Re: [OPE-L] equality versus equivalence

From: Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Sat Jul 14 2007 - 22:10:25 EDT

Hi Claus, thanks for your comments.

Quoting cmgermer@UFPR.BR:

> Dear Paul, Fred, Andy and Ajit,
> It seems to me that in Marx’s theory the scalar must be labor and that the
> equivalence between two commodities in exchange (x com A = y com B) means
> precisely equality of labor times. This seems to me to be clear in Marx’s
> presentation: the substance of value is abstract labor; the quantity of
> value is the quantity of social labor (SNLT). Hence, when Marx says that
> what is meant by = is equivalent values, he is saying that what is meant
> is *equal* labor times (SNLTs).
> Please observe the following passagens in ch. 1 of Capital:
> “But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold &c., each represents the
> exchange-value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c.,
> must, as exchange-values, be replaceable by each other, or *equal* to each
> other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange-values of a given commodity
> *express something equal*;”
> “...1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It
> tells us that in two different things — in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of
> iron, there exists in *equal quantities* something common to both. The two
> things must therefore be *equal* to a third …”

I agree (and I think Paul does too) that Marx’s argument in Section 1
is based on equality.  My question was whether Paul’s alternative
argument (which he calls “stronger” than Marx’s) is based instead on

If not, then I don’t see how the distinction between equality and
equivalence is relevant to Section 1.

> Now, why must labor and nothing else be the scalar? Because the human
> being depends on his/her labor to subsist, but not on the individual labor
> providing the needs of each individual, but on social labor, i.e.,
> division of labor, in such a way that each individual provides society
> with the product of  his/her labor, and receives in exchange what he/she
> needs. What Marx argues is that, in order for society to subsist, this
> exchange must be based on the exchange of equal amounts of labor: the
> use-value which each individual offers to the society mus be the product
> of the same amount of labor contained in the use-values he/she receives
> from the society in exchange.

Thanks for the very clear summary of your argument.  I think I
understand it better now.

> Please observe the following two passagens by Marx:
> ‘(...) if society wants to satisfy some want and have an article produced
> for this purpose, it must pay for it. Indeed, since commodity-production
> necessitates a division of labor, society pays for this article by
> devoting a portion of the available labor-time to its production.
> Therefore, society buys it with a definite quantity of its disposable
> labor-time. That part of society which through the division of labor
> happens to employ its labor in producing this particular article, must
> receive an equivalent in social labor incorporated in articles which
> satisfy its own wants’ (Marx, Capital, vol. 3, Int. Publ., p. 187).
> ‘Now since (…) [the laborer’s – CMG] work forms part of a system, based on
> the social division of labor, he does not directly produce the actual
> necessaries which he himself consumes; he produces instead a particular
> commodity, yarn for example, whose value is *equal* to the value of those
> necessaries or of the money with which they can be bought. (…) If the
> value of those necessaries represent on an average the expenditure of six
> hours' labor, the workman must on an average work for six hours to produce
> that value’ (Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p.104).

I think you make a strong argument, which is based on these passages
from other parts of Capital besides Section 1, as to why the common
property of commodities must be labor.  This further argument is based
on an objective point of view, just like the argument in Section 1:
every society must allocate its labor force in such a way as to produce
the quantities of goods that the society needs.  In a
commodity-exchange society, in order for society to produce what it
needs, the exchange of commodities must be based on equal amounts of
labor – i.e. the use-value that each individual offers to society must
be the product of the same amount of labor contained in the use-value
that he/she received from society in exchange.

Do I understand you correctly?

I think this is essentially the same argument that Marx presented in
Section 4 of Chapter 1, in which Marx explained the necessary role of
labor-time requirements in the allocation of social labor in other
kinds of “societies” – Robinson Crusoe, feudalism, peasant family, and
“association of free men”.  In all these societies, the quantity of
labor-time required to produced each product must be taken into
accounts and play a key role in the allocation of social labor.  In
these other societies, these labor-time requirements are taken into
accounts directly and consciously.  However, in a commodity-exchange
society, these labor-time requirements are NOT taken into account
directly and consciously; but they must be taken into account somehow
in order to accomplish the correct allocation of labor.  Since the only
connection between commodity producers is through market exchange, if
the labor-time requirements are to play a role in the allocation of
social labor, they must do so through exchange.  And that is why these
labor-time requirements must determine the average equilibrium prices
at which commodities exchange – because that is the way labor in a
commodity-exchange society is indirectly and unconsciously regulated.

I think this is also essentially the same argument that Marx presented
in the famous letter, replying to the review of Capital in the
Centralblatt (July 11, 1868):

“Every child knows … that the volume of products corresponding to the
different needs require different and quantitatively determined amounts
of the total labor society.  That this necessity of the distribution of
social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with
by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode
of its appearance, is self-evident.  Natural laws cannot be abolished
at all.  What can change in historically different circumstances is
only the form in which these laws assert themselves.  And the form in
which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself, in a
social system where the interconnection of social labour manifests
itself through the private exchange of individual products of labour,
is precisely the exchange value of these products.  (Selected
Correspondence, p. 196).

Rubin also emphasized this argument in his interpretation of the labor
theory of value.

My question about this argument is the following:  it seems to be based
on the assumption of “simple commodity production” (in which each
worker owns her own means of production).  If so, then to what extent
does it remain valid for capitalist society?  What do you think?

Thanks again.


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