Re: [OPE] Understanding value (reply to Michael Heinrich)

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 10:43:35 EDT

> You say "So the labour that went into the building of the UK, or Russian
> energy infrastructure when it was publicly owned was not an accumulation of
> embodied labour and thus of value?"
> When UK nationalised industries built the power grid the whole process was
> carried out capitalistically, with sales prices moderated by legal stricture
> ( since immitated by Privatised Corps practice of providing cheaper inputs
> to fellow capitalists and squeezing the ordinary consumer).

I anticipated that you might object to this which is why I mentioned
that Russian as well as the UK ones.
> The purpose of a socialist society is to remove the operation of the law of
> value, and replace it with simple politica/moral choices about the
> allocation of labour ( given its levels of productivity etc). The suspension
> of the 'law of value' is already quite correctly seen in the first drafts of
> the Venezuelan Constitution, so I don't feel stuck with 'Victorianism' at
> all. We canot allow the notions of 'equal' exchange to shape the future.
But this issue of exchange is at the key to the discussion. Jurrian is
contesting, and I
agree with him, that value does not depend on exchange but on the
expenditure of
social labour.

Your passage above is ambiguous. What do you mean by the 'law of value'?

> PB
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
> To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
> Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 10:51 AM
> Subject: Re: [OPE] Understanding value (reply to Michael Heinrich)
>> Paul Bullock wrote:
>>> Jurriaan,
>>> you say... 'The whole edifice of Das Kapital is erected on the
>>> foundational premise that value is created and conserved by living human
>>> labour prior to, and independently of, exchange'. But as you know Marx
>>> recognised that if this value was not socially recognised, not purchased
>>> as a commodity, then it was valueless, ie a dead loss of effort, a waste,
>>> socially invalid, ( Vol 3 ) You seem to be suggesting that there can be
>>> a social substance without social form and process
> .
>> This seems uncharacteristically charitable to capitalism on your part
>> Paul.
>> What if due to a failing of the credit system there is insufficient credit
>> to purchase a large part of the social product. Is that product really
>> valueless or is it merely that the capitalist economy is unable to give
>> that value
>> monetary representation?
>> If we restrict our definitions of underlying categories to the transitory
>> conditions of particular economic conjunctures our political economy
>> can end up loosing some of its critical edge.
>>> Exchange is fundamental : labour power is itself exchanged for a wage,
>>> an act of class coercion that predicates the activity of value creation
>>> for private use. It is simply inconceivable to regard the process of
>>> value accumulation without exchange, without the privately performed
>>> (indirectly social) labour being recognised as social. Without sale,
>>> without the realisation of surplus labour as profit, any accumulation of
>>> value cannot exist.
>> So the labour that went into the building of the UK, or Russian energy
>> infrastructure when it was publicly owned was not an accumulation of
>> embodied labour and thus of value?
>> Did the value suddenly spring into being when it was privatised.
>>> Of course abstract human labour, social labour performed
>>> capitalistically, is the substance of value.... but it has to be
>>> exchanged to be proved to be social, and to act as the basis for further
>>> accumulation of value. Why do you want to go to the other extreme of the
>>> position you find in the 'value form' school ? If you stick with your
>>> apparent position you treat value as a scholastic conception.
>> Jurrian will have the conceptual tools to deal with 20th Century and
>> probably 21st century society -- where the economies were, and probably
>> will be, combinations of capitalist and socialist modes of production,
>> whereas you will be stuck with an idealised representation of Victorian
>> England.
>>> Paul Bullock
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> *From:* Jurriaan Bendien <>
>>> *To:* Outline on Political Economy mailing list
>>> <>
>>> *Sent:* Sunday, April 26, 2009 7:07 PM
>>> *Subject:* [OPE] Understanding value (reply to Michael Heinrich)
>>> Michael,
>>> Thanks for your comment. I will try to explain my view of the
>>> matter briefly and simply, admitting that Marx's exposition is not
>>> always fully consistent. Marx evidently thought, that products have
>>> value, because it took
>>> labour to produce/procure/replace them.
>>> Value-form Marxists argue, by contrast, that products have value,
>>> because they are subject to exchange.
>>> This does not make Marx a "minor post-Ricardian"; contrary to
>>> value-form theory, Marx himself distinguished carefully between
>>> the substance and forms of value, and he explicates those forms
>>> and the social relations behind them at great length. In the
>>> process, he begins to develop a social theory of bourgeois society
>>> as a whole.
>>> The whole edifice of Das Kapital is erected on the foundational
>>> premise that value is created and conserved by living human
>>> labour prior to, and independently of, exchange.
>>> It would therefore be quite inconsistent for Marx to argue, that
>>> value exists "because" of exchange, "as a result of" exchange. And
>>> in fact he doesn't - he argues only, that whereas human labour
>>> materially objectifies value in the products it produces, exchange
>>> socially objectifies and standardizes the expression of the value
>>> of products.
>>> Putting this into simple equations:
>>> Material objectification of value by production labour: X amount
>>> of labour = Y amount of product A
>>> Social objectification of value by exchange: X amount
>>> of commodity A = Y amount of commodity B
>>> For the sake of argument and a bit satirically, Marx actually
>>> discusses how the isolated Robinsoe Crusoe allocates his worktime
>>> and products, concluding explicitly that the relations between
>>> Robinson and his products, even in this imaginary story, already
>>> "contain all the essential determinants of value." (p. 170). Thus,
>>> the roots of value are in labour itself.
>>> According to value-form theory, this cannot possibly be correct
>>> (after all, there is no exchange on Crusoe's island at all),
>>> nevertheless Marx does say it.
>>> As regards your first quote from Vol. 1: the fact that, by being
>>> exchanged regularly, product-values acquire a "socially uniform"
>>> objectivity, does not imply at all that product values did not
>>> already objectively exist prior to exchange; because actually the
>>> products really did cost a quantity of social labour to produce,
>>> whether exchanged or not, even if idealist academics forget that.
>>> All that regular exchange achieves, is just that the cost
>>> implications for their production are clearer, that the valuation
>>> of the local labour-costs and the socially average labour-costs
>>> are more precisely compared, and that an average standard
>>> valuation is eventually established for a society or region, which
>>> exists irrespective of local labour costs.
>>> Valueform theory says that value is unique to capitalism, but in
>>> fact in the text to which your refer, Marx himself emphasizes
>>> explicitly that the dual valuation of commodities and the dual
>>> valuation of social labour do not arise out of capitalism, but
>>> emerge in any kind of regular production of products intended for
>>> exchange. Actually, in the Contribution to the Critique of
>>> Political Economy (1859) he had already made this point explicit.
>>> The valueform theorists therefore get it wrong.
>>> The treatment of the product of labour as having a value and a
>>> use-value which are clearly separable and independent of each
>>> other, powerfully developed by trading products, does not mean,
>>> that they did not have those qualities already before they were
>>> being exchanged. Those characteristics did not drop out of the
>>> air. Indeed Marx discusses value and use-value before he discusses
>>> the development of the value-form.
>>> Producers knew very well all along, that a certain normal
>>> labour-cost was associated with a product, quite independently of
>>> the practical utility of the product (obviously they would not
>>> even produce the product, if they thought it was completely
>>> useless and worthless to do so) - it is just that with the
>>> development of trade, this fact acquires an additional objective
>>> significance, since useless goods fail to trade, and unfavourable
>>> terms of trade mean more additional work.
>>> As regards your second quote, Marx there very explicitly
>>> distinguishes two conditions in the formation of products as
>>> values: firstly, in an absolute sense, the producer's work effort
>>> "appears as a fraction of the general social labour-time", which
>>> however in principle does not presuppose any exchange; secondly,
>>> in a relative sense, this social labour is expressed in the
>>> general exchangeability of the product of that labour. The
>>> valueform theorists either ignore the first condition, or else
>>> they falsely argue that the first condition grows out of the
>>> second , but in so doing, they turn Marx upside down, and reify
>>> his theory. The end result of all that is, that the valueform
>>> theorists cannot conceive of any socialism other than a
>>> Lassalean-type social-democratic state-socialism or an anarchist
>>> chaos or a Tobin tax.
>>> Marx's argument in this excerpt from Cap. Vol. 3 you cite is that
>>> the landowner's appropriation of surplus value as ground-rent
>>> increases "without any effort on his part" (p.776) so that it
>>> seemed to the Scottish political economist Mr Patrick Dove that
>>> agricultural productivity itself has nothing directly to do with
>>> that result - rather, the increase in value seemed to be a
>>> function of an output valuation which is determined by the (growth
>>> of the) non-agricultural population. Marx then comments "it is
>>> also true to say for any other product [than agrarian
>>> product] that it only develops as a commodity with the volume and
>>> diversity of the series of commodities that form equivalents for
>>> it. We have already shown this in our general presentation of
>>> value" etc. (Capital, vol. III, p. 777, Penguin). Then follows the
>>> passage which you cite. Marx's general point is, that the
>>> specificity of the appropriation of capitalist ground rent in
>>> agriculture should not be confused with the more general
>>> determinations of value and surplus-value. It's an argument about
>>> the forms of value, not its substance.
>>> Jurriaan
>>> PS - I'm on holiday for two weeks.
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