Value, class and Capital

This year’s Historical Materialism conference in London focused on the Russian revolution as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of Marx’s Volume One of Capital.  Naturally, I concentrated on presentations that flowed from the latter rather than the former.

Indeed, the main plenary at HM was on Marx’s theory of value and class – and the annual winner of the Isaac Deutscher book prize announced at the HM was William Clare Roberts’ Marx’s Inferno, which seemed to be a ‘political theory’ of capital seen through the prism of Dante’s famous poem.  Maybe, more on that later.

The plenary speakers were Moishe Postone, Michael Heinrich and David Harvey – an impressive line-up of heavyweight Marxist academics.  Postone is co-director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory and faculty member of the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies.  His 30-min speech was difficult to understand, being couched in polysyllabic academic jargon. But I think the gist of it was that we cannot consider the class struggle under capitalism as just between exploited workers and capitalists any longer, as it now involves race, creed and gender and a new populism of the right.  So we need to rethink Marx’s theory of class.

For this reason, “orthodox Marxism” is a hindrance.  The old meaning of class struggle is not essential.  As for Marx’s theory of value, it is specific to capitalism, but it has changed and exploitation is now over the amount of time we all have rather than over the production of surplus value.  Now I think that is the gist of what he said, but frankly, I cannot be sure because Postone’s exposition was so incomprehensible.

The next speaker was Michael Heinrich, the well-known German expert of Marx’s Capital and close researcher of Marx’s original writings in the so-called MEGA project.  Now readers of this blog will know that Heinrich and I have debated before on whether Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit is logical and whether Marx himself dropped it; and we published on this issue.

In his presentation, Heinrich agreed with Postone that value is a category specific to capitalism, but he reckons that Marx changed his conception of both class and value over his lifetime.  So it is not possible to pull quotes from Marx like random rocks in a stone quarry.  Each quote must be placed in its context and time.  For example, Marx’s definition of class struggle as found in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 differs with his later definitions of class at the end of Capital Volume 3.

Similarly, Marx’s concept of value changed over time.  Early on, value is seen to come from the production process and the exploitation of labour power by capital.  Later on, Marx revised this view to argue that value was only created at the point of exchange into money.  Similarly, Marx thought that a rising organic composition of capital would lead to a fall in the rate of profit, but later he recognised that more machines could raise the rate of surplus value and so the rate of profit may not fall.

Heinrich has the advantage over us in reading Marx’s original words in German, but they remain his interpretations of Marx’s meaning. Heinrich, in effect, argues that value is not a material substance, namely the expenditure of human energy in labour that can be measured in labour time, but only exists in the form of money.  In my view and in the view of many other Marxists, this denies the role of exploitation of labour in production, which comes first.  Yes, you can only see value in the form of money, but then you cannot see electricity until the light comes on, but that does not mean it does not exist before the light glows.  For an excellent critique of Heinrich’s interpretation of Marx’s value theory, see G Carchedi’s book, Behind the Crisis, chapter 2).

Does any of this matter, you might say?  Are we not just discussing how many angels are there on the head of a needle, as medieval Catholic theologians did?  Well, yes.  But I think there are some consequences from deciding that value is only created in exchange and also that class struggle is not really centred (any longer) on workers and capitalists in the production process.  For me, such theories lead to the idea that crises under capitalism are caused by faults in the ‘circulation of money and credit’ and not in the contradictions of capitalism between productivity and profitability in the production of surplus value, as I think Marx argued.  And the revisions of the nature of class struggle could lead to the removal of the working class as the agent for socialist change.

There is a similar problem with David Harvey’s presentation.  Again, Harvey has made a massive contribution to expounding and defending Marx’s ideas as expressed in Capital to explain the workings of the capitalist mode of production.  I have presented my critique of Harvey’s more novel propositions on this blog before and he has also criticised my ‘orthodox’ view.

In his presentation, Harvey again looked to be ‘innovatory’ in an attempt to raise new categories in Capital.  Yes, value is ‘phantom-like’ (can’t be seen), but objective (i.e. real) and only appears as money.  But Harvey wants us to consider new terms like ‘anti-value’.  What does Harvey mean by this?  Apparently, money and credit can be created without the backing of value.  Marx called this ‘fictitious capital’ because it was not real capital based on the production of value and surplus value by the exploitation of labour, but merely the title to assets that may or may not be supported by new value.  In that sense, investment in financial assets produces fictitious profits.

Now Harvey wants to change the name of this category to ‘anti-value’ because he thinks that in doing so it can show that there are obstacles to the flow of capital (value) in the realisation of value.  Thus crises can originate or be caused from breaks in the circuit of capital outside the production process itself.  Similarly, Harvey came up with what he called ‘value regimes’.  ‘World money’ as represented by gold no longer controls the value of fiat money (money ‘printed’ and backed by governments), particularly after the US dollar came off the gold standard in 1971.  So now we have ‘value regimes’ like the dollar area, the euro and more recently, the Chinese yuan.  Again, I think all this was saying was that various economic national state powers are trying to gain the biggest shares of global value and in so far as they are successful, their currencies will be stronger relative to others over time.  I failed to see why we needed new terms or concepts to ‘explain’ this.  But there we are.

Of course, things have changed over the last 150 years since Marx formulated his critique of capitalism and political economy and published Capital.  Capitalism is now global, finance capital has expanded dramatically, imperialist power blocs have developed and capital has become ever more concentrated and centralised.  But it seems to me that the laws of motion in the capitalist mode of production have not so fundamentally changed that we need new categories to explain them; or we need to drop Marx’s basic value theory or his main law of the contradiction between productivity and profitability to explain crises and instead search for other explanations in the money and credit circuit.

If we do that, then we also reduce the role of the proletariat as the main agency for revolutionary change.  And in my view, it still is, if only by the absence of success in the last 150 years.  Revolutions based on the peasantry (China) or isolated in one country (Russia) have not delivered socialism even if they have removed capitalism, for a while.  Only the global proletariat in unity can do that.

The idea that Marx’s theory of value and crises is out of date and needed amending was the theme of my own paper at HM.  I quoted John Maynard Keynes in commenting that Capital was “an obsolete textbook which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world”.  I wanted to defend Marx against this view of Keynes, which is still prevalent not only in bourgeois analysis, but also in recent biographies of Marx by former Marxist historians who claim that Marx was a man of 19th century with little to tell us about the 21st.

My paper above all aimed to show that Keynesian ideas have nothing in common with Marx’s critique of capitalism and are thoroughly designed to restore capitalism in crisis and make it work better.  HM London November 2017 This, I think, is important, because Keynesian theory and policies dominate the minds of the labour movement everywhere, as though they were a workable and radical alternative, while Marxist theory is ignored.

Of course, this is no accident because if you accept Marx’s critique of capitalism, you are compelled to require a revolutionary transformation of the capitalist mode of production – something that remains frightening, not just to the leaders of the labour movement, but also to many activists who fear the risks involved in revolutionary change.

My paper argued that, contrary to Keynes’ view, the labour theory of value provides a logical and empirically verifiable explanation of the capitalist mode of production, while, in contrast, the mainstream ‘marginalist’ theory is false, indeed unfalsifiable.  Marx’s great discovery about capitalism is that it is a system of exploitation of labour power to appropriate value produced by workers as surplus value or profit through sale on the market for commodities.  That is where profit comes from.  Keynes, like all mainstream economics, denied profit is the result of unpaid labour.  For him, profit is the marginal return on investment and justified to the capitalist.

Marx’s theory of crises means that rising productivity of labour through increased investment in means of production relative to labour will lead to the contradictory fall in profitability, engendering recurring crises.  Keynes, instead, saw slumps or depressions as due to a collapse in the ‘animal spirits’ of entrepreneurs and/or to too high interest rates charged by financiers. Crises are a ‘technical problem’ that can be corrected by boosting the ‘confidence’ of capitalists and lowering interest rates, or in the extreme, getting governments to spend to prime the pump of private industry.

For Keynes, once such measures are used to deal with these occasional slumps, then capitalism will be set fair for a golden future where hours of toil will fall dramatically with the use of technology; scarcity and poverty would disappear; and the main problem would be how to use our leisure time.  Well, now 80 years after Keynes argued this, more than 2bn people are in dire poverty, inequality has never been greater, technology is threatening to take away many jobs and the average working life has not fallen at all.  Moreover, the Keynesian prescriptions of easy money (QE) and government spending have signally failed to revive capitalism in the major economies since the Great Recession.  The Long Depression, as I have called it, remains.

Indeed, in my session, veteran French Marxist Francois Chesnais presented his thoughts from his book, Finance Capital Today, which was short listed for the Deutscher prize.  Chesnais argued that the current depression would never end.  The rate of profit globally is still falling and global debt is steadily rising.  The Great Recession has not ‘cleansed’ the system. And now global warming threatens to destroy the planet.

Now I am not quite so ‘pessimistic’ (or is it optimistic?) that capitalism is in its last throes.  But it is possible that capitalism could sink into ‘barbarism’ or the collapse of living standards, as the Roman slave empire did after 400AD, without being replaced by a new mode of production.  As Carchedi put it in a recent paper at the Capital.150 symposium, ‘the old is dying but the new cannot be born’ (Gramsci).  But capitalism could also stagger on with some revival in profitability after new slumps and the renewed opportunity to exploit new sources of labour in Africa and the periphery.  It will require the action of the global working class to achieve socialism.  It won’t come just because capitalism flounders economically.

Marx’s Capital provides us with the clearest and most compelling analysis of the nature of the capitalist mode of production and also its irreconcilable contradictions that show why capitalism is transient and cannot last forever, contrary to what the apologists for capital claim.

I don’t think we need to invent new and often confusing terms or categories to explain modern capitalism 150 years since Capital was published; or deny the role of exploitation in the creation of value at the heart of capitalism; or reduce the role of the global proletariat in ending it.

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99 Responses to “Value, class and Capital”

  1. Sean Delaney Says:

    Total misunderstanding of Moishe Postone’s presentation, His ideas really aren’t that hard to understand, especially for someone familiar with Capital.

    • Cork Says:

      I agree that this is a wilful misrepresentation of Postone’s arguments. I think Postone isn’t difficult to understand but Michael seems to be unable to put his intellectual baggage on the wayside even for a moment. That is required however to think these categories anew.

      • michael roberts Says:

        It’s not wilful. I genuinely did not get what he was going on about, except in very obvious ways. Postone’s paper from 1978 still seems to be the basis of his views. It says that socialism implies not the end of private ownership and wage labour but the end of all toil or freedom from labour. True – but he takes a very long and tortuous way of telling us so.

        http://platypus1917.org/wp-content/uploads/readings/postone_necessitylabortimemarx1978.pdf

        and here are quotes from Wikipedia on Postone’s views – presumably written by someone who knows his work.

        “Starting in this demonstration of the historically specific character of what Marx critiques, Postone then provides a new critical theory that attacks the very essence of capitalism: the form of labour specific to the capitalist social formation. Indeed, in non-capitalist societies, work is distributed by overt social relations. An individual acquires goods produced by others through the medium of undisguised social relations. Work activities derive their meaning and are determined by personal relationships, openly social and qualitatively specific (differentiated by social group, social status, the wide range of customs, traditional ties, etc.). But in a capitalist social formation, “the objectification of labor is the means by which goods produced by others is acquired; we work to acquire other products So someone other than producer that uses the product (as well as use value) – the producer, it serves as a means for acquiring work products from other producers. It is in this sense that a product is a commodity. It is both use-value for each other and medium of exchange for the producer. This means that the work has a dual function; on one hand, it is a specific type of work that produces goods individuals to others, but on the other hand, the work, regardless of its specific content, is the producer of means to acquire the products of others. This feature of the work, which is specific to the social life in capitalism, is the basis of modern socialization, is called “abstract labor.” In the functioning of these new social relationships, labour under capitalism is no longer an external activity to capitalism. It is the foundation of capitalism, and so is the labour that must be abolished.”

        AND

        “Abstract labor is then the source of alienation.” SO “It is from this concept that we can build a radical critique of the commodity, money, value, labor and politics, that is to say, a critique that is not limited to describe the struggles around management and distribution, the “class struggle” as traditionally understood, but recognizing that these categories themselves are problematic: they are specific only to capitalist modernity, and are responsible for its destructive and self-destructive nature”.

        End all toil and we can be happy.

      • michael roberts Says:

        and try this

        https://libcom.org/library/review-moishe-postone-capital-beyond-class-struggle

      • jlowrie Says:

        ” we cannot consider the class struggle under capitalism as just between exploited workers and capitalists any longer, as it now involves race, creed and gender and a new populism of the right. So we need to rethink Marx’s theory of class.” Has not the class struggle always involved these facets? For example, the support of the English capitalist class, especially the mill owners, for the slaveholding South during the Civil War.

        ”in recent biographies of Marx by former Marxist historians who claim that Marx was a man of 19th century with little to tell us about the 21st.”

        But it is not just Marxist historians. The opposition to revolution starts with Bernstein. After Mao died Deng Hsiao-ping claimed Marx was irrelevant as being of the 19th century, that there was no class struggle in China and called on the services Milton Friedman, the economic adviser to Pinochet.( Now the latter is a man who certainly knew how to wage class struggle!) Yet at this very time there are daily armed clashes between Chinese peasants and the organs of the state.

        I do think therefore it is unwise to over privilege the role of the proletariat in class struggle. The revolutionary movement must unite all the oppressed classes and strata of society. The English proletariat may not have a high degree of class consciousness, but the English bourgeoisie certainly does, and has not for a minute in the last 150 years hesitated to wage the most successful class struggles, one of its most egregious successes being in persuading even ‘socialists’ that class struggle does not exist.

  2. Mike Ballard Says:

    Postone is for shorter work time. So was Marx. As productivity (output per hour of labour) increases the work week should be shortened to provide more free-time for the useful producers of wealth. The rest is obscurantist crap. Heinrich’s goal is to replace Engels as the person who knew what Marx was on about. Lots of bourgeois intellectual wannbes in that camp, including Harvey. Here’s my critique of Heinrich’s An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital:

    a similar relation between the accumulation of wealth and the possession of political power by the few in the ruling class over other human beings pertains to pre capitalist societies. More slaves meant more wealth and more slaves and wealth were part and parcel of the expansion of the empires of the ancients. Heinrich doesn’t point this out. In his pretty good attempt, he demonstrates that capitalism is not based on moral choices, rather that capitalists are being forced to accumulate wealth as Capital in order to maintain political power over the producers of wealth and over their competitor capitalists in the arena, the marketplace of commodities. But, he fails to get beyond properly labeling this, the victory of abstraction, the victory of exchange-value over human beings, especially the producers of wealth. The problem with Heinrich’s approach is that it makes pre capitalist exploitation look substantially different in content when it is actually only different in form. Slaves were commodities too. The product of slave labour time belonged to the slaves’ owners. Surplus wealth in one area of class rule was traded for surplus wealth in another. The surplus wealth, whether from the application of labour power or the mere possession of natural resources becomes private property in class dominated society. Trade makes commodities of these use-values of wealth whether theses useful values are slaves, perfume, cattle or gold. The use-value of the commodity is, of course, both necessary and that necessity is perceived by the human subject/buyer i.e. in the eyes of the beholder in the marketplace of commodities.

    Heinrich seems to me to continually put labour power i.e. the human producer in the backseat of the drive to accumulate wealth/capital. While he is spot on when he says, “..a critique that takes aim at the ‘excessive profit-seeking’ of individual capitalists but not at the capitalist system as a whole..” because that is too ‘narrow’, his outline of the system as a whole fails to give credit where credit is due–to its producers, its wage labourers. After all, without wage labour there can be no Capital. But Heinrich wants his readers to focus on how value becomes ‘valorized’, not how it is produced: how it becomes an abstraction in his version of exchange-value (essentially price), as opposed to the moral shortcomings of individual capitalists. Fair enough on the critique of liberal moralism, even radical liberal moralism. But in his paragraph describing how the system works, he writes things like:

    “By capital we understand (provisionally; we’ll get more precise later) a particular sum of value, the goal of which is be ‘valorized,’ which is to say, generate a surplus.” p.16 How does an abstraction generate a surplus? Where does the surplus come from? It comes from the capitalist employing labour for wages, the price of the worker’s skills in the labour market. But the price itself is not the living socially necessary labour time, the energy embodied in the finished, marketed good or service. That living labour time is what constitutes its value. The price of a commodity is determined outside the production process by consumer’ demand in the market. The price fluctuates around the value of the supply of the produced commodity on the market and value is the socially necessary labour time embodied in those commodified goods and services.

    But what does Heinrich say?

    “The surplus can be obtained in various ways. In the case of interest-bearing capital, money is lent at interest. The interest thus constitutes the surplus. In the case of merchant capital, the products are purchased cheaply in one place and sold dearly in another place (or at another point in time). The difference between the purchase price and the sale price (minus the relevant transaction costs) constitutes the surplus.” p.16

    This sort of historical mystification is typical in Heinrich’s INTRODUCTION TO THE THREE VOLUMES OF KARL MARX’S CAPITAL. Transaction costs? Like the socially necessary labour time of the sailors, the ship builders and others who use their skills to get the commodity bought, transported and profitably sold in the market?

    No. These are near invisible to Heinrich. What he makes visible is the price which is in reality the abstraction. What he makes invisible is the producer who sells a skill to an employer for a wage and who thereby agrees to give up control and ownership of what s/he produces, i.e. the surplus wealth created within the labour time applied by the worker.
    full: http://wobblytimes.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/wobbly-times-number-168.html

  3. marthajpc Says:

    Inasmuch as most (by far) of the world’s proletariat labors (the lucky ones with jobs) in the ex-colonies, for wages many times lower in value that the average cost of labor in the “West” (I include Japan), one would think that theorists like John Smith and Samir Amin might have been invited to the conference. Were they? or representatives of their positions? Are the concepts of super-exploitation and imperial rent not “marxist”? Did Marx derive his labor theory from political economy’s free market illusions (in accounting for profit), or was it derived from his critique of political economy–as a device for showing how, in itself the capitalist mode of production cannot reproduce itself?– but for theft and war? Empirically, at least, Rosa Luxemburg seems to have been proven right.

  4. sartesian Says:

    My favorite self-contradicting line of all times: “The plenary speakers were Moishe Postone, Michael Heinrich and David Harvey – an impressive line-up of heavyweight Marxist academics.”

    Hilarious. Engels would have laughed so hard, he would have sprayed the room with claret.

  5. IA Says:

    ‘For example, [according to Heinrich] Marx’s definition of class struggle as found in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 differs with his later definitions of class at the end of Capital Volume 3.’

    What is the difference supposed to be?

    • michael roberts Says:

      I think Heinrich says that the Communist Manifesto phrase: “all history is the history of class struggle” is too wide-ranging and vague while his short analysis of classes in Volume 3 is more sophisticated in suggesting that classes can be defined by their source of income (?). But i’m only guessing.

  6. IA Says:

    Sean Delaney: you say that MC’s is a ‘total misunderstanding of Moishe Postone’s presentation’, would you then be so good as to provide an accurate summary of Postone’s presentation?

  7. brecht Says:

    Poshtone and other value-form theorists argue that class struggle and exploitation is important but secondary to the ‘abstract domination’ of capital over society in general (capitalists included). I think Marx’s chapter on commodity fetishism plays a key role here.

    Of course this ignores or belittles how class struggle constituted the capitalist mode of production through original accumulation and constantly reproduces the conditions for capital accumulatiin.

  8. Boffy Says:

    “In his presentation, Heinrich agreed with Postone that value is a category specific to capitalism, but he reckons that Marx changed his conception of both class and value over his lifetime.”

    That notion is clearly bonkers. In the preface to Capital, Marx says that philosophers had puzzled over the concept of value for more than 3000 years. So, unless you are going to argue that capitalism is 3000 years old, its clearly incompatible with Marx’s view. Then there is Marx definition of value and the law of value as set out in his letter to Kugelmann, where he says that the law of value applies to all modes of production, reiterated again in Capital III, Chapter 49, where he says,

    “Secondly, after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.”

    Then there is discussion of Value in Capital I, where he says that everything that is needed to be known about value can be gleaned from the activity of Robinson Crusoe, who establishes the value of his production on the basis of the labour-time required for producing each type of product, and comparing it against the use value he obtains from each. Indeed, as Engels describes in Anti-Duhring, that is precisely what he had set out much earlier as being the basis under which a socialist society would organise its production. In the same Chapter, Marx also describes the value produced by peasant producers by their direct labour, and the division of that value into the portion of the day that reproduces their labour-power, and the portion that produces surplus value, which is the objective basis of feudal rent, either as labour rent, rent in kind or money rent.

    Then there is Engels comment in his Supplement to Capital III, where he expands upon Marx’s explication of the historical and logical development of the average rate of profit and prices of production. As Marx and Engels describe, it is precisely under Capitalism that exchange value ceases to be the basis upon which the market value, and market prices of commodities is determined, because, instead the market value is determined by the price of production, which then is the locus around which the market price fluctuates. They describe the fact that it is ONLY in the period prior to capitalism, i.e. in the period of around 7-10,000 years of commodity production and exchange by direct producers that commodities exchange according to their exchange value.

    But, as marx sets out, particularly in Theories of Surplus Value III, as against the subjectivists like Bailey, the only logical, objective basis for exchange-value, is value itself. It is only possible to determine that the exchange value of linen for wine is 1 metre of linen for 1 litre of wine, if first I know that 1 metre of linen has a value of 10 hours of labour, and 1 litre of wine also has a value of 10 hours of labour. Value has to logically precede exchange-value.

    But, as Marx and Engels describe it historically precedes exchange-value too, because exchange value develops gradually, as a result of increasing trade between different communities. At first, as they describe the trade consists of sporadic exchanges, for example as a result of ceremonies, weddings etc., and these exchanges of products initially have no objective value basis, but as the exchanges become more frequent, and as products start to be produced specifically for the purpose of exchange by the different communities, and particularly as Marx says, the specialist merchants appointed by these communities get to know the value of the products, i.e. get to know what the labour-time required for their production is, so this value increasingly becomes represented as exchange value, i.e. a value expressed not in labour-time, but in its equivalent form, as a quantity of some other use value, and simultaneously, the product is transformed into a commodity. Indeed, it is this process that makes the development of a money commodity, as a universal equivalent form of value possible in the first place!

    To argue that value is specific to capitalism makes no sense whatsoever, because if that were the case, then it could never apply on Marx and Engels’ basis, because under capitalism it is price of production that determines the market price and basis of exchange of commodities, not exchange value. Exchange value determines the market price of commodities prior to capitalism, whilst value applies to products prior to them becoming commodities, and is, as marx sets out in TOSV III, the objective basis of exchange-value.

    If value is specific to capitalism, then it is impossible to explain the development of money as the universal equivalent form of value, because it developed thousands of years before the commencement of capitalism!

    • marthajpc Says:

      Boffy, I think the obvious is being displaced in arguing whether “exchange value” is or is not specific to capitalism. Of course human labor (time) is the basis of “value” in all social exchange of products, even under primitive communism, as you point out. What is specific to capitalism, however, is not exchange value–but capital–which Marx defines as essentially a social relation that is economically reproduced in a mode of production characterized the private ownership of the means of production and wage labor: the capitalist mode of production for private profit and accumulation. Both classical political economy’s labor theory of value and Marx’s (which introduces into their equation capitalism’s historical contradictory social relation and the problematic of value realization and reproduction of capitalism’s social order) are specific to the analysis of the capitalist mode of production.The academic stars who seem to dominate the plenary session apparently get the specificity of even Marx’s labor theory of value right but in a very limited (actually orthodox) way. Heinrich and Postone seem to think (or wish) that capitalism, though bad, is eternal and infinite, but can be improved by wishing away the proletariat, exploitation, and war…(just like Adam Smith). The peripheries of world capitalism apparently are really peripheral to their calculations.

      The necessary calculation of labor time under transitionary socialism is one thing–though here use value can trump exchange value when necessary (as in the Soviet Union and even China)–but the necessity of that sort of calculation would probably be superfluous within world community of communist egalitarian regimes of plenty. Early on, native Americans were inexplicably (to the European mind) generous to the earliest colonists of North America, who gave Thanksgiving to the landlord in the sky, but showed little gratitude to the natives themselves.

      • Boffy Says:

        Martha,

        You say,

        “Of course human labor (time) is the basis of “value” in all social exchange of products, even under primitive communism, as you point out.”

        The question here though is not simply “exchange-value”, but value itself. You seem to be conflating value and exchange value, which is also what Ricardo does, and which created problems for him and his followers such as Mill, and opened the door to their critics such as Malthus, Say and Bailey. By doing so you make value a relative concept rather than an absolute concept.

        As Marx sets out as against Bailey, Value itself is not “absolute” in the sense that the value of a product/commodity changes as a consequence of changes in productivity, but it is absolute in the sense that the thing that measures it – abstract labour – is an unchanging measure. Moreover, it is thereby autonomous. Value does NOT depend upon exchange, but only on production. Robinson Crusoe does not exchange the products he produces with anyone, and yet he is able to determine their value one with another according to the amount of labour it requires him to produce each, and is thereby enabled to allocate his available labour-time accordingly, on the basis of the law of value.

        As Marx sets out, by equating value with exchange value, by equating what is essentially an autonomous absolute with something that is relative and depends upon exchange, Ricardo opened the door to Malthus, Say and to Bailey to attack the LTV, and to argue that value is determined not by production, but by exchange. And, as Marx sets out that is the basis upon which the concept of value as being relative and subjective is established.

        The worst culprit, in that sense, Marx says, was McCulloch, who defended the Ricardian theory of value, by abandoning all of its fundamental tenets. The process had been started by James Mill, and was also continued by J.S. Mill, as they tried to reconcile the contradictions in the Ricardian/Smithian labour theory of value with the reality that surrounded them, whereby prices were not equal to exchange-values. But, the same thing can be seen with those who say they are defending Marx today by abandoning all of the basic concepts of his labour theory of value, not because Marx’s theory is in conflict with reality, but because their own version of it, is in conflict with reality!

      • Boffy Says:

        Martha,

        “The necessary calculation of labor time under transitionary socialism is one thing–though here use value can trump exchange value when necessary (as in the Soviet Union and even China)–but the necessity of that sort of calculation would probably be superfluous within world community of communist egalitarian regimes of plenty.”

        Except, of course, use value did not trump exchange-value in the USSR etc. because these were not societies that had created a condition of plenty. Far from it!

        Use value can never trump value or exchange value in conditions where there is not universal abundance, for the reasons that Marx sets out in many places, perhaps most succinctly in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, and as Engels sets out in Anti-Duhring and elsewhere. A society in whatever mode of production can only ever arrive at some method by which a set of priorities for the production of use values is arrived at, and then allocate available labour-time to achieve that end. That is the point of Marx’s comment in his letter to Kugelmann, in his reference to Robinson Crusoe and so on, and of Engels similar explanation.

        In the USSR, the fact that the market was replaced in large part did not change the operation of the law of value on that basis, only the form its operation assumed. Precisely because there was no “plenty” available social labour-time had to be allocated by some method, and precisely because there was no plenty that allocation meant that the production of one set of use values, required the non production of other use values.

        Market economies allocate labour-time according to competition, and capitalism in contrast to commodity production and exchange sees that competition take the form of an attempt to maximise the rate of profit by individual capitals. But, the replacement of the market in the USSR did not lead to an end of competition it simply transformed that competition into different forms.

        For example, competition for resources (means of production) took the form of competition between Ministers and Ministries, and brought with it all of the bureaucracy and inefficiency that always attend such means of rationing and allocation. The collapse of the USSR and other such states, was indeed ultimately the consequence of the fact that the law of value trumped the attempt to disregard it in the allocation of social labour-time, and a belief that politics dominates economics.

      • Boffy Says:

        Marx goes into this importance of seeing value as independent of exchange in TOSV 3, but the most concise expression of it is in Capital I, in what Marx says in relation to Robinson Crusoe.

        “Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists,let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour. Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at. This our friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.”

        Marx also reiterates this point in several places, for example, in TOSV II in discussing Rodbertus’ Theory of rent. Marx there makes clear that the farmer, be it a capitalist farmer or a peasant farmer who produces corn, uses some of that corn directly themselves as seed – some is also used for their own direct consumption, and may also be used to pay wages in kind. The fact that the farmer does not sell this corn, or otherwise exchange it for some other commodity does not mean that it has no value, as Rodbertus claimed as the basis of his theory of rent, precisely because the value of the corn is directly attributable to the labour required for its production/reproduction, and is not at all the consequence of exchange, as those like Say or Bailey and other subjectivists argue.

        The fact that such products – as commodities – may not be able to exchange at this value in the market, is entirely another question, as Marx describes in TOSV II, Chapter 17, whether under simple commodity production or capitalism, and it is precisely this separation between production and consumption, between value and use value, the former determining supply, and the latter determining demand, which creates one of the fundamental contradictions of commodity production, which under capitalist machine production is the basis for the eruption of crises of overproduction.

        In his Letter to Kugelmann where Marx describes succinctly what he means by the Law of Value, he says,

        ““Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.”

        This is the basis upon which each society is forced to organise its labour-time so as to meet the socially determined needs of that society, however those needs might be determined, for example, by the individual peasant producer who must first reproduce the labour-power of their own family/village commune, of the socialist society that adopts some form of planning, or in a society based upon simple commodity production, whereby those needs are established via the market, or indeed a capitalist society in which the market itself is determined not on the basis of competition solely over prices, but fundamentally competition by individual capitals.

        Initially, petty commodity production arises as different communities sporadically trade accidental surpluses. Then trade develops within communities, as direct producers produce primarily to meet their own needs, but as marx and Engels both set out, even within these natural economies where the majority of production is geared to meet the needs of their own reproduction, this does not at all mean that they only exchange a surplus product, any more than the producers of means of production only reproduce their own means of production out of their own production.

        For example, a coal producer reproduces the coal they consume in their steam engines directly from their own output. They also reproduce the steel they use as pit props on a like for like basis out of their own production, but they do not do so in kind. Rather the coal producer exchanges coal with the steel producer, so that the steel producer thereby reproduces their own constant capital on a like for like basis, whilst the coal producer reproduces the steel they consume on a like for like basis.

        Similarly, as marx describes, not only do the artisans in the towns certainly no exchange only a surplus product, but it has always been the case that agricultural production included a large amount of cottage industry, as the peasants spun cotton and wool into yarn, and wove it into cloth, which was sold to artisans in the towns etc. As Marx describes the peasant producer does not simply exchange a surplus product as commodities, but deliberately sets about producing commodities for the purpose of exchange and sale, in order to be able to obtain other commodities produced by artisans required for the reproduction of their own labour-power.

        This is precisely the difference, as marx sets out in TOSV III, Chapter 16 and 17 between this simple commodity production and capitalism. Capitalist production is production of commodities solely for sale, to obtain money, which can be converted into money-capital, which can then be used to reproduce the consumed means of production, but also more fundamentally to produce profit, which can be used to accumulate additional means of production.

        Simple commodity production and exchange is based upon the production of commodities that can be exchanged for other commodities, or money – the general commodity – which the peasant producer requires to reproduce their own labour-power, or to reproduce their consumed means of production. Under such a system, the majority of production is, therefore, geared to the direct consumption of the producer, but that does not at all mean that the majority of production is consumed directly by its specific producer. The artisan brewer does not simply sell an amount of beer that is surplus to their own requirements, but specifically brews beer to sell or exchange for clothes, corn, and so on required for their own reproduction, and for the reproduction of the means of production they use in production.

        And the same is true of the peasant farmer, who specialises in growing corn. The majority of the value of their output is required simply to be able to reproduce their own labour-power, and to replace their means of production, but what Smith, Ricardo and Marx recognised, as opposed to the Physiocrats, was the fact that the majority of production continued to be geared to meeting these needs of direct consumption, it did not mean that the producers had to produce the self same use values required by themselves for that purpose. They only had to produce an equal amount of value, which they could obtain in the form thereby of other commodities, via exchange.

        But, Ricardo, Mill, and Say then confused this situation of the exchange of commodities by direct producers, for the situation not only under capitalism, but even under systems of generalised commodity exchange by petty commodity producers, in a money economy. As Marx says, Say’s Law – actually developed by Mill – only applies under system of barter where the seller is immediately also the buyer, and only seeks to exchange a quantity of value in the form of use value A, for an equal amount of value in the form of use value B.

        As soon as money intervenes, as the general commodity, that situation ceases. Then all that is required is that the seller having obtained money, holds on to it. Then the demand for B disappears. This situation in pre-capitalist, societies based upon commodity production and exchange, is described by Marx in TOSV III, Chapter 17.

        “At a given moment, the supply of all commodities can be greater than the demand for all commodities, since the demand for the general commodity, money, exchange-value, is greater than the demand for all particular commodities, in other words the motive to turn the commodity into money, to realise its exchange-value, prevails over the motive to transform the commodity again into use-value.”

        Under simple commodity production this does not lead to generalised crises of overproduction, because the scale of production is limited, but under capitalist machine production the vasts scale of production ahead of consumption creates the potential and inevitability of production increasing at a faster pace than the growth of the market, and the consequent eruption of crises of overproduction.

      • sartesian Says:

        Since Robinson Crusoe’s fictional experiences are a favourite theme of… Boffy… and the once and future eternity of value and value production, let us take a look at what Marx is actually saying.

        Maestro, the parsing music, again, please.

        “Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists,let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting.”

        Crusoe, isolated as he is, must labor to survive. He must create objects that satisfy his needs. His needs may be minimal, and because they are he may be able to satisfy those needs by his individual labor. (And as a matter of fact, on of the themes to Marx’s notion of emancipated labor, is that human needs can only be satisfied on the most restrictive basis in isolation, if at all; that it is social labor that offers the vehicle for the satisfaction of needs, but that’s another parsing).

        So is there a notion of the production of objects as values in that sentence by Marx? Nope. Only the production of useful objects.

        “Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour.”

        Marx says that whatever the differences of product of the labor is, the labor itself is of one cloth– the essence of Crusoe’s various efforts is TIME. Time is the reduction of labor effort, or labor power, that establishes a universality among particular objects.

        “Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at.”

        All of Crusoe’s efforts are driven by, and drive at, need; at necessity. Is there any indication that because abstract labor is, under all circumstances, TIME, time itself in Crusoe’s circumstance functions as value, as the “arbiter” of necessity? Nope.

        ” This our friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor.”

        Except…..of course, while Robinson may have rescued a watch, a ledger, pen and ink, and keeps a set of books, he is of course importing a social relation of production, and one without material basis in the current circumstances, and one that, like the true-born Briton he is, revolves around double-entry bookkeeping, which only has relevance when relations of EXCHANGE are at issue.

        The watch will rust. The pen will break. The ink will runt out. The ledger of accounts is………useless and irrelevant. There is no social relation of value, nor a social relation for the expression of value.

        ” And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.”

        “contain all that is essential to the determination of value”?? Not exactly, Dr. Marx. Contain all but ONE that is essential to the determination of value? Yes. that one being CLASS.

      • jlowrie Says:

        I always greatly appreciate the contributions of Michael and Boffy even if I am not always persuaded of them, but here I must decisively dissent from their arguments.

        Boffy says, ”Use value can never trump value or change value in conditions where there is not universal abundance.” Abundance relative to which society, the U.S., Cuba, Ethiopia?

        I suspect Boffy is here influenced by Trotsky’s argument in “The Revolution Betrayed” that “Marxism…. constructs the communist program upon the dynamic of the productive forces. If you conceive that some cosmic catastrophe’s going to destroy our planet in the fairly near future, then you must of course reject the communist perspective…

        The material premise of communism should be so high a development of the economic powers of man that …the distribution of life’s goods, existing in continual abundance …will not demand any control except that of education, habit and social opinion.” and ”By the lowest stage of communism Marx meant a society which from the very beginning stands higher than the most advanced capitalism.” and ”The strength and stability of regimes are determined in the long run by the relative productivity of their labour.” Even if this thesis were ever true, which personally I think not, the cosmic catastrophe is upon us and we need to think immediately of ways to limit the production of goods, which capitalism has developed to an extent and variety far beyond what is humanly necessary or Marx and Engels could even have imagined. Does this make socialism impossible? Quite the contrary, it makes it even more necessary than ever, and I would argue we do not need ( and in fact it is ecologically and even geologically impossible) to attain Western standards of living to attain socialism.

        When Marx argued ”to each according to his needs” such needs are clearly socially determined needs, not individually identified wants. Marx argues, ” instead of the scale of production being controlled by existing needs, the quantity of products made is determined by the constantly increasing scale of production dictated by the mode of production itself.Its aim… producing for the sake of production.” ( Capital Vol1 pp1037-8) How to achieve ‘abundance’ in China? Clearly already the society is facing an ecological apocalypse.

        ” Revolutions based on the peasantry (China) or isolated in one country (Russia) have not delivered socialism even if they have removed capitalism, for a while.” Michael assumes what he has to demonstrate, namely that the failure to deliver socialism was to do with being based on the peasantry or being isolated. The Russian revolution was also ‘based’ on the peasantry ( by 1920 according to Lenin the proletariat had ceased to exist) and by 1955 The Soviet Union and China were hardly isolated, but allies. It directs reasons for the failures to the wrong place, namely the persistent surrender of the leaders of ALL the previously existing socialist and communist parties to the capitalist mode of production. It goes all the way back to Wilhelm Liebknecht. One can read Mark and Engels’ irritation with his lack of revolutionary fervour. I do not wish to keep repeating myself, but the only answer is democracy in its original and only meaning: government of the unpropertied by the unpropertied, such government members to be chosen by lot from the workplace to serve for a year, then go back to working. Nobody is to be trusted in power, not Michael, not Boffy, not me , nor anybody else. Remember Marx’s favourite saying : ”De omnibus dubitandum.”

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        My definition of abundance was that used by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, which is essentially that abundance exists in a society which can decide to choose to have more of use value A, without having thereby to choose to have less of use value B,C,D…. etc.

        In those conditions the Law of Value ceases to operate, because the choice of what use values can be produced is no longer constrained by the amount of available social labour-time.

    • jlowrie Says:

      In addition to the examples Boffy adduces there is also Marx’s very important discussion of Aristotle’s views ( Capital Vol.1 Pp 151ff)

      ”the great investigator who was the first to analyse the value form… he states quite clearly that the money form of the commodity is only a more developed aspect of the simple form of value….”

      Also, ”We see here how even economic categories appropriate to earlier modes of production acquire a new and specific historical character under the impact of capitalist production.” (Ibid. p950).

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        Busy at the moment, but in a day or two, I might also be able to write more about Marx’s analysis of value throughout history, and the differences between value and exchange value, that he sets out as against other LTV theorists such as Smith, Ricardo, Mill et al, as well as their critics such as Malthus, Say, Bailey et al.

      • jlowrie Says:

        Really looking forward to that, Boffy. Clearly only too essential in view of the above!

    • Mike Ballard Says:

      Cheers Boffy and all comrades for your critical observations about Heinrich and his ilk.

    • sartesian Says:

      We’ve been down this path before. While the production of commodities, and the exchange of objects as values certainly precedes capitalism, what is specific to capitalism is the organization, determination, of ALL production (or at least the dominant portion of production) as the production of and for the accumulation of values. That domination of value, that law of value, where the law distributes social labor and labor-time, does not precede capitalism; cannot precede capitalism because it cannot precede the organization of labor power as a commodity itself, which only occurs with the dispossession of the direct producers.

      Philosophers may have pondered value for 3000 years; one or two might have even come close to apprehending to social basis of value, but this isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades and close didn’t count.

      Nothing could be more absurd than using the example of Robinson Crusoe as a model for the “eternity” of value; for the argument that the production of value exists somehow outside the boundaries and conditions of exchange.

      First and foremost, VALUE production is SOCIAL. Crusoe is not engaged in any form of SOCIAL production. He is producing only on the basis of HIS PERSONAL, NEEDS. What he produces has use value, and only use value. And for clarity’s sake we should even drop the “value” from that characterization. He produces for use and only for use.

      Crusoe’s personal needs, his needs for use, are not mediated by the SOCIAL CONFIGURATION, which determines that those personal needs can only be satisfied through EXCHANGE, through submitting his products FOR exchange.

      Whether or not there is labor-time embedded in Crusoe’s output is meaningless in terms of identifying, determining, defining, programming that output, when the production is not mediated,by the social organization of production on the basis of labor-time.

      Value exists prior to capitalism, certainly. It manifests itself in exchange. However prior to capitalism, the exchange is of products that are surplus. Capitalism presents a different social organization, where all production is organized as surplus in order to be exchanged as value.

      Yes, as Marx says, “all economy is the economy of time.” No, Marx does not put it that “all economy of time is the economy of value production.”

      • citizencokane Says:

        I think I agree with Sartesian here. Although Crusoe must obviously labor to obtain the useful things that he wants, this labor does not take the form of an objective measure of value that forces him to work x amount of hours at x activities.

        Like the useful things he aims at, his labor is also a use-value to himself. The only calculation Crusoe must make is a calculation between the pleasantness/unpleasantness of the labor required to obtain a particular useful thing, and the pleasantness/unpleasantness of the useful thing itself. And this calculation of pleasantness vs. unpleasantness, while incorporating objective elements such as the labor-time needed to achieve some goal, is ultimately subjective.

        As Sartesian said, I think Marx overstated his case here. What tragedy would it really be if Crusoe’s watch and pen washed away? All he needs is an intuitive sense of the overall unpleasantness of a particular act of work compared to an intuitive sense of the overall pleasantness of a particular useful thing.

        I mean, sure, Crusoe could choose to divide the former unpleasantness into “raw number of hours x some subjective measure of unpleasantness per hour,” which would probably be more trouble than it would be worth because some activities are pleasant for the first hour, but then become unpleasant if done repetitively for too long, so the artificially-constructed equation would need yet more amendments…and pretty soon, you are better off just going with your intuitive sense of the aggregate unpleasantness of a particular task in the first place. In reality, the equation meant to calculate this unpleasantness is an after-the-fact confabulation, using fudge-factors, to explain something you already know and have no need of finding out.

        For example, it might help Crusoe to know that fishing takes, on average, 1 hour to catch one typically-sized fish. And if his labor were to take the form of value, this would be the end of the story. But Crusoe is also at leisure to consider: how pleasant is fishing? Maybe it is not that pleasant. Maybe it is really boring. Maybe I would like to eat a fish, but if my enjoyment of the fish (on this day, no less, since I just had fish last night!) is outweighed by my displeasure in fishing (on this day!), then I am under no compulsion to fish. I can obtain some different sort of food.

        Is this not how socialism is supposed to work? If the working class, with the help of their elected and recallable technical specialists and administrators, can determine that it would take 100 million labor hours—with each hour having with a certain amount of subjective unpleasantness to be shared among all—to produce enough cars for everyone, then the working class is free to reject such a plan, despite the fact that they might, all other things being equal, not mind having a car.

        Note that mainstream economists falsely extrapolate this scenario to wage-workers in the modern day, as if wage-workers leisurely compare the use-value of their wages with the use-value of their work experience and leisure experience that they would be foregoing, and then decide how much work and how much leisure they would like, and what type of work they feel it is worthwhile to do in order to arrive at some particular use-value. Oh, if only we had such a luxury!

      • jlowrie Says:

        If I recall rightly the watch was a product of Marx’s imagination and not Defoe’s fiction!

      • Boffy Says:

        Citizencoke,

        You say,

        “Although Crusoe must obviously labor to obtain the useful things that he wants, this labor does not take the form of an objective measure of value that forces him to work x amount of hours at x activities.”

        Yes, it absolutely does, and that is precisely what Marx means by the Law of Value, and is what he sets out in his letter to Kugelmann.

        You say,

        “The only calculation Crusoe must make is a calculation between the pleasantness/unpleasantness of the labor required to obtain a particular useful thing, and the pleasantness/unpleasantness of the useful thing itself. And this calculation of pleasantness vs. unpleasantness, while incorporating objective elements such as the labor-time needed to achieve some goal, is ultimately subjective.”

        Well, okay let us examine that. Suppose that Crusoe really, really likes oysters, and is not much at all on rabbits. To obtain the oysters, Crusoe finds it very pleasant to dive into the warm, clear blue waters that surround his island, whereas to obtain rabbits, he has to go into the hot, and sweaty undergrowth, and set traps. So, he chooses instead to go and catch oysters, he spends each day, diving into the pleasant sea, for 8 hours per day, and after a week or so he is starving.

        The reason being in 8 hours he only collects a few oysters that provide him with little effective nourishment, and so each day he fails to obtain the required calories, which results in his labour-power being diminished, which further inhibits his ability to produce the food he requires. Had he spent the same amount of time in the less pleasant task of catching rabbits, he would, by contrast have obtained the food he required in just 4 hours per day, and that would have left in 4 hours each day, to use to produce means of production, to create animal pens and so on that would facilitate his further production and consumption.

        What you have given us is the subjectivist theory of value that necessarily ultimately results from seeing value only as relative value. Take a similar producer who can produce potatoes or carrots. They have in a year 1,000 hours of labour time at their disposal. We’ll ignore the value of constant capital. In 1,000 hours they can produce 100 kilos of potatoes, or 200 kilos of carrots. In other words, the value of a kilo of potatoes is 10 hours of labour, and of carrots is 5 hours of labour. The relative value/exchange value of carrots is 0.5 kilos of potatoes, and conversely the relative value of potatoes is 2 kilos of carrots.

        The fact that the producer might love potatoes and hate carrots has nothing to do with their value, pr their relative value. If the producer loves potatoes, the fact is that, in order to produce and thereby consume an additional kilo of potatoes they will have to produce 2 kilos less of carrots. But even if they dislike potatoes, it will still require them to give up 2 kilos of carrots to obtain an additional kilo, because that is the objective basis of the value of potatoes and carrots, and thereby the objective basis of their relative value one to the other.

        The only thing that their subjective preference for potatoes as opposed to carrots can determine is how much of their labour-time they devote to the production of one as opposed to the other, and that is precisely the point that marx is making in his letter to Kugelmann explaining this basis of the Law of Value as a law of nature.

        And Engels makes exactly the same point. In Anti-Duhring, he writes.

        “The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan.”

        And,

        “As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value. (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, p. 95) The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx’s Capital.”

        (Chapter 26)

      • citizencokane Says:

        Boffy:

        It is certainly the case that a human will objectively need a certain number of calories each day in order to not starve.
        I don’t dispute that. Nor do I dispute that, objectively-speaking, obtaining those calories might require different durations of labor. Still, this does not objectively compel our Crusoe to take any particular action.

        Regarding the insufficient oyster fishing, if our Crusoe does not obtain enough oysters in 8 hours of oyster fishing to keep him alive, and he starts to starve, then ultimately he must compare the unpleasantness of starving, losing his labor-power, and dying (or having to work 12 or 14 hours per day at Oyster fishing, if that is what it will take) against the pleasantness and unpleasantness of having to work only 4 hours at rabbit hunting to get enough to eat and then being able to devote 4 hours to developing means of production, which will bring immediate psychological gratification in anticipation of future efficiencies and gratification in the future itself as food acquisition is made even easier.

        (Note that this psychological gratification in anticipation of future efficiencies is the bourgeois explanation for why interest exists—different rates of “time discounting” of future rewards and all that. Applying this principle is incorrect when it comes to commodity production, but it is indeed a regulating principle of economic behavior if we are talking about a lone individual like Crusoe working in isolation and producing things for his own use, in which case he need only ask himself how badly he wants one thing now vs. something else later. As usual, bourgeois economists analyze commodity production as if it were socialism or use-value production. Whereas you seem to want to make the opposite mistake of analyze all production as if it were commodity production).

        To most people, it would be a no-brainer that, no matter how unpleasant rabbit hunting seemed to them, it would be very unlikely to outweigh the unpleasantness of starving. But there is nothing objectively compelling them to prioritize not-starving over, say, having momentary fun at oyster fishing rather than rabbit hunting. Nothing objective, that is to say, other than brain neuron patterns which will invariably lead humans to choose not-starving time and time again. (Let us not imagine that there is such a thing as “free will” that might be able to stand outside of brain chemistry!)

        You are correct that this is pure subjectivism, which obviously does not apply once things are produced for sale as commodities. (This is what the marginalists get wrong!) In commodity production, it wouldn’t matter one bit how much I like rabbits or oysters. I’m not going to be the one consuming them! All that matters then is their value.

        Now, going back to my example of car production under socialism, the producers will have to keep in mind that, if they choose not to devote the 100 million labor hours to producing millions of cars, certain tasks might become objectively impossible or might then objectively require more labor-time to complete (just as deciding to oyster fish rather than hunt rabbits might either require more labor-time or might make not-starving objectively impossible). Calculations would have to be done to determine how this would affect the socially-necessary labor time needed to accomplish things on down the supply chain. So yes, in that sense, calculating the value of commodities under varying scenarios would still be relevant. But it would not be the sole determination of economic behavior. The producers would then still have to weigh whether foregoing the (unpleasant) labor of car production was still worth it, given how it would affect all of the lines of production on which the use of cars depended.

        The point is, under systems of production of things for use rather than exchange, the producers are not *forced* to maximize value at the expense of use-value, as they are often forced to do under commodity production.

      • Boffy Says:

        Citizen Coke,

        I am busy at the moment so can’t reply in full, but the two points I would make here is that, first of all you have resolved the problem of the constraint of labour-time by simply assuming it away.

        If Crusoe could only obtain the required amount of oysters by working 25 hours a day, he would never be able to produce the required quantity, however much he preferred oysters to rabbits, and however much he finds oyster fishing pleasant compared to catching rabbits. Indeed, in reality, he cannot even work for 24 hours a day let alone 25, and his available labour-time is more likely to be around 10 or 12 hours a day, which he must allocate so as most efficiently meet his requirements, and which he can only do by having at least some rough idea of how much of his labour-time, i.e. what the value of each type of product is, compared to the use value obtained from it.

        Secondly, producers in systems of simple commodity exchange are not compelled to maximise value at the expense of use value. A simple commodity producer is concerned, as Marx says to maximise use value too. They want to maximise the use value they can obtain by the expenditure of their labour. That is why they begin to specialise in their production, so that they exchange an amount of labour-time in one form for an equal amount of labour-time in some other form, i.e. C – C, and in a money economy C – M – C. The aim of their production, even when they come to sell it in the market is not to maximise value, but to maximise the quantity of use value they can obtain either directly from producing for their own immediate consumption, or by exchanging their output for other commodities they need for their own consumption.

        This indeed was the error that Mill, Ricardo and Say made (Say’s Law), in arguing that a generalised overproduction of commodities cannot occur.

        Finally, if we take the particular form of commodity production and exchange that capitalism represents it too is not dominated by a requirement to maximise the production of value at the expense of use value. Firstly, each individual capital seeks to maximise the quantity of use values/commodities it produces, whilst minimising the individual value of those commodities, because that is the way it undercuts the prices of its competitors, and grabs a larger market share, and by producing a larger quantity of such commodities, which sell at the market value, whilst the individual value of those commodities is below the market value, it secures a surplus profit.

        What determines its production decisions is not the maximisation of value, but the maximisation of surplus value/profit, and the way to achieve that is usually by maximising its production of use values commodities, because by doing so it produces at a more efficient level. Indeed it is that very drive that Marx explains is the basis of the generalised crisis of overproduction of commodities that Ricardo, Mill and Say denied was possible!

  9. Richard Falvey Says:

    Perhaps you could enlighten us Sean Delaney?

  10. Karl Martel Says:

    Reblogged this on Reconstruction communiste Québec and commented:
    In his presentation, Heinrich agreed with Postone that value is a category specific to capitalism, but he reckons that Marx changed his conception of both class and value over his lifetime.  So it is not possible to pull quotes from Marx like random rocks in a stone quarry.  Each quote must be placed in its context and time.  For example, Marx’s definition of class struggle as found in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 differs with his later definitions of class at the end of Capital Volume 3.
    Similarly, Marx’s concept of value changed over time.  Early on, value is seen to come from the production process and the exploitation of labour power by capital.  Later on, Marx revised this view to argue that value was only created at the point of exchange into money.  Similarly, Marx thought that a rising organic composition of capital would lead to a fall in the rate of profit, but later he recognised that more machines could raise the rate of surplus value and so the rate of profit may not fall.
    Heinrich has the advantage over us in reading Marx’s original words in German, but they remain his interpretations of Marx’s meaning. Heinrich, in effect, argues that value is not a material substance, namely the expenditure of human energy in labour that can be measured in labour time, but only exists in the form of money.  In my view and in the view of many other Marxists, this denies the role of exploitation of labour in production, which comes first.  Yes, you can only see value in the form of money, but then you cannot see electricity until the light comes on, but that does not mean it does not exist before the light glows.  For an excellent critique of Heinrich’s interpretation of Marx’s value theory, see G Carchedi’s book, Behind the Crisis, chapter 2).
    Does any of this matter, you might say?  Are we not just discussing how many angels are there on the head of a needle, as medieval Catholic theologians did?  Well, yes.  But I think there are some consequences from deciding that value is only created in exchange and also that class struggle is not really centred (any longer) on workers and capitalists in the production process.  For me, such theories lead to the idea that crises under capitalism are caused by faults in the ‘circulation of money and credit’ and not in the contradictions of capitalism between productivity and profitability in the production of surplus value, as I think Marx argued.  And the revisions of the nature of class struggle could lead to the removal of the working class as the agent for socialist change.

  11. Virgens VK Says:

    [But I think the gist of it was that we cannot consider the class struggle under capitalism as just between exploited workers and capitalists any longer, as it now involves race, creed and gender and a new populism of the right. So we need to rethink Marx’s theory of class.]

    If that’s what Moishe Postone wanted to mean in his presentation, then he’s completely wrong (I’ve never heard of Postone, so I’m trusting mr. Roberts’ interpretation blindly here).

    Marx and Engels were the first to make a case for the concept of a universal human being (i.e. that human beings are equals as human beings). One of the main reactionary critiques to Marx during his lifetime was that he was “holistic”. If you read philosophy of the 17th-18th centuries, you’ll clearly see human beings were not considered even biologically equal, let alone socially (as that was self-evident). Engels himself wrote about sexual division of labor in his origins of family.

    The root of the problem comes from the fact that most of Marx’s interpreters do not have one percent of the erudition Marx himself had. They mostly don’t even know basic principles of logic. Most of them didn’t even read Capital in its entirety. So they mix things up: Capital is a book of economics. In book I he clearly states that, to make things simple (i.e. to get to the essence of capital), he abstracts his model to two classes: capitalists and workers. But that is just an abstraction, i.e. he states that, ultimately, the insurmountable contradiction of capital is between capital and labor. But in his 18 Brumaire, which was a history work, he concretely discern between the various classes involved.

    Gender and race affect capitalist society as far as the class division goes. E.g. colonial exploitation: race coincided with international division of labor. The British rationalized that the Indians were an inferior race and then put things in race terms, as was common in that era. Nancy Isenberg, in her book “White Trash”, demonstrates, through evidence overload, that the race narrative in the USA since colonial times was just a rhetorical tool to mask class relations. I highly recommend her book.

    As for Heinrich, I really don’t understand him. In book I (the book Marx edited and published in life, therefore the part Heinrich probably didn’t have to pay too much attention), Marx titles one of its chapters “… substance of value”. There he clearly states labor is the substance of value. Again, the problem is that Heinrich simply doesn’t have what it takes (the necessary erudition) to correctly understand Marx. That or he’s a co-opted double agent/star-struck intellectual.

    • Mike Ballard Says:

      Precisely, the substance of value is us, our labour time, our blood, sweat and tears. The subject and the object are clearly linked in the process of production and distribution of wealth–even commodified wealth under the rule of Capital.

      • Edmund Gerard O'Sullivan Says:

        You say the substance of value is “our labour time, our blood, sweat and tears.”
        This is clearly a metaphor, a semantic device use to explain things that are difficult to comprehend quantitatively.
        That tends to suggest that value is in fact non-material and only subjectively comprehensible.
        In other words, our “labour time” is something we think it’s

  12. ucanbpolitical Says:

    So soon as the labour of the individual becomes part of the labour of society in any way, it forms a cost of production. Within a market economy, of which capitalist commodity production is the highest expression, that cost assumes the form of value because that labour is indirectly social, not directly social. For it to become social it has to first be exchanged, converted into money. It therefore has to assume the form of value, a category as permanent as the market society in which it resides. Value is not the preserve of those drowning in the fumes of history, it is a real existing social relation which only ends with the abolition of a market economy, whereupon labour now becomes directly and immediately social and with it value passes into history.

    Michael if we are to preserve Marxism we can only do so as an applied science. With the turnover formula for example the validity of Marx’s categories are established and proofs offered. I have recently, and I believe for the first time, provided the world with the real rate of profit in China. In so doing it is possible to contrast the rate of profit, the value composition of capital and the rate of surplus value between China and the USA. In all cases Marx is proved right. While the relative rate of exploitation is higher in the USA than in China, China’s rate of profit of 17.3% exceeds that of the USA at 14% (manufacturing 2015) because the value composition of capital in China is half that of the USA.

    So Michael, how is your work on Gross Output coming along. We can go round in circles bumping into the same people or we can move forward and show just how real and exciting Marx is. Brian Green. (theplanningmotive.com)

  13. Paulo Balanco Says:

    I agree with Roberts’ criticisms of Heinrich and Harvey. But there are some aspects of some central categories that deserve thought. Above all about the concept of the proletariat. It seems to me that it would be difficult to maintain the traditional definition that equates the proletariat with industrial workers. Therefore, the changes that capitalism introduced in the sphere of production and in other spheres not directly linked to production implies that there is now an army of workers exploited in the various economic spheres, and not only in the sphere of production. I think that the understanding of the proletarian with this new content corresponds to an issue that is linked to the strategies of struggle against capital these days. I’d like to know what Roberts thinks about it.

    • michael roberts Says:

      In my view, it would be incorrect to identify the proletariat, working class, with industrial workers alone. That is particularly the case in modern capitalism where many so-called ‘service sector’ workers deliver value and surplus value (hi-tech etc). But even so, globally, industrial workers as a force have never been larger and so remain the core of any proletarian struggle. There are more workers than there ever were and less capitalists, for that matter.

      • ucanbpolitical Says:

        absolutely

      • Mike Ballard Says:

        Anyone who depends on selling their labour power in order to make a living is a worker, IMO. Of course, there is the distinction between those who produce goods and services for sale in the marketplace of commodities and those whose labour time is devoted to propping up the industrial division of labour within the whole of the social relation of Capital e.g. bus drivers in public transport system owned by the government etc. As Marx and Engels correctly observed, the communist revolution would be the act of the “immense majority” seeking to emancipate themselves from the bondage of the wage system. I reckon that the bottom 90% of the people in today’s industrialised societies are in the working class, whether they’re employed or not, whatever “race” they think they’re in etc.

      • Boffy Says:

        Direct producers, i.e. peasant producers do not sell their labour-power. They are not wage workers, but Marx’s analysis of the nature of value, as opposed to that of Smith and Ricardo, showed that their labour produces value. Their working day is divided into necessary and surplus labour, and as Marx demonstrates at length, as against Smith, Ricardo, and Mill, on the one hand, and against the critics of the LTV such as Malthus and Bailey on the other, value is labour, and consequently this necessary labour and surplus labour also thereby is divided into a value that reproduces the value of the labour-power, and surplus value.

        The question is, as Marx points out in his discussion of the historical development of rent, how each mode of production pumps out that surplus labour/value, and the form it takes. Moreover, as Marx sets out in that discussion, the fact that the direct producer produces this surplus value, does not mean that all of it is necessarily appropriated by the landlord class, which is itself a basis, particularly when feudal rent assumes the form of money rent, for the better placed peasant producers to accumulate means of production as capital, as the basis of the differentiation of the peasantry into an agricultural bourgeoisie and proletariat.

        By contrast, as Marx describes in the Grundrisse, the labour of the slave does NOT create value, or surplus value. For Marx, the slave is no different than a pack animal or a machine. They are simply a piece of fixed capital that transfers its own value piecemeal to the product. It is only free labour that creates value, and is thereby able to produce surplus value.

        “in the relations of slavery and serfdom….The slave stands in no relation whatsoever to the objective conditions of his labour; rather, labour itself, both in the form of the slave and in that of the serf, is classified as an inorganic condition of production along with other natural beings, such as cattle, as an accessory of the earth.” (Grundrisse p 489)

        I don’t have time to go into it further here, at the moment, but I’ll come back to. But, briefly, in TOSV III, Marx says that the one good thing about Bailey’s critique of Smith, Ricardo and Mill’s attempts to measure value objectively by some external measure, be it labour-power, corn, gold or whatever was a wild goose chase, because the value itself of these other commodities would itself always change. Moreover, by measuring value in terms of this other commodity/use value value itself could only ever be relative. Indeed Bailey’s criticism of Ricardo is that he tried to turn what Bailey believes can only be a relative concept into an absolute.

        Exchange-Value, as Bailey says, and as Marx agrees can only ever be a relative measure of value, because it is measuring the value of one commodity by the value of some other commodity. It is then impossible to know prima facie, on this basis whether that exchange value has changed as a result of a change in the value of one of these commodities, or the other, or both. As Marx describes, any commodity has an infinite number of prices/exchange values depending upon what that price/exchange value is measured in. The exchange value of 1 metre of linen may be, for example, 1 litre of wine, i.e. the wine price of linen is equal to 1 litre, if both have a value equal to say 10 hours of labour. But, if 100 kilos of cotton also represent 10 hours of labour, then the cotton price of linen is not 1 litre, but 100 kilos.

        If the price of linen changes to 2 litres of wine, is this because the value of linen has risen, or because the value of wine has fallen, or because there have been changes in the value of both? Bailey says, such a question is meaningless because value is only ever relative, and is only ever whatever the exchange relation between the two is at any moment in time, which is also the position that neoclassical economics takes.

        But, Marx says that say the value of linen remains at 10 hours, but the value of wine falls to 5 hours, whilst the value of cotton rises to 20 hours. Then the wine price of linen rises to 2 litres, whilst simultaneously the cotton price of linen falls to 50 kilos.

        Because labour-power itself is a use value, and under capitalism a commodity, whose value changes as a result of the labour-time required for its own production, its own value thereby constantly changes, and so attempting to measure the value of other commodities by this commodity labour-power, Marx shows is bound to fail. It fails equally when as with Smith some proxy for the value of labour-power, such as corn, is used, because the value of these proxies also constantly changes.

        It is only possible to measure value, Marx shows in TOSV III, if it is measured by something which is not a commodity, or use value. That thing is labour. The value of products/commodities, Marx demonstrates is not absolute, in the sense of being unchanging, because the labour required for their production changes as a consequence of changes in productivity, but it is absolute in the sense that the thing that measures this value abstract labour is an unchanging measure, and that Marx sets out, is precisely because labour, as opposed to labour-power, itself has no value.

        It is then also necessary to examine the embodied labour theories of value of Smith et al, which is relevant to the concept of individual value, and the rejection of such theories of embodied labour by Marx, in favour of his theory of socially necessary labour as the basis of value, as the individual value of products/commodities is subsumed within the social/market value of those products/commodities.

      • Cork Says:

        I think Postone would argue that the point is not whether such service workers do or do not generate value but that as science and technology progress value itself becomes anachronistic as a social interlink. You can’t see that because you take value to be a transhistorical category.
        Capital historically is initially nothing more than a mystified power that is actually those of the workers themselves. But with the development of science and technology this power is transformed into socially general productive power that is harder and eventually impossible to assign to particular labours while “necessary” human labor reaches infinitesimal amounts.

      • Edgar Says:

        Boffy,

        If the slave transfers its value piecemeal into the product and the slave does not create any value whence does this value transferred to the product come from?

        re Mike Ballard,

        “Postone is for shorter work time. So was Marx.”

        If I remember the quote from Marx, “Work should be mans prime want”, which is not the same as saying we should have shorter work time. For Marx I read a more qualitative aspect in his critique. So he criticised capitalism for the nature of the work, its exploitative aspect and alienating tendencies. Of course Marx argued that the super exploitative conditions prevailing in the 19th century where the workers were toiled to death must be fought against but the overall critique wasn’t about shorter work time. When Marx was asked by a journalist who would clean the streets under communism Marx replied to the journalist, you! By that I take he meant the Wittgenstein view that such work should be shared out between everyone.

        My vision of the working week is this, so many hours in core tasks based on your skills/experiences etc, so many hours allocated to community work and so many hours

      • sartesian Says:

        Edgar engages a fundamental question. It is certainly specious to argue that “direct producers” i.e. peasants, are producing value by arguing that the peasants’ working day is divided into necessary and surplus labor, but that the slaves engaged in the plantation production of cotton or sugar are not producing value, because what? the slave’s day is not divided into a necessary working period and a surplus working period?

        That’s transparently nonsense, and while the slaveholders may have wished that no portion of the working day had to be devoted to reproducing the labor power of the slave laborers, the bookkeeping that the true-Briton slaveholders maintained didn’t tolerate the fantasy.

        The question this opens up for Marxism is profound. Marx recognizes that the unique abstract characteristic of capitalist value production is the opposition of the conditions of labor– i.e the ownership means of production to the “free,” detached, dispossessed laborer, whose labor only has use for him or her to the extent that it can be exchanged for the means of subsistence or the equivalent value to the means of subsistence necessary to reproduce the labor-power of the laborer, or really– to reproduce the laborer AS the labor-power.

        At the same time Marx recognizes concretely that without slave production there would have been no world market, no basis for industrial capitalism.

        The forced servitude of the slave certainly negated the expression of labor-power as a commodity. There was no wage-relation to mask the exploitation. But cotton was produced as a commodity, for exchange on the markets. Cotton did circulate as surplus, and not as surplus product in barter or trade arrangements, but as value. And as a capitalist commodity, the cotton-value could realize itself as value through, and only through, the aggrandizement of additional labor-power.

        It’s a bit odd I think to hold that value is, more or less, eternal, existing well before capitalism, including in that “eternity” societies of “simple commodity production” when a) such societies of “SCP” — if they ever existed– did not give rise to capitalism b) never achieved the “status” of a dominant mode of production

        I think it’s more than odd to not grasp the VALUE input slave production provided to capitalist accumulation. That commercial, plantation slavery could not have survived and expanded without the emergence of capitalism is evident. That capitalism, once dependent upon those slave labor inputs, outgrew the limitations of the slave relationship, more or less over time, (although it persisted and persists in “altered” forms throughout capitalist history) is evident.

        It is also,evident hat the value relationship that some see where there is none, i.e. in activity of a ship-wrecked individual, must exist someway somehow in the commercial relations of slave production for industrial capitalism.

      • jlowrie Says:

        Marx explains, “Thus, although it is true that the categories of bourgeois economy are valid for all social formations, this has to be taken with a grain of salt, for they may contain them in an advanced, stunted, caricatured etc. form.” ( A Contribution to the critique of Political Economy” P211).

        ”I think Postone would argue that the point is not whether such service workers do or do not generate value but that as science and technology progress value itself becomes anachronistic as a social interlink. You can’t see that because you take value to be a transhistorical category.”

        I think he would, but I must confess in having found his book hard-going, and if my memory serves me correctly it was just this argument in Marx that his manner of exposition failed to elucidate with sufficient clarity for me at any rate to grasp. I doubt it had anything to do with my failure to see that ”because I take value to be a transhistorical category,” since clearly Marx himself did. The point Marx makes, I think, is that under the capitalist mode of production a commodity contains both paid and unpaid labour, and “The labour expended on each commodity can no longer be calculated-except as an average i.e. an ideal estimate.”( Capital Vol.1 p 954)

        An ancient Athenian bed-maker, I presume, would sell his commodity for the customary price irrespective of the actual hours he had spent on that particular bed’s manufacture, which would clearly be known to him.

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        You say,

        “If the slave transfers its value piecemeal into the product and the slave does not create any value whence does this value transferred to the product come from?”

        The same place that the value of say a horse or a plough comes from, i.e. from the actual labour that was required for its production. The difference between the slave and a wage worker is precisely that a slave, like a horse or a plough is themselves a commodity, whereas a wage worker is not a commodity, only the labour-power of the wage worker is a commodity, which remains in the ownership of the worker, and is sold in the market to the capitalist on that basis.

        The difference can be seen by quite clearly in that the slave owner buys the actual slave in the market, in the same way they would buy a horse or a plough. The capitalist does not buy a worker, but buys their labour-power for a specific period of time. The slave owner must themselves buy or otherwise acquire the use values required for the reproduction of the slave, so that they can continue to function, in just the same way that they must buy food for a horse, and pay out for repairs and auxiliary materials for a plough. The capitalist does not have a responsibility to provide the wage worker with their means of reproduction, only to provide the wage worker with an equal amount of value for to the value of the labour-power that the worker sells to them. It is the responsibility of the wage worker to buy the use values/commodities required for their reproduction.

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        The other point here that I have also examined elsewhere is that which Marx considered in his thought experiment in the Fragment on Machines. Marx also discusses this question in relation to Proudhon.

        Marx’s position is quite simple. Value is labour. Labour is performed by producers by the expenditure of their labour-power. A peasant producer is able to undertake labour by the consumption of their own labour-power. A peasant producer may need to undertake say 5 hours of labour to reproduce their labour-power, (necessary labour), but works say for 6 hours. The value of their output is 6 hours, and they exchange it for another commodity/commodities with a value of 6 hours.

        But, the peasant producer does not thereby obtain a surplus value in the way that a capitalist does, because the peasant producer has exchanged 6 hours of labour in one form for 6 hours of labour in another form, whereas the capitalist exchanges 5 hours of labour as variable capital, and obtains 6 hours of labour in the value of the end product when it is sold.

        Now take the situation that Marx describes in his thought experiment where there are no workers, only owners of machines, and where the machines produce everything required. The machines produce more than is required for their own reproduction and maintenance, i.e. they produce a surplus product, but the machines produce no new value, and so no surplus value. Their output has value only to the extent that the machines themselves were initially the product of labour, which is transferred piecemeal to their output, but with each new generation of machine, as machines produce machines, this value in the form of dead labour gets smaller and smaller.

        If only capitalists exist who own these machines, a vast surplus product can be created, but no surplus value! A capitalist whose machines produce A will only ever be able to exchange their output for the products of capitalist B, at the value of the constant capital. The same is true of slave owners. In a world where there only slaves and slave owners, slave owner A, whose slaves produce corn can only ever exchange their output of corn with slave owner B, whose slaves produce linen, on the basis of the cost of reproducing the slave, not on the basis of the labour time expended by the slave in producing the corn.

        Say slave owner A must have their slaves work for 4 hours to reproduce their labour-power, but the slaves then work for 6 hours producing corn. The cost to slave owner A of producing say 100 kilos of corn is 4 hours. If they attempt to sell this corn to slave owner B for the equivalent of 6 hours labour, slave owner B will say, hold on, I could obtain 100 kilos of corn myself by simply having my slaves produce it instead, and the cost to me of doing so will be only 4 hours not 6 hours. Similarly, if the same conditions apply for slave owner B whose slaves produce line, slave owner A would not pay 6 hours of value for linen that only requires 4 hours to produce. A and B would therefore exchange their output with each other at a price equal to 4 hours, not 6 hours.

        They could, of course, exchange at a notional price equal to 6 hours, but that would simply be a matter of inflation with no real difference between the two. As both exchange their output at a value of 4 hours, equal to the cost of production, no surplus value is possible. But, that, does not at all mean that a surplus product is not created. This is precisely the advance that Smith made over the Physiocrats in understanding the difference between a surplus product and surplus value, and of value as use value, and value as labour.

        The only reason that slave producing societies can sell their output at prices that result in a surplus value, is precisely that not everyone in such a society is a slave or slave owner. In Greece and Rome, for example, the majority of society was comprised of peasant producers who sold their commodities on the market at their exchange value, which meant that the slave owners were also able to sell their same commodities at these exchange values, equal to the labour-time required for production of the commodity, and not simply the labour-time required for the reproduction of the slave.

        The slave producers of cotton in the US were able to sell their cotton at prices that realised a surplus value, precisely because the buyers of cotton on the world market were not themselves slave producers, but were either petty commodity producers, or capitalist producers of yarn, linen etc., and because the world market price of cotton was determined by the non-slave producers of cotton who sold it at its exchange value, price of production.

        Indeed, as Marx sets out in relation to Rome, it was precisely this condition that meant that because the slave producers were able to sell their output at its cost of production, as opposed to its exchange-value, if they chose, they could undercut the peasant producers of commodities, which meant that the peasant producers stayed out of the production of a whole series of commodities where they would not have been able to sell their commodities at their value.

      • sartesian Says:

        Boffy: “Marx’s position is quite simple. Value is labour. ”

        That is simply not true. Marx does not say “value is labour.” Only under specific social circumstances is “labor”– which Marx identifies with the objects created by laboring, and which he distinguishes from labor power- compelled to express itself as a value, and in values, as an object for exchange.

        There is no value apart from social labor, which is mediated, and always mediated by an exchange process. This is why “hints” of value comprehension exist in previous societies. Yes value has been produced prior to capitalism, because commodities were produced. What distinguishes a commodity from other objects produced? A commodity is exchanged. Commodity production is production for exchange. Attempting to separate value from exchange is like trying to separate capital from capitalists.

        But the organizing principle of pre-capitalist societies was not the subordination of production to exchange; was not compulsion that all products be exchanged.

        Further, a subsistence producer, producing only for his/her own needs, or the needs of his/her own family, or commune, is not producing value.

        A butler does not produce value despite receiving a salary. A tailor, employed, solely as a personal attendant to a wealthy person is not producing value no matter how many articles of clothing he/she produces.

        A slave, working on a plantation, producing commodities for exchange is indeed producing value.

        Value, according to Boffy, is an eternal category, EXCEPT when it comes to commercial production by slaves. That is absurd. The slave is contributing more time, more abstract labor, more time to social production than he or she obtains in the form of the means of subsistence. That is the basis of the slaveholders’ profit.

        Boffy undercuts his own argument, and that of his mythical Marx. The real Marx never posed the immediate, direct, identity of labor and value.

  14. C B Says:

    Does anyone have a link to where I can watch this conference?

  15. marthajpc Says:

    Boffy, your erudition is, well, valuable. It helped me clarify my own understanding of value. If I understand you right, labor as such (like nature itself) is a gift of nature, a valueless value, that necessarily underlies all forms of exchange value, which would be fictitious without its actualization in human beings and their products. But, if this is so, wouldn’t that make Marx’s “socially necessary labor time” and his labor theory of value specific to analysis of the capitalist mode of production for exchange?

    • Boffy Says:

      Martha,

      You are confusing labour and labour-power. Labour is not a thing or use value, but is an activity or process. It is indeed the activity of producing value. Labour-power is a thing or use value, but is not a free gift of nature, it is a product, which under capitalism is sold as a commodity. It is itself the product of labour, and as such has a value.

      Labour is an activity in the same way that running is an activity. Labour is an activity undertaken by the labourer, just as running is an activity undertaken by a runner. How fast the runner runs, how long the runner can run, and how far the runner can run, are all a function of the specific characteristics of the runner. Those characteristics are determined by the natural ability of the runner, by the food they eat, the running shoes they wear, the training they receive etc.

      Similarly, the labour undertaken by the labourer is not the same thing as the labourer themself. The amount of labour the labourer performs, the amount of value they thereby create by this labour depends upon the length of time they labour, the intensity of that labour, and whether that labour is complex or simple labour.

      To give another analogy, elsewhere, I have compared it to light. Concrete labour, i.e. the labour performed by a tailor as opposed to a carpenter is the source of value, in the same way that a candle, the sun, or a spotlight are sources of light. But neither a candle, the sun or a spotlight are themselves light, anymore than a labourer, or the use value they possess, labour-power is labour.

      The light coming from a candle, the sun or a spotlight is different in each case, but the essence of that light is the same. It is comprised of photons. What determines the intensity of the light, its brightness is the quantity of photons each source emits. And, similarly, what determines the amount of value that any particular concrete labour produces depends upon the amount of abstract labour it represents. And, as with the runner that depends upon the duration of the labour, and the intensity of the labour, but unlike the runner it also depends upon whether this specific labour is complex or simple.

      We can ask the question how bright is this star, or candle, or spotlight, which as an absolute measure would be objectively determined in terms of the quantity of photons emitted in a given period of time, and we can even measure this brightness relatively, by choosing say a standard candle as a measure of relative brightness, and then determining the brightness of a star or a spotlight as being equivalent to so many candles. But, it makes no sense to ask how bright is light!

      In the same way Marx says, it makes no more sense to ask what the value of labour is than it does to ask how long is length, because value is labour. Labour has no value because it is not a thing, but a process, it is both the essence and the measure of value.

      Adam Smith advanced over the Physiocrats precisely in this recognition that value is labour, as opposed to the Physiocrats equation of value with use value. Adam Smith on this basis, as Marx describes in TOSV, correctly determines the value of commodities as being equal to the labour-time required for their production. And, Smith also thereby correctly identifies the source of surplus value, as being the amount of labour the labourer performs over and above what is required for their own reproduction.

      The direct producer performs say 6 hours labour during the day, and thereby creates 6 hours of new value. They only require 4 hours of value to reproduce their own labour-power (the use value of being able to perform labour, i.e. to create value), and so create a surplus value of 2 hours, which is embodied in the product of their labour. It does not matter whether they exchange this product as a commodity or not. If they simply reproduce the use values required for their reproduction, in kind, they have a surplus product, which they can use to either expand their production further, to engage in additional types of production, or expand their own consumption, or future leisure-time.

      But, Marx says, Smith then wrongly abandons this labour theory of value, when he comes to examine the situation not of the independent peasant producer, but of the peasant producer who pays rent to a landlord, or a wage worker employed by a capitalist. As soon as landed property or capital comes into existence, Smith says, the value of commodities is no longer determined by the labour required for their production.

      Smith then adopts a cost of production theory of value, whereby the value of commodities is equal to the value of the labour, profit and rent received as incomes by the worker, landlord and capitalist. Smith arrives at this error because he believes that the value of commodities resolves into factor incomes (wages, profit, interest and rent) a fallacy that modern orthodox economics has perpetuated. He is confused because, as Marx sets out, under pre-capitalist modes of production, the value of commodities is not only equal to the labour-time required for their production, but is also equal to the labour-time they command.

      If producer A spends 10 hours producing wine, they can exchange this wine for some other commodity that also represents 10 hours of labour-time, or they might obtain 10 hours of labour on their field as labour service in exchange for it. The wine thereby commands 10 hours of labour in some other form. But, under capitalism, this no longer applies.

      A capitalist that has variable-capital in the shape of means of subsistence with a value of 8 hours, can employ labour not for 8 hours but for say 10 hours. So, it seems clear to Smith then that the theory of value as determined by labour-time ceases to operate, because here 8 hours of labour now commands 10 hours of labour, and so the exchange of equal values no longer takes place.

      As Marx points out, Smith is wrong to abandon his initial concept, and Ricardo does not follow him in doing so. Ricardo continues to determine the value of commodities on the basis of the labour required for their production. But, Ricardo is only able to do this because he does not examine the source of surplus value, as Smith had done. Ricardo simply assumes the existence of profit, and of an average rate of profit, and this leads him into contradictions and problems down the road in trying to reconcile this average rate of profit, with the fact that on this basis, capitals with different organic compositions or different rates of turnover cannot then sell their commodities at their exchange-value, which Ricardo insists they must do.

      Smith’s explanation of the fact that the capitalist can exchange 6 hours of labour in the form of wages for 8 hours of labour by the worker, i.e. that 6 hours commands 8 hours, is that capital is scarce, whilst labour is plentiful, so competition drives up the price of capital, and drives down the price of labour. He believes given the time he was writing that capital accumulation would proceed at such a pace that capital would become more plentiful, and labour less plentiful so that the price of capital would fall, and the price of labour would rise, so that profits are increasingly squeezed. This was Smith’s explanation of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, and for it to create a crisis for capitalism. As Marx points out, he was wrong on both counts.

      The reason that Smith was wrong in abandoning his labour theory of value for conditions under capitalism as opposed to the situation under simple commodity production, Marx says, is that he failed to distinguish between labour and labour-power. Labour-power is a commodity sold by the wage worker. It has a value equal to a certain amount of labour-time. If we take the peasant producer, who requires 6 hours of value to reproduce their labour-power, that is the value of their labour-power. If this same producer is employed as a wage worker that does not change. Nor does the fact that this labourer might work for 8 hours, and thereby create 8 hours of new value.

      The capitalist who has means of subsistence in their possession, with a value of 6 hours, has command in those commodities only over 6 hours of labour. If they sell those commodities in the market, they will only be able to exchange them for other commodities with a value of 6 hours. And, when they exchange this value for labour-power, that is still the case. The value of the labour-power they buy, is also 6 hours. But, the peasant producer was able to work for 8 hours, and can still now work for 8 hours, but now the capitalist as the owner of that labour-power, and of the means of production also owns the end product, which now has a value equal to 8 hours, as opposed to the 6 hours of value they have expended.

      The capitalist in the commodities they own only has command over an equal amount of value/labour. It is not as commodities that the capitalist obtains command over 8 hours of value, but as capital, i.e. of a particular historically determined social relation, whereby the worker must perform an amount of unpaid labour as a condition of being employed. But, this is not the creation of a surplus value where none previously existed, as Smith and Marx demonstrate. The surplus value exists as much for the peasant producer as it does for the wage worker and capitalist. It exists because the value of labour-power is less than the new value the producer/labourer creates by their labour. It is represented in the division of the working day into necessary and surplus labour. The only difference is that under feudalism the landlord has control over at least a portion of that surplus value, which they appropriate as rent (the peasant producer retaining the rest of the surplus value as profit, which they can accumulate), and under capitalism, the capitalist directly appropriates all of the surplus value, because they directly appropriate the whole of the product of the labour.

      The value of products/commodities in pre-capitalist modes of production is determined by the labour-time required for their production, and as independent producers, who own their own means of production, the sellers of these commodities do son on the basis of an exchange of equal values, whereby an amount of labour embodied in commodity A exchanges for an equal amount of value in commodity B, or an equal amount of labour service. It is on this basis that for the several thousand years prior to capitalism, in which simple commodity production and exchange takes place, the law of value operates via the exchange of commodities on the basis of exchange value. As Engels puts it, quoting Marx

      “”The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, thus requires a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a definite level of capitalist development…. Apart from the domination of prices and price movement by the law of value, it is quite appropriate to regard the values of commodities as not only theoretically but also historically antecedent (prius) to the prices of production. This applies to conditions in which the laborer owns his own means of production, and this is the condition of the land-owning working farmer and the craftsman, in the ancient as well as in the modern world. This agrees also with the view we expressed previously, that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community. It holds not only for this primitive condition, but also for subsequent conditions, based on slavery and serfdom, and for the guild organization of handicrafts, so long as the means of production involved in each branch of production can be transferred from one sphere to another only with difficulty and therefore the various spheres of production are related to one another, within certain limits, as foreign countries or communist communities.””

      And Engels, thereby continues,

      “In a word: the Marxian law of value holds generally, as far as economic laws are valid at all, for the whole period of simple commodity production — that is, up to the time when the latter suffers a modification through the appearance of the capitalist form of production. Up to that time, prices gravitate towards the values fixed according to the Marxian law and oscillate around those values, so that the more fully simple commodity production develops, the more the average prices over long periods uninterrupted by external violent disturbances coincide with values within a negligible margin. Thus, the Marxian law of value has general economic validity for a period lasting from the beginning of exchange, which transforms products into commodities, down to the 15th century of the present era. But the exchange of commodities dates from a time before all written history — which in Egypt goes back to at least 2500 B.C., and perhaps 5000 B.C., and in Babylon to 4000 B.C., perhaps to 6000 B.C.; thus, the law of value has prevailed during a period of from five to seven thousand years. And now, let us admire the thoroughness of Mr. Loria, who calls the value generally and directly valid during this period a value at which commodities are never sold nor can ever be sold, and with which no economist having a spark of common sense would ever occupy himself!”

      And yet, we see the argument of the fool Loria still put forward as good coin today by supposedly Marxist academics!

      As Marx sets out, what confused Ricardo was that although as against Smith he continued to argue that the value of commodities was determined by the labour required for their production he could not reconcile this with the fact that in examining reality he saw that commodities do not sell at prices that are equal to exchange values, or that revolve around exchange values. He and his followers like Mill were then led into all sorts of acrobatics to try to reconcile this circle, with the other thing they recognised, which was that under capitalism, competition forces each capital to seek to maximise profit, and thereby to leave those spheres which produce lower than the average rate of profit.

      But, if each sphere of production enjoys an equal rate of profit, it is impossible for them to sell their commodities at prices equal to exchange value, because different organic compositions of capital lead to capital in some areas employing relatively more labour, and producing relatively more surplus value. Moreover, this average rate of profit is based upon the annual rate of profit, which is calculated on the basis of the advanced not the laid-out capital, and those spheres where the capital turns over faster than the average thereby produce a higher annual rate of profit than spheres where capital turns over more slowly, so capital would migrate to these spheres, in search of this higher profit, which would mean that market prices of commodities in those spheres would naturally fall below the exchange value, until only the average annual rate of profit was obtained.

      Ricardo’s mistake, as Marx describes is that he could hold on to the labour theory of value as determining the value of commodities by the labour-time required for their production, but needed to accept that under capitalism commodities do not exchange at those values, but at prices of production, i.e. the cost price (c + v) plus the average profit. That is why, as engels says, from the 15th century, when capitalist production begins, no commodities are sold at their exchange value, because even non-capitalistically produced commodities, are produced with capitalistically produced inputs which are themselves sold at their price of production, not at their exchange value.

      • marthajpc Says:

        Right now I don’t have time to respond adequately to your persuasive argument. But you’ve convinced me that I was wrong to take an unqualified position on M’s labor theory of value as being applicable only to the capitalist mode of production. We weren’t in disagreement, but you’ve edified me and clarified things. Just a few comments.

        I don’t think Marx (nor you) intended “labour” to be understood as a disembodied, platonic ideal emanating “value”. He pointedly never separates the dancer–in this case, “labor” from the dance,”labor power”. Maybe he establishes the human ability to work as a standard of value–use value or exchange value–for the products of human labor whatever the mode of production, but, in analyzing actual modes of production, he makes no distinction between labour as such and the form it takes in a specific mode of production.

        However, capitalism’s historically evolved social relation (which makes capital and the capitalist mode of production possible) physically separates the dancer from the dance, in alienating the laboring population from the means of production and the wage worker from his or her own labor in producing commodities. Marx’s labor theory of value must necessarily represent the contradictory dualities in the structure of the capitalist mode of production and distribution.

      • Boffy Says:

        Martha,

        I hope today to begin writing the comment I promised to J a few days ago, so this is just a brief comment. I think you are still conflating labour and labour-power.

        I do indeed, as did Marx intend labour, as an activity to be disembodied from the actual labourer. What the individual labourer undertakes is individual concrete labour, and as I set out above this concrete labour is the source of value in the same way that a candle, the sun or a spotlight are sources of light. But it is not this individual, concrete labour that is the essence of, or measure of value, just as it is not the candle, sun or spotlight that is itself the essence of light.

        It is abstract social labour, labour as an activity that is abstracted from its individual peculiar characteristics. It is the same distinction as between individual value and social value. If we take even a particular type of concrete labour such as tailoring labour, the individual concrete labour of tailor A is not the same as the individual concrete labour of tailor B. Indeed, the individual concrete labour of tailor A will be different from one day to another, and even one hour to another, just the same as a runner does not run at the same speed, or with the same energy at the end of a marathon as they do at the start of the race.

        In order to be useful as a measure of value all of this heterogeneous labour must be reduced to one single average abstract labour, and by definition that is disembodied from any actual concrete labour, or labourer. When Marx talks about social labour as opposed to individual labour in this context this is what he means, just as when he talks about social value as against individual value, what he means is this average aggregate value of a commodity that is derived as a result of competition.

        But, you cannot have an average abstract labour unless you first have numerous individual concrete labours from which to abstract and to determine an average, just as you cannot have an average social value, unless you first have numerous individual values to aggregate, and from which to derive the average! Marx discusses that in Capital III, Chapter 10, and it is fundamental to his theory and analysis of differential rent. Indeed, unless this individual value continues to exist, the basis of differential rent is impossible, because the differential rent is the difference, the surplus profit that arises, between the individual value of commodities produced on Land I, and the market Value/social value that those commodities sell at.

        This difference between individual labour and social labour between the individual concrete labour of each labourer, and abstract labour does not appear where production is only of products that are directly consumed by the producer themselves. It is why in his use of the example of Robinson Crusoe, Marx says,

        “In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour.”

        In other words, here, because Robinson IS the society his individual concrete labour is simultaneously also social labour, abstract labour.

        And, it is this abstract labour that is the essence and measure of value. As Marx says,

        “Value is labour.”

        (Capital III, Chapter 48, p 815)

        It is not, Marx says, some particular type of labour, such as wage labour that is the producer of value, but labour itself, abstract labour. It simply assumes different forms in different modes of production. Nor is it the case, as Adam Smith wrongly argued that labour has a value or price. It is only labour-power that has a value/price. As Marx says, the idea of a value of labour is as irrational as a yellow logarithm.

        “In so far as labour is value-creating, and is manifested in the value of commodities, it has nothing to do with the distribution of this value among various categories. In so far as it has the specifically social character of wage-labour, it is not value-creating. It has already been shown in general that wages of labour, or price of labour, is but an irrational expression for the value, or price of labour-power; and the specific social conditions, under which this labour-power is sold, have nothing to do with labour as a general agent in production. Labour is also materialised in that value component of a commodity which as wages forms the price of labour-power; it creates this portion just as much as the other portions of the product; but it is materialised in this portion no more and no differently than in the portions forming rent or profit. And, in general, when we establish labour as value-creating, we do not consider it in its concrete form as a condition of production, but in its social delimitation which differs from that of wage-labour.”

        (ibid)

        And Marx reiterates this point that it is labour, the activity, irrespective of the mode of production, which creates value, and only the form that this value takes which differs in each mode of production.

        “Although the form of labour as wage-labour is decisive for the form of the entire process and the specific mode of production itself, it is not wage-labour which determines value. In the determination of value, it is a question of social labour-time in general, the quantity of labour which society generally has at its disposal, and whose relative absorption by the various products determines, as it were, their respective social importance. The definite form in which the social labour-time prevails as decisive in the determination of the value of commodities is of course connected with the form of labour as wage-labour and with the corresponding form of the means of production as capital, in so far as solely on this basis does commodity-production become the general form of production.”

        (Capital III, Chapter 51)

        And that also restates the concept that Marx set out of the law of value in his letter to Kugelmann.

        This also links back to the other aspect of Michael’s post here, because also it demonstrates that for Marx the question of value per se has nothing to do with class or class relations, i.e.

        “”In so far as labour is value-creating, and is manifested in the value of commodities, it has nothing to do with the distribution of this value among various categories. In so far as it has the specifically social character of wage-labour, it is not value-creating.”

        And given Marx’s analysis of the historical and logical development of value, and its transformation into exchange-value, and the specific form of exchange value in money, i.e. price, alongside the transformation of products into commodities you wouldn’t expect him to say anything other. As both Marx and Engels describe, commodity production and exchange itself go back some 10,000 years, and so exchange value, let alone value goes back that far, whilst class society only dates back to around 5,000 to 7,000 years, so value and even exchange-value predates class by several thousand years.

      • sartesian Says:

        “And Marx reiterates this point that it is labour, the activity, irrespective of the mode of production, which creates value, and only the form that this value takes which differs in each mode of production.”

        And yet, at the same time as this is being argued, the argument is made that slaves, producing commodities in a plantation commodity are not producing value; are merely passing along the value embodied as the cost of their reproduction as slaves.

        Moreover in this: “Although the form of labour as wage-labour is decisive for the form of the entire process and the specific mode of production itself, it is not wage-labour which determines value. In the determination of value, it is a question of social labour-time in general, the quantity of labour which society generally has at its disposal, and whose relative absorption by the various products determines, as it were, their respective social importance. The definite form in which the social labour-time prevails as decisive in the determination of the value of commodities is of course connected with the form of labour as wage-labour and with the corresponding form of the means of production as capital, in so far as solely on this basis does commodity-production become the general form of production.”

        …Marx contradicts Boffy’s claims re the eternal character of value, and the “value” production of a isolated ship-wrecked person: a) “the form of labour as wage-labor is decisive for the form of the entire process and specific mode of production”– and the form of the entire process is the extraction of surplus value, the accumulation of surplus value through the wage form, the wage relation b) “it is not wage-labor which determines value”– correct, other forms of social labor produce value, but the domination of the social mode of production by value production is a result of the organization of the means of production as private property on the one hand, and labor as dispossessed from those means of production, as “free” wage-labor on the other. Marx explicitly states in the very next sentence c) “The definite form in which social labour-time prevails AS DECISIVE in the determination of the value of commodities…….is …connected with the form of labour as wage-labour and with the corresponding form of the means of production as capital, in so far AS SOLELY on this basis does commodity-production become the GENERAL FORM OF PRODUCTION.”

        Value is created by social labor; not all social labor creates value, which is why capital has to expropriate direct producers, subsistence producers, and commune based production.

        When Marx writes in Vol 3 “value is labour” he is writing it in a specific context, and it is NOT in the context that value is always and simply another term for labor On the contrary, he is writing specifically to critique the capitalist mystification of value. He is writing about the Trinity formula and arguing that labor is the source of value. He writes: “And now to take land, inorganic nature [sic!] as such, rudis indigestaque moles in its primeval wilderness. Value is labor. So surplus value cannot be earth. The land’s absolute fertility does nothing.. ”

        Marx is criticizing the trinitarian formula for its abstraction of value from the social relations of its production. He is not claiming that VALUE always exists; is the eternal condition of production. Just the opposite. He is arguing that trinitarian formula is in fact a mystification- “designed” to preserve, defend capital and capitalism from the recognition of its source, in the specific organization of labor.

        Marx makes this clear in the very next paragraph dealing with the “third in the league”– “labour”– which is an abstraction separated from its social condition, when it is the very social condition the enables the expression that “value is labor,”– i.e the expression of labor in and AS value.

        I think this is import because Marx’s critique of capital derives its “strength” from its specificity; from its identification of the conflict between labor and the condition of labor; the conflict between the labor process, as the source for the creation and satisfaction of needs, and the valorization process which is the subjugation of need to value production.

        The specificity is precisely what makes the proletariat, in Marx’s analysis, the revolutionary class, capable of emancipating all of social labor from the constraints of value. That doesn’t mean that other societies have not existed, or that they existed and revolts did not take place; that peasant societies haven’t had rebellions; where slave societies haven’t had rebellions– just as it doesn’t mean that value production didn’t take place in other societies– but SOLELY on the basis of the form of labor as wage-labor does value production become the general form of production; and solely on that basis is there created the prospect for the abolition of production for and of value.

      • sartesian Says:

        One other comment. On this:

        ” As both Marx and Engels describe, commodity production and exchange itself go back some 10,000 years, and so exchange value, let alone value goes back that far, whilst class society only dates back to around 5,000 to 7,000 years, so value and even exchange-value predates class by several thousand years.”

        Hopefully, someone with much more background in anthropology than me (and more than Marx and Engels) can comment on the above– and also provide some insight as to past, and current, hunter-gatherer societies. Were those societies producing commodities? Producing those objects as values?

        Do those few remaining and relatively isolated rain-forest societies undertake production as the production of values?

  16. Cork Says:

    “An ancient Athenian bed-maker, I presume, would sell his commodity for the customary price irrespective of the actual hours he had spent on that particular bed’s manufacture, which would clearly be known to him.”

    I think this type of argument makes clear the problem. It essentially projects from our current social system into the past.

    Beds were made in peasant families for their own use, and rich people who alone leave a written trail in history had slaves that made beds for them. Remember that “the slave population was greatest in workshops: the shield factory of Lysias employed 120 slaves, and the father of Demosthenes owned 32 cutlers and 20 bedmakers.”

    Value is a historically specific category – social mediation was effected by overt social relations in other societies.

    From TOOC:

    “The motive of individual profit associated with market exchange was never till the modem age the dominant principle of economic life. In all earlier societies, ‘economic’ relations and practices were ’embedded’ or submerged in non-economic – kinship, communal, religious, and political – relationships. There have been other motives driving economic activity than the purely ‘economic’ motives of profit and material gain, such as the achievement of status and prestige, or the maintenance of communal solidarity. There have been other ways of organizing economic life than through the mechanisms of market exchange, in particular ‘reciprocity’ and ‘redistribution’ – elaborate reciprocal obligations determined, for instance, by kinship, or the authoritative appropriation of surpluses by some kind of central political or religious power and their redistribution from the centre.”

    • sartesian Says:

      What’s “TOOC” stand for?

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”In several parts of Capital I allude to the fate which overtook the plebeians of ancient Rome. They were originally free peasants, each cultivating his own piece of land on his own account. In the course of Roman history they were expropriated. The same movement which divorced them from their means of production and subsistence involved the formation not only of big landed property but also of big money capital. And so one fine morning there were to be found on the one hand free men, stripped of everything except their labour power, and on the other, in order to exploit this labour, those who held all the acquired wealth in possession. What happened? The Roman proletarians became, not wage labourers but a mob of do-nothings…” ( Marx, Letter to Danielson 1877). Here Marx has allowed himself to be taken in by Roman aristocratic propaganda of the ‘bread and circuses type.’ The hundred of thousands of Roman plebeians worked for a living( most would have been self-employed, as the fragments of Roman comedy suggest) and bought their own bread as commodities. Marx has gravely underestimated the extent of commodity production in the ancient economy.

      I

      The same applies to the Athenian demos. Even if the majority of citizens owned a slave or two,( according to Greek comedy, an average peasant had 3 slaves) this merely lightened the burden of labour; the master worked alongside his slaves, who were an adjunct to the family labour force. The wealth of the rich was derived from their property in land, and they were the principal slave owners. The family of Lysias were metics and could not own land, so they concentrated perhaps on manufacture. ‘ “the slave population was greatest in workshops: the shield factory of Lysias employed 120 slaves’ No , the slave population was greatest on the land. The speech of Lysias to which you refer ”Against Eratosthenes ” states merely that his family owned 120 slaves, not that they were employed in the family shield factory. I very much doubt that there was any factory of this size. Most craftsmen would have been independent, some employing several slaves. Their output clearly took the form of commodities, whether they exploited slaves or not. Ancient Athens was an entrepôt, where commodity exchange was easily facilitated by its silver mines.

      ”“The motive of individual profit associated with market exchange was never till the modem age the dominant principle of economic life. In all earlier societies, ‘economic’ relations and practices were ’embedded’ or submerged in non-economic – kinship, communal, religious, and political – relationships.” No doubt a great deal of this is true, but the rich were in it for the money. Remember in the same speech Lysias recalls how he
      asked the oligarch who had come to arrest him and seize his property, if he would let him go in return for money. Unmoved by any considerations of kinship, religion or political community, the oligarch answered, ”If it’s a lot!” These oligarchs have never changed. Putin is a case in point. He may profess a belief in Russian Orthodoxy, but his real idol is Mammon.

      • sartesian Says:

        I agree with the above; I think Marx underestimates the development of, for lack of a better way of describing it, “proto-capitalist” relations in Rome, lost in the decay, collapse, and movement east of the capital to Byzantium/Constantinople.

        And I agree with the next to last paragraph.

        I think the “thrust,” the “predominant” weight of Marx’s critique is that value cannot, does not emerge, as the organizing principle of society prior to the emergence, expansion, and triumph of capitalism. And even after that triumph, capitalist relations do not exist without mediation, deformity, by the pre-capitalist relations it encounters, in Russia, for example, or in Latin America, where the legacy of Iberian mercantilism and feudalism, with the configuration of landed property “stunts” capitalist development.

        I think there are (several) critical ambiguities in Marx’s work– the impact of machinery on the so-called extraction of relative surplus value; and the obvious value contribution of plantation slavery to capitalist development.

        What is not ambiguous in Marx is:

        that value relations do not dominate society prior to capitalism;

        that “simple commodity production” does not exist as some sort of “proto-capitalist” Eden, (if it exists at all other than in isolation, as fragments), where individual producers exchange commodities produced by their own labor at their values;

        that even where and if SCP existed, it never morphed into capitalism on the basis of its internal development but is swept away by the forces of capitalist accumulation;

        that the law of value does not, cannot be the organizing principle of social exchange until labor itself its compelled to present itself as a value, as a commodity, where it is compensated through exchange at a rate sufficient to its reproduction providing the surplus labor time necessary for accumulation.

        that the law of value in fact is the relation between classes.

        Robinson Crusoe has absolutely no bearing, no meaning, and no value to that investigation.

  17. Henry Says:

    On abundance,

    In the letter to Kugelmann which Boffy uses as exhibit A in his defense of the law of value as eternal it should be pointed out that Marx makes something clear,

    “That this necessity of the distribution of social labor in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance , is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with.”

    This rather blows Boffy’s ideas of abundance out of the water if you ask me!

    It also calls into question this comment from Boffy,

    “In those conditions the Law of Value ceases to operate, because the choice of what use values can be produced is no longer constrained by the amount of available social labour-time.”

    Well if Boffy is using the letter to Kugelmann as the basis of the law of value and Marx maintains that this natural law cannot be done away with then how can the law of value cease to operate under any form of social production, given Marx clearly states in the letter that this form cannot be done away with?

    To be honest the whole debate rather puzzles me, as Marx really couldn’t be much clearer in his presentation. Value has an historic and natural basis, it didn’t magically appear the day capitalism had reached a certain level of development, but as part of his methodology Marx begins to abstract from these historic and natural elements to show the specificity of the law of value under capitalism. So in capital we are effectively presented with a law of value specific to capitalism. I mean if we can’t agree on basics like this what the hell hope do we have on finding agreement on the really tricky stuff!

    Under communism this law will take on a very different form, but communism will not abolish nature!

    • sartesian Says:

      But the law of value, where commodities exchange in proportion to the socially necessary labor time required for their reproduction, is not a “natural law.” It is the product of a social relation, a social mediation of the labor process, where laborer is compelled to present his ability to labor as an object for exchange.

      If that social condition is abolished, overcome, then value as the determining principle of the economic mode is also abolished

      • henry Says:

        The specificity as it appears under capitalism is indeed not a ‘natural’ law, but no social system can divorce itself from natural laws, these natural laws will limit and to some degree shape the character of all human communities. Now Marx wanted to get this clear to even a child stuff out of the way so he could get on with analyzing capitalism in its specificity.

        “then value as the determining principle of the economic mode is also abolished”

        I think this is true up to a point. Yes value as it specifically appears under capitalism will be abolished, but the natural laws determining the limits of value cannot be abolished. These natural laws will determine the limits of communism, will in some way shape its character, but communism will have a value form that is markedly different to capitalism.

        But I claim communism will not be a break from history, but its final destination. It will be possible to trace value through the ages and into communism, describing its metamorphosis along the way.

        I claim you will not be able to say, value appeared at a certain stage of capitalist development and vanished into thin air as soon as capitalism was abolished. value is not that enigmatic! This is not my understanding of historical materialism!

    • sartesian Says:

      Of course value precedes capitalism, just as money does. But not all modes of production express their organization of social labor in and through value production.

      The argument is not, and has never been if value appears all at once with capitalism; if value disappears all at once with the overthrow of capitalism.

  18. allan harris Says:

    Marx said exchange creates value?? He said, rather, that exchange realizes value, which is why the capitalist believes that they are responsible for profit and value, because they can see the money at the point of sale.

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”Marx said exchange creates value?? ”

      Allan,maybe I missed it, but I do not see anybody asserting this. The point I think is that if a capitalist fails to sell his commodities they have no value. Too many spoons! Value and exchange value are only conceptually separate.

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        I think that this illustrates the problem. Those who assert that value only comes into existence with commodity production and exchange, or worse with capitalism as a specific form of commodity production and exchange, thereby equate and conflate value and exchange value, in the same way that Ricardo and his followers did, and which opened the door for Say, Bailey and the later neoclassical school to use that weakness to attack the labour theory of value itself.

        As Marx sets out although Ricardo, unlike Smith, sticks to a labour theory of value whereby the value of commodities is determined by the quantity of labour required for their production (unlike Smith, who seeing that where landed property and capital exists, the value of the “labour” that is sold appears to be different to (less than) the value of the labour contained in the commodities it produces, abandoned the LTV and adopted a cost of production theory of value), because Ricardo fails to distinguish between labour and labour-power, this necessarily results in an irreconcilable conflict.

        For Ricardo, because unlike Smith, he does not understand where surplus value comes from, he simply assumes the existence of an average rate of profit, this creates further problems. If you stick correctly to the notion that the value of commodities is determined by the quantity of labour required for their production – as opposed to the value of the labour contained in their production, which is what a cost of production theory does – then you end up with the contradiction that Say, Bailey and others expose, and which Marx sets out, in Theories of Surplus Value.

        That is as Marx says, if the value of commodities is equal to the quantity of labour (abstract labour, which Ricardo also does not distinguish from concrete labour) required for their production, and if you believe that labour – as opposed to labour-power – is sold as a commodity, then how do you define the value of the labour of a 10 hour working day? It can only tautologically be equal to itself, i.e. the value of ten hours of labour can only be equal to 10 hours of labour.

        If then the labour is paid this value, it would mean that wages would have to be equal to 10 hours of labour, i.e. that the worker would work for 10 hours producing commodities, with a value of 10 hours, and because they are pair the value of this labour, they would have to be paid wages equal to this self same 10 hours. So, the possibility of surplus value, whose source Ricardo never investigates becomes impossible. This is alsos, as marx says the difference between wage labour and slave labour, whereby it is not the labour-power of the slave that the slave owner buys, but the slave themself. Smith recognised that, which is why he drops the LTV in favour of a cost of production theory, in which instead of the quantity of labour it is the value of labour that determines the value of commodities.

        The other alternative, Marx says, is that we examine the value of “labour” as with any other commodity, by the labour required for its production. In which case, if we look at the labour-time required for the production of the labourer, we might find that it is say 8 hours. But, then again, Marx says we end up with a further contradiction because now we have labour with a value of 8 hours being equal to the same labour creating a value of 10 hours, we have a reductio ad absurdum whereby labour simultaneously has a value of 8 hours and of 10 hours!

        The answer to that conundrum is that what the wage worker sells, is their labour-power, as a commodity, and they sell that commodity at its value of 8 hours, the value of the commodities required for its reproduction. But, this value has then nothing to do with the value that the worker can produce. The worker can work for 10 hours, and thereby produce 10 hours of new value, creating 2 hours of surplus value. Or they might work for 12 hours and produce 4 hours of surplus value, and if the value of the labour-power falls to 6 hours they would produce 6 hours of surplus value. So, long as productivity in society is high enough that the labour-time required to reproduce the labourer is less than the labour-time that the worker can normally work in a day, then a surplus product can be produced, and in commodity producing economies that takes the form that the value of labour-power is less than the new value that the labourer can produce in a day.

        Sometimes that may not be the case. For example, if there is a crop failure, the agricultural workers continue to require the same quantity of use values for the reproduction of their labour-power, but the crop failure causes the value of many of those use values to rise significantly, so the value of labour-power rises. The agricultural workers still create the same amount of new value by their labour as they did before, because they still work for say 10 hours as before, thereby still creating 10 hours of positive new value. But, that 10 hours of new value is now embodied with say only 20 units of output rather than 100 units of output, which is why the unit value of all these units rises, causing the value of labour-power to rise. Now it may be that although the agricultural worker still produces the same 10 hours of new value, the rise in agricultural prices means that the value of their labour-power rises to say 12 hours, so that the consequence of the drop in productivity caused by the crop failure, is to result in a situation whereby the worker whilst still creating the same amount of positive new value as before, creates not a surplus value for the capitalist farmer, but a loss!

        Because Ricardo also saw capitalism as eternal,a nd its relations as eternal, he sees value only as relative value – exchange value – because that is what exists under capitalism, and indeed under commodity production and exchange, and particularly it takes the form of money. As Marx sets out the reason Ricardo develops a faulty theory of money, is that he did not, as marx had done in Capital I, Chapter III, undertake a value form analysis of the historical and logical development of value as a category from its origins within the value of products produced by the primitive communes, and family units, and then the sporadic exchange of those products by nomadic tribes, etc, which leads to the transformation of this value of products into first a relative form of value, whereby each type of commodity is measured against every other type of commodity, through to an equivalent form of value, whereby every commodity is measured against some other commodity, which results in the singling out of some specific commodity to act as the universal equivalent form of value, i.e. the money commodity.

        Had Ricardo done that Marx says, he would have recognised that value and exchange value are two different things, and that value must precede exchange value, and that it is only on that basis that money itself can arise. It was the failure to recognise that, and his identifying value with exchange value (relative value) which provided the opening for the proponents of this relative value such as Bailey to attack the LTV.

        It meant that Ricardo and his followers were always looking out for some commodity to act as an absolute value by which to measure value, and as Marx says the only good thing about Bailey’s work was to show that such an attempt is a fool’s errand, because no such commodity can exist, as the value of each commodity, including labour (power) constantly changes in value, and so its exchange value always thereby changes.

        Those who argue that value as opposed to exchange value only arises with commodity production and exchange, or worse still with capitalism simply continue those errors of Ricardo and the Ricardian School, that led to its decay and collapse, and opened the door to the neoclassical school of subjectivism.

      • Boffy Says:

        The other point I forgot to put in here is this. This conflation and confusion that leads to the opening for the neoclassical school also takes another form.

        Because Ricardo and his modern day followers fail to distinguish between labour and labour-power, and this leads to the equation of slave labour with wage labour, because in both cases what is seen as being sold is “labour” as a commodity rather than labour-power, this opened the door to Say to argue that all labour, i.e. dead labour as well as living labour creates value. This idea was also hinted at by Mill, as a means of overcoming the contradictions the Ricardian School found in trying to reconcile exchange value with market prices, and was taken to its ultimate form in the work of McCulloch.

        If what is bought is “labour” as a commodity, then indeed the slave’s labour is bought the same as that of the wage worker and creates new value. But, then as Marx says,

        “in the relations of slavery and serfdom….The slave stands in no relation whatsoever to the objective conditions of his labour; rather, labour itself, both in the form of the slave and in that of the serf, is classified as an inorganic condition of production along with other natural beings, such as cattle, as an accessory of the earth.” (Grundrisse p 489)

        In other words the slave is bought by the slave owner in the same way that they might buy a horse to do useful work for them. In the same way that the slave owner buys food for the horse to sustain it, pays for the horse to be shod and so on, so the slave owner does the same thing for the slave, who unless you adopt a non-scientific, moralistic and anthropocentric view is as Marx says, in this set of productive relations absolutely no different to the horse.

        And, of course, this is what a cost of production theory, and a marginal product theory of value says. It is what Mill, and McCulloch, and certainly Say argued. So, if we take a horse, for example, the slave owner buys a horse. Why do they buy a horse? Because using the horse in production enables them to increase their output, to increase the quantity say of corn they produce. Out of this additional corn, the slave owner is able to feed the horse, and still have a surplus quantity of corn left over. The horse produces a surplus product.

        And the same reason is why the slave owner, or the capitalist might buy a machine, i.e. it produces a surplus product. As Engels describes in The Origin of the Family etc. slave owning only becomes possible when social productivity rises to a level whereby the slave can produce more use values in a day than is required for their reproduction. The same is true of a horse, or a machine.

        Say et al used this fact that the introduction of animals, machines etc. increase output, and thereby create a surplus product, to argue that in doing so they also create new value, and contribute to the creation of surplus value. That is the basis of marginal productivity theories of value, that each factor of production contributes to the creation of value. But, it is of course, false because although a slave owner might buy a horse or a slave to increase their output, and thereby increases their surplus product, this is not at all the same as creating additional new value, and surplus value.

        As Marx points out a slave differs from a wage labourer, precisely in that the slave is no different to a horse or a machine. They may result in an increased output, and a rise in the surplus product, but they create no new value or surplus value. It is an illusion.

        An individual capital that introduces a machine appears thereby to have increased the value of its output, but this is merely an illusion of competition, which stands reality on its head. In fact, the machine has reduced the individual value of its output not increased it, because the machine has replaced the actual value creating substance living labour, with dead labour, which creates no new value. It appears that it has created additional value, which is what confuses the neoclassical theorists, because it continues to sell its increased quantity of output at the same market value, determined by other producers, who have not yet introduced such machines.

        The reality is exposed when all other producers introduce the same machine, and so the individual value of the output of these other producers is reduced in like manner – or more correctly the value of their output remains the same, but the volume of output rises, so that the value per unit falls. The same is true where a producer buys a horse or a slave. Their output rises as a result, and this increase in their physical product creates the illusion that it has created new value, because it means that their individual value of their output falls below the social/market value. In just the same way that if all producers introduce the same machine this results in a fall in value not the creation of new value, so if all producers introduce a horse, or a slave to increase physical output this has the same effect, because in this set of productive relations the slave, the horse and the machine all occupy the same position.

      • sartesian Says:

        The contradiction in Boffy’s “explanation” of slavery is that– at one and the same time, Boffy presents value as being an eternal category of production, such that “value is labor;” such that societies organized around subsistence production are still modes of value production; such that peasant producers are producing value; such that feudal societies must be modes of value production– but slave labor does not produce value.

        If the slave mode of production embedded with capitalism was not producing value, then the revenues and the profits streaming to the slave holders must represent deductions from the surplus value extracted by the capitalists.

        The questions raised are:

        if value is the eternal condition of social labor, then what accounts for slave modes not producing value? if “value is labor” how does slave labor not produce value?

        if slave modes do not produce value, then what is the basis for the exchange of the products of the slave mode.

        Did the profits accruing to slaveholders amount to deductions from surplus value? If so how do we account for the critical role slave production plays in the expansion of capitalism?

      • Edgar Says:

        Crucial differences between slave and machines/horse,

        The slave does not need to be attended to in the same way as the machine or the animal.

        The slave creates his own subsistence in a way the machine and horse does not. So the value of the slave that gets transferred into production was not value originally created by ‘free labour’ but is value created by the slaves themselves. So a slave transfers value into the product, this value had to be created at some point. Who created this value? The slave!

        If we are saying only ‘free labour’ can create value, as Boffy does above, then the slave has no value to transfer into the product.?

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        Of course a slave has value, in the same way that a machine or a horse has value, because the slave like the horse and the machine is also the product of labour. It is labour that produces the food that leads to the horse being maintained, and it is labour that produces the materials and transforms the materials into a machine, and that produce the fuel for it etc. It is initially labour that produces the food etc. that enables slaves to be produced, because society never starts from being a slave owning society.

        That is true where the food itself is produced by slaves, because the slaves that produce the food themselves have value in the shape of the initial non-slave labour that produced the means of subsistence of the slaves. In other words, if free labour labours for 10 hours, and produces food with a value of £10, this food may then be used to sustain a slave. The slave has a value of £10. The slave undertakes work for 20 hours, but only passes on the 10 hours of value they themselves possess, in the same way that would a horse or a machine. The quantity of their output will sustain 2 slaves, but each slave now then has a value only of £5, because only £5 of value is required for their reproduction, and so on.

        The value that a machine, a horse or slave has arising from this past expenditure of labour is thereby congealed labour, and simply transfers its value along with its use value to the end product. It does not create any new value. Machines are also used to produce machines, just as horses are used to produce horses, and slaves to produce slaves. One reason that the value of machines falls is because the more machines are used to produce machines, so the proportion of the value of the produced machine that comprises new value added by labour continually falls.

        The question of supervision is irrelevant. A horse can be connected to a Hercules yoke and used to turn a wheel all day along on its own. The amount of grain it thereby grinds in a day may be well in excess of the grain it requires to feed it for the day, so that although it produces this large surplus product, it creates no new value, or surplus value. If we take Marx’s example of land and rent, which leads him to his comment that value is labour so surplus value cannot be land, then if we take the same capital and labour and apply it to land type I, it produces say 100 tons of wheat, but applied to land type II it produces 200 tons of wheat. As we are talking about the self same capital and labour, the explanation for the higher output on land type II as opposed to land type I, can only be attributed to the use value of land type II, as opposed to that of land type I. The increased output is a direct result of the higher fertility of land type II. But, this increased output from land type II, and the increased surplus product that results from it does not at all mean that this land type II has thereby created additional new value.

        It appears that way, because the output of land type II is sold at the same market value, per unit as the output from land type I, and as land type II produces twice as much output, it appears that the land itself has created additional value, and surplus value, which is then paid to the landlord as rent. But, in fact, although the output of land type II is double that of land type I, its individual value is the same as that of land type I. It is indeed that fact, that results in a surplus profit arising on land type II, which is what is then paid as rent.

        As Marx sets out in his thought experiment in the fragment on machines, if a situation was arrived at whereby labour was eliminated altogether, and machines simply produced all of the materials they required for their own maintenance, and for the production of new machines, then the value of these machines would continually fall towards zero, because the only element of value they would contain would be this ever diminishing element of value of past actual labour. Eventually, the value of the machines would effectively be zero, and so they would be able to pass no existing value on into their output, whether that output was raw material production, or manufactured production.

        These autonomous unsupervised machines would create a huge surplus product, way in excess of what was required for their own reproduction, but would produce no value, and no surplus value. The same is true if all that existed were slaves and slave owners. Eventually the value of the slave created by the extent that they represent past congealed labour, would get ever smaller, and as the slave creates no new value, the value of their output would get smaller too, even as the surplus product, the amount of product produced over and above what is required for their own reproduction would be extremely large.

        It is the fact that the slave is not an independent cost centre and commodity owner that distinguishes them from the free labour of the direct producer or wage worker, as Marx sets out in the Grundrisse.

        “the wage worker as distinct from the slave is himself an independent centre of circulation, someone who exchanges, posits exchange value, and maintains exchange value through exchange. Firstly: in the exchange between that part of capital which is specified as wages, and living labour capacity, the exchange value of this part of capital is posited immediately, before capital again emerges from the production process to enter into circulation, or this can be conceived as itself still an act of circulation. Secondly: To each capitalist, the total mass of all workers, with the exception of his own workers, appear not as workers, but as consumers, possessors of exchange values (wages), money, which they exchange for his commodity. They are so many centres of circulation with whom the act of exchange begins and by whom the exchange value of capital is maintained. They form a proportionally very great part – although not quite so great as is generally imagined, if one focuses on the industrial worker proper – of all consumers. The greater their number – the number of the industrial population – and the mass of money at their disposal, the greater the sphere of exchange for capital. We have seen that it is the tendency of capital to increase the industrial population as much as possible.” (p 419)

        The direct producer who owns their means of production is a commodity owner, and enters circulation as such. What they sell is a commodity, the product of their labour. That is true as Marx shows in TOSV Chapter 4 of the independent seller of a labour service. As Marx sets out the difference between a cook employed by a rich person, say a capitalist, in a domestic capacity to cook their dinner, and who is thereby paid out of the rich person’s revenue, and the same cook who is employed by a capitalist in a restaurant comes down precisely to this.

        The cook employed in a domestic capacity does not, Marx says, sell their labour-power to the rich person, but sells the product of their labour, a labour service, i.e. the cooking of the lamb chops, to use Marx’s example. They are thereby paid for the product of that labour at its value. If the cook works for 2 hours cooking the lamb chops, they create 2 hours of new value, and are paid the equivalent of 2 hours for having done so. They are a commodity owner, and sell this commodity at its value.

        But, this cook does not thereby create surplus value, even though they produce new value. The new value thy create, marx explains is equal to 2 hours, because they undertake 2 hours of labour, and the rich person whose lamb chops they cook pays them the equivalent of 2 hours labour in money. Consequently, no surplus value is created, there is simply an exchange of equal amounts of value.

        Because Marx’s definition of productive labour is that which Smith sets out in his first definition, as being labour that exchanges with capital and produces surplus value, this cook’s labour is not productive. It exchanges with revenue not capital, and it does not produce surplus value, although it does create 2 hours of new value.

        The same cook, maybe employed by the same capitalist as a cook in a restaurant, is also a commodity owner, but the commodity they own and sell is not the product of their labour, but their labour-power itself. The wage worker creates this commodity, owns it, and sells it accordingly. The worker creates their labour-power via procreation, by eating and drinking, by taking exercise, undertaking education and training and so on, and having produced this commodity labour-power, as its owner they enter the market and sell it at its value.

        This is the difference between the wage worker who sells their labour-power as a commodity, and the direct producer or the independent labourer who sells the product of their labour as a commodity. The commodity labour-power has a value equal to the cost of its reproduction, and this value is what is paid for it in exchange as wages. The cook in both case may require the equivalent of 4 hours labour to reproduce their labour power, and is paid the equivalent of 4 hours labour for it. Let us say that is equal to £4. But, the cook as wage worker works for 8 hours and thereby creates £8 of new value, which results in a surplus value of £4. Their labour is productive because it exchanges with capital, and produces surplus value. It is this Marx says which distinguishes it as productive, and not what it produces. For example, as Marx says an actor produces no physical product, and yet if they are employed by a capitalist theatre owner, their labour is productive, because it exchanges with capital and produces a surplus value.

        The cook who is an independent labourer, by contrast, would work for 8 hours, and produce 8 hours of new value, and receive in exchange the equivalent of 8 hours of value, i.e. £8, but they would not be a productive labourer, because their labour would not exchange with capital, only with revenue, and they would produce o surplus value, i.e. they obtain £8 in payment, in exchange for the 8 hours of labour they have performed, and £8 of new value they have thereby created.

        But the slave is not a commodity owner, they are not an independent cost centre. Quite the contrary, they are themselves a commodity, the property of the slave owner to be bought and sold at whim.

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        Its also worth looking at what Engels says about the slave labour in the Southern slave owning states of the US. It was only the existence of capitalism, and in particular the requirements of the UK textile industry that enabled it to exist.

        In all the cotton producing states that sold their output to Britain, slave production was tacked on to capitalist production relations, and in the immediately surrounding states, slavery was able to continue he says, because they produced slaves to be sold into the cotton producing states. Beyond that, Engels says, slavery died out, because it could not be made to pay.

      • Edgar Says:

        Thanks Boffy for your usual engagement, no one could accuse you of lack of patience!

        So society never starts from being slave owning but always starts from being free labour? That is convenient and a little arbitrary.

        When you say society, you mean by that…, When you say start…?

        One thing I am struggling with is how your very prescriptive examples of value, such as actor or cook square with the idea that value is not specific to capitalism. Given the very precise qualifications you provide which determine something being value creating I am wondering how anything outside a capitalist system could qualify?

      • allan harris Says:

        “value not specific to capitalism.” Labor can produce value without producing commodities, a peasant economy is a typical example. The family produces goods/values for its own use.
        “For an example of labour in common or directly associated labour, we have no occasion to go back to that spontaneously developed form which we find on the threshold of the history of all civilised races.[31] We have one close at hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn, cattle, yarn, linen, and clothing for home use. These different articles are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between themselves, they are not commodities.”

      • allan harris Says:

        This is from Roberts’ article, a few paragraphs in: “Similarly, Marx’s concept of value changed over time. Early on, value is seen to come from the production process and the exploitation of labour power by capital. Later on, Marx revised this view to argue that value was only created at the point of exchange into money.”

      • allan harris Says:

        Overproduction of commodities is nothing new; capitalists do it all the time. The value in the commodities is still there, it just cannot be realized and converted into new capital. This causes the crisis (in part.) The value of too much production has to be destroyed: “Liquidate the banks, liquidate the workers, liquidate capital, liquidate stocks, etc.”

        If the capitalist cannot sell their commodities they lose the profit; and they destroy the commodity/value.

      • sartesian Says:

        “In all the cotton producing states that sold their output to Britain, slave production was tacked on to capitalist production relations, and in the immediately surrounding states, slavery was able to continue he says, because they produced slaves to be sold into the cotton producing states. Beyond that, Engels says, slavery died out, because it could not be made to pay.”

        Again, Engels has to be viewed critically in this. Subsequent investigation indicates that the interstate slave trade was only a minor part of income for slaveholders in the “original” slave states; and that the overall contribution of the interstate slave trade to economic growth was negligible, at best.

        Slavery did not die out, at least in the United States. Hence the US-Mexican war, waged on behalf of slaveholders to bring Texas into the Union (and in which Engels mistakenly supported the US); hence the compromise of 1850; hence the Kansas-Nebraska Act, nullifying all “compromises” limiting the expansion of slavery.

        The slave mode had to be extirpated by a civil war; and even after that it was reconstituted in substance if not form by redemptionist governments that overthrew the Reconstructionist administration, abrogated contracts established to protect the freed slaves as free laborers, and imposed share-cropping, prison labor, etc. etc.

        Moreover, slavery persisted in Cuba and Brazil until the 1880s.

        To say that the slave mode was linked to the capitalist mode tells us nothing we don’t know. The issue is, how could the slave mode be so linked and not be a system for value production, if the slave is simply a machine?

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        “So society never starts from being slave owning but always starts from being free labour? That is convenient and a little arbitrary.”

        Not at all. Its not only historical fact, but a logical necessity. Humans are merely animals, unless you take some kind of religious, or moralistic anthropocentric view, whereby they were put on Earth by God, or some version of The Idea. Like all other animals they developed as social animals living in herds of some kind. Like all other such herds they are means both of co-operative and collective production, and of consumption. That can be seen in the practices of remaining such primitive societies as was found with the North American tribes prior to European settlement.

        The labour undertaken by these primitive communes is labour undertaken by free labourers as members of those tribes communities. As Alan Harris says above, this labour which creates products and not commodities, is still thereby value creating. Indeed, as Marx sets out in Capital I, the definition of a product is a use value that is created by labour.

        And, as Marx and Engels describe as against say Duhring who thought that slave owning could be created simply on the basis of force irrespective of the economic conditions existing in society, it is only possible to have a slave owning economy, where the forces of production have reached a stage of development whereby the slave can produce more in a day than they require for their own reproduction. Why would you own a slave, any more than you would employ a wage worker, if you had to hand over more to the slave for their reproduction than the slave themselves produced? That would mean that it was the slave owner that was being exploited by the slave!

        And, historically, that is what is seen. Humans have existed for around 2 million years, and modern Man for at least 100,000 years, but slave owning society only dates back to the start of civilisation around 5,000 years ago. If we look at the North American tribes, like other such communities, although they did sometimes take prisoners from other tribes, as Engels describes, this was not to capture them to be slaves, but was usually because the tribe itself was becoming depleted, or needed new blood from outside for mating and so on. Those captured did not become slaves, but were incorporated into the tribe or other such community.

        In a society where the productive forces have developed to a stage where a slave can produce more in a day than is required for their own production, and so where slave owning becomes economically viable, the slave owner must first expend labour so as to be able to capture the slave, just as labour has to be expended to capture say wild horses to be used in production. This initial free labour to capture the horse/slave is an initial value of the horse/slave that represents congealed labour, and is passed on into the value of the output.

        In developed slave owning societies, the slave owner does not expend their own labour to go to capture slaves, but instead buys them in the slave market, where the value of the slave is determined as for any other commodity by the cost of their reproduction, and this cost in buying the slave, as with the cost of buying a horse, or a machine, is a value that the slave owner seeks to recover from the sale of their output, in the same way that the value of a horse or a machine is recovered, in the form of wear and tear of them as fixed capital.

        “One thing I am struggling with is how your very prescriptive examples of value, such as actor or cook square with the idea that value is not specific to capitalism.”

        You say,

        “One thing I am struggling with is how your very prescriptive examples of value, such as actor or cook square with the idea that value is not specific to capitalism.”

        But that is not what I said. What i said was that the labour of an actor or a cook, or as Marx says a prostitute, is value creating for the same reason that all such free labour is value creating, i.e. it creates use values, as products, and this value here takes the form of exchange value, because these products are sold as commodities. What I said was that whether this labour is productive labour or not productive labour has nothing to do with whether what it produces is a material commodity, or an immaterial commodity, or a labour service, which is the error that Adam Smith fell into with his second definition of productive labour, where he relapses into Physiocracy, but is whether this labour exchanges with capital or revenue, whether it thereby produces a surplus value.

        The labour of an actor employed by a capitalist theatre owner is productive labour because it exchanges with the capital of the theatre owner. It is paid wages, in exchange for the labour-power of the actor. The new value that the actor creates by their labour is greater than the value of their labour-power (or at least the theatre owner expects that to be the case in hiring the actor or else they would not hire them, because their aim is to make a profit). It is the theatre owner who immediately appropriates the value of the actor’s labour. Say the actor works for 8 hours and produces 8 hours (£8) of new value. The capitalist thereby directly appropriates £8 of value from ticket sales. But, if they have only paid £4 in wages, the value of the actor’s labour-power, they have thereby obtained £8 of value whilst only having expended £4 of value. A surplus value has been created. They got something for nothing.

        Suppose the actor is an independent producer, maybe a street performer, or to use one of Marx’s examples, rather than an actor we might consider the labour of a prostitute. The prostitute might similarly work for 8 hours, and thereby creates £8 of new value, and they exchange this value for £8 in money paid to them by their clients. Here no surplus value is created, because the prostitute has expended 8 hours of labour creating £8 of value, and has only received back in exchange for it, the same amount of value in money. They have not obtained something for nothing.

        The only sense in which the prostitute here has created a surplus value, is in the sense that their labour-power only costs them say 4 hours of labour (£4) to reproduce. But, the prostitute here like the peasant direct producer only produces in order to consume, to exchange commodities in one form for commodities in another. In other words their circuit is C – M – C. They are not a capitalist. However, as Smith recognised in uncovering the source of surplus value, this very fact that the value of their labour-power (although Smith does not recognise that what he is analysing here is labour-power rather than labour) is less than the value created by that labour, creates the potential for that surplus value to be appropriated by someone else, i.e. by an owner of landed property as rent, or by an owner of capital as profit.

        As Engels points out, what Marx did was to realise exactly what it was that Smith had uncovered in this discovery of the source of surplus value, where Smith himself had not understood it, and in the process to reconcile the apparent contradiction that labour simultaneously had two different values.

      • Edgar Says:

        I can accept that those living under conditions of ‘primitive communism’ are humans like we are and need to eat, sleep, reproduce, create and labour like us. What I am really struggling with is that they were creating value in any economic sense.

        So slave labour can only exist once society has reached a certain level of development, can’t we say exactly the same for wage labour or any other form of so called ‘free labour’?

        I am still seeing an arbitrary and convenient argument.

      • Boffy Says:

        Edgar,

        Yes, of course the same can be said of wage-labour, or the surplus labour of a peasant that is paid as rent to a feudal landlord etc. My point was that its not at all just convenient or arbitrary to say that free labour existed prior to slavery, but that it is both historical fact, and logically necessary.

        And yes, those in the primitive commune were creating value in the economic sense because they were creating products, i.e. use values which are the product of labour, as opposed to use values that have no value, and are instead simply free gifts of nature. Only because what they produced were products, and only because those products thereby had value, could those products be transformed as a result of trade between communities into commodities, and only in the same process could the value of what had thereby been produced be transformed into exchange value, i.e. the value of one commodity expressed as a quantity of some other commodity.

        As Marx sets out in TOSV III, in critiquing Bailey, it is logically inconsistent to try to derive exchange value, unless first you accept the existence of value, because without value, there is no objective basis for exchange value. That does not bother Bailey or neoclassical economists, because they do not believe that value is objective in the first place. They believe, as Bailey says that the value of a commodity is only relative, only what it can be exchanged for, and that changes from moment to moment, exchange to exchange because the preferences of those taking part in the exchange constantly change.

        That is why this argument that equates value with exchange value, and thereby limits the existence of value to commodity production and exchange spells disaster for the LTV in the hands of those that promote it, just as it did for Ricardo and his school.

        And, of course its not just the primitive commune where this reality can be seen. If I change the oil on my car, have I buy this labour created new value? I would suggest you you that the fact that I have £20 still in my pocket for having performed this labour myself, rather than paying a mechanic to perform this labour for me, is quite significant proof that I have!

      • sartesian Says:

        Value pertains to social labor. There is in Marx’s discussions of value, the “alienation”– in the commercial sense of the work– of the products of labor. Not all labor creates value No matter how extensive Crusoe’s account books may be, he’s not producing value when is laboring solely to fulfill his own needs. Likewise where social labor is direct social labor– i.e. communal, the products are not distributed according to their value, according to the labor time embodied in each, but on the basis of need.

        If an individual gathers wood, fashions a tool, and builds a table for his or her use, that is not value production, regardless of the labor time embedded in the product, regardless of the accounting process the individual may utilize– two hours gathering wood; 4 hours preparing wood; 6 hours fashioning dowels to secure the legs etc etc. Doesn’t matter. The time embedded in production never gets expressed as value. Value is a social mediation.

        The issue has never been if value precedes capitalism. Of course it does. The issue is if the mediation and expression of time by as value is inherent to all modes of production, including future modes, like socialism and communism. It’s pretty clear, to me at least, that Marx doesn’t think so.

        Now Boffy thinks his personal labor of changing the oil on his auto is value producing, and he thinks he’s proved it by adopting the classical bourgeois process of double-entry bookkeeping, where he regards himself as his own employee, and imagines paying himself for his time rendered, and then takes that imaginary expansion of value and puts it in his own pocket.

        That’s not value production. IF Boffy were working in a garage being paid to change the oil in somebody else’s auto, that would be value production. Indeed, if Boffy owned the garage and was changing oil in others’ autos, then his double-entry scheme would have some validity.

      • sartesian Says:

        the pizza being created by the mother and daughter is a useful article, but is not created as a value. The expenditure of labor time is real in the making of the pizza, but the “co-determinant” of value with the expenditure of labor time is that it be “alienable”– and not for personal consumption. Social labor is not simple the expenditure of labor-time; it has to be the expenditure of labor-time as mediated by the social relations of production– hence the “social” designation.

    • jlowrie Says:

      Sorry, Allan, I had been thinking only of the commentators not the original article.

      • jlowrie Says:

        ”If I change the oil on my car, have I buy this labour created new value? I would suggest you you that the fact that I have £20 still in my pocket for having performed this labour myself, rather than paying a mechanic to perform this labour for me, is quite significant proof that I have!”

        Boffy, I agree with most of what you have written above, but this last paragraph, I feel, is wrong. If I shave myself instead of going to the barber’s I have not created any value. In fact if my wife cuts my hair she has not created any value, either. These are useful services. If were to take an apple from a tree and give it to a child what value have I created by this act?

        If we think in German instead of Latin and substitute worth for value, it is clear that in cutting my hair my wife has created nothing of social worth.

      • jlowrie Says:

        If for example Louis Proyect due to his support for the Ukrainian Nazis has an attack of itchiness due to a belated onset of moral qualms, if I scratch his back I am rendering him a personal service( while doing society a decided disservice). Value does not come into it. Such actions are moral, not economic.

      • sartesian Says:

        Agreed. Changing the oil in one’s own car is no different than washing one’s own dishes; own clothes. If I wash and iron my own shirts, I am not creating value, no matter how many times I double my money by folding it in half and putting it back in my pocket.

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        I disagree. If I change the oil in my car, I create new value by the application of my labour. I have created a new “product” a use value (a more effectively operating car) by the application of labour, rather than that use value simply appearing as a free gift of nature. The evidence for that additional value can be seen, if I come to sell the car, and say to the buyer that the oil has been regularly changed, and indeed has only just been changed, saving them the cost of using their own labour to achieve that additional use value, or else expending their labour in some other employment so as to obtain money (exchange value) to be used to pay a mechanic to undertake the labour of performing the oil change.

        Similarly, if instead of changing the oil in my own car, I change the oil in my neighbour’s car, I again create the same new product, and thereby create new value alongside this new use value. My neighbour might recognise this new value that has been created by paying me £20 for having done so. Alternatively, they might while I am changing the oil in their car, be mowing my lawn, or painting my garage door.

        In these latter cases, no money would change hands, and the nature of value and exchange value is exposed for what it is the creation of new value by the expenditure of free labour, and its expression in an equivalent amount of labour expended in some the production of some other use value.

        If my neighbour turns out to be my son or daughter, and I decide not to take any money from them, or any other form of return of value, that does not in any way change the amount of new value that was created by the production of this new value via the expenditure of my labour. If I miscalculate how much I should have charged my neighbour for the work done, and new value created, and so charge him only £5, that does not in any way change the amount of new value created, which might be manifest for example, when he comes to sell his car the following day, and obtains £20 of additional value in its sale price by being able to show the buyer that it has just had the oil changed. Charging zero as opposed to £5 is merely a difference in quantity not of quality.

        For example, this happens routinely and necessarily under capitalism. It is called the exchange of commodities at their price of production rather than at their exchange value. A capital with a low organic composition of capital creates a commodity with a value of say 100 hours, comprised 20 hours of constant capital, 40 hours variable capital and 40 hours surplus value. But, if the average annual rate of profit is 10%, it will sell this output at a price of (20 + 40) + 10% = £66. In other words the price/exchange value it obtains is completely different to the value/exchange value it has created. That does not change the fact that this new amount of value has been created by this capital, and by the labour it set in motion.

        The same is true where the capital concerned turns over at a faster pace than the average rate of turnover of capital in the economy. It would create more value than it obtains in the price for its output, because otherwise it would make a higher than average annual rate of profit.

        Or take another example, in Britain it was common for government to make nationalised industries sell their output at prices that effectively subsidised big industrial consumers of their output. If say British Steel was told by the government to give all of its output away for free to British Leyland, and other British car companies, engineering companies and so on, in the national interest, because they are all just part of the big British family, would that then have meant that this was just a question of morals, and that all of the newly expended labour consumed in steel production had not created any new value, simply because British Steel had not asked to be paid for it???

      • Boffy Says:

        Incidentally,

        Marx covers this in TOSV Chapter 4, where he talks about someone who has a piano built, or a pair of trousers made by someone who comes to their house, and who thereby produces for them a use value. It doesn’t stop the person who has had the piano or the trousers produced for them later selling those use values as a commodity, and the value they would obtain would be equal to the labour required for their production.

      • Boffy Says:

        J,

        I still haven’t had time to do the comment I promised some days ago, but a lot of it is now contained in various other comments here, and a further context is given in my blog post on Individual Value. The current blog posts on my blog currently on TOSV II, Chapter 10, are very relevant to this discussion.

        To go back to the above discussion, I’d like to give a further example.

        Suppose I have a piece of land. I self-build a house on it, for my own consumption. Land has no value, and if I follow Marx’s often used practice of discounting the value of constant capital/means of production, or setting its value to zero, the only thing left is the labour is undertake to build the house.

        Having completed the house I move into it with my wife. Of course, I do not charge my wife anything for her consumption of half the house, any more than she charges me for her labour in cutting my hair each month – which she actually does in reality. So, on this basis the house has no value, according to the definition you have set forward.

        Accordingly, if in say a year’s time, I come to sell the house, I should expect no one to give me anything for it because it has absolutely no value! If then you want to say that at the point it is sold, it becomes a commodity, and acquires value, then what you are saying is precisely what Bailey said, and what the later neoclassical economists said, which is that value is the consequence of exchange not of production. And thereby the labour theory of value, as Marx said in his criticism of Ricardo and his followers who opened this door to this concept, collapses around your feet.

        It is, in fact, no wonder that in the 1970’s and 1980’s, socialist feminists began to abandon male dominated Marxist sects and Marxist ideas that put forward this view of value as being something that is only created by – usually – male wage workers, whilst the domestic labour of – usually – women labourers in producing the next generation of wage workers via child rearing, cooking, cleaning, care of the sick and elderly etc. was designated as creating no value.

        Capital, of course, had no illusion that the labour undertaken domestically does not create value, which is why it has always sought to bring this type of labour within the realm of exchange value and the market, so that it could appropriate for itself the value created by that domestic labour, and thereby also extract surplus value.

        The welfare state is, in fact one huge example, of state capitalism absorbing that function, and thereby employing that labour instead as wage workers to perform the function of child rearing and so on, and thereby extract surplus value from its employees. Some time ago, I wrote about this in relation to domestic labour, and the way after WWII, for example, capital established commercial laundries to take on the function of cleaning. I remember even in the 1950’s, my mother would send my dad’s greasy overalls to the Co-op laundry to be cleaned. That was prior to the establishment of laundrettes, and then subsequently the introduction of domestic washing machines, and other electronic devices, designed to reduce the value of domestic labour-time, and thereby release potential women workers to become wage workers, and produce profits for capital. That is, indeed, yet again an example of the Law of Value, as Marx describes it in his letter to Kugelmann in action.

        And, in the same way that I examine how much labour-time it takes me to paint my house, as opposed to how much I have to pay a professional painter to do the job, and compare that with how much I can earn in wages in the time it would require me to paint the house, so workers too made a similar calculation in considering the cost of buying a washing machine, vacuum cleaner and other domestic machines, as against the domestic labour-time they saved by using these machines, which then enabled women to abandon the value creation of their domestic labour in favour of value creation as wage workers in exchange for a wage.

        Of course, as I have set out in the blog post on individual value and on domestic labour the concrete labour that I undertake in painting my house is not social labour, i.e. it is not abstract labour. It exists within the context of wider social production, and a multitude of other concrete labour’s all of which have to be reduced to the level of a simple abstract labour. If I spent twice as long self-building my house as would have a professional builder, the value I have created by my labour is determined by that average socially necessary amount, not by the amount I have expended, which is the difference, or at least one difference between an embodied labour theory of value and Marx’s socially necessary labour theory of value. Similarly, if I am not a very good housebuilder, so that potential buyers think that the use value is lower than would normally be the result of a given amount of labour-time, they will only be prepared to pay a smaller amount for it.

        Robinson Crusoe did not have that problem, because as Marx says in the example, he is society, and so his labour is immediately social labour, his concrete labour in that case is immediately the average socially necessary labour.

      • sartesian Says:

        Does an individual create value when he or she washes his or her own dishes; cooks his or her own food; polishes his or her own shoes; brushes his or her own hair?

      • Edgar Says:

        So if I got my slave to change the oil in my car and then i decided to sell the car I would have to say to the purchaser of my car, the oil has been changed but this does not have any value because I got my slave to do it for me?

      • sartesian Says:

        I think the following indicates the problem with Boffy’s exposition on value:

        “Suppose I have a piece of land. I self-build a house on it, for my own consumption. Land has no value, and if I follow Marx’s often used practice of discounting the value of constant capital/means of production, or setting its value to zero, the only thing left is the labour is undertake to build the house.

        Having completed the house I move into it with my wife. Of course, I do not charge my wife anything for her consumption of half the house, any more than she charges me for her labour in cutting my hair each month – which she actually does in reality. So, on this basis the house has no value, according to the definition you have set forward.

        Accordingly, if in say a year’s time, I come to sell the house, I should expect no one to give me anything for it because it has absolutely no value! If then you want to say that at the point it is sold, it becomes a commodity, and acquires value, then what you are saying is precisely what Bailey said, and what the later neoclassical economists said, which is that value is the consequence of exchange not of production. And thereby the labour theory of value, as Marx said in his criticism of Ricardo and his followers who opened this door to this concept, collapses around your feet.”

        Boffy begins without any description or analysis of the social relations of building “his house.” He presents it as undertaken in isolation, perhaps part of the his “natural economy,” by himself, for himself (and his spouse), on the basis of need and direct use.

        The house, and its production, is abstracted from all social context. By the very terms of that abstraction– produced directly, for use, need– indeed the house is not produced as a value, regardless of the time embedded in the construction. Time itself is not automatically value; it is expressed as value only under specific social conditions.

        Then Boffy shifts the social context, introducing a context where value relations in fact “surround” the house– the sale of the house, and he then claims that because he can sell the house, the house must therefore have been produced as a value. This is projecting backwards, and in essence, assumes first what it is trying to establish.

        Certainly objects produced outside the specific context of value systems, of value production, can, when brought into contact with those system, be absorbed, mediated, measured, and priced by those systems. But how did the relations of buying and selling, if valuing and valorization, develop? And that’s the question that occupies Marx– value is not instrinsic to activity, it is a relation.circumscribing, defining particular activities.

        It’s the (misinterpreted) Robinson Crusoe argument all over again. As if by magic, suddenly value is supposed to appear as if it were intrinsic to Crusoe’s activity. But it is not so. There is only the labor spent on need, use, consumption, even when and if that labor time produces a surplus to those needs.

        Suppose our intrepid shipwrecked double entry bookkeeper decides to explore his island and he decides to provision himself for a 4 day trip– 2 days to the interior, and then 2 days to return, if he can’t find provisions to extend the trip.

        He begins hunting/gathering– water for 4 days, coconut for 4 days, fruit for 4 days– and he’s able to accumulate all of that in 10 hours of work. Has Crusoe produced an iota of value despite accumulating surplus product and in essence yielding a surplus labor time? Of course not.

        As he makes his way to the interior, is he consuming value? Of course not. He is consuming the products he gathered/produced.

        Maybe he finds an area with abundant fruit trees, and access to thousands of birds eggs. He gather fruit and eggs able to sustain him for far longer than 4 days, after the expenditure of 2 days of provisions. Has he accumulated value? Has he expanded the value of his provisions? Of course not.

        There is no relation of– wait for it– property to labor, such that the property of one can command the labor of others not that one. There are useful articles, but no matter how plentiful they are, there is no accumulation, consumption, expenditure of those articles as values.

      • Edgar Says:

        There is a program on British TV called eat well for less (a sign of the times!), and on the show a mother and daughter were advised to not to buy a Pizza from a fast food outlet but instead buy the ingredients and make their own Pizza. This made the Pizza significantly cheaper. Should we factor in the labour that the Mother and Daughter had to undertake to make the Pizza? If so why? Isn’t this ‘free leisure time’ when they made and prepared the Pizza dead in economic terms?

        The other thing here is that the Pizza once consumed can never be later sold to another person, like the house can. So isn’t the nature of the product the determination of value if we take Boffy’s house example into consideration? Surely in those cases only products that are not destroyed in their consumption can count as having value?

        The question is does the Pizza prepared and made by the Mother Daughter have value even if it is never going to be exchanged? If it doesn’t then it must be incorrect to say all labour creates value. If it does have value how can something that is never exchanged have value, when Marx says commodity value can only exist in the form of exchange value? Marx also says that value is a purely social relation, what is the relation in the case of the Pizza making?

  19. jlowrie Says:

    I think this has been a most useful discussion and I must say with Edgar ”Thanks Boffy for your usual engagement, no one could accuse you of lack of patience!”

    I am busy today but I should like to consider later what I think we have been subconsciously avoiding, namely what does a socialist economy look like? Marx famously or infamously declared that he was not prepared to prescribe recipes for the cookshops of the future. Well, several recipes have now been tried from the cookbooks of the past and they have not been found exactly to humanity’s taste.

    This is why I find accounts of The Soviet Union or China or Cuba that explain away economic difficulties with empty excuses to the effect that after all they were just state capitalist so depressing. We need detailed and concrete plans; it is not enough to state what you are against. Until we clearly and unequivocally state what we are for, capitalism will continue to rule, no matter how many crises it faces.

  20. Henry Says:

    Boffy used the word bonkers early in this exchange, the only things that are bonkers are Boffy’s conception of value, his definition of abundance and this:

    “It is, in fact, no wonder that in the 1970’s and 1980’s, socialist feminists began to abandon male dominated Marxist sects and Marxist ideas that put forward this view of value as being something that is only created by – usually – male wage workers, whilst the domestic labour of – usually – women labourers in producing the next generation of wage workers via child rearing, cooking, cleaning, care of the sick and elderly etc. was designated as creating no value”

    Firstly, that was no great loss to the movement as ‘socialist feminists’ rarely speak for working class women; rather they attempt to put words in their mouths, as do male socialists incidentally! Also socialist feminist arguments are often ill thought out, moralistic and lacking in any hint of scientific purpose. Take their views on gender pay inequality as a prime example. They probably left the movement because of their inherent dogma.

    Saying an individual creates no value is no slur on the individual or the work they do actually. Marx makes this clear.

    The working class will develop its own ideas of what is valuable and invaluable work, a definition that will deviate greatly from what a capitalist system values. The work of child rearing, cooking, cleaning, care of the sick and elderly will all be greatly valued in a communist system and I suspect greatly revolutionized.

    As usual the ‘socialist feminists’ have missed the entire point. Hopefully their absence from the movement will allow genuine working class female voices to be heard and these middle class subjectivists will not be able to drown out their voices.

    • jlowrie Says:

      ”Boffy used the word bonkers early in this exchange, the only things that are bonkers are Boffy’s conception of value, his definition of abundance and this:”

      Henry, do you then also conclude that Smith and Ricardo were bonkers too?

      The point is that under capitalism domestic labour produces use value but not value.

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