Re: (OPE-L) Is value labour?

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Fri May 09 2003 - 06:11:24 EDT

Cologne 09-May-2003

Paul Cockshott schrieb Thu, 8 May 2003 13:20:52 +0100:

> 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?
> PC: 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.

The nice literary formulation of labour as value from George Eliot,
Middlemarch, Chapter 24 p.257 may be to your liking:

"Caleb Garth often shook his head in meditation on the value, the
indispensable might of that myriad-headed, myriad-handed labour by which
the social body is fed, clothed, and housed."

Here, too, labour-value is related to use-value.

> From this practice of
> exchange there arises the idea of things being valuable.

But that is impossible. Cf. my interpretation of the passage from Adam
Smith in my previous post. If we did not always already understand the
value of things, not only would there be no exchange of labour products,
but also we would not labour at all to get them.

Even the notion that there is a "finite flow of human labour time
available to society" depends upon an understanding of this 'factor' or
'resource' being valuable, not in itself, but for what it produces or
can produce.

As Aristotle says, our actions are directed toward some good or other
that contributes to living well, and that applies in particular to

>> 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.

As commodities in their own right, silver and diamonds are valuable for
the uses to which they can be put, such as fine cutlery or jewellery.

>> 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.

Such an understanding of "socially necessary labour" as a quantitative
portion of total social labour is indeed possible. But such a notion
makes sense only when there is a total social production plan which
'sociates' portions of labour. Total social labour is then a valuable
resource for the total social production plan which is apportioned
according to the plan in a more or less sophisticated manner.

In a kind of society in which commodity producing predominates, however,
dissociated, private production is first associated through commodity
exchange which overcomes the 'deprivation' of privacy through the social
dimension of exchange.

But no matter whether it be a total social production plan or privately
organized commodity production, the value of things resides first of all
in them being useful for human living. Labour is only undertaken for the
sake of acquiring things useful for life, no matter how strange, exotic,
subtle, quirky or luxurious these uses may be.

>> ME: 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?
> PC: 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.

Only that "representation" is a major term in Cartesian or Leibnizian
metaphysics. So you're not out of the woods yet. In fact, metaphysics
returns with a vengeance in those ways of thinking that regard
themselves as beyond metaphysics. I think that Cartesian metaphysics
more suits your standpoint, for, in the Cartesian ontological casting,
beings are representations in consciousness as magnitudes.

The first overcoming of idealist metaphysics happened a long time ago
when Aristotle overcame the idealism of his teacher, Plato. Plato had
posited the being of beings as _ideai_ (ideas) separate (_choriston_)
from sensuous beings. Aristotle showed that the being of beings is
embedded in the concrete beings themselves and he changed the name from
_idea_ to _eidos_ (from the same verb 'to see'). The _eidos_ is the
'look' which a concrete being presents of itself as a being. This 'look'
is understood by the _logos_ of human understanding and can be addressed
within the various categories (from _katagorein_, 'to address, accuse').

The point of this digression is to suggest that it is not so easy to
escape the pull of metaphysics. Ontology is simply another name for
metaphysics. With regard to the question of value, the understanding of
the being of beings as a 'look' should remind us, for the sake of
orientation, to look at the simple, everyday phenomena in which value
shows itself.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

> --
> Paul Cockshott
> Dept Computing Science
> University of Glasgow
> 0141 330 3125

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