Re: [OPE-L] A startling quotation from Engels

From: cmgermer@UFPR.BR
Date: Sat Aug 18 2007 - 22:03:08 EDT


Hi Jurriaan,

Im sorry to jump into this debate when it is going on for a time already,
but I am very much interested in the subject, and I must say that I
disagree with your opinion. My disagreement is not, I think, an expression
of mere Marxist orthodoxy, but is based on the way I interpret logic of
Marxs thinking, which seems to me to be very consistent.

Most of the characteristics of capitalism existed before capitalism:
markets, money, credit, wage labor, etc., but they were not the dominant
forms of social life. The means of subsistence and of production were not
generally produced as commodities. This means that the reproduction of
society did not predominantly depend on the production of commodities and
on the exchange among them. Thus the majority of the means of production
and consumption did not adopt the social form of value. Labor has of
course always been the basis of the reproduction of the human beings, and
social labor the basis of the human beings organized in society. Social
labor is the social organism of different but interdependent kinds of
labor, each of them producing one or more products for the others. But
before capitalism social labor did not in general adopt the form of
commodities and by way of consequence the form of value either. In this
sense I think it can be said that your interpretation is a-historical,
because you identify all historical forms of social labor to the form it
has in capitalism, which is value.

It also seems to me that the products of labor which, in capitalism, dont
go to the market but are produced for self consumption, dont materialize
as values, i.e., they are the products of private labor, not of social
labor. The reason is that social labor is the labor which contributes to
the reproduction of the society, not just of the individual, who
reproduces him/herself through exchange with the others. You may say that
the individual is a part of society. But the individual who lives from
his/her own product (if this were possible) is not a part of a society
because he/she is outside the social division of labor. Private labor does
not exchange with other private labors, thus its production is not
regulated by the social time of production and the use values it produces
are not socially defined use values.

I think Marxs concept is that value is the social form of the products of
labor in a society where labor is not distributed according to a social
plan. When there is a plan, labor has a social character from the
beginning and does not need to be subject to an ex post judgement  the
exchange or the market. When there is no plan, the social character of
labor is only verified after the production has already occurred. If the
product of labor is unable to be sold, this means that the society has not
needed it, and consequently the labor spent in its production is not
social labor. And to the extent that value is the expression of social
labor, such a product has no value.

Im sorry to have repeated something that is known by everybody, but it
seemed necessary to me in order to justify my disagreement with your
interpretation of Marxs concept about the subject.

comradely,
Claus Germer.


> Dr Paul Bullock imputes to me the view that "'value' in Marx is an
> a-historical, natural, character[ist]ic of all production, a sort of
> neo-Kantianism."
>
> But I don't hold that view at all, and I am happy to side with Marx "for
> the
> most part" (see below) on this issue, against the rhetoric of sneering
> Marxist orthodoxy.
>
> I am saying, like Marx did, that if human beings produce products with
> their
> labour, those products have a value, and they have that value, regardless
> of
> whether the products are being traded or not, simply because they
> physically
> took a quantity of society's labour to produce, and take a quantity of
> labour to replace. This value plays an important role in how people
> economize their products in any type of society, since they know what the
> consequences are for their work, if they don't have products, or if they
> have more or less of them, or if they have to replace them etc. There
> exists
> much historical and anthropological research to substantiate all that, and
> if my life had gone the way I wanted, you would now be able to read my
> book
> on the research evidence there is.
>
> But anyway, in a dialectical-historical understanding of value, in
> contrast
> to a formalistic, ahistorical understanding of value, one also recognises
> that the form in which product-values are expressed and socially
> recognised
> vary differ greatly, depending on the production relations and exchange
> relations that dominate in a society. So the actual human representation
> of
> value is historically changeable. What doesn't change at all, is that
> products have value, because they cost a quantity of labour-time to
> produce.
> The meaning of this is so well known to the labouring classes of all
> epochs
> in the history of civil society, that only elitists can dismiss it as a
> mere
> platitude. The capitalist mode of production, i.e. the capitalisation of
> production, only generalises certain forms of value, which already existed
> more sporadically for many thousands of years.
>
> In his brief dialectical summation of the forms of value at the beginning
> of
> Das Kapital Vol. 1, Marx shows the practical-logical steps in the
> evolution
> of the trading process, from very primitive value-comparisons to more
> sophisticated ones. In advance, he comments in his Preface:
>
> "The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very
> elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than
> 2,000
> years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other
> hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms,
> there has been at least an approximation."
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p1.htm
>
> Evidently, Marx (quite correctly, I think) did not even think that the
> value
> form was something unique to capitalism. It boggled the human mind "for
> more
> than 2,000 years". What a dirty, rotten Neo-Kantian bastard (sic.) Marx
> was!
> What an ahistorical scoundrel (sic.) Marx was! He dared to suggest,
> contrary
> to Marxist orthodoxy, that the value-form and value itself were NOT
> categories unique to capitalism!!!
>
> I tell you what, I think Karl Marx should be summarily expelled from OPE-L
> list, so that orthodox Marxists can get on with discussing how value is
> unique to capitalism (sic.)!
>
> But it gets even worse. Marx has the temerity to suggest that:
>
> There was, however, an important fact which prevented Aristotle from
> seeing
> that, to attribute value to commodities, is merely a mode of expressing
> all
> labour as equal human labour, and consequently as labour of equal quality.
> Greek society was founded upon slavery, and had, therefore, for its
> natural
> basis, the inequality of men and of their labour powers. The secret of the
> expression of value, namely, that all kinds of labour are equal and
> equivalent, because, and so far as they are human labour in general,
> cannot
> be deciphered, until the notion of human equality has already acquired the
> fixity of a popular prejudice. This, however, is possible only in a
> society
> in which the great mass of the produce of labour takes the form of
> commodities, in which, consequently, the dominant relation between man and
> man, is that of owners of commodities. The brilliancy of Aristotle's
> genius
> is shown by this alone, that he discovered, in the expression of the value
> of commodities, a relation of equality. The peculiar conditions of the
> society in which he lived, alone prevented him from discovering what, "in
> truth," was at the bottom of this equality.
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S3a3
>
> Regardless of whether you agree with Marx's historical assessment about
> the
> precise moment of discovery of the substance of value (I doubt its
> historical accuracy in the light of modern research), Marx does not say
> that
> value and abstract labour DID NOT EXIST in ancient Greek society. They DID
> exist, just like commodities did exist, but their economic significance
> could not be "deciphered" by philosophers because of Greek production
> relations. If abstract labour and value did not exist in ancient Greek
> society, there would be nothing to decipher. But there was something
> puzzling to decipher, yet the economic concepts to do it with were
> lacking.
> Marx, "the filthy neo-Kantian", suggested the social process of equating
> and
> comparison of human labour-time was a reality in ancient Greek society as
> well, although the economic abstractions to express the process as a whole
> were lacking.
>
> Of course, you can argue that if the concept of X is unknown, X does not
> exist, but that is not a materialist viewpoint. As Marx says, "In their
> difficulties our commodity owners think like Faust: "Im Anfang war die
> Tat."
> They therefore acted and transacted before they thought."
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S3a1
>
> But now for the really stunning part. Marx says:
>
> For the present, however, we have to consider the nature of value
> independently of this, its form. A use value, or useful article,
> therefore,
> has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or
> materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be
> measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the
> labour, contained in the article. The quantity of labour, however, is
> measured by its duration, and labour time in its turn finds its standard
> in
> weeks, days, and hours.
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S1
>
> And then:
>
> If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they
> have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But
> even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If
> we
> make abstraction from its use value, we make abstraction at the same time
> from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use value
> (...) Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it
> consists
> of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of
> homogeneous
> human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its
> expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power
> has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in
> them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them
> all, they are - Values.
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S1
>
> Clearly Marx is not saying here simply that "commodities" have values, he
> is
> saying that "products of labour" qua use-values have values, to be
> precise,
> commodities have values ONLY BECAUSE they are products of general human
> labour which, therefore, have values. You can of course now turn all this
> around, and argue that products of labour have values ONLY IF they are
> commodities, but that is not Marx's argument. His argument here is clearly
> that products (use-values) have value, because they are products of human
> labour as such, human labour in general. The question then arises in what
> form this value could be expressed, and then Marx outlines the
> increasingly
> complex forms in which it is expressed in human history. It is the fact
> that, through the growth of the trading process, more and more products of
> labour are constantly compared and valued relative to each other, that
> gives
> value a more and more precise and stable form. But obviously this
> valuation
> process cannot even occur, if there are no product-values to start off
> with.
>
> You can of course argue that "products of labour" did not exist before
> capitalism, and that therefore value did not exist before capitalism, but
> this is scientifically as absurd as the arguments of the Flat Earth
> Society.
>
> Jurriaan
>


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