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

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Wed Aug 29 2007 - 19:36:05 EDT

Hi Claus

Sorry for the delay in replying.

> 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
> demand.

I agree in general with your characterization. But now I wonder
whether this is, again, a terminological issue.

I interpret "having value"  to refer to the "total labour-time
required to produce a commodity under the given conditions of
production". So a commodity "has value" regardless of its fate in the

The unqualified term "value" is highly ambiguous. So I am beginning to
try to avoid it. I prefer to use the terms labour-embodied and
labour-commanded when contrasting actual labour-time expended and the
amount of social labour-time that equalizes with it.

I agree that the labour-embodied in a commodity that does not sell is
not "social labour" in the sense that it fails to equalize or exchange
with other labour. The labour-embodied in the commodity is positive,
but the labour-commanded by that commodity is zero.

> 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.

I don't think my concept is unusual but rather standard. Marx in Vol
I: "We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value
of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the
labour time socially necessary for its production." The modifier
"socially necessary" does not refer to the existence of sufficient
social demand, but to the prevailing conditions of production.

There has been some semantic drift from Marx's definition due to some
more modern interpretations that I do not agree with.

> 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.

Again, this may be a terminological dispute. What do you mean by
"value" in that last sentence?

Certainly money and prices are not present in all societies. But
articles that require a definite, objective amount of labour-time to
produce, given the level of technology, is present in all societies.
(Unless we have left the realm of necessity, which seems unlikely for
quite some time).

> 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
> indirectly.

Monetized markets and widespread commodity exchange were ubiquitous in
feudal times. Some parts of the division of labour were partially
governed by the spontaneous operation of the law of value. I agree
however that certain cases of exploitation -- e.g. the corvee peasant
-- are more transparent due to the direct and personal provision of
surplus labour.

> 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.

I very much agree that social labour and money are two sides of the
same coin that historically evolve side-by-side. Money, as you say,
*represents* labour-value; but it is not *constitutive* of
labour-value. It requires a definite amount of labour time to produce
an article regardless of whether the society uses money or not. Such
articles will "have value" even in a planned economy, for example.

Best wishes,

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