Re: [OPE] Value form theory 101

From: Anders Ekeland <>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 05:19:09 EST

Agreed, but I would nuance one point:

Juriaan wrote:
" Exchange only validates and renders more exact something which
already existed prior to exchange."

I think we have to add that the exchange - and the role of "social
acceptance" of the private labours under capitalism is not so
straight forward. Take the American car producers (or Volvo and Saab
in Sweden) - the private labour they have done recently and that they
are able to do in the near future - is not longer validated throught
the market - but by collective social/political support.

In the present crisis there is in many branches no longer so that
"exchange only validates and renders ore exact... what existed prior
to exchange" - the SUVs are worth less, labour is worth less, labour
power (workers, humans!) get less pay (or sacked = no pay). The
*socially accepted* "abstract labour" in a SUV is reduced, while the
real labour time is of course the same.

These facts has implications both for what kind of models we use -
and political implications:

a) Labour theory models that do not open for measuring this kind of
"waste" are at best under specified - so Marxist modelling needs to
be developed on this point.

b) The political implication is that capitalist competition has a
fundamental aspect of waste - and that opens up our minds to less
wasteful ways of organizing the economy = cooperation, networks, planning etc.

I think we have to see both sides here - they are just as real - both
the labour time going into the products and the labour time that gets
accepted. The SUV example is of course a bit extreme, but each and
every year thousands of firms go bust (some only formally, in other
cases physical capital is just wasted) - so this lack of social
acceptance is a normal part of everyday capitalism. It's the way that
the "social average labour time" is determined (fluctuating, not
fixed). A crisis is also a normal part of capitalism, in that sense
the SUV is not such an extreme example.

This tension have to be part of our mental framework and models - and
we have to answer the political question: should the US part of the
"US automotive industry" get support from the left-wing? On what
conditions? What about the workers at the Toyota plants in the US?
Should we propose to nationalize the whole industry?

I think the left has to say to the unions - you have to take care
that what you produce is socially (incl. environmentally acceptable)
- as you will have to do under socialism. Workers power is not the
least that workers care about the products they produce. Most do
already today, but mostly on an individual, too narrow basis.

But again - excellent summary of the basics of value theory!
Excellent starting point for further discussion!


At 10:23 11.12.2008, you wrote:
>That is an excellent summary Jurriaan!
>Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
>>I'm sorry Jerry, with due respect, whereas I think you are
>>perfectly entitled to your 101 value-form theory, this is not at
>>all what Marx himself argues, and I can prove that very easily with
>>chapter & verse. In brief, Marx never argued at all that "that for
>>a commodity to represent value it must have use-value and exchange-value".
>>This is also not what Geert Reuten argues in his "value form
>>theory" either, he argues that value and the labour-abstraction is
>>constituted by the exchange-relation, and he rejects a Ricardian
>>"labour-embodied theory of value". In this case, labour "takes on
>>the form" of exchangeable value within specific relations of human
>>association (Reuten uses a complicated language of "sociation" and
>>"dissociation"), but labour is not the "substance" of value in this
>>theory because there is no substance.
>>Marx himself says explicitly and specifically that a commodity has
>>a value and a use-value (utility), but for the value quality (the
>>value substance) of this commodity to become clearly and
>>quantitatively manifest, its magntiude is expressed in a specific
>>relative "form", and that form is one or another expression of
>>exchange-value, in the most developed sense, a relatively stable
>>money-price (however, although he mentions it, Marx himself does
>>not theoretically develop the "price-form" in any detail, anymore
>>than bourgeois price theory does this).
>>Marx then says "everybody knows that commodities have a common
>>money-form" but "we have to perform a task never even attempted by
>>bourgeois economics... to show the origin of [the] money-form, we
>>have to trace the development of the expression of value from its
>>simplest, almost imperceptible outline". The purpose of his
>>digression about the forms of value is to demonstrate how money
>>originates through the development of trade and is necessitated by
>>that development. It would be easy to call this a "commodity theory
>>of money" but it isn't, it is only a brief theoretical explanation
>>of the origin of money.
>>See further on this his discussion of the "value form" in Cap. 1,
>>Chapter 1, section 3 et seq. The "dual nature" of commodities is,
>>according to Marx, that they are simultaneously "objects of utility
>>and bearers of value", NOT that they observably have a use-value
>>and exchange-value - this is what Marx himself says if you care to
>>read it. In fact the very title of the ch. 1 section 1 refers
>>specifically to the "two factors of the commodity: use-value and
>>value" (NOT use-value and exchange-value, as in Marxist
>>vulgarisations). In section 2, he then shows how this duality maps
>>onto the dual character of social labour, which he regarded as one
>>of his main innovations in economic thought.
>>This whole Marxian argument however applies only if the commodity
>>is a reproducible labour-product, the value magnitude of which will
>>then get a stable form through regularised trade in it. It does not
>>apply to all assets or products, nor to all prices, and
>>consequently the "law of value" cannot be considered to rule the
>>whole economy either, that was just a fiction propagated by some
>>Marxists poets.
>>Marx argued already explicitly in his book "A contribution to the
>>Critique of Political Economy" (1859) that "This abstraction, human
>>labour in general, exists in the form of average labour which, in a
>>given society, the average person can perform, productive
>>expenditure of a certain amount of human muscles, nerves, brain,
>>etc. It is simple labour (English economists call it "unskilled
>>labour") which any average individual can be trained to do and
>>which in one way or another he has to perform. The characteristics
>>of this average labour are different in different countries and
>>different historical epochs, but in any particular society it
>>appears as something given." In Capital he repeats this exact
>>argument, and he never changed his mind about that (however he
>>never developed any critique of the political economy of skills,
>>anymore than a comprehensive critique of the forms of wage-labour
>>or the labour market).
>>In other words, Marx's argument is that in ANY society, an economy
>>of social labour-time effectively exists, shaped up by customary
>>practice, techniques & organisation, and a certain average level of
>>labour-productivity, which determines the "normal" expectations of
>>By implication, the equation of different quantities of labour-time
>>through economic exchange is NOT in fact the historical or
>>practical prerequisite for the abstract treatment of labour-time;
>>all that is required is that the magnitudes of different
>>labour-efforts in society are known, comparable and compared,
>>yielding averages indicating the known "normal" labour-time
>>associated with a task. The real prerequisite is not exchange, but
>>social labour, i.e. labour-cooperation. Exchange only validates and
>>renders more exact something which already existed prior to
>>exchange. That is where the so-called "value-form theory" goes
>>wrong, and in fact it makes socialist economic organisation
>>impossible to understand, other than as state-directed economic
>>organisation. That is where I part company with the Marxists.
>>If, for example, we study the historical records of the Roman
>>latifundia, we discover that a sophisticated economizing and
>>calculus of labour-time existed, even quite independently of the
>>economies of trade. The Roman overseers were able to calculate the
>>average labour-time associated with different tasks with
>>considerable accuracy, and consequently they could estimate that
>>you needed X number of slaves of a certain strength and skill level
>>per actus quadratus or centurium, to work the land for a certain
>>number of hours per day, at a certain maintenance cost, to obtain a
>>certain yield, assuming no unfavourable weather.
>>It is just that capitalism universalizes the abstract treatment of
>>labour-time, clearly separating out paid work from other, unpaid
>>activities; through the universal use of money and the general
>>exchangeability of labour, all forms of labour become comparable in
>>value, and can be economised on that basis. Thus, through the
>>growing sophistication of trade, an increasingly close connection
>>between the economy of labour-time and the economy of trade in
>>labour-products is achieved, enabling a fairly precise calculation
>>of unit labour-costs in money terms.
>>It is obviously possible for labour product-values and their
>>product prices to diverge, due to all sorts of causes (i.e. the
>>economy of labour-time and the economy of trade can attain a
>>relative autonomy from each other) but this according to Marx
>>occurs within definite quantitative limits, and definite modal
>>proportions nevertheless exist, for the simple reason that extreme
>>price fluctuations are irreconcilable with the social economy of
>>labour-time, manifested in the cost structure of production. For
>>example, speculation may cause the price of a barrel of oil to vary
>>between $30 and $140 or so, but if oil trades at $5 a barrel
>>long-term, the oil mining industry is likely to close down, and if
>>it costs $1000 then the world economy is likewise practically wrecked.
>>It is this sort of analysis which also helps explain how
>>multinationals can profit from international differentials in the
>>formation of social labour, and why those differentials will
>>gradually disappear with greater international market integration.
>>Why I refer to "bourgeois Marxism" is not primarily because of some
>>pejorative intent, but for the scientific reason that in such
>>theories, value is formed, created and constituted by exchange transactions.
>>Simply put, trading activity generates new value, and that is also
>>exactly how it is presented in national accounts and in the
>>textbooks. But that is precisely what Marx himself denied, he says
>>this is the prime illusion of the market, his whole argument is
>>that product-values are formed and exist prior to exchange, and
>>even irrespective of exchange, and that is how it is possible for
>>labour-exploitation in production to be profitable, even regardless
>>of all sorts of market fluctuations to which the price-form is
>>"admirably adapted" as he says. If that wasn't the case, Marx's
>>transformation procedure would indeed become a nonsense, since it
>>is predicated on the idea that a flow of new surplus value exists
>>and is produced prior to its distribution as profit, interest,
>>rent, tax, and fees.
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Received on Thu Dec 11 05:22:18 2008

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