(OPE-L) is value labour?

From: Hans Ehrbar (ehrbar@ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Sat May 10 2003 - 16:19:37 EDT

Here is an amendment to Howard's post and also an answer to
Jerry.  I think it is more or less just a reformulation of
what Howard meant (do you agree, Howard?)

Let us start with the observation that value has causal
powers.  For instance, it expands itself, it is an automatic
agent ("automatisches Subjekt") as Marx says in chapter 4 of

Now in order to have causal powers it must be something
material, it cannot just be in our minds.  It also cannot be
a mere metaphor.  This material underpinning of value's
causal powers is that value is the congelation of human
labor-power.  Someone has worked, has spent hours of labor
producing a certain use-value.

However there are many societies in which people work
very hard without producing value.  Here Howard's conditions
come in:

> What is the causal structure that defines value as a social relation?  The
> social relation that generates the exchange of the products of labor as
> values is the relation of autonomous producers producing products (useless
> to them) independently for private exchange.  Any social formation where
> such structures exist will tend to generate relations of value; any where
> they don't, won't.

If people produce under these conditions then they produce value because

> Given that social relation, producers are driven to
> market to obtain by means of exchange the objects they need for their own
> reproduction -- the structure is causally efficacious.

Perhaps there is a small difference between my
interpretation and Howard's.  Howard says that the
"structure", by which he means "the relation of autonomous
producers producing products (useless to them) independently
for private exchange" is causally efficacious because it
drives people to exchange their products.  I agree with
Howard that the above structure is causally efficacious, but
I would put an extra step in there: its effect is to make
abstract labor causally efficacious; this structure is the
precondition for abstract labor to produce value.  And this
value itself is causally efficacious.

In other words, if one spends one's labor-power under the
above conditions, i.e., if one privately produces things
which one does not need oneself but which are intended to be
part of a very interdepent social division of labor of many
specialized producers for the market, then one has set in
motion two powerful causal chains:

(a) on the one hand, this labor has not yet satisfied your
own needs.  You are compelled to bring this product to market
and sell it so that you can buy things you yourself need,
otherwise you will starve.  (And others in the market
will indeed accept the product of your labor in exchange
for the product of their labor.)

(b) on the other hand, you have produced some wonderful
use-value which can be used for all kinds of things.

Both of these are very material forces which make this
expenditure of human labor-power causally efficacious in a
specific way.  It is not a mere metaphor that Marx calls
value "congealed" or "crystallized" abstract labor.  The
person who spent this labor has to use the product as a
conduit to get the things he or she needs.  Because of this
necessity, Marx is justified to say that the labor has not
yet disappeared, sublated in the product, but it continues
to exist as labor in the product.  The producer first holds
this labor in the form of a product he himself cannot use,
then in the form of money, until finally he holds it in the
form of a use-value which he can use.

Value is therefore real.  The "content" of value as Marx
calls it, i.e., the material underpinning sustaining its
causal powers, is the abstract labor used to produce it,
which society still remembers as such, i.e., which is
"congealed" in this product.  This is why Marx says that
value is congealed abstract labor.  Now Howard makes an
additional important distinction in his posting: that
between the real and the actual.  Things can be real but not
actual.  A good example for something that is real but now
actual is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.  Even
if the rate of profit actually rises, the underlying laws
increasing the organic compostion of capital are still valid
and are exerting a persistent long-run downward pressure on
the rate of profit, even if this downward pressure is
swamped by various short-run "counteracting influences."

The value which a private producer produces comes into being
and is real from the moment of production.  But it is not
yet "actual" as far as society is concerned.  It is not yet
useful for society, nobody in society may even know that it
exists.  It only exists as a potential, as a capacity, and
as a need of the producer who did not produce for him or
herself but must enter now the market.  This value becomes
actual only at the moment when the product is exchanged or
sold.  Marx calls the sale the "realization" of the value, a
more precise term would be "actualization" of the value.


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