[OPE] Understanding value (reply to Michael Heinrich)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Apr 26 2009 - 14:07:26 EDT


Thanks for your comment. I will try to explain my view of the matter briefly and simply, admitting that Marx's exposition is not always fully consistent.

Marx evidently thought, that products have value, because it took labour to produce/procure/replace them.

Value-form Marxists argue, by contrast, that products have value, because they are subject to exchange.

This does not make Marx a "minor post-Ricardian"; contrary to value-form theory, Marx himself distinguished carefully between the substance and forms of value, and he explicates those forms and the social relations behind them at great length. In the process, he begins to develop a social theory of bourgeois society as a whole.

The whole edifice of Das Kapital is erected on the foundational premise that value is created and conserved by living human labour prior to, and independently of, exchange.

It would therefore be quite inconsistent for Marx to argue, that value exists "because" of exchange, "as a result of" exchange. And in fact he doesn't - he argues only, that whereas human labour materially objectifies value in the products it produces, exchange socially objectifies and standardizes the expression of the value of products.

Putting this into simple equations:

Material objectification of value by production labour: X amount of labour = Y amount of product A
Social objectification of value by exchange: X amount of commodity A = Y amount of commodity B

For the sake of argument and a bit satirically, Marx actually discusses how the isolated Robinsoe Crusoe allocates his worktime and products, concluding explicitly that the relations between Robinson and his products, even in this imaginary story, already "contain all the essential determinants of value." (p. 170). Thus, the roots of value are in labour itself.

According to value-form theory, this cannot possibly be correct (after all, there is no exchange on Crusoe's island at all), nevertheless Marx does say it.

As regards your first quote from Vol. 1: the fact that, by being exchanged regularly, product-values acquire a "socially uniform" objectivity, does not imply at all that product values did not already objectively exist prior to exchange; because actually the products really did cost a quantity of social labour to produce, whether exchanged or not, even if idealist academics forget that.

All that regular exchange achieves, is just that the cost implications for their production are clearer, that the valuation of the local labour-costs and the socially average labour-costs are more precisely compared, and that an average standard valuation is eventually established for a society or region, which exists irrespective of local labour costs.

Valueform theory says that value is unique to capitalism, but in fact in the text to which your refer, Marx himself emphasizes explicitly that the dual valuation of commodities and the dual valuation of social labour do not arise out of capitalism, but emerge in any kind of regular production of products intended for exchange. Actually, in the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) he had already made this point explicit. The valueform theorists therefore get it wrong.

The treatment of the product of labour as having a value and a use-value which are clearly separable and independent of each other, powerfully developed by trading products, does not mean, that they did not have those qualities already before they were being exchanged. Those characteristics did not drop out of the air. Indeed Marx discusses value and use-value before he discusses the development of the value-form.

Producers knew very well all along, that a certain normal labour-cost was associated with a product, quite independently of the practical utility of the product (obviously they would not even produce the product, if they thought it was completely useless and worthless to do so) - it is just that with the development of trade, this fact acquires an additional objective significance, since useless goods fail to trade, and unfavourable terms of trade mean more additional work.

As regards your second quote, Marx there very explicitly distinguishes two conditions in the formation of products as values: firstly, in an absolute sense, the producer's work effort "appears as a fraction of the general social labour-time", which however in principle does not presuppose any exchange; secondly, in a relative sense, this social labour is expressed in the general exchangeability of the product of that labour. The valueform theorists either ignore the first condition, or else they falsely argue that the first condition grows out of the second, but in so doing, they turn Marx upside down, and reify his theory. The end result of all that is, that the valueform theorists cannot conceive of any socialism other than a Lassalean-type social-democratic state-socialism or an anarchist chaos or a Tobin tax.

Marx's argument in this excerpt from Cap. Vol. 3 you cite is that the landowner's appropriation of surplus value as ground-rent increases "without any effort on his part" (p.776) so that it seemed to the Scottish political economist Mr Patrick Dove that agricultural productivity itself has nothing directly to do with that result - rather, the increase in value seemed to be a function of an output valuation which is determined by the (growth of the) non-agricultural population. Marx then comments "it is also true to say for any other product [than agrarian product] that it only develops as a commodity with the volume and diversity of the series of commodities that form equivalents for it. We have already shown this in our general presentation of value" etc. (Capital, vol. III, p. 777, Penguin). Then follows the passage which you cite. Marx's general point is, that the specificity of the appropriation of capitalist ground rent in agriculture should not be confused with the more general determinations of value and surplus-value. It's an argument about the forms of value, not its substance.


PS - I'm on holiday for two weeks.

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Received on Sun Apr 26 14:12:47 2009

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