Re: is value labour?

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed May 07 2003 - 11:12:26 EDT

Asfilho@AOL.COM wrote:

> I seem to remember that we have already been through this issue years ago, on
> this list.
> My comment, below, draws on Ben Fine's "Marx's Capital", 3rd ed, 1989, p.6 (a
> 4th edition is currently in preparation, by Ben and myself, and it will be
> launched later this year by Pluto Press):
> Marx develops the labour theory of value from Smith and, especially, Ricardo.
> But what is Marx's own contribution - the difference between his writings and
> those of Ricardo? The difference is that, for Marx, it is insufficient to
> base the source of value on labour time of production, as Ricardo presumes.
> Thus, "value is labour" is not so much wrong as Ricardian - for Marx, this
> claim is partial and potentially misleading.
> The trouble with such Ricardian views as "value is labour" is that they take
> for granted the existence of exchange, prices and commodities. That
> commodities are worth more because they embody more labour begs the questions
> of *why there are commodities at all*, and *why it is a relevant abstraction
> to assume, at certain stages in the analysis, that commodities exchange at
> their labour time of production*.

That is understood, but when I say value is labour I am using value
in the sense of the mature Marx. When reading capital for the first
two times I made a Ricardian reading of it, identifying value with
exchange value. Talking to Athar Hussain in 1972, when he had
just finished doing the first english translation of Notes on Wagner,
I was convinced by him that Marx distinguishes between
value in itself, and exchange value as its mode of representation
in commodity producing societies. This distinction was not present
in Ricardo who only analysed commodity producing societies.
Ricardo did not ask why value should come to be represented
as exchange value.

My opinion is that the value form theorists have retained the
the Ricardian identity between value and exchange value. Paradoxically
for people who want to emphasise the distinction between
Ricardo and Marx, their problematic actually makes it
harder for them to perform the sort of comparative analysis
of historical forms that Marx pioneered.

Value is first identified with exchange value, the generalised
form of this as money is then identified with abstract socially
necessary labour, and the latter is conflated with waged labour.
From this the deduction is made that value only exists in
capitalist societies.

This approach is quite different from the Althusserian approach
put forward by Hussain, Hindess and Hirst who were concerned
to analyse the historically varying forms in which labour time
and surplus labour were represented ( for instance in 'Pre-capitalist
Modes of Production').

Whilst I have an interest in pre-capitalist modes of production
as a post Stalinist economist my main  concern is socialist modes
of production, for which the analysis put forward by the
Althusserians much more useful. I dont see the value form
theory leading to any progressive formulations for the
problems of socialist economy.

> This illustrates an important feature of Marx's method: what the economists
> (including Ricardo) tend to assume as timeless features of humans and
> societies, Marx wanted to root out and understand in historical context.
> Alfredo.

Agreed, but the question is whether the value form theorists are
making the wrong distinctions to be able to do this effectively.

Paul Cockshott
Dept Computing Science
University of Glasgow

0141 330 3125

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