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

From: cmgermer@UFPR.BR
Date: Wed Aug 22 2007 - 09:51:33 EDT

Paul C.,
Thank your for your reply. Here are my clarifications:

> C Germer
> -----------
> 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?
> Paul C
> ------
> Consider an economy like that of pre-Spanish Peru. Social labour existed
> in this society but not commodity exchange. The different villages
> growing potatoes etc, would in practice have had very similar average
> labour inputs to produce the crop even though the crop was not sold,
> because people have a natural desire to minimise their efforts. If they
> see a technique in the neighbouring village that allows food to be got
> with less labour they will adopt it.  This law of the economisation of
> labour existed well before commodity exchange, were this not the case
> how do you account for the spread of agricultural techniques during the
> neo-lithic revolution?

I agree with you about the economisation of labour independent of
exchange. I also agree that labour has a social character in all forms of
the human society since the emergence of the division of labour. What I
was arguing with Prof. Bendien is that value is a form of the product of
labour which is specific to the capitalist society, and one of the
characteristics of value is that it corresponds to the average amount of
labour time spent by the producers. And it seems to me that what makes the
concept of the average labour time relevant is the competition among
producers, which doesn’t exist in non-merchant societies.
It seems to me that this doesn’t deny that there is transmission of
technical innovations in non-merchant societies. However, the mechanism of
the process and the speed of the transmission are probably different. As I
said in my post, in the absence o exchange the essential products have to
be produced, irrespective of the amount of labour they require, and a
hierarchy of the most essential ones will exist, in accordance with the
total labour available.
Even in the case you mention the labour inputs per unit of produce would
be different according to the difference in the fertility of the different
soils or locations. The labour input would be larger in the less fertile
locations, and smaller in the more fertile ones.

> C Germer
> --------
> 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).
> Paul C
> ------
> It looks to me as if this passage from Marx supports Jurrian rather than
> you. You are forced to reinterpret it to fit your paradigm. Marx
> mentions exchange value, you correct him saying he really should mean
> value here. Jurrians point is that Marx distinguishes between exchange
> value and value itself. Thus when he wrote exchange value he meant
> exchange value, not value.

I think it is recognized that in the Grundrisse Marx did not clearly
distinguish between value and exchange-value, using the latter in the
sense of the former. It seems to me that in the passage I quoted this is
clear. Marx distiguishes between the natural form of the commodities –
wich is its use-value – and the social form of them, which in merchant
economies is value. Exchange-value is the form of value, which on its turn
is the social form of the products of labour in merchant economies,
including capitalism. On the other hand, I did not deny that Marx
distinguishes between exchange value and value itself. Prof Bendien’s
point, as I understood it, was that for Marx the products of labour are
values in all forms of society, with which I disagree, because imo, for
Marx, value is the social form of the products of labour specifically in

> C Germer
> --------
> 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.
> Paul C
> ------
> Averages do not depend on exchange. There would have been an average
> weight of cacao pod harvested in Mexico even if these pods were not
> exchanged, there would also have been an average time to pick them even
> if the pods were not exchanged.

In this case it would be a mere statistical average time, but it would not
be a social average determining the exchange ratios between the products
of labour and the locations where production could occurre and where not.
The dispersion of the actual labour times would depend on the differences
in individual productivities, determined by individual local conditions of
production, independent of the other locations. What I’m saying is that
exchange reduces the time spent for the production of a use-value to a
social average, which is a definite fraction of the total social labour of
the society. And this social average – value – imposes itself upon all the
producers, eliminating the production whose time is above a certain limit.
This would not happen if there were not exchange.



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