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

From: cmgermer@UFPR.BR
Date: Sun Aug 19 2007 - 18:09:18 EDT

Dear Prof. Bendien,
Thank you very much for your reply. I assure you that I have carefully
read your post, but I think to have better understood your opinion after
this post, as I will try to show. The core of my argument is that value is
a characteristic of a commodity producing economy, especially of
capitalism, not of all modes of production. Let me try to be more
specific: 1) the products of labour are only commodities if they are
predominantly produced for exchange. In this case they have
exchange-values. It follows that in societies where the products of labour
are not commodities (i.e., are not exchanged), they don’t have
exchange-values; 2) Marx says: “the common substance that manifests itself
in the exchange-value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is
their value” (CI, ch. 1).

If I understand you correctly, you interpret this as meaning that when the
exchange-value comes into existence, value is already there because it is
the expression of human labour as such, and thus value is present in all
modes of production. This however does not seem to be the case. Value for
Marx, imo, is also a specific characteristic of the commodity producing
economy. Look please at the quotation below. Marx says that
“the labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous
human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power … so far as it
requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an
average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour-time socially
necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal
conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and
intensity prevalent at the time’.
There can only be a social average labour time if there is exchange of
commodities, which is based on the equalization of the SNLTs required to
produce the commodities exchanged. Without exchange, why and how would the
producers be forced to reduce their labor time to the social average? If
there is no exchange, every production unit or community has to produce
its essential means of consumption and production under the conditions in
which it produces, irrespective of the time taken to produce. If the
production is for self-consumption, the product is usefull (but has no
value) whatever the time required to produce it; if it is for exchange,
its value, i.e., its social exchangeability, does not correspond to the
particular time taken to be produced, but to the social average time,
which requires exchange in order to exist.

This is why, imo, Marx says that value is the social form of the products
of labour in the commodity producing economy (“so also is it impossible to
abolish money itself as long as *exchange value (=meaning value) remains
the social form of products* ” – Grundrisse). In the first quotation
above, although it may be interpreted as meaning that exchange-value is
the expression of an ever existing essence of the products of labour –
value – the fact is that value, i.e., average social labour time, only
comes into existence because of the generalization of exchange. Exchange
converts the products of labour into commodities and produces the
exchange-values of the commodities, and scientific investigation discovers
that exchange-values are just a form of expression of something more
fundamental, which is value.

I hope I have been able to clarify my opinion.


> Dear Prof. Germer,
> The core of your argument seems to be that:
> "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."
> You obviously do not read what I say, because I have, like Marx,
> distinguished sharply between the "value" of  "the product" (a product
> which
> is a use-value) because it is the product of human labour, and the "form"
> in
> which this value is expressed. Marx does not say that products have value
> because they are commodities, but instead that products have value because
> they are products of labour. It is completely clear and irrefutable. The
> value-form and its developing expressions cannot even come into being, if
> products of labour have no value to start off with.
> I don't actually know what you mean when you say vaguely "before
> capitalism
> social labor did not in general adopt the form of commodities", this has
> nothing to do with Marx. What Marx says is, that labour-power and means of
> production generally become tradeable commodities exchangeable for money
> in
> the capitalist mode of production, which they were not on any large scale
> before.
> I do not "identify all historical forms of social labor to the form it has
> in capitalism, which is value", whatever that means. To repeat, what I say
> is, that the fact that products of human labour have value, is something
> that has very different consequences and implications, depending on the
> given relations of production and exchange, i.e. it can take different
> forms
> in different historical epochs. But it has never been in doubt to workers
> in
> any era of history that their products have value, because it took work to
> make them.
> It is only a bourgeois prejudice that value originates in commodity trade,
> and naturally dogmatic Marxist orthodoxy follows the bourgeois prejudice
> with its occult mumbling about "value". Orthodox Marxism is
> anti-historical,
> in the precise sense that real economic history is rarely studied. If it
> was
> studied, then a lot of the garble it talks about "value" would vanish.
> Even
> so, you do not even engage with the textual evidence for Marx's own view,
> which I provided. Well it is there, if you care to look at it.
> If I produce products for my own consumption, I know jolly well that those
> products have a labour-value, which I can express in terms of my own
> labour-time and which indeed I can compare with the hours of labour which
> it
> would take other people I know of to accomplish. No commodity trade is
> necessary for the latter at all, just a working knowledge of how long, on
> average, a task takes for people to perform. In fact, under certain
> conditions my very survival would depend on that knowledge.
> You write: "I think Marx's 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". It sounds very radical, very orthodox, very profound. But in
> reality, you again conflate the form of value with the substance of value,
> even although Marx takes great pains to distinguish between them across
> many
> pages of his book. In feudalism or many other precapitalist societies,
> "labor is also not distributed according to a social plan". Yet you want
> to
> argue that value did not exist in those societies!
> All this seems to be a dispute about subtleties, but in reality the false
> theory of value you propose caused the ruination of many workers' lives in
> Soviet-type societies. It was thought "value is the social form of the
> products of labor in a society where labor is not distributed according to
> a
> social plan" which effectively meant that, since there was now a social
> plan, workers became expendable in the execution of the plan.
> Jurriaan

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