Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist society

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Wed Sep 01 2010 - 20:16:48 EDT

Hi Jerry,

But we don't get to use any definition we want if we are to approach the
question scientifically. Definition is a way we pick out features of the
world and for a materialist it is the things of the world that determine
meaning, not the reverse. For example, we don't make up definitions of
water, you with one, Dave Z with another, and someone else with another. We
say water is H2O and mean by this to give expression to and to refer to its
causal structure, a causally efficacious molecular structure. This accounts
for what water is, how it behaves and accounts also for the information we
have about it. Also, plainly water can exist before we understand or are
able to give a reliably precise expression to its causal structure.

If we agree that our definitions refer to things of the world then we
disagree about the way we understand the world, not about how we use words.

I think these lessons apply to the decisive features of social life as well
as to things like water or quarks or biological entities. Marxism is a
naturalism. We use the word 'value' to pick out a causal structure of
social life and offer a so to speak molecular definition in an attempt to
establish the properties that account for what it is and how it behaves and
for the information we have about it.

So then you must specify what your definition is and how the reference
targeted by it is the same as that which served to ground of Marx's science
or, alternatively, explain your different definition by arguing that the
thing Marx gives as value's 'differentia specifica' has been revealed by
later experience or learning to be inadequate and why the different
definition offered is more adequate to express the actual properties of the
targeted structure.

Marx is pretty clear that the social relation that gives rise to value, its
H2O comparable configuration, is a social structure constituted by
independent producers who produce independently for private exchange; they
produce use values that are to them useless. See section 2 of Capital's
first chapter. This causal structure, which necessarily provokes exchange,
is not unique to capitalism but pre dates it. What is significant about
capitalism is that with its emergence labor power is produced by an
independent producer who produces independently for private exchange (labor
power is produced as a use value useless to its producer) and at that point
the social relation of value generalizes and it becomes, bit by bit, the
dominant form within which the product of labor is produced. Thus there is
a full flowering of all tendencies implicit within it in germ. In
precapitalist social forms, by contrast, where the separation of productive
entities exists, the causal force of value's tendencies begins to operate
but features of it can be blocked or overridden by other structures of
social life (in spite of gravity, airplanes fly). Hierarchy and rank for
example can override the tendency for things of equal value to exchange.
But the relation is reciprocal - where the social structure that accounts
for value exists, this functions corrosively in any hierarchical society by
tending to undermine relations of subordination and subjugation. It does so
in our own.


----- Original Message -----
From: "GERALD LEVY" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2010 3:31 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist

>> Yes, but then to Paul's earlier question -- do these specific,
>> historically-constituted, social relations associated with value pre date
>> capitalism?
> Hi Howard:
> I would say no. But, it really depends on _which_ social relations you
> think are necessarily associated with value. And, of course, it depends on
> the definitions you use - e.g. Dave Z's definition of abstract labor
> (which, for him, existed in pre-capitalist modes of production) is
> distinct from that which I am using.
>> I want to return to the question on abstraction raised during the summer
>> and
>> will get to it in the next days.
>> I had a moment on Penobscot Bay and thought of you sailing.
> As it happens, I'll be leaving the boat and returning to the City later
> today. :-( My first class of the semester is tomorrow. I spent several
> weeks this summer cruising in Penobscot Bay. Beautiful area - along with
> the rest of coastal Maine. Towards the end of July I took OPE-Ler Bruce
> Roberts and Susan Feiner out on the boat. At the moment I'm fretting about
> the projected path of Hurricane Earl - which is too close to where my boat
> is for comfort.
> In solidarity, Jerry
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list

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Received on Wed Sep 1 20:17:57 2010

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