Re: [OPE] Understanding value (reply to Michael Heinrich)

From: Michael Heinrich <>
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 01:52:19 EDT


I will be out for a week, therefore I have to delay my answer a few days


Jurriaan Bendien schrieb:
> Michael,
> 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.
> Jurriaan
> PS - I'm on holiday for two weeks.
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Received on Wed Apr 29 01:54:34 2009

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