[OPE-L:8698] Re: Exchange, value

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Tue Apr 01 2003 - 05:47:21 EST

Cologne 01-Apr-2003

Re: [OPE-L:8695]

Andrew Brown schrieb Mon, 31 Mar 2003 16:23:11 +0100:

> Hi Michael,
> re 8687:
> In your comments (i) and (ii) you interpret Marx (many times
> previously you have critiqued his 'simple errors', and those of all
> Marxists to boot) and offer an account of exchange. But, you do
> not seem to me to grasp the notions of materialism or labour, i.e.
> you do not seem to grasp the notion of 'mode of production',
> referred to in your point (i). This notion of 'mode of production'
> entails that different societies are different modes of production,
> and hence of labour. Without such a notion you can find no 'third
> thing' underlying exchange value. You have mentioned 'use value'
> but the abstraction in exchange leaves use value without any
> quantitative dimension, hence without any necessary relation to
> exchange value. It is unclear from your point (ii) whether you do still
> wish to maintain that use value 'holds exchange together', but such
> a view is falsified by the real abstraction referred to above. Use
> value is a necessary *condition* for system-wide exchange, but so
> are many, many things (e.g. humanity, matter, conducive weather,
> etc.): your point ii provides no argument that use value should be
> privileged over any other condition, as far as I can see. The point is
> that these conditions have all been entirely abstracted from in
> exchange, so cannot explain exchange value. Only labour is left
> (the quantity of SNLT is not entirely abstracted from in exchange
> though proportionality obviously doesn't hold) and the labour that is
> left is highly peculiar (defining the CMP at the most abstract level),
> since all natural materiality has been drained from it.
> Andy

Hi Andy,

I agree that commodity-producing labour under generalized commodity
production has a highly peculiar character, but this character derives from
production conforming with the social relations through which privately
organized labour becomes sociated. The labour so performed does not and
cannot "explain exchange value" (explanation is an enterprise of seeking an
ontic cause, i.e. some thing to 'blame' exchange-value on).

Rather, the task is to bring to light how the Verkehrsverhaeltnisse (the
relations of intercourse, namely, commodity exchange) conform with the
Produktionsverhaeltnisse (the relations of production such as the advance of
money as capital, the employment of wage labour, the deployment of
technology, etc.). In order to do this, a concept of money is required in
the first place, and this concept attains its first definition by
considering the phenomenon of commodity exchange.

It is money which imposes (through the practice of exchange itself) a
quantitative form on commodities and thus, indirectly, also on labour
performed -- not the other way round: amounts of labour performed do not
determine (ontically, causally) quantitative monetary prices.

This latter notion was adopted and adapted by Marx and Marxism from
political economy. Adam Smith is the original source. He writes:

"The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who
wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every
thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to
dispose of it or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble
which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people.
What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour, as much as
what we acquire by the toil of our own body. That money or those goods
indeed save us this toil. They contain the value of a certain quantity of
labour which we exchange for what is supposed at the time to contain the
value of an equal quantity. Labour was the first price, the original
purchase-money that was paid for all things." (The Wealth of Nations Bk. I
Ch. V p. 33f)

This is how Smith introduces the concept of labour-value. It is based on a
common-sense notion of what things are worth. They are worth the bother and
toil of acquiring them, he says, and they are presumably acquired because
they are practically useful for one employment or another. Labour has to be
‘invested’ as the ‘purchase price’ of every thing. This common-sense notion
of value, i.e. of what things are worth, is based on a qualitative
anthropological insight and conviction and is aimed not so much at erecting
an empirically applicable, quantitative theory of exchange relations, i.e. a
labour theory of value. Adam Smith elaborates:

"But though labour be the real measure of the exchangeable value of all
commodities, it is not that by which their value is commonly estimated. It
is often difficult to ascertain the proportion between two different
quantities of labour. The time spent in two different sorts of work will not
always alone determine this proportion. The different degrees of hardship
endured, and of ingenuity exercised, must likewise be taken into account.
There may be more labour in an hour’s hard work than in two hours easy
business; or in an hour’s application to a trade which it cost ten years
labour to learn, than in a month’s industry at an ordinary and obvious
employment. But it is not easy to find any accurate measure either of
hardship or ingenuity. In exchanging indeed the different productions of
different sorts of labour for one another, some allowance is commonly made
for both. It is adjusted, however, not by any accurate measure, but by the
higgling and bargaining of the market, according to that sort of rough
equality which, though not exact, is sufficient for carrying on the business
of common life." (The Wealth of Nations Bk. I Ch. V p. 34f)

These passages, along with others, show that the considerations underlying
the notion of labour-value are ontic considerations of what things are worth
(namely, the amount of labour put into them). The ontological questions
posed by considering what mode of being useful things adopt in the social
practice of exchange are not even seen.

The notion that labour expended produces value breaks down, however, when
its hidden presupposition is removed -- i.e. you can expend as much labour
as you like, but if no practical use-value comes about, the labour is
worthless. The primary phenomenon of value is that things are valuable as
useful things in the context of the practices of everyday life. Their
exchange-value (ultimately: saleability) derives from their valuableness in

Consider e.g. a Cologne restaurant serving elaborately prepared dishes whose
main ingredients are fresh worms and grubs. It won't be able to sell its
products of labour. Or consider a shoemaker making only left-foot shoes. The
shoes will have no exchange-value, unless fashion takes a quirky turn toward
the wearing of one shoe only. All the labour in the shoes will be without

These simple, extreme examples show that exchange-value is derivative of
use-value, and not of labour input. Any use-value has an exchange-value as a
further 'use', whereas a product of labour does not necessarily have either
a use-value or an exchange-value. Moreover, conversely, some things are
use-values and exchange-values without even being products of labour.

A materialist conception of a mode of production doesn't help here. One
needs to learn to open one's eyes and see the phenomena themselves. This is
where simple examples play a role.

A materialist conception of a mode of production operates merely with ontic
notions of causality which induces a systematic overlooking of the phenomena
themselves. Marx's famous formulations in the 1859 Preface of "basis" and
"superstructure" are usually interpreted in an ontic way as a "materialist
conception of history" (e.g. Althusser's notion of determination and
over-determination or the more orthodox histomat). An alternative, more
phenomenological-ontological interpretation seeks to show how the phenomena
of the social forms of capitalist society correspond with the fundamental
value-form relations and with each other (as attempted by value-form

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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

> Date sent:              Fri, 28 Mar 2003 22:16:40 +0100
> From:                   artefact@t-online.de (Michael Eldred)
> Send reply to:          artefact@webcom.com
> Organization:         http://www.webcom.com/artefact/
> To:                     "OPE, List" <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
> Subject:                [OPE-L:8687] Re: Exchange
> > Cologne 29-Mar-2003
> >
> > Re: [OPE-L:8681]
> >
> > Andrew Brown schrieb Fri, 28 Mar 2003 13:24:45 -0000:
> >
> > > Hi  Michael,
> > >
> > > re 8679:
> > > Sticking to what seems to be the main point:
> > >
> > > > For exchange to happen it is of no importance that there be a
> > > > uniform quantitative measure in the goods themselves -- precisely
> > > > because they are different, and exchange would be pointless
> > > > without them being different. Exchange considered as com-merce is
> > > > a 'coming together of goods'.
> > >
> > > Of course it is true that exchange by two isolated individuals does
> > > not require a 'third thing'  (and it is always true that exchange
> > > requires differences of use-value). But, as you say earlier, we are
> > > dealing with generalised, i.e. society wide, exchange whence it is
> > > necessary that there is a 'third thing' underlying exchange value.
> > > Societies don't base themselves on generalised practices having no
> > > relationship to matter, to material production, rather societies
> > > *are* modes of production at heart.
> > >
> > > Use value difference is a *condition* for generalised exchange but
> > > so are many other things (e.g. the many transhistorical requirements
> > > for the existence of human beings). None of these *conditions*
> > > should be confused with 'that which holds systematic exchange
> > > together'.
> > >
> >
> > Hi Andy,
> >
> > Two comments:
> >
> > i) When Marx is being more precise, he speaks not merely of a "mode of
> > production", but of "Verkehrs- und Produktionsverhaeltnisse", i.e.
> > relations of intercourse and production. The sociality of society lies
> > above all in such relations of intercourse, in relations of people
> > having to do with each other, having dealings with one another in the
> > broadest sense.
> >
> > In the economic sphere (ontologically privileged in Marx's
> > metaphysics), relations of intercourse are above all commodity
> > exchange relations. Commodity exchange is the "cell form" of
> > intercourse in capitalist society.
> >
> > But relations of intercourse or exchange can also be taken in a much
> > broader sense to include, say, relations of friendship, the exchange
> > in communication, the exchange of glances, insults, etc. Sociality
> > appears in various ways in these different kinds of social relations.
> >
> > ii) "Conditions" is ambiguous. It can mean ontic-causal conditions.
> > This is the normal way of thinking, especially in social science,
> > including Marxist economics.
> >
> > But "conditions" can also be taken in an ontological sense as e.g. in
> > Kant's transcendental "Bedingungen der Moeglichkeit". The
> > phenomenological question of (capitalist) society is an ontological
> > question aiming at the clarification of the basic phenomena
> > constituting what we call society. In this approach, use-value and
> > exchange-value are modes of being of practical things. These simple
> > modes of being have to brought to light. The difficulty here resides
> > not so much in the hiddenness of these phenomena but in their simple
> > obviousness. The obviousness blinds us and we are easily led astray
> > into ontic kinds of explanation.
> >
> >
> > Michael

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