Re: [OPE] Reply to the thinker

From: Michael Schauerte <>
Date: Fri Mar 13 2009 - 19:11:50 EDT

Thanks for the list of points. The time difference (over here in Japan)
means that I am well behind the loop of the discussion as usual.

I would have imagined that "value-form theorists" would be scholars who deal
with the theory of the value-form, but from the list you offered their
interests seem to branch out in all sorts of directions. My own knowledge is
rather more limited to Marx's theory of the value-form "proper," so to
speak, presented in Sec. 3 of Ch. 1, which as I said before is simply
(although sometimes the "simple" things are the hardest to understand
because overlooked) a theory of value-expression, which unravels the
essential mystery of money.

Still, I'll try to just comment on the points you made in your e-mail (about
the value-form theorists).

> 1) economic value arises out of the exchange process, and would not exist
> otherwise (this actually conforms closely to official national accounting
> theory)

Well, I disagree with this point, as the intrinsic value of commodities
exists prior to exchange. (But I don't see what this "foundational idea"
would have to do with the *form *of value, as it is instead a claim related
to the essence (or lack of, really) of value, not its form.

> 2) If goods were allocated in a way different from trading them
> (commercially), then economic value does not exist

I basically agree with this, although I probably wouldn't state it in those
exact terms. This, however, is again not an issue related specifically to
the form of value, so much as the theory of commodity fetishism in Sec. 4 of
Ch.1 where Marx explains not only why human labor would not take the form of
value under certain forms of society (or "modes of production), and hence
products of labor would not take the commodity-form and money itself would
have no basis for existence. What is universal to any form of production,
quite obviously, are products of labor, but it is only under certain
conditions that those products need to take the commodity form (so that
labor takes the form of value). Under other situations, such as a society
where labor is expended to directly satisfy the needs of society's members
as they democratically determine (i.e. socialism--which has yet to exist,
unfortunately), then there is no need for that labor to take the form of the
substance of a commodity's value.

> 3) abstract labor exists, only because money (a universal equivalent)
> exists

I don't quite follow this logic, I'm afraid.

> 4) things are traded as commodities, only if all inputs and outputs of
> production are commodities

I don't see why that would have to be the case at all.

> 5) value is a category of capitalist society, specific to it, and does
> not exist in any other kind of society
No, I would say it is specific to commodity production, which did exist
prior to capitalism (in a subsidiary role). But I would say that "value"
will have no basis to exist under genuine socialism

> 6) exchange value and money price are the same thing, or, (according to
> some) the value-form and exchange-value are completely diffferent things
I would have to hear more to comment. I would say that exchange-value, the
money-form and price-form are all inter-related.

> 7) use-value is an historically invariant category, a transhistorical
> category
Yes. Products of labor, as mentioned earlier, exist under any form of
production. And they are things useful to human beings and constitute

> 8) anti-capitalist struggle means struggle against the value-form, a
> struggle against the commodification (commercialization, the commercial
> measure) of everything
Um, sort of, I suppose. It is a struggle for a society that exists beyond
commodity produciton, as I mentioned with regard to point 2.

> 9) the contradiction between wage earners and capitalists is nothing
> other than a conflict between different commodity owners.
In the since that the workers are the sellers of their labor-power as a
commodity this is true, but by saying "nothing other" that statement seems
to make more out of that fact than is necessary.

> Value-form theory originally arose, because the "Marxists" thought that,
> even although they were defeated by the followers of Bohm Bawerk,
> Bortciewicz, Sraffa, Hayek etc. in quantitative theory, Marx's theory still
> had a qualitative relevance, a "dialectical" relevance through its
> phenomenology of value. In other words, Marx's theory was still serviceable
> as a sort of middleclass leftwing protest against rampant commercialization
> and commercial dehumanization.

It is exceedingly difficult to respond to sweeping statements like that one,
which would require going into the whole Bohm Bawerk issue. I am less
interested in the "value-form theory" you are referring to, than Marx's own
theory of the value form in *Capital*. That theory arose to go beyond the
Classical economists, who had only arrived at an understanding of the
substance of value, but had not stopped to ponder why value (or the form of
value) exists in the first place. They had understood the "what" of value,
but not the "how" of value-expression (explained in Sec. 3), the "why" of
the existence of value, commodity and money (explained in Sec. 4), not to
mention "through what" one commodity emerges as the universal equivalent
(explained in Ch. 2).

I will try to comment on the latter half of your e-mail later in the day.


> The anti-valueform theorists argue among other things that:
> (1) all these 9 claims are substantially false.
> Anti-valueform theorists base themselves on Marx's own idea that products
> have value, because they were created by social labor, and that this value
> exists and can vary in magnitude, quite regardless of all the innumerable
> ways in which value can be expressed relatively in exchange processes.
> (2) the value-form theorists are over-impressed by the economic critics of
> Marx, causing them to abandon Marx's theory unnecessarily.
> Among other things that is, because they usually read Marx through the
> prism of other theories which are really alien to Marx's own theory. Their
> retreat into the safety of a satisfying "qualitative philosophical
> categorisation of value" is the result of a lack of basic mathematical and
> statistical insight into the empiria, and basic insight into economic
> history.
> (3) the middeclass leftist protest by SUV-driving,
> designer-kitchen cafe-latte "value-form theorists" against commodification,
> creates a false picture serving a partisan interest.
> It says that there is nothing progressive about commerce and trade, and
> that we workers should feel guilty about our consumption, completely at odds
> with Marx's own idea that capitalism contains both progress and regress
> - value-form theory just feeds into the austerity offensive by the rich
> against the poor.
> (4) the determination of value by labour, which appears in bourgeois
> ideology as the determination of labour by value, is according to the
> anti-valueform theorists not simply a "interesting phenomenological idea
> in choosing how to relate to others" but a powerful, inexorable social
> force, since it involves a social bond without which human beings are in
> fact "dead as a doornail".
> Jurriaan
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list

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Received on Fri Mar 13 19:13:57 2009

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