[OPE-L:1935] Re: value-form theories

Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Thu, 16 Dec 1999 11:59:25 -0500 (EST)

This is a reply to Chris' 1909 and 1889 (Chris, thanks very much).

1. Chris, I am of course very glad that you agree with me that the
equation P = mL expresses Marx's theory of the relation between abstract
labor and prices, i.e. that abstract labor exists as a separate entity and
determines prices.

It seems to me that this is a significant difference between you and R-W,
who seem to deny that abstract labor exists as a separate entity and
determines prices, in the sense of the above equation. Hence, in this
case, the label "value-form" is misleading, in that it obscures a
fundamental difference between these two versions of the "value-form"

2. I agree with you that it is important to "ground" this equation, i.e.
to explain why abstract labor must necessarily appear as prices, or to
explain why abstract labor is the only possible determinant of prices.
In another post (1889), you mention that Marx's only argument along these
lines is a "Smithian" argument that Marx "exasperatedly advanced" in an
letter to Kugelmann: that abstract labor must be expressed as prices
because that is the way private labor is regulated in a commodity economy.

Marx also made this same argument, in a much more complete and less
exasperated form, in Section 4 of Chapter 1 on the "fetishism of
commodities. Marx argued that the fetishism of commodities (according
to which commodities appear to possess value as a natural property,
independent of the labor that produced them) arises in commodity economies
because of the peculiar indirect way in which labor is regulated in
commodity economies. In non-commodity economies, which Marx briefly
reviews (Robinson Crusoe, feudalism, peasant families, "association of
free men"), labor is regulated consciously and directly in terms of
labor-hours. Labor does not have to be expressed indirectly as prices in
order to be regulated through prices, and hence the products of labor do
not appear to have value as a natural property. But in commodity
economies in which there is no conscious, direct regulation of labor,
labor must be expressed as prices as the only way in which private labor
can be socially regulated. Hence the fetishism arises.

Marx noted toward the end of Section 4:

        Political economy has indeed analyzed value and its magnitude,
        however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed
        within these forms. BUT IT HAS NEVER ONCE ASKED THE
        PARTICULAR FORM, that is to say, why labor is expressed in
        value, and why the measurement of labor by its duration is
        expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product.
        (Vintage edition, pp. 173-74)

Marx's answer to this question, it is clear from Section 4, is the
peculiar way in which private labor is regulated in commodity economies.
This is at least part of Marx's "grounding" of his equation of price

3. Chris argues that the necessity to express labor as prices is
"superseded when we have capitalism because now it is capital's drive for
valorisation that is the central fact" (1889).

I would argue that the necessity to regulate social labor through prices
is not superseded in capitalism; commodity-producing labor is immediately
unregulated private labor, which can be regulated only through prices.
Prices still serve the function of regulating social labor, but in an
indirect and distorted way through the distribution of capital, which is
itself regulated through the equalisation of profit rates, which
ultimately depends on prices. I think Rubin (Ch. 18) is good on this

4. I would also argue that Marx provided additional "grounding" of his
equation of price determination in Section 1 of Chapter 1 (exchange of
equivalents, necessity of a common property, abstract labor as the common
property). There is of course much controversy over the adequacy of
Marx's arguments in Chapter 1, including on OPEL (which I would not like
to revisit right now, but would like to one of these days), but as I have
argued on OPEL, I think that Marx's arguments in Section 1 are basically

5. Also in the same latter to Kugelmann mentioned above (July 11, 1868),
Marx argued that, even if there were no arguments in Chapter 1 to support
the assumption that prices are determined by labor, the real "proof" of
the validity of this assumption is the explanatory power of this
assumption that is demonstrated in the rest of the book, i.e the wide
range of important phenomena that are explained on the basis of this
assumption (inherent technological change, conflict over the working day
and over the intensity of labor, falling rate of profit, recurring crises,

        Even if there were no chapter on "value" in my book, the analysis
        of the real relations which I give would contain the proof and
        demonstration of the real value relations. All that palavar about
        the necessity of proving the concept of value comes from complete
        ignorance both of the subject dealt with and of scientific method.

6. So I would argue that Marx himself provided sufficient "grounding" for
his equation of price determinatioin.

Chris does not think Marx's arguments are sufficient, and wants to add an
additional argument for the necessity of labor as the determinant of
prices, that has to do with labor's subjugation under capital in
capitalist production.

I applaud Chris' general effort. I think it would be helpful to provide
further "grounding" of the "labor theory of value." As I remember (and
I don't have the time to look it up right now), I have not been entirely
convinced by Chris' argument. But I would be happy to be convinced.
I just don't think the additional argument is necessary.

I look forward very much to further discussion.


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