[OPE] Value form theory 101

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Dec 14 2008 - 03:59:41 EST


I am sorry, I am not sure what you are going on about. The central idea of "value form theory" is that value and abstract labor are constituted by capitalist exchange, and do not exist in any other way independently from it.

This is irrefutably a quite different idea from Marx's own idea, as I've demonstrated numerous times; labour-products, according to him, have value, because it took social labour-time to produce them, and any society according to him operates with notions of "general, average labour", i.e. with a valuation and norms of "labour-time in general", the customary economy of labour-time. It is just that money and clocks can make this all much more precise.

Few commodities fail to be sold eventually, even if they are sold below their value, but if they really don't sell absolutely, there are different possibilities - since they turn out to have no exchange-value, they could be stored (they still have a value, although currently no exchange-value) or they are destroyed (in which case value is destroyed).

At any time, the bulk of products of human labour, including products offered for sale, are not in fact being traded - they are either being used or maintained or being stored. But this does not mean they do not have a value, or a real or potential exchange value, they do. If that wasn't the case, people wouldn't economize them, but waste them (some products may be wasted anyway, but that is not the rule).

It is true that Marx says that the attribute of value is a purely "social" characteristic of commodities, but they have that characteristic, because they are the product of social labour, and not because of exchange. Exchange and trade cannot "validate" this social characteristic, if that social characteristic did not already exist. Indeed Marx aims to show, precisely, that value is produced and conserved external to exchange.

The main thing I have noticed in your comments about this, across ten years or more, is that you habitually mix up the forms and substance (content) of value, and by implication mix up relations of production with relations of exchange.

What I find confusing is that many Marxists claiming adherence to Marx's theory commit the most elementary, simple mistakes in rendering his theory, and that's another reason for wanting to distinguish sharply between Marx and Marxism.

Value-form theorists want to retain a "sociological phenomenology of exchange" from Marx, but they abandon the substantive content of Marx's theory of value, on the ground that it cannot explain prices and is internally incoherent (Marx of course was not concerned with "all" prices, but with the prices of new labour-products, with the creation and distribution of new wealth). Well the value-form theorists can do that, maybe it has a radical flavour, but it just doesn't yield any consistent theory of value, and it leads to all sorts of weird ideas about economic history and about socialist economics, in other words it makes it impossible to understand where the concept of economic value comes from, and under what conditions it would disappear.

This is not a purely scholastic issue, because it has real consequences for people's lives if it becomes a policy. A lot of economic ruination can indeed result if policymakers seek to impose a crackpot "theory of value" on the allocation of resources.


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Received on Sun Dec 14 04:02:03 2008

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