Re: [OPE] Odyssey and the Peruvian treasure

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Tue Feb 10 2009 - 18:58:26 EST

Well just to save a lot of ostentation, my view is that products possess the attribute of value simply and minimally because it takes human effort to produce them, and they have that value irrespective of whether they currently happen to be traded and irrespective of whether they have prices or not. This is also the view which Marx is logically committed to.

The fact that products have value, means that humans will economize their use, whether they do so voluntarily (out of love or care etc.) or under coercion (to survive, or under duress from a superior), whether self-motivated or externally motivated.

But this of course by no means exhausts the story of value.

In more complex societies, featuring a sophisticated division of labour, value becomes to a large extent objectified - things acquire a socially recognised value which exists independently of the activities of individuals, with the consequence that in important respects the individual has to adjust his behaviour to the objectified value relations, over which he has no longer much control.

However, the actual processes by which values and value relations acquire an objectified existence are historically very variegated and diverse, and sometimes are reversed due to moral protest. To understand this, Marxist vulgarities are a distraction from science.

Did the gold produced in the Aztec and Inca empires take the commodity form?

Most certainly. Writing about the Aztec town of Tenochtitlan, Cortez reported: "This town has many squares on which there are always markets, and in which they buy and sell." But, he added, "there is another, twice the size of the town of Salamanca, completely surrounded by arcades, where every day there are more than sixty thousand souls who buy and sell, and where there are all kinds of merchandise from all the provinces, whether it is provisions, victuals or jewels of gold and silver." Cortez was presumably referring to Tlatelolco, about which Bernal Diaz mentions that 20-25,000 buyers and sellers met each day, and that every fifth day there was a market attended by 40-50,000. (Jacques Soustelle, Daily life of the Aztecs, London: Phoenix, 1995, p. 25-26). Soustelle also reports that "Although there was no money, certain commodities, goods or objects served as measures of value and as means of exchange" (ibid. p. 81-82). These included lengths of cloth, cocoa-nibs, copper hatchets, quills of gold dust, etc. The whole city population also paid tax, except for the dignitaries, priests, children, paupers, orphans, and slaves.

This account by Soustelle in fact coheres very well with Marx's explanation of the forms of value and the evolution of the commodity-form, but it is irreconcilable with the forgeries of the Marxist philosophers.

The Marxist philosopher has a fixed concept, for example "the commodity" or "productive labour", and then history and the whole world has to conform to his fixed concept; whatever does not conform to his fixed concept, cannot exist, or is wrong. On this basis, generations of Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats sent "heretics" to the Gulag, and other places such as psychiatric hospitals. But not only is this conceptual tyranny a sort of mad fascism; it is also dead wrong from a scientific point of view, and completely contrary to Marx's own method, which precisely aims to understand the interactive formative relationship between the evolution of the real world and the categories used to describe it, as a dialectical process containing different transitions and gradations, qualitative leaps, and so on. Once we dispense with the abracadabra of Marxist philosophers and study history, we begin to understand the real meaning of Marx's categories, and we obtain brilliant proofs of the validity of his insights.

As regards the Inca empire, even Louis Boudin, who in his interesting but questionable book "A socialist empire: the Incas of Peru" (Van Nostrand, 1961, introd. F. von Hayek) tries to make a case for the idea that the Incas were socialists (Stalinists, really), has to admit that the Incas practised domestic and foreign trade. Trade occurred in fairs and marketplaces, and "Commodity-money consisted of pimento, dried fish, cotton, maize, chuno, feathers, salt, and cocoa" (p. 172). However, Boudin notes that gold and silver were not normally used as money-commodities by Inca society, instead they were used mainly for ornamentation; even so, the Incas were able to weigh precious metals with minute precision (p. 173). The Inca did not seek "to limit the exchange of goods among the people. Although wealth circulated by way of tribute, allotment and gifts more than by way of barter, at least the empire was not sealed off from all contact with the rest of the world..." (ibid.).

Obviously, the Marxists and ultraleftists are now going to object definitionally: they will say, a commodity can exist only if money exists, and if money doesn't exist, it follows that a commodity cannot exist. It is a neat formalistic syllogism, but again dead wrong, because in the dialectic of history the commodity-form is itself an evolving one, which does not presuppose a universal equivalent in order to exist. Marx makes this tediously explicit in discussing the evolution of the value-form, i.e. the historical origin which is behind the commodity, and in his discussion of the formation of the modern monetary conventions.

It will not be until we have completely smashed the evil forgeries of Marxist-Leninist philosophy and returned to the scientific, historically conscious humanism of Marx & Engels, that real progress towards a free and egalitarian society becomes possible.


ope mailing list
Received on Tue Feb 10 19:01:59 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 24 2009 - 20:30:37 EDT