forget your intellectual readers. Address the workers.” She called me arrogant and intolerant. “Why do you attack other revolutionaries more vehemently than you attack the bourgeoisie?” she asked. Proudhon, for instance. The man did not understand that we must applaud capitalism for its development of giant industries, and then take them over. Proudhon thought we must retreat into a more simple society. When he wrote his book The Philosophy of Poverty, I replied with my own book, The Poverty of Philosophy. I thought this was clever. Jenny thought it was insulting. (Sighs) I suppose Jenny was a far better human being than I could ever be.