[OPE] Odyssey and the Peruvian treasure

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Wed Feb 18 2009 - 13:38:37 EST


According to you, I "refer to value in a simpler and more trans-historical
sense (the process of 'valuing') rather than expressing a set of specific
social relations (of production)."

But that is not my argument at all.

My argument is that products have value already, minimally because it took
work to make them, and they are accordingly economized on that basis - this
occurs in almost any society studied by archaeologists and anthropologists.
The fact that they have that value is an objective fact, because nobody can
get away from the physical reality they took X amount of worktime to make,
and that it carries a certain normal or average cost to replace them.
Indeed, there are ample empirical proofs that so-called primitive peoples
made already very sophisticated calculations of the worktime that was so
indispensable to their survival. They were thinking abstractly about
worktime long before Marxists came along to announce that it wasn't true
because "abstract labor was a product of capitalism".

But what the precise social consequences of this "objective fact" will be,
obviously depends very much on the kind of social set-up there is. This is
not a "simple" matter. The value of products can be expressed in many
different ways.

As I have said, I reject "objective" theories of economic value, just as
much as "subjective" theories of value, because I think intrinsically
economic value has both objective and subjective aspects, and the task of
the theory of value is to understand how they are related. This is also
exactly what Marx attempted to do in his analysis of economic forms - he
distinguishes carefully between the essential relationship and how it
appears to the ordinary observer, arguing that it will necessarily be
perceived other than it really is, in a reified way (I will demonstrate this
more clearly in my forthcoming paper on the "law of value").

So I do not reduce the problematic of economic value simply to "the process
of valuing". Fact is that people must often also adjust their behaviour to
prevailing value-relations whether they like it or not, and quite
irrespective of their valuations. Indeed this is also a main theme in Marx's
analysis: the objectified value relations dominate people's lives to the
point of being oppressive.

If the ultimate origin of value is "natural", this means just that the
ability of organisms to make their own valuations with at least some minimal
degree of consciousness, is an outgrowth of a natural evolution process of
living organisms.

But consciousness and the ability to make behavioural choices is also very
much a result of social interaction. We could dispute a great deal about
whether e.g. the interaction between a mother and her newborn infant is a
"natural" interaction, or a "social" interaction, but the most plausible
answer is that it expresses both. Nevertheless, nature existed before human
society did, and thus nature is the antecedent of human society. Social life
grows out of natural life and gradually gains a semi-autonomous existence
from it, reshaping nature to fit with societal requirements.

The Marxists think themselves very profound, by constantly referring to the
historical specificity of capitalism and the historical specificity of the
categories of value. But in reality they usually know very little about it,
simply because they haven't studied the history of it. When you do study the
history, you realize that what you thought was specific to capitalism,
really isn't, and the whole notion of specificity gets quite a different

The Marxist concept of "historical specificity" is usually purely abstract
and doctrinal, with very little content - it is primarily an ideological
Althusserian concept of the 1970s New Left, constantly reiterated by people
who do not actually study history themselves. I don't think that is erudite.
If for example you study the economics of slavery, you will easily
understand the part played by economic value in the slavery enterprise. If
you did that, it would never occur to you to deny the role of economic value
in slavery, because that is utterly foolish. Commodity values likewise
played an important role in feudal society, and without them, the history of
merchant trade becomes incomprehensible.

I fail to understand how your notion of economic value has any explanatory
value at all. You say you base yourself on Rubin's "value form" theories,
but these theories have been shown to be ultimately inconsistent, and not an
accurate representation of what Marx himself argued. Namely, Marx himself
never restricted the application of the concept of abstract labor to
capitalism alone, he merely argues that capitalism deepens and universalizes
the abstraction of labor.


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Received on Wed Feb 18 13:40:51 2009

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