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

From: cmgermer@UFPR.BR
Date: Thu Aug 23 2007 - 08:03:56 EDT

Hi Ian,
thank you for your reply to my post. I must apologize for my late answer.
It's because it takes me much time to elaborate my opinion in English, my
vocabulary is not enough and so on. I ask all on the list to take this
into account.

I think your post makes it clear that the difference of opinion between
myself and you and also Prof. Bendien is the relation of Marx's concept of
value to labour. I attempt to clarify my interpretation of Marx in the
comments inserted below.

> 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
> economists.
> 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.

I think it is necessary to keep in mind that in capitalism what determines
whether a particular labour is part of social labour is the fact that it
can be sold. The difference between a merchant economy and a non-merchant
(or planned or organized) economy is precisely that in the non-merchant
economy the social character of any labour is determined by a plan (which
can be simply based on tradition, like in the pre-capitalist economies),
i.e., it is determined before production is performed, whereas in the
merchant economy this only happens ex post, after production has been
realized. This is what the law of value is about: it performs the
distribution of social labour among the individual producers, in the
absence of a ex ante plan of production. Thus the individual producer does
not know in advance if he/she is or is not a part of the social
reproduction. A product of labour having value means that it has been
accepted as product of social labour, i.e., has been sold; not having
value means that it has not been accepted. Having produced something that
cannot be sold means to have been excluded from the social reproduction,
and this condition cannot go on if the producer wants to survive. He/she
must be accepted again as a member of the social reproduction, which
implies that he/she must insert again his/her particular labour as part of
social labour, i.e., he/she must produce something that meets a social
It seems to me that you use an unusual concept when you say that there is
“labour-value regardless of whether it meets a social demand or not”. To
be a product of labour, particular labour, is not the same thing as being
a product of social labour. Having value does not mean not having required
labour, it means that the labour spent is not social labour.

> 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
> want.
> 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
> thermometers.
> 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.

Claus: I totally agree with you about the requirement of the allocation of
the total labour-time in all societies. This is basic in Marx’s theory.
What I don’t agree is that labour-time expresses itself as value in all
societies. I interpret Marx’s point of view as saying that the expression
of labour-time as value is specific of the merchant economy and of
capitalism. It does so because in the merchant economy labour as the
source of all wealth is obliterated by the non existence of a social plan
of production and is disguised as value expressed as exchange-value in the
form of money. Where there is an explicit plan (like f.i. in feudalism)
labour time appears clearly and does not need to express itself

The analogy you make between the thermometer and money (which is the form
of value) are imo not valid. Although temperature exists without
thermometers, value does not exist without money, because money is the way
through which the individual labours are converted into social labour,
which money represents. The sale of the commodity, i.e. its conversion
into money, is what asserts it as the product of social labour. Thus,
value and money are social phenomena that evolve side by side.

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

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