RE: [OPE] question re published letters Engels

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Tue May 12 2009 - 04:25:24 EDT

My response: I don't think the issue is the persistence of simple forms of
commodity exchange associated with a semi private peasant economy at all.
When Marx analyzed commodity production as resting on the production of
useful objects by independent labors as part of the social division of
labor, he analyzed the commodity form both in its simple and fully developed
forms. The question is whether producers who depend on one another carry
out production independently. The implication of the persistence of
purchase and sale for money in the USSR or Bulgaria is that they did. That
is, enterprise autonomy persisted, and forms of social coordination did not
sufficiently override the need for market forms of product comparison,
regardless of the forms of juridical ownership.


Hypothetically that could be the case, but I am not sure that what you say actually fits the historical circumstances that well.
1. Remember that collective farms are still an independent private form of production, so that the official soviet position put forward by Stalin had some realism.
2. In the case of Bulgaria, where state farms were much more predominant, with in fact a form of organisation more similar to the communes in China prevailing in agriculture, the situation in terms of property relations was actually different from that in the USSR. 
3. On the point of market validation, you have to take into account the fact that prices were not arrived at by the normal operation of the market but were administered ones. Thus part of the role of the market as a feedback mechanism had been replaced by deliberate political decisions.
Again on th point of market validation, recall that in the state sector in the USSR money no longer functioned as
a universal means of purchase. Having cash was not necessarily sufficient for an enterprise to acquire inputs
if the enterprise did not also have a planned allocation of the input.
The official position was that money was money of account used as a means of measuring achievement
of plan targets. One can not read Kantorovichs proposals with respect to prices without understanding this.
However I feel that I need a much more detailed knowledge of the details of Soviet and Bulgarian planning
regulations and day to day enterprise practice to get a grip on exactly how far this was the case.
I had hoped that this was the sort of concrete research that Bettleheim would have done.
I think that the fundamental reason for retaining monetary calculation not labour time calculation was that
were they to shift to the latter  they would have had to confront issues relating to the sexual division of
labour and male female pay differentials much more head on.
Related to this would be a certain amount of issues relating to differentials for skilled labour, but 
in the USSR of the Breznev period, I get the impression that this was less significant than gender 
pay differentials.
  The same point goes to your
suggestion that you might have said "defetishized."  Fetishism emerges
because autonomous labor is at the same time social labor.  You can't
defetishize unless you overcome that contradiction.
That's briefly.  I appreciated your comments on Bettelheim posted in the
link to the Indian edition of your book, and I'll have more to say along
these lines in addressing that directly.
But I first I thought I could raise some questions in terms of the broader
issues developed below by looking at a few pages of the Grundrisse, roughly
Nicolaus, 704-712 (or v. 29, 90-98).  I'll use another post for that.
howard engelskirchen
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Monday, May 11, 2009 5:06 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE] question re published letters Engels
> 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.
>>  _______________________________________________
>> ope mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> ope mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list
ope mailing list
ope mailing list
Received on Tue May 12 04:29:44 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun May 31 2009 - 00:00:03 EDT