[OPE] Reply to critics

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Oct 04 2010 - 03:59:21 EDT

This discussion is just whacky. The entire edifice of Captal Volume 3 is
based on the idea that a mass of surplus-value already exists prior to
exchange, simply because a mass of surplus labour has been worked, a basic
reality which is a determinant of the mass of profit from production which
can be distributed. If that is not the case, however we might decide to
specify its operational meaning, the theory lacks any explanatory power, it
is just a tautological description (Jerry's speciality).

Marx argues that products have value because they are the result of social
labour effort, but the magnitude of that value can become apparent only when
we compare the trading ratios of the products. Yet if the value magnitudes
can only become apparent in trading, this does not mean that "value exists
only just because trading occurs". People know very well that products have
value, and may even have an approximate assessment of that value, quite
irrespective of whether they were traded or not, simply because it took a
known investment of labour effort to make them. They have known that and
theorised about that for tens of thousands of years at the very least. That
knowledge existed, not because of a sentimental attachment to Marx, who
wasn't even heard of, but because if you didn't know it, you could die. And
when they know they could die, people begin to think awfully quickly about
the economics of their labour, even if Marxists declare that it is
impossible because the metaphysics of value rule out that possibility. Just
because many Marxists have a deformed idea about value (since they do not
study history, anthropology, evolutionary theory and archeology, but just
philosophize at a whim) does not mean we should join them in their claptrap
about the concept of "value".

Of course value existed in the USSR and exists in communist society! Surplus
labour does too, but not surplus value in the bourgeois sense since property
rights are different. As I mentioned, Marx was quite explicit about that
himself. In this regard, Paul Cockshott is absolutely correct, and I agree
with him. Nothing at all can stop people from valuing their products, not
even Paul Bullock. All that can change is the valuation scheme which is
practically applied, which, as Marx himself notes, varies between different
types of societies according to property rights, customs, and the mix of
allocation methods applied.

In the USSR products were often (mostly) valued in ways which had nothing to
do with their commercial value, simply because there was no commerce, or at
least the possibility for commerce was very limited. The most frightening
thing from a bourgeois perspective was that people could build up a whole
country with factories, offices, roads, schools, hospitals etc. using
valuations which in the main had nothing to do with commercial valuations.
This is inexplicable. How could people create all these things without
private profit?

The only explanation offered by the Western Left and the Right is, that
Stalin forced workers to build all this stuff. But that explanation is just
not very credible, especially in the light of the fact that the entire might
of the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, is not even
able to organize the electricity and water supply in Iraq.

The modernization project required not just balls, but human cooperation.
Why did people cooperate in the USSR? It wasn't simply because they were
forced into it. If they couldn't be sacked, one might not even be able to
force them to work much, come to that. They cooperated very often, because
they really wanted to modernize the country and build socialism, and to
improve their existence, and they recognized the benefit of it; they
obtained benefit from it. They had that motivation, even despite the
arbitrary whims of party bureaucrats. It is just that it wasn't simply
middleclass upward mobility.

I am aware of the validity of Shannon's theory of information for computing
and related technical and scientific purposes; I see no point at all in
denying it, why should I. But I am obviously not prepared to generalise the
findings of a particular science indiscriminately to every other area of
human life, as if they apply there too without qualification. Information
management is not simply a technical matter but a social matter. I am saying
that human functioning and the human creation of meaning cannot be reduced
to computing.

If a large asteroid hit the earth, wiping out all sentient life forms, there
would be no information, because there would not be anybody around to
identify and understand it as information. The BBC just ran a clip about
beliefs in aliens from outer space in the United States, but in that case
the presumption is that the aliens would be able to recognize human
information as information - that information has the same meaning for
humans and aliens, or can be decoded as such. I may not be China Mieville,
but I don't really grok that part. What Paul Cockshott seems to be saying is
that, assuming the doomsday scenario I described, the surviving computers
would be able to communicate with each other, and thus, human beings were
after all not necessary for information to exist! He ought to get a prize
from the pope for an original contribution to theology!

What the hell is the "social net concept"? An individual enterprise does its
grossing and netting. A whole economy does its grossing and netting. The
accumulation of an individual enterprise may grow even although the
accumulation of the economy as a whole stays completely constant, or even
declines, and vice versa. I do not see at all what the problem is with this
idea, although we may dispute about how exactly the grossing and netting is
done at the micro and macro levels.

If the demand for housing increases because of population growth, reduced
acquisition costs and the expectation of capital gain, you can buy and house
and sell it for more than you bought it for. Does that mean that value of
the house has increased due to additional market demand? In price terms,
yes. The proof is that when you sell the house, you have more money in the
bank than you started out with. And even if you don't sell it, you can
realize a capital gain or borrow on the strength of it. But in a Marxian
sense, the "value" of the house is its current production cost, its current
replacement value. If that cost does not change, it is difficult to maintain
that its value has changed, other than through home improvements by the

The theorem "to produce twice as much of a commodity requires twice the
expended labour" is false, in the sense that it ignores economies of scale
in the application of labour. This is, incidentally, explicitly acknowledged
by Marx; in this he was merely refining an idea by Adam Smith. That point
doesn't invalidate his theory at all, whatever else may be wrong with it.


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Received on Mon Oct 4 04:03:09 2010

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