Re: (OPE-L) Is value labour?

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Thu May 08 2003 - 08:20:52 EDT

Michael Eldred wrote: Jerry,

> What I find strange, not to say eery, in such discussions of the labour
> theory of value is that the question, What is valuable about labour?, is
> not posed. What does it mean for something to have value, to be
> valuable?

From a Marxist standpoint one can invert this question:
what were the objective conditions that give rise to the
notion of something being valuable?

The answer would be that the finite flow of human labour
time available to society is its ultimate constraint, and that
this constraint is internally represented in commodity producing
societies as varying exchange ratios of goods requiring
different time to produce them. From this practice of
exchange there arises the idea of things being valuable.

> Do commodities "represent" value, "contain" value? Or _are_ they
> valuable? In what sense? Are they values because they are valuable? Or
> are they valuable because they represent/contain value?

In barter exchange one commodity represents the value of another,
in monetary sale, money represents value. The notion of
commodities such as silver or diamonds being valuable
is derived from the empirical observation that they sell for
high prices. But the reason why such commodities are
valuable is that they require a lot of labour to make.

> It is presumably no accident, that the notion of the "creation" of value
> by labour necessarily arises, a Judaeo-Christian term.

I think your criticism here is valid. The notion of creation of
value is redundant, labour does not create value, value is labour.

> Furthermore, it
> is only labour under a certain qualification that is said to "create"
> value, namely, "socially necessary labour". The crucial conceptual
> determination that value is a social relation thus is accorded the
> linguistic (i.e. _logos_, logical) status of an _adverb_, not that of a
> substantive (noun). This necessary quirk of language has ontological
> significance perhaps for the ontological status of value?

I think it does have ontological status in that it indicates that value
is a relation between the labour expended to produce a thing and
the total labour available to society.  If we measure labour time in seconds
rather than hours, we dont want the value of commodities to
increase by 3600 times. If we think of values as being fractions
of the total social working day, we get the necessary invariance
to unit of measure, since both increase in proportion.

> An ontological commitment can only mean a sensitivity to the question of
> being embedded in these questions. The term "form" in value-form or form
> of society must ring ontological bells, being as it is one of the
> translations of the ontological terms _morphae_, _idea_, _logos_, all of
> which on occasion are rendered in English as "form". What can we make of
> the resonance of this heavyweight metaphysical carillon today with
> regard to the question of bourgeois society, the society of burghers?

Or indeed of civil society, as it now likes to call itself in English,
since to the English latinate forms always seem more cultured than
germanic ones.

I think you are justified in calling attention to the use of the
term 'forms' in idealist metaphysics.  I prefer to use
terms like 'mode of representation' of value instead
of 'value form'.  Talk of representation, projection,
and images has an optical and technical mathematical
meaning that pushes back the metaphysics.

Paul Cockshott
Dept Computing Science
University of Glasgow

0141 330 3125

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