Re: [OPE-L] Value and Exploitation

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Oct 23 2005 - 09:13:09 EDT

---------------------------- Original Message -------------------------
Subject: Value and Exploitation
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <>
Date:    Sun, October 23, 2005 8:40 am

I'll personally happily go on record as a supporter of the radical
"transhistorical" interpretation of (economic) value, i.e., if social
labour is the substance of value, as a social attribution to products,
then products of human labour have (economic) value, even regardless
of any commodity exchange or commodity production. They have that value,
precisely *because* they are products of labour, which causes people to
economize their use.

If, as ecologists point out, resources provided gratis by nature are not
economized as they should be, that is precisely because capitalism
provides no norm of its own for the allocation of goods which are not
produced or reproducible. They can have economic value within capitalism
at all only if they are exchangeable.

The proviso is, that for me "value" is not a fixed category, dropping out
of the air one fine day to apply only to the capitalist mode of
production, as in Marxist theories, but an historically developing one,
with its own dialectics, as in Marx's own theory.

The comparison of the value of the products of human labour (their
valuation) does not in principle even require exchange and trade, only
the  knowledge of their relative production-costs or replacement costs in
labour-time. All that exchange and trade accomplishes, is a more exact
quantification and objectification of value, in terms of the comparative
value of different commodities in economic exchange, culminating in real
or notional money-prices. At most you can say, that in a universalised
market, value *rules* the allocation of resources.

It is in my view utterly *myopic* to restrict "exploitation" to the
appropriation of surplus-value at the point of production, as many
Marxists do. Contrary to the Marxists, Marx never claimed *anywhere* that
the exploitation of surplus-labour in production is the *only* kind of
exploitation there is. Such an interpretation is so crude and mythical,
that it is totally farcical.

For Marx, the human economy was constituted by the totality of production,
circulation, distribution and consumption of goods and services, and
economic exploitation (leaving aside other forms of exploitation) could
occur in any of these spheres; it is merely his grandiose claim that the
direct exploitation of surplus labour in production - rather than e.g.
cheating in exchange - is the ultimate *basis* for all other forms of
exploitation and social inequality in capitalist society. For Marx, the
problem of exploitation was however not something specific to capitalism,
but to a class-stratified society, i.e. at least 10,000 years old.

Consequently, the abolition of exploitation had as its basic precondition
the *abolition of social classes*, i.e. eliminating the conditions which
enabled some to enrich themselves systematically at the expense of others.
Insofar, however, as you can abolish capitalism without abolishing social
classes at all, this does not solve the problem at all, and in fact there
are *worse* forms of exploitation, than capitalist exploitation (e.g.
slavery, forced labor etc.).

In a hypothetical socialist society, you would still have surplus-labour
performed within a division of labour; except that this no longer has the
*consequence* of exploitation, in the sense of some being able to enrich
themselves at the expense of others - i.e. a different set of criteria for
rewarding social labour would apply.

Simply nationalizing the means of production is not necessarily a solution
at all - what is required is new *forms of association* and a new
*morality* for the distribution of resources, based on the principle that
the balanced development of each is conditional on the balanced
development of all, and the balanced development of all is conditional on
the balanced development of each. That is the core of the communist idea,
and the claim is, that simply giving "equal market access" or "equal
opportunity" will not provide it.


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