[OPE-L] salto mortale

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Mar 04 2007 - 08:23:09 EST


You wrote:

"If then we call this valuation 'value' then we arrive at the
conclusion that value is natural and eternal!  A corollary to
this is that struggle against the value system is futile."

This seems to be a case of bad thinking. It is true that even animals, at
the very least higher mammals, are capable of valuations, i.e. of choosing
and prioritising between different options for survival needs, to avoid
pain, or experience pleasure, and even to attach value to objects, just as a
baby has a cuddly toy or a pet. Apes have even been taught to perform simple
arithmetic operations. But that does not make value natural and eternal,
insofar as it takes the emergent properties of consciousness (or at least
sentience or self-awareness) to enable valuations to be made, as I said
previously, and insofar as these valuations are subject to a long history of
evolution, change and development from primieval instincts and vague
intuitions to the heights of mathematics, abstract art, reasoned ethics,
erotic sophistication, and so forth.

Marx was always 100% clear that economic value existed in society quite
independently of whatever "social form" it happened to take, simply because
what products people physically produce, exchange and consume has a value to
them, implying the need to economise their use - but he was also 100% clear
that value could not exist, without taking specific "social forms", and
those forms depended precisely on their (durable) social relations and types
of association.

Since their social relations were subject to change, the forms of value also
underwent change. If for instance you had asked somebody in the 1950s "what
are derivatives?" most probably they would not have had a clue about what
you meant, even the language was lacking, and indeed many if not most people
don't understand it even now! In bourgeois society, exchange-value dominates
social use-value. In socialist society, social use-value dominates
exchange-value, and the both are realigned in different ways.

It is not "the struggle against the value system" that is futile, whatever
it means. It is the primitive leftist slogan of "the struggle against the
value system" that is futile, because you cannot abolish human valuations,
and you cannot abolish economic value (other than to destroy value, for
example by smashing up a McDonald's store as the radical Quixotes and
Luddites do sometimes). What you can change, is the forms which economic
value takes, but after reading tonnes of Marx, it should be perfectly clear
that this can happen only if you genuinely change the way people relate and
associate, including self-change (John Holloways's point). That requires
insight into those relations, including scientific insight, but it also
requires a practical engagement in which more desirable values are asserted.
The bourgeoisie wants to create a New Jerusalem in Iraq, and then they run
smack-bang into the problem that changing social relations requires the
co-operation of people.

Here in the Netherlands, the Socialist Party is constantly engaging in
battles about values, because, you see, the ordinary working people of this
country do have values of their own, and then the question is one of people
asserting those values as moral subjects and critically inquiring into them.
Marxist-Leninists want to be the boss over the working class, armed with a
theory which explains everything in advance. The SP has a different
approach, and it works much better. It's not that the SP is correct about
everything, but it can correct itself by learning from experience, that's
all that matters. The approach works, to the extent that its influence

I am sad to say that I have met oodles of Marxists who pontificate about the
theory of value, but they haven't got a clue about what the point of it is.
They are radically confused people, or enamoured with the intellectual
sophistication of Marx. The main reason is that they lack any profound,
historically grounded or coherent understanding of the ethics of power and
the power of ethics, they are at the level of a puberal understanding that
"some things happening in the world are bad, and some things happening are
good", which yields a moralistic condemnation of the bad things and praising
the good things in their opinion, with references to Marx said... Lenin
said... and so on, blah blah. No wonder then that their so-called "Marxism"
does not develop into anything credible that commands respect. A mature
person thinks things through to the end, and if we cannot even understand
and agree about the most elementary expressions of value and their origins,
I think we are not getting very far at all. In that case, we only replicate
the uncertainties of the bourgeoisie which has unleashed global forces that
escape from its control.

BTW when Marx refers to "salto mortale", he says this:

"The leap taken by value from the body of the commodity, into the body of
the gold, is, as I have elsewhere called it, the salto mortale of the
commodity. If it falls short, then, although the commodity itself is not
harmed, its owner decidedly is. The social division of labour causes his
labour to be as one-sided as his wants are many-sided. This is precisely the
reason why the product of his labour serves him solely as exchange-value.
But it cannot acquire the properties of a socially recognised universal
equivalent, except by being converted into money. That money, however, is in
some one else's pocket."



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