Re: [OPE] Understanding Value

From: Michael Heinrich <>
Date: Sat Apr 25 2009 - 05:06:40 EDT

Dear Juriaan,

your statement, that value "has nothing to do with exchange processes"
is a serious position, which can be discussed. But when you state, that
this is Marx's "real view", then we should read Marx and check if things
are really so simple that this Marx's position and everyone who doesn't
share this view has misunderstood Marx.

Marx starts his analysis in the first chapter of "Capital" with the
exchange relation of commodities and asks what the exchanged commodities
have in common. Therefore exchange is always presupposed in his
analysis. That we cannot speak of "value" (distinct from use-value)
outside exchange relations, Marx also stresses in the section on
commodity fetishism, where he wrote

"It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire a
socially uniform objectivity as values, which is distinct from their
sensuously varied objectivity as articles of utility." (Capital, vol. I,
p. 166, Penguin).

To stress this point doesn't mean, as you suppose, that "value arises
out of the exchange". Exchange is not the source of value. It is
abstract labour which creates value. But abstract labour itself is not
identical with the concrete labour a certain individual has spent in
production, abstract labour is already a certain social determination of
labour. The value-creating process is not a process which happens only
between man and nature outside any social determination. This process is
a special social process, which takes place only under certain social
conditions. The production of use-values is a condition of human life,
the production of value only happens in societies based on exchange. As
if Marx had foreseen such interpretations as yours, he states in the
third volume of "Capital"

"No producer considered in isolation produces a value or commodity,
neither the industrialist nor the agriculturalist. His product becomes a
value and a commodity only in a specific social context. Firstly, in so
far as it appears as an expression of social labour, and therefore his
own labour-time appears as a part of the general social labour-time;
secondly, where this social character of his labour appears as a social
character impressed on his product, in its money character and its
general exchangeability as determined by its price." (Capital, vol. III,
p. 777, Penguin).


Jurriaan Bendien schrieb:
> Hi Howard,
> Thank you for your interpretation, but allow me to say that I happen
> to think this is not quite what Marx believed, and also, that it is
> not a coherent theory. You say for example:
> "Value exists because persons or productive entities independently
> produce products useless to them as part of the social division of
> labor. Market exchange is a consequence."
> Briefly put, I think Marx's real view is more like this:
> "Products have value in the economic sense because the material
> reality is, that it took human work effort to make them and procure
> them, and they are economized socially on that basis. In bourgeois
> society, however, value takes specific forms which are characteristic
> of that kind of society, and which are all derived from the most
> elementary structures of traded objects."
> That is to say, the existence of value as such (an sich, im
> allgemeinen) has ipso facto nothing to do with exchange processes,
> although, in common (vulgar) parlance, value is most often equated
> with exchange-value. Instead, the category of economic value arises
> out of human labor, and the necessity for human labor.
> That thesis, is precisely what the socialistic valueform theorists
> deny - they side with the bourgeois theorists, and argue that value
> arises out of exchange, and consequently that "economic activity" is
> properly defined as "trading activity", in other words, that economics
> = commerce (making money from trade).
> The effect of that denial by the socialistic valueform theorists is
> that there is no meaningful distinction anymore between values and
> money-prices, except that talking about values can convey a certain
> critical evaluation or an interpretation of the meaning of price
> phenomena. You can sort of sermonize about value and commerce as an
> evil, corruptive force and so on. It becomes impossible to construct a
> dynamic theory of production prices, market values and the levelling
> out of industrial profit rates, because the very basis of that theory
> is, that value movements and price movements occur autonomously of
> each other, even although they influence each other. The centrepiece
> of that theory is value-price deviations, but if value and price are
> the same thing, there can be no deviations.
> The advantage of adopting what I think is Marx's real view, rather
> than the socialistic valueform theorists or bourgeois theorists' view,
> is that it is very consistent with anthropological, archaeological and
> historical research findings, which show very clearly that the value
> of products was practically assumed by people even when there was no
> bourgeois market, and that a very good understanding existed of the
> normal work effort required to make or replace products, even although
> there was no market, or only the most rudimentary market
> relationships. Products had value, simply because people knew jolly
> well what it required to replace them, and they acted according to
> that assumption in organising everyday life.
> The core of Marx's interpretation of the law of value is, that
> exchange value is in the last instance regulated and determined
> (bestimmt) by value. But this idea makes no sense at all, if value and
> exchange value are considered to be more or less the same thing.
> The point about the economic value of products is, that it is "a
> quality which is quantifiable", you can have more or less amounts of
> it, but this actually corresponds closely to human labor-time, which
> has exactly the same characteristic. Value exists an an objective
> characteristic in the first instance not because of the
> exchangeability of the product, but because the product cost a certain
> amount of a community's work effort to produce, procure and replace.
> Jurriaan
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Received on Sat Apr 25 05:08:46 2009

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