[OPE] The heart of the commodity?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Mon Oct 04 2010 - 12:23:59 EDT

Jerry wrote:

The difference (or, more accurately, one of the differences) between Marx
you on this issue is that for Marx use-value, value, and exchange-value are
constituent aspects of the commodity. To talk about value existing
of the commodity is like talking about a functioning human heart existing
independently of humans.

Two things:

1) I've never denied that a commodity has a use-value, value and
exchange-value. In fact, I have added, like Marx, that a commodity also has
a price, and not just one price, but many different prices depending on how
it happens to be valued, and in what context.

2) I do not argue that value exists independently of the commodity, I have
argued (a) that a product of human labour has value irrespective of whether
it happens to be a commodity or not; or, if it is a commodity, (b) that this
value exists irrespective of whether the commodity is sold or not.

As regards (a) how that value happens to be construed is entirely dependent
on the nature of the given society, it may just be defined by custom, and
have nothing whatever to do with valuations of a product typical in
bourgeois society. It is absurd to argue that the ancient Babylonians did
not attach value to their products. I think you can probably prove from the
written records available that, as far as they were concerned, that value
was quite objective, to the extent that they jolly well knew that it
represented a quantity of labour effort, and that they would be unlikely to
exchange it for another object that had only 0.01% of its value; that would
be quite an unwise trade in the normal run of events, unless, perhaps, they
attached a magical or religious value to that possible candidate for
exchange. In fact, I think you would be able to prove that they didn't
attach such a magical or religious value to products of which you could
produce hundreds in a day. Such value would be attached to objects which
took a great deal of care and effort to produce. As Engels mentioned, people
in precapitalist societies weren't as stupid or "primitive" as you might
think. They figured out their circumstances pretty well, irrespective of
whatever deity they might have had. If I have referred to the "objective
representation of value" in the commodity in my translation in my previous
post, i.e. the Wertgegenstandlichkeit, this is merely to say that the
"value" does not refer to the labour effort that it takes to make that
particular commodity, but the value of commodities of that type, relative to
other commodities.

As regards (b), a commodity can be sold, as Marx says, above or below its
value, and that is precisely the critical problem in capitalist competition,
since, if a commodity is sold vastly below its value, then, unless the
producers are supremely competitive (i.e. they can achieve minimally the
average rate of profit on production capital even at that sale price), they
are trading the commodity for less than it is really worth, and they forfeit
part of the profit they could potentially get. This concept makes absolutely
no sense at all, if the value of the commodity is only "realized" at the
point of sale. The whole point is that the value "realized" may be more or
less, than both: (i) the value of the labour effort actually implicated in
making it, and (ii) the average or modal value for that sort of commodity.
Given that you have the constraints of turnover and cashflow in running your
business, then in an unfavourable situation you may indeed decide to sell at
a less advantageous price, because if you didn't, you would incur a greater
loss. That is capitalist rationality. But this rationality would not even be
rational, unless you were convinced that the commodity had a certain value
before even selling it.

When comrade Levy waxes about "value existing independently of the commodity
is like talking about a functioning human heart existing independently of
humans", he is making an error. Namely, a commodity does not have a heart,
and the analogy is false. The point of Marx's discussion is precisely that
human beings have hearts, but commodities don't, and we should as human
beings be able to make that distinction correctly, at least if we are to
look ourselves in the face and recognize each other as human beings. Sex
workers for example have a heart, and that heart can be broken, even
although their clients may blithely regard them as a piece of meat, as just
a commodity for their consumption. You wouldn't want to try that approach in
Amsterdam where I live, you are likely to get short shrift, or what-for.

And thus, I am really inclined to regard Jerry's discourse about the
commodity as a "come-oddity", with a quip to the Irish.


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Received on Mon Oct 4 12:29:17 2010

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