[OPE-L] A startling quotation from Engels

From: Alejandro Agafonow (alejandro_agafonow@YAHOO.ES)
Date: Mon Aug 20 2007 - 12:55:19 EDT

Dear Prof. Claus, Bullock and Bendien:
If you equate «exchange value» with «self-interested production aimed by profit», then your intent to liquidate the law of value has sense, but I’m not sure you are meaning this. It seems to me that you equate «exchange value» with a social organization of production that allows social division of labour based on decentralization and pricing. If your liquidation of the law of value intends to erase decentralization and pricing, your model of socialism only could function with self-sufficient small production units –and its feasibility has a very limited sense.
Prof. Claus is right when he said that the acid test of value (use value) is the marketability of the product of labour: «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.»
But how can you guarantee a proper scale of marketability in the framework of a self-sufficient small production units? I think Prof. Claus are thinking in this kind of self-sufficient units when wrote: «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 […] If the production is for self-consumption, the product is usefull whatever the time required to produce it […]»
I think that all you have the temptation to equate «exchange value» with the property «marketability» of labour’s products. That temptation comes from the atavism of the round-about argument in Marx & Engels. Due to the production scale of the nowadays industrial economies any decision of the usefulness of products must be done in the framework of a consumption market, but is precisely this link in the production process of a large socialist economy that is missing in Marx, Engels and Bullock, when the last one wrote: «With socialism and then communism […] A choice will be made about the usefulness of products, and the quantity to be produced, not their exchange value, which will not exist.»
Fortunately, Cockshott & Cottrell are very clear in this respect. They allow a full consumer market mechanism. Finally, unless you adopt the surprisingly unorthodox interpretation of Engels concerning the depreciation of labour content if market doesn’t reach the point where commodities are fully useful, you’ll incur in a «dichotomy» saying that a product has value (labour) because a human being produced it, but also because it is of value (usefulness). Bendien incurred in this dichotomy when he wrote: «[…] "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.»
Bullock: «[…] the use of computers to measure  the time it took to produce goods and services, was well discussed eg by  the late 1960's  the Institute of Workers Control ( Nottingham UK) was already proposing such technical solutions to the problems of production and distribution by state owned operations.»
Are there any publication concerning these works? I didn’t know it.
One thing is to desire that at some point in the future computers will help us to record and properly allocate labour time. In the USSR the researches concerning these possibilities existed and, as Cockshott wrote, Market Socialists like Lange envisaged that possibility. Even Kantorovich so willing to these arrangements wrote:
«The computation of optimal solution has its difficulties as well. In spite of the presence of efficient algorithms and codes practical linear programmes are not too simple since they are very large. The difficulties grow significantly when the linear model is modified by any of its generalization.» (pp. 21 in Leonid Kantorovich, “Mathematics in Economics: Achievements, Difficulties, Perspectives”, The American Economic Review, Vol. 79, Nº6.)
C&C have proposed to use the method of Gaussian elimination to deal with the empty boxes in a Leontief matrix, but what is more interesting from an institutional point of view is their thoughts concerning a feasible mechanism to feed the allocation machinery with human preferences as they are, using personal computers.
Kind regards
Alejandro Agafonow

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