Re: [OPE] Understanding Value

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Sat Apr 25 2009 - 14:53:13 EDT

Hi Jurriaan

Everything is too quick and too vague. You read much too quickly if you think I treat value and exchange value as the same - I say one is a relation of persons and the other a relation of things by which a relation of persons manifests itself - and what actually do you refer to by 'economize socially' or 'specific forms which are characteristic', etc. It is as if you took the concept of 'production in general' and used it to criticize Marx's concept of capital because the category 'capital' was not transhistorically inclusive. But there is no production in general. There is only production in historically specific social circumstances. So granted that we may think broadly of 'value in general' in roughly the sense you mean, and Marx offers at least one example of this with which I'm familiar, Penguin v. III, 991 ("On the Analysis of the Production Process"), still the concept carries little scientific weight and none at all insofar as it is mobilized to critique a category needed for a historically specific analysis of commodity production. Marx writes: "objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labour of private individuals who work independently of each other" (Penguin, v. I, p. 165, "Commodity Fetishism"). Private individuals who work independently on products not useful to them must engage in private exchange. What is the ratio in which their products will exchange? Value solves that problem. The ratio in which goods exchange is determined by a relation of production of persons with respect to the expenditure of their labors. With the evolution of analysis other factors also become relevant.

For the rest, I have criticized value form in print, so it would be better to grapple with arguments I actually do make.

In solidarity,


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Jurriaan Bendien
  To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
  Sent: Friday, April 24, 2009 7:12 PM
  Subject: [OPE] Understanding Value

  Hi Howard,

  Thank you for your interpretation, but allow me to say that I happen to think this is not quite what Marx believed, and also, that it is not a coherent theory. You say for example:

  "Value exists because persons or productive entities independently produce products useless to them as part of the social division of labor. Market exchange is a consequence."

  Briefly put, I think Marx's real view is more like this:

  "Products have value in the economic sense because the material reality is, that it took human work effort to make them and procure them, and they are economized socially on that basis. In bourgeois society, however, value takes specific forms which are characteristic of that kind of society, and which are all derived from the most elementary structures of traded objects."

  That is to say, the existence of value as such (an sich, im allgemeinen) has ipso facto nothing to do with exchange processes, although, in common (vulgar) parlance, value is most often equated with exchange-value. Instead, the category of economic value arises out of human labor, and the necessity for human labor.

  That thesis, is precisely what the socialistic valueform theorists deny - they side with the bourgeois theorists, and argue that value arises out of exchange, and consequently that "economic activity" is properly defined as "trading activity", in other words, that economics = commerce (making money from trade).

  The effect of that denial by the socialistic valueform theorists is that there is no meaningful distinction anymore between values and money-prices, except that talking about values can convey a certain critical evaluation or an interpretation of the meaning of price phenomena. You can sort of sermonize about value and commerce as an evil, corruptive force and so on. It becomes impossible to construct a dynamic theory of production prices, market values and the levelling out of industrial profit rates, because the very basis of that theory is, that value movements and price movements occur autonomously of each other, even although they influence each other. The centrepiece of that theory is value-price deviations, but if value and price are the same thing, there can be no deviations.

  The advantage of adopting what I think is Marx's real view, rather than the socialistic valueform theorists or bourgeois theorists' view, is that it is very consistent with anthropological, archaeological and historical research findings, which show very clearly that the value of products was practically assumed by people even when there was no bourgeois market, and that a very good understanding existed of the normal work effort required to make or replace products, even although there was no market, or only the most rudimentary market relationships. Products had value, simply because people knew jolly well what it required to replace them, and they acted according to that assumption in organising everyday life.

  The core of Marx's interpretation of the law of value is, that exchange value is in the last instance regulated and determined (bestimmt) by value. But this idea makes no sense at all, if value and exchange value are considered to be more or less the same thing.

  The point about the economic value of products is, that it is "a quality which is quantifiable", you can have more or less amounts of it, but this actually corresponds closely to human labor-time, which has exactly the same characteristic. Value exists an an objective characteristic in the first instance not because of the exchangeability of the product, but because the product cost a certain amount of a community's work effort to produce, procure and replace.



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