Re: [OPE-L] Why aren't non-labourers sources of value? cost

From: Andrew Brown (A.Brown@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Fri Apr 15 2005 - 11:55:36 EDT

Hi Chris and all,
Only able to add some points of clarification --hopefully proper reply later.
Fundamental point: *both* trans-historical and historical theory is necessary to understand value and capital. To discuss trans-historical aspects (like the trans-historical notion of 'labour') is not to deny this, very far from it. I would agree, of course, that the historical moment is the most fundamental. But to *fail* to discuss trans-historical aspects is simply to leave them as unexamined presuppositions in historical theory and therefore likely to trip up that theory. I have come to the view that Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics is lacking at the trans-historical level.  
Relatedly, a 'social relations' approach cannot, in my view, be anything other than a materialist approach: one cannot split social relations form materiality, especially not from social labour.
Annotated clarifications:
Chris wrote ' I dispute any
approach to value theory starting from what is present in any society. '
I reply: 'Starting' is ambiguous (e.g. Banaji has three historical starting points). All I do is *recognise* and *develop* concepts at the trans-historical level. Concepts like 'mode of production' -- the very concept that Marx offers us in the first sentence of 'Capital'. If you like I am unpacking a little what this concept must mean. Surely no disagreement possible on this procedure?
Chirs write: 'You
are simply wrong about this 'cost'. Peasants have a saying 'Time costs
nothing'.  Only capital is interested in time becausde  the form of the
circuit of accumulation requires measure in a rate over time. Intuitively
one might think all socieiites worry about effort but that is not the same
as time because it would include intensity and unpleasantness etc. etc. But
in any case as Marx said, for UV questions using up resources is also a

I reply: You misundertand me. I explicitly *agreed* with Nicky that pre-capitalist societies did not themselves 'worry about' labour-time. If you agree that any society has, somehow, to determine 'social labour' then you are going to be hard pushed not to agree that the quantitative aspect of 'social labour' is SNLT (this includes 'intensity' btw), whether anyone recognises it or not, and whether this quantitative aspect has a great influence or a small one. It is quite true -- indeed absolutely cruicial to emphasise -- that even the theorist doesn't have to 'worry about' the quantitative aspect of social labour too much for pre-capitalist societies, because as we we all know the quantitative costing of labour time simply doesn't occur (costs are not generally reckoned in price terms) except in capitalism. That is, the whole quantitaitve side of 'social labour' becomes perversely detached and dominant (only) under capitalism. It is here where we have to examine the quantitative aspect closely. As we proceed through the three volumes of 'Capital' the quantitative aspect become more and more well specified and less and less resembles the trans-historical concept of 'SNLT' -- however, one cannot grasp the crucial specifics unless one recognises the general aspects to begin with. Thus I think you are quite right to emphasise that SNLT turns out to be *exploitation* time once we grasp 'capital' but this does not mean the Marx's earlier arguments re. SNLT and value are wrong (or that we should no longer use the concept of SNLT).

Chris wrote:

>Then the inversion of capitalism turns  embodied  labour into
>congealed  abstract labour and it is obvious that SNLT is its measure.
>This often tends to be denied in systematic dialectics despite, for
>example, Chris s excellent  Dialectics of Labour  from which I draw
>quite a lot (e.g. labour as concrete universal).

Oops - wrong reference: that it title of my book on alienation. correct
reference is Dialectics and Labour


Chris wrote:

 >Am much closer to Chris than others on these matters   perhaps my
differences with Chris stem more from other aspects such as the basics of
materialist dialectics whereby exchange value is clear evidence of a power
and hence *must* have a material grounding.

You are only formally close to me in that we both retain determination by
SNLT but for yu this comes apriori out of your ahistorical point above, 


I reply: Hope you can see that your interpretation of me is very wrong? SNLT has a trans-historical aspect because 'social labour' does. But, if we are talking -- as we should be -- about determination of *value* then we have to combine trans-historical with historical level concepts. Or better, we have to grasp how the historical concepts are specific develoments of the trans-historical ones.  It would be ridicuolous to just rely on trans-historical concepts in order to grasp a historical category like 'value'. At the same time, the notion of a 'purely historical' concept -- one that has no trans-historical aspects -- is absurd.

Chris wrote 'for
me it comes from the form of capital and the form of the capital relation.
As you rightly say I reject the inference from your materialist dialectic
abour real powers. Precisely because of the inversion of abstract and
concrete it is possible to have empty forms. I have never understood how
you deal with 'honour and conscience' - is the sale of these evidence of a
material power? Generally I think it is impermissable for LTV simply to
note that 'other things' have a price form. This is precisely what must be
explained, and I explian it and then ask under what circumstances might it
be right to argue some of these prices have material grounds.'

Perhaps you come to the view that I somehow can't explain them because you tend to interpret my view as *either* opposite to yours *or* the same (and perhaps my own presentation is at fault here?). I argue that exchange value is the form of value but that this entails value being reflected in its own opposite (use value) - this positively invites 'empty forms'. I simply do not have any great problem here with empty forms, rather I explicitly explain them in a way which is simlar to yours in some respects. Quantitatively, this entails that there is unlikely to be strict proportionality between SNLT and price magnitude, but it seems just silly to me to argue that such strict proportionality holds at the level of real-concrete market prices (a level that is much, much more concrete than that of Capital Vol 3)

I agree with your own and Nicky's *emphasis* on the capital relation but not with your rejection of Marx's perfectly correct argument on value that precedes discussion of the capital relation.

Many thanks,


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