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

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Mon Aug 20 2007 - 13:56:25 EDT

I do think a lot of confusion is generated by the use of the word
"value" in many different contexts. Sometimes I wonder whether the
term should be thrown out and new terminology adopted to avoid
confusion. Also, having immersed myself in Smith and Ricardo recently,
I think that some of our OPE-L discussions of this topic reveal a
regression in understanding compared to Marx and the classical

The following fragment prompted this:

"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."

The classical distinction between labour-embodied (total clock hours
required to produce a commodity) and labour-commanded (the price it
fetches in the marketplace  divided by the average wage rate) is
important here.

A product that cannot sell fails to command labour. But this event
does not imply labour is not embodied in its production. A product has
labour-value regardless of whether it meets a social demand or not. In
this situation, a fraction of the total social labour has not been
equalized with another part.

Indeed, the mismatches between the labour-embodied in commodities and
the labour-commanded by commodities are part of the mechanism of the
reallocation of social labour through time (the law of value). Call
this the dialectic between value, exchange-value and use-value if you

I believe it is a fundamental mistake to think that price, or the
value form, is constitutive of labour-value. Although casually linked
they are ontologically distinct. Temperature exists without

Also, the trans-social requirement that all societies must allocate
their labour-time is an essential part of historical materialism (c.f.
Marx's letter to Kugelman). To state that "value" only arises with
capitalism throws this essential insight away. It also ignores the
existence of sophisticated divisions of labour, markets and monetized
exchanges long before the social invention of the capitalist firm and
the hegemony of capital.

Apologies for slight grumpiness, but I didn't get enough sleep last night.

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