Re: [OPE] question re published letters Engels

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Mon May 11 2009 - 05:06:09 EDT

howard engelskirchen wrote:
> Hi Paul,
> Okay for your usage on 'value form'. This makes it equivalent to value's
> manifestation in exchange, e.g. Tauschwert.
> But the social relation of value underlying this is a composite of activity
> and form -- the reciprocal relation of commodity producers with respect to
> the expenditure of their labors. Underlying that in turn is the social
> relation that provokes attention to value and this also is a composite of
> activity and form: the labor that produces commodities, ie products as
> bearers of value, is structured as a relation of independent producers
> producing for private exchange.
I agree that this is the condition of existence of commodities as
specified by Marx. It is also the condition of existence of commodities
assumed by Stalin in his Economic Problems. This has some basic truth in
it. So long as the USSR had a semi private peasant economy, food still
took the form of commodities and thus wages had to exist as well. But
this does not explain why an economy at a later stage of socialist
development : say CSSR or Bulgaria in the late 70s, would also have
money and the sale of products for money.

What would be your explanation for this?
> I agree you still need to calculate labor expenditure, this is clear, but
> can you just take over the category of socially necessary labor time and
> give it naked application? Socially necessary labor time as we know it is
> determined by the production of surplus value, relative and absolute, and by
> competition among autonomous producers.
By determined here I assume you mean that the value of socially
necessary labour time is arrived at by these means.
But surely it also depends on the state of scientific knowledge and on
the existence of particular skills, and also on the existence of certain
means of production?
If you change the ownership structure of an economy very rapidly during
a revolution, these technical conditions abide.
This then raises two slightly different issues.

   1. How best can a non capitalist economy change the technical
      conditions of labour so that scientific knowledge both advances
      and gets effectively applied to production.
   2. How, given the existing state of technology do we determine the
      socially necessary time to produce let us say
          * 1 kilowatt hour of electricity
          * a particular microprocessor chip

In the first case the product is homogenous and is produced by multiple
sites, in the second case the product is highly specific and may be
produced at only one site.

Another point is whether when computing the socially necessary labour
time one should take the average or the marginal socially necessary time?

> What labor will count as
> productive?
I would say that any labour whose product enters into either the
reproduction of the workforce or into the reproduction of the existing
technical base.
> The whole question -- the theoretical point -- is developing a
> "theoretical space" that allows us to rethink what counts as productive and
> necessary in function of the transformation underway.
Are you sure you wanted to be as specific at this: "productive and
necessary in function of the transformation"
> "Naked" I think is
> traditional political economy's notion -- there are no 'naked' social
> relations; they are always socially specific.
In one sense you are right, perhaps I should have said defetishised. But
of course any number that one arrives at for socially necessary labour
cost of a product will be the result of including only certain data, so
one can always question whether the data taken into account is
sufficient. But what I am saying is that compared to the revelation of
socially necessary labour time in market exchange value, the direct
quantification of labour time is relatively naked.
> We need a theory clothed with
> concepts of what is being measured as socially necessary.
I agree, and I am all in favour of us debating what this theory is.
> howard
> howard engelskirchen
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
> To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
> Sent: Sunday, May 10, 2009 2:34 PM
> Subject: RE: [OPE] question re published letters Engels
> Howard
> "Only the products of mutually
> independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other
> as commodities." This social relation underlies value and the commodity
> form.
> ---------------
> paul writes
> Sure, if you have a planned allocation of labour and no private producers
> you
> no longer have commodity production, but if Marx's scheme in the critique
> of the Gotha program is write you still have to calculate in terms of
> embodied
> labour and use quantities of embodied labour in the distribution of the
> product.
> -----------Howard
> That is, what Engels is saying is that before people produced independently
> and after they produce independently, the value form will simply not be a
> relevant category for conducting a social and economic calculation.
> ------------
> Paul
> What is the value form?
> It is the way that embodied labour is represented in the use value of
> another commodity in an exchange. If the socially nessessary labour time
> is made evident as an explicit number of hours, this is naked value, value
> no longer hiding behind a form.
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