Abstract labor vs. concrete labor?

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Rabbit
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Apr 10 2011 20:21
waslax wrote:
Well, you are planning to make that exchange with someone else, right? What if that person doesn't agree with the rate of exchange you propose? Maybe they want more from you than you are offering. The exchange must be mutually agreeable. So there needs to be some 'neutral' factor common to both items that both parties can agree on.

I understand that the exchange rate is negotiated. If the other party doesn't agree with my rate of exchange, we can negotiate further, or break off the deal. And I agree that, by definition of 'commodity', labour time is common to all commodities. What I don't get is, why must labour be the common denominator that the exchange is based on? Why can't use-value be the common denominator?

For instance: I can imagine an exchange between two people in which neither know anything about how the goods were produced (their abstract labour). In order to exchange, theoretically, all they need is the framework "I want what you have, you want what I have." In this case, the goods are made equal in terms of use-value, not abstract labour.

You might say that use-value cannot be the common denominator because one use-value cannot be compared to another. But neither can one instance of concrete labour be compared to another. You can lose the qualitative aspect of labour and by abstracting to 'socially necessary average labour time', but does that make it a better method of comparison? How can you equate 5 hours of work coal mine to 5 hours of filing paper in an office? Besides, the same method of abstraction can be applied to use-value, creating something like 'utility' in mainstream economics, an abstraction to beat all abstractions.

Quote:
Marx is quite good on this, as I recall. But, in my own words, what better way of comparing the various different amounts of labour-time embodied within the items concerned? Each party to the exchange is assumed to try to maximize the return they receive, and to minimize what it is they exchange. Enough of this will eventually find an average rate. Again, we are talking about any items which are products of human labour, which can be quantified, and specified qualitatively (i.e. as use-values).

Are you saying that, given the socially necessary average labour time of good A, and the market exchange rate between A and B, we can deduce the socially necessary average labour time of good B?

If so, I'm interested in how we can determine the socially necessary average labour time of good A, without reference to any exchange rates. How is this done?

Thanks for clearing up that mess about what 'abstract labour' refers to. I much prefer the term 'socially necessary average labour time' - it has units!

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Apr 10 2011 20:15

Footnote 19 from that Elbe piece is very interesting for what LBird was asking

LBird wrote:
If Dave B is correct, and 'value' (of some sort which I haven't yet isolated in my own thinking) is transhistorical, than why can't it be applied to the future Socialist/Communist society, to help workers organise production efficiently?

The problem if we take value with us as a concept for planning leads us down the road of centralized planning:

Elbe wrote:
According to Marxism-Leninism “value functions as an instrument of the planned administration of the socialist processes of production and reproduction, according to the principles of bookkeeping and control of the mass of labor and of consumption. Correspondingly, the relation of value is consciously implemented.” (Eichhorn 1985, p. 1291) Within this framework, socialism consists “merely in the revolutionized way of calculating the same social determination of the products of human labor as exists in the capitalist commodity economy.” (as Grigat (1997, p.20) critically notes.) Thus, allegedly Marxian communism degenerates into a sort of Proudhonian system of labor notes, as Behrens/Hafner also observe: “all hitherto existing conceptions of the transition to socialism resort to models of immediate calculation of labor-value and utility.” (Behrens/Hafner, p. 226)
Dave B
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Apr 10 2011 20:25

I wish people would back things up. This is a discussion about Marx’s interpretation of the labour theory of value not a list of other peoples interpretations.

I am paraphrasing what Karl and Engels wrote down, open and welcome to attack.

( I can’t take seriously the attack Engels and thus drop him.)

I will admit however that as regards the labour theory of value that the competitive and international market dimension of capitalism can be seen as giving a stimulus to commodities being sold at their value particularly as regards to the caveat of socially necessary labour.

And abstract labour or labour in general manifests itself more clearly in the fluid division of labour with wage labour being sold and hawked as a commodity etc.

And work just becomes a matter of the time and effort you spend at it irrespective of were it is or what you are doing.

What is going on here is logical scientific reductionism to develop laws and formulae to be applied back to the real world for understanding as with Aristotle in his application of tertium comparationis to exchange value.

Versus sociological whaffle.

tertium comparationis was done on the fourth page of the opening chapter. after having taken out ‘the concrete forms of that labour’.

Karl Marx. Capital Volume One Part I: Commodities and Money
Chapter One: Commodities

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If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use value, we make abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use value; we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn, or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of sight.

Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.

Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are – Values.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm

By the way Rabbits points are good ones, as is the stuff on skilled and unskilled labour.

As was the stuff about why a feather doesn’t fall to the ground as fast as a hammer etc.

Buts lets follow and understand the logic and Marx first and then attempt to trash it later, you can’t criticise something until you understand it first, unfortunately.

S. Artesian
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Apr 10 2011 21:19

Arguing that the law of value is "trans-historical" based on Aristotles' incomplete account kind of proves the opposite. Since the Athenian economy was not governed by a fully developed law of value, Aristotle's account was necessarily incomplete. Historical materialism is more powerful than even the greatest intellect.

Secondly, we need to be very careful about Marx's exposition of ground-rent. First and foremost since at all points when Marx is talking about ground-rent he is careful to identify ground-rent as the way in which value in land is realized economically under capitalism. He makes it clear this ground-rent is capitalism's encounter with landed-property, and that rent persists because capital cannot fully overcome the limitations of this landed property, and could not without abolishing private property in its entirety.

All societies do not labor under the law of value. All societies do labor under the need to apportion, distribute, organize, expend, the total socially available labor time in a manner that satisfies the needs of the society to reproduce its relations of production.

That is mightily different than the law of value, which is a specific expression, manifestation of this need based on the class relations of capital.

Marx is very clear in his critique of capital that he is not expounding on universal laws, or relations, common to all societies at all points in time. The laws are not laws like the conservation of energy is a law, or the 2nd law of thermodynamics is a law. The "laws" are nothing other than the necessities, the internal logic, of the modes of production. They are nothing but expressions of the class relationships at the basis of production.

That Greek and Roman societies may have had a proto-proletariat; that the word for capital actually derives from those societies' words for cattle is very interesting in foreshadowing what developed in England after the 16th century, and then in Europe. But it does not mean that Greek and Roman society were organized around a law of value. They could not be, unless they were organized around the production of value; of appropriated wage-labor.

Dave B
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Apr 10 2011 21:21

On the book-keeping of value in socialism, it isn’t rocket science.

If we are going to build a bridge in socialism we can do it this way or that way using these materials or those type of materials ie we could build it out of titanium or steel and both methods would produce an equally useful bridge.

So the two plans are put forward and the book-keepers say are but titanium takes longer to make and involves more effort and therefore has more value. And thus the titanium bridge would ‘cost’ more in human effort or would be more ‘expensive’ in terms of ‘expended’ human labour power.

Not exchange value as no one would be buying and selling titanium for steel or whatever.

So;

Capital Vol. III Part VII Revenues and their Sources Chapter 49. Concerning the Analysis of the Process of Production

Quote:
Secondly, after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch49.htm

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Apr 10 2011 21:22

Dave B, the whole point for Marx is that he "discovered" the dual character of labour, i.e. that labour is both abstract and concrete at the same time, but that this duality exists only in capitalism, that is, when capital makes the commodity form its own and labour-power becomes a commodity.

The real world that you're referring to Dave is the capitalist world for Marx; specifically the imaginary, topsy-turvy world of bourgeois political economists. Your Aristotle example is interesting, but you do not include the observation that Aristotle could not have "discovered" value since ancient Greece was a society in which production was mainly done by slaves. In other words value is a social and historically specific category.

LBird
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Apr 10 2011 21:22
Khawaga wrote:
The problem if we take value with us as a concept for planning leads us down the road of centralized planning...

Why would 'planning' be necessarily 'centralised'?

Surely workers will have to make all sorts of plans (transport infrastructure, building hospitals, etc.), and some concept of some sort of 'value' will be required to allow us to make decisions, to allow us to prioritise what we produce and when, and to bring together perishable goods in a timely manner.

And these decisions, for Communism, would necessarily involve democratic decision-making by Workers' Councils, with the decision being made at the appropriate level of Council covering all those involved by the effects of that decision.

Once again, Khawaga, I'm not too sure, yet, of the implications of these political views of what Communism is, for the interpretation of what 'value' is.

But one thing I know already for sure: one's economics, politics and ideology and all intermingled.

'Value' (and interpretation of what Marx 'meant') is as much an ideological question as it is a narrowly economic one.

dave c
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Apr 10 2011 21:30

Anyone trying to get a grip on what Marx is talking about in Capital should notice that there is significant disagreement about fundamental aspects of his theory. This makes it all the more essential to actually read what Marx says in Capital. If you don't read it, you have no basis on which to evaluate all of these contending interpretations. Not that reading it makes everything crystal clear. But, as Marx said in the Preface to the French Edition of Capital, there is no "royal road to science."

That said, the historical specificity of Marx's analysis is of the utmost importance. Marx believed the political economists' treatment of capitalist categories and laws as ahistorical reflected a blind spot of great significance.

See, for example, Marx's words in the first chapter of Capital:

Marx wrote:
Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms. But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value of the product. These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp of belonging to a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite, appear to the political economists’ bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident and nature-imposed necessity as productive labour itself. (Penguin, 173-175)

Briefly, Marx's object of study is the capitalist mode of production, and he begins by analyzing the commodity, the general form of products in a capitalist society. The fact that labour is expressed in "value" is not, as the above passage suggests, a "nature-imposed necessity," or an ahistorical fact. What is ahistorical, or common to all forms of human society, is the production of use-values, or useful articles. So, when Marx analyses the commodity as the basic form of capitalist wealth, and says that the two factors internal to this form as a historical object are use-value and value, it is quite easy to see that the commodity's character as "value" is its historically-specific aspect. Or else we say that "commodities" would be produced even in a communist society, which directly contradicts Marx.

Marx often criticized specific economists for transforming "value" into something absolute or ahistorical (and his whole theory of fetishism makes little sense if a useful good is naturally a bearer of value.) As Marx wrote in Book III of Theories of Surplus Value

Marx wrote:
As values, commodities are social magnitudes, that is to say, something absolutely different from their ‘properties’ as ‘things’. As values, they constitute only relations of men in their productive activity. Value indeed ‘implies exchanges’, but exchanges are exchanges of things between men, exchanges which in no way affect the things as such. A thing retains the same ‘properties’ whether it be owned by A or by B. In actual fact, the concept ‘value’ presupposes ‘exchanges’ of the products. Where labour is communal, the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as ‘values’ of ‘things’. Exchange of products as commodities is a method of exchanging labour, [it demonstrates] the dependence of the labour of each upon the labour of the others [and corresponds to] a certain mode of social labour or social production. . . . Thus he [Bailey], the wiseacre, transforms value into something absolute, ‘a property of things’, instead of seeing in it only something relative, the relation of things to social labour, social labour based on private exchange, in which things are defined not as independent entities, but as mere expressions of social production. (Prometheus, 129-130)

And of course Marx makes much the same point about specific social relations in the first chapter of Capital:

Marx wrote:
The product of labor is an object of utility in all states of society; but it is only a historically specific epoch of development which presents the labour expended in the production of a useful article as an ‘objective’ property of that article, i.e., as its value. It is only then that the product of labour becomes transformed into a commodity. (Penguin, 153-154)

And Marx makes the same point again:

Marx wrote:
This division of the product of labour into a useful thing and a thing possessing value appears in practice only when exchange has already acquired a sufficient extension and importance to allow useful things to be produced for the purpose of being exchanged, so that their character as values has already to be taken into consideration during production. From this moment on, the labour of the individual producer acquires a twofold social character. (Penguin, 166)

As this idea of historical specificity was used by Marx to criticize bourgeois economists, it was of special concern to him. I think that it is plain that Marx does not write about any ahistorical "Law of Value." To do so would be to say that private property and commodity production are entirely natural!

And lastly, regarding Dave B's comment that "...far from the law of value being historically specific to capitalism, it actually starts to breakdown under capitalism....": Marx identified this idea with Adam Smith and specifically singled it out for criticism. For example, writing about Torrens in Book III of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx comments on a remark of his about "that early period of society [before capitalism]," writing,

Marx wrote:
That is, precisely when exchange-value in general, the product as commodity, is hardly developed at all, and consequently when there is no law of value either…

Marx thus does not see the law of value as ahistorical. He further writes that Torrens follows Adam Smith in supposing that the law of value applies to this early period of society but no longer applies when commodities are products of capital. Marx writes,

Marx wrote:
On the other hand, the product wholly assumes the form of a commodity only—as a result of the fact that the entire product has to be transformed into exchange-value and that also all the ingredients necessary for its production enter it as commodities—in other words it wholly becomes a commodity only with the development and on the basis of capitalist production.

Marx therefore considers Torrens’ position to be flawed:

Marx wrote:
Thus the law of value is supposed to be valid for a type of production which produces no commodities (or produces commodities only to a limited extent) and not to be valid for a type of production which is based on the product as a commodity. The law itself, as well as the commodity as the general form of the product, is abstracted from capitalist production and yet it is precisely in respect of capitalist production that the law is held to be invalid. (Prometheus, 73-74)

For those who are interested, Dave B's interpretation of some of this stuff was criticized by Mikus and I on an old thread: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/capital-vol-1-reading-group-chapters-1-2-22092008?page=2

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Apr 10 2011 22:16
Dave B wrote:
So the two plans are put forward and the book-keepers say are but titanium takes longer to make and involves more effort and therefore has more value. And thus the titanium bridge would ‘cost’ more in human effort or would be more ‘expensive’ in terms of ‘expended’ human labour power.

Aha. So in your example, instead of labour time, the common denominator is labour power, a phrase Marx also uses. How are we to measure expended labour power? Calories burned? Pounds of sweat?

Dave B
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Apr 10 2011 22:49

Yeah maybe it is hard to tell, some kind of criteria about who or what requires more work or effort than another.

Time spent or expended would be useful but the intensity of work would have to come into it.

Working in a titanium plant might be a bit cushy with electrolysing ores or whatever as opposed to the manly stuff involved in steel production.

And as to the trans-historical theory of value Karl goes further, which is fine with me as a thought experiment scientist, as regards to trans historical imaginative fiction with Robinson and Crusoe.

At 1719, early ‘capitalism’ and abstract labour value etc on one Island.

But you see I don’t think it was stupid as that; it is what us scientists do all the time as with Einstien’s spook effect thought experiment on electrons, although he lost that one,

Quote:
Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists, let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour.

Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at. This our friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm

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Apr 10 2011 23:21

Dave B: From what I've been reading of Marx, I don't think Robinson Crusoe makes for a good example of the theory of labour-value. Since Crusoe doesn't live in a capitalist society, his labour does not produce commodities. He produces food and shelter for himself, but these goods aren't meant for exchange. Thus, they have no exchange value. You can't even draw a fine line between his labour and non-labour.

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Apr 11 2011 08:47
Rabbit wrote:
waslax wrote:
Well, you are planning to make that exchange with someone else, right? What if that person doesn't agree with the rate of exchange you propose? Maybe they want more from you than you are offering. The exchange must be mutually agreeable. So there needs to be some 'neutral' factor common to both items that both parties can agree on.

I understand that the exchange rate is negotiated. If the other party doesn't agree with my rate of exchange, we can negotiate further, or break off the deal. And I agree that, by definition of 'commodity', labour time is common to all commodities. What I don't get is, why must labour be the common denominator that the exchange is based on? Why can't use-value be the common denominator?

I don't see the point in asking "why must it be so?" The question is, in the actual history of capitalism, is it or is it not so? It clearly explains a lot about how capitalism works, if it is indeed so. How could use-value serve the same purpose? Each different use-value would have to be exchangeable -- and therefore commensurable -- with each other one. How would that work -- without any reference to the labour put into each such? How would it be determined, e.g., how many loaves of bread would be standardly exchanged for a leather coat?

Quote:
For instance: I can imagine an exchange between two people in which neither know anything about how the goods were produced (their abstract labour). In order to exchange, theoretically, all they need is the framework "I want what you have, you want what I have." In this case, the goods are made equal in terms of use-value, not abstract labour.

Yes, such an exchange can occur -- there is nothing stopping it from occurring. But we aren't really so concerned with this or that exchange, are we? We are concerned, once again, with the actual historical reality of capitalism and its markets. So we are talking about exchanges in general, of which there have been very many over the years, where there is a standard rate of exchange of items exchanged. And we are talking about people, initially, who are trying to get what they need to live and who are engaging in significant durations of labour in order to produce the items they are looking to exchange in order to acquire what they need to live. These people will have some idea about how much labour is required (i.e. the average minimum, i.e. abstract labour) to produce the item. Obviously they will know how much time they have laboured to produce the item. And once they go through the exchange process a few times, and think about how some exchanges perhaps aren't exactly equal or fair, where one party "gets the better" (or "takes advantage") of the other, they will likely begin exchanging closer to whatever the market standard is. Remember that they will learn from others what rate of exchange (for the same item) they have exchanged at, and regular exchanging parties will soon enough be posting their own exchange rates. I'm leaving out here, of course, any reference to money, since that is how we are conceiving of things, even though in actual history money was the medium of such markets and exchanges. When you realize the role money has had in capitalism, value as expressing abstract labour makes a lot more sense; whereas, abstracting from money in analyzing exchange and value in capitalism, makes it easier to see exchange as more like barter, and more difficult to see any 'need' for abstract labour.

Quote:
You might say that use-value cannot be the common denominator because one use-value cannot be compared to another. But neither can one instance of concrete labour be compared to another. You can lose the qualitative aspect of labour and by abstracting to 'socially necessary average labour time', but does that make it a better method of comparison? How can you equate 5 hours of work coal mine to 5 hours of filing paper in an office? Besides, the same method of abstraction can be applied to use-value, creating something like 'utility' in mainstream economics, an abstraction to beat all abstractions.

An hour of labour equals an hour of labour. They are both labour of an equal duration of time. But obviously some labour is "worth more" than other labour. That's part of the beauty of Marx's theory: labour itself -- actually labour-power -- is a commodity that is sold on the labour market, and factors that make some worth more than others are things like how skilled it is, how much training or education is required to do it, how dangerous it is, etc. As we well know, an hour of a software engineer's labour is worth a lot more than an hour of a janitor's labour. Nevertheless, at whatever the level of value of the labour concerned is, the product's value is still a factor of the amount of labour needed to produce it. So, e.g. other things being equal, if item A requires 5 hours labour worth 4 units per hour, while item B requires 5 hours labour worth only 2 units per hour, item A will have a value twice that of item B. The ratio -- of the different values of the labour involved -- gets taken into account, but labour-time remains the basic determining factor. The market takes all of this into account.

Quote:
Quote:
Marx is quite good on this, as I recall. But, in my own words, what better way of comparing the various different amounts of labour-time embodied within the items concerned? Each party to the exchange is assumed to try to maximize the return they receive, and to minimize what it is they exchange. Enough of this will eventually find an average rate. Again, we are talking about any items which are products of human labour, which can be quantified, and specified qualitatively (i.e. as use-values).

Are you saying that, given the socially necessary average labour time of good A, and the market exchange rate between A and B, we can deduce the socially necessary average labour time of good B?

If so, I'm interested in how we can determine the socially necessary average labour time of good A, without reference to any exchange rates. How is this done?

The answer to the first question is yes. I think your latter question here is confused. (Sorry) You ask "how we can determine the socially necessary average labour time of good A, without reference to any exchange rates", when you had begun by saying "given the socially necessary average labour time of good A". So you had started out already assuming that this amount was known. It doesn't make sense to then ask how we can know it. But if we don't make that assumption of knowing the amount beforehand, of course it is only by reference to exchange and exchange rates that we learn it. Repeated exchange eventually establishes an average. There is nothing circular about that, though. Unless you're suggesting that there needs to be an independent way of verifying this. (That would be tantamount to asking for scientific proof of Marx's theory of value; but of course no theory of value, Marx's or any other, is capable of such proof.) In theory, one could look at all the of the various labour processes required to produce a given item, and all of the different ones that there are producing it for a given market, and find the average, without any reference to exchanges of the item in question.

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ocelot
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Apr 11 2011 11:04

OK, just to clarify a few things. As you can see (hopefully) from the above, there are a number of different interpretations or readings of Marx's work. One of these "readings" we call the 'orthodox Marxist' reading, which is (roughly) what Dave B is defending above.

Amongst other things, this reading (originally concocted by Engels and Karl Kautsky) holds to the somewhat miraculous belief that Marx and Engels were "two bodies, one mind(soul)". That is to say that anything that comes out of Engels' pen, even after Marx's death in 1883 makes him unable to protest, is ultimately part and parcel with "Marxism" and couldn't possibly be in contradiction with Marx's analysis.

There are also other non- or anti-orthodox readings which reject this as arrent nonsense and have repeatedly proferred as evidence, quotes from Marx which they submit are in obvious contradiction to Engels' writings. Especially the notorious "Supplement" to Vol III. And this, I might add not only in post-WWII readings such as the Italian operaisti or the German Neue Marx-Lektüre (New Marx Reading), but going back at least to Rosa Luxemburg who accused Engels and Kautsky of re-writing Marx in the production of Volume III in a way that was tantamount to forgery.

So this is hardly a new idea, and one for which a substantial volume of evidence has been put forward over the last century, hence Dave B's affectation of shock and surprise ("!!!!!!") that anyone would even think of suggesting that Engels' understanding of the law of value was not the same as Marx's, is disingenous.

Back to the question of whether abstract labour and value are categories specific to the historical period where capitalist social relations dominate society, or are some transcendant "eternal laws of history".

The Stalinists had a very clear incentive to say that value was not only a feature of capitalism, but socialism as well. This was because they were attempting to use 'socially necessary labour time' as the numeraire to govern their state-owned monopoly economy (in the absence of price setting via markets). Clearly if they accepted that the law of value was limited to capitalist societies, this gave the lie to their contention that the USSR was socialist.

Given the Trotskyists opposition to Stalinism, you might think that they would have attacked this line of argument. In fact, as far as the orthodox Trotskyists went, Ernst Mandel (mentioned above) being a leading example, they in fact accepted that the USSR was on some economic level, not capitalist, and also accepted that the law of value will continue to apply in socialism, at least in the "lower phase" (according to Marx's notes on the Gotha Programme - a key plank in the orthodox faith). Hence the orthodox Trotskyists insistance that the USSR was a 'degenerated worker's state' rather than some authoritarian statist variant of capitalism.

What united both Trotskyists and Stalinists, despite their political differences, was a loyalty to the schema of orthodox Marxism originally laid out by Kautsky, despite their (again political) criticisms of him. The pre-war ultra-left Marxists critics of Lenin and his successors, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist, also in many ways, clung to the orthodox reading of Marx. This is clearly laid out in the Programme of the GiK (here on this site), which is again committed to continuing to use 'labour accounting' to manage allocation and distribution in a post-revolutionary socialist society.

In the post-ww2 period, the ultra-left position evolved somewhat from the old or paleo-ultra positions, going through a transitional "conseillism autogestionnaire" phase (meso-ultra) in the 50s and 60s which ended in a muddle which led to people either rejecting Marx entirely (Socialisme ou Barbarie's Castoriadis & Lyotard for e.g.) or eventually making the rupture that led to the "neo-ultra" positions of the likes of Dauvé et al, which now aim for 'immediate communisation', rejecting the notion of any "socialist law of value" in any so-called transitional phase.

But there is a historical ground for this fundamental schism that has run through the entire socialist movement from it's inception, which goes back before Marx. In fact the full intent of Marx's work does not make entire sense until you understand the kind of 'socialism' that he was writing against.

The origins of the socialist movement lie in the original Co-operative movement of the 1820s (not to be confused with today's ethical retail and worker-run business co-ops). An argument arose in that movement around the issue of "Labour Notes". This was the idea that because the working class were exploited by being paid by capitalists less than the value of their product, they should arrange to work without masters and exchange their products with each other in proportion to the labour-time embodied in them, using a system of Labour notes (rather than bank notes) at self-run exchanges. (This idea was brought back from the USA by Robert Owen and is pretty much the same as Josiah Warren's ideas). By cutting out the exploiter, the Labour notes advocates hoped to secure "the right to the full product of labour" for the working class.

It was against this "distributist" socialism that Marx set out to provide an analysis to show that "fair exchange" schemes (in our day "LETS", worker cooperatives, local currencies, and other such schemes) will never bring the working class the ability to escape from exploitation, as exploitation does not originate in the sphere of circulation - where it does in fact appear - but in the process of production itself.

Ironically, the "orthodox Marxist" reading of Marx, took Marx's painstaking efforts to untangle the spheres of production and circulation, in order to expose this problem, as meaning that the two sphere were completely separate - therefore, there was no problem with retaining the relations of distribution of capitalism, so long as production was transformed, due to the common ownership of the means of production. This, ultimately, led back to the idea of workers receiving a wage in "I can't believe it's not labour notes"* certificates of hours work, to be exchanged for means of consumption of equivalent 'socially necessary labour time' at the state store. This idea of the separation of the relations of distribution and the relations of production is such an article of faith for the orthodox, that in the Introduction to the Penguin edition of Capital vol. III, Ernst Mandel goes out of his way to point out that when Marx wrote of the relationship between the relations of distribution and the relations of production (in what became ch. 51 of volume 3) that they are inseperable, that this was not to be taken 'literally', falling back, as ever, on the support of the Gothakritik.

So, in summary, the orthodox Marxist reading that value is a trans-historical category, not historically specific to capitalism (despite all the evidence in Marx's writings, a small selection of which Dave C has quoted above), is directly related to their conception of socialism based on labour-value accounting and differential distribution or remuneration based on labour contributed - a.k.a the wage (to each "according to deed", as opposed to "according to need"). The anti-orthodox view is that capitalist relations are embedded not only in the private ownership of the means of production, but also in it's specific and historically unique relations of distribution (exchange, value). That in order to escape from capitalism we need to not only socialise the means of production, but also to abolish value, wages and exchange (and by consequence, the state, which is above all a body of wage-workers, armed or not).

As a post-script, getting back to Ancient Egypt (as mentioned in that truly dumb-ass qoute from Engels about the law of value going back 8000 years). One detail is that as the economy acquired a numeraire (the deben see here and here) and a price list of the official deben prices of various goods and chattels was published. But this is not the law of value, which Marx expressly identifies as being produced by the 'blind operation' of market competition, but the rule of the God-kind, the Pharaoh. This practice of price setting by the reigning political authority in fact continues through most of human history prior to the emergence of capitalism (see Georges Rudé's work on the bread riots of the middle ages, which were aimed - and in fact still are - at getting the political authority to set the official price of bread at a more affordable rate (how effective such a measure actually is in conditions of growing market forces, is another matter)

LBird
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Apr 11 2011 14:35

Ocelot, thanks alot for putting this discussion into some sort of 'ideological' context.

If I've understood you correctly, you seem to be saying the following (but please put me right if I'm mistaken):

Position A (that of Khawaga, ocelot, dave c, for eg.?)
Non-orthodox Marxism (based an Marx alone)
- value is historically specific to capitalism (ie. won't exist under Communism at all)
- Communism has only one phase/stage
- therefore, no need for any sort of 'state'
- based on 'Anarchism' (including Luxembourg)

Position B (that of Dave B, for eg.?)
Orthodox Marxism (based on Marx, but also Engels & Kautsky)
- value is trans-historical (ie. will exist at least in the early part of Communism)
- Communism has a early stage of Socialism
- therefore, a need for some sort of 'Workers' state'
- based on 'Marxism' (including Stalinism, Trotskyism, Left Communism)

Is this a fair summation of what you are saying?

One further question:

ocelot wrote:
The Stalinists had a very clear incentive to say that value was not only a feature of capitalism, but socialism as well. This was because they were attempting to use 'socially necessary labour time' as the numeraire to govern their state-owned monopoly economy (in the absence of price setting via markets). Clearly if they accepted that the law of value was limited to capitalist societies, this gave the lie to their contention that the USSR was socialist.

Couldn't it be argued that that problem with the Stalinist USSR was not that they argued 'value is a feature of Socialism' (ie. the early phase of Communism), but that the economy of the Stalinist USSR was not under the democratic control of the proletariat?

In other words, 'value' under proletarian democracy would be entirely different to 'value' under market capitalism or Stalinist dictatorship, and that that was the real problem, ie. a lack of proletarian democracy, not the 'false use of historically-specific value'.

'Value', under prol. dem. would (once again?) become a 'socio-economic' category, rather than a narrowly 'economic' category, as under the impersonal, undemocratic market. The term 'value' under Critical Political Economy would be different to that under Neo-Classical Economics.

This whole post is very tentative, and I would welcome your criticisms, corrections and further explanations and clarifications.

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ocelot
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Apr 11 2011 15:44
LBird wrote:
Ocelot, thanks alot for putting this discussion into some sort of 'ideological' context.

If I've understood you correctly, you seem to be saying the following (but please put me right if I'm mistaken):

Position A (that of Khawaga, ocelot, dave c, for eg.?)
Non-orthodox Marxism (based an Marx alone)
- value is historically specific to capitalism (ie. won't exist under Communism at all)
- Communism has only one phase/stage
- therefore, no need for any sort of 'state'
- based on 'Anarchism' (including Luxembourg)

Position B (that of Dave B, for eg.?)
Orthodox Marxism (based on Marx, but also Engels & Kautsky)
- value is trans-historical (ie. will exist at least in the early part of Communism)
- Communism has a early stage of Socialism
- therefore, a need for some sort of 'Workers' state'
- based on 'Marxism' (including Stalinism, Trotskyism, Left Communism)

Is this a fair summation of what you are saying?

Well, close. However there have been Orthodox Marxists like the pre-ww2 council communists, who might have not have been up for a 'Workers' state' (but my knowledge of the early councillists is very limited, I'm sure there are others who can clarify). As for Dave B's actual position, I admit to being somewhat in the dark. The arguments he has advanced in this thread are all of the orthodox type, however he is also a member of the SPGB, who's online texts on 'what is socialism' seem to be very much against the retention of the law of value (or the state) in socialism - at least to my brief readings.

LBird wrote:
One further question:
ocelot wrote:
The Stalinists had a very clear incentive to say that value was not only a feature of capitalism, but socialism as well. This was because they were attempting to use 'socially necessary labour time' as the numeraire to govern their state-owned monopoly economy (in the absence of price setting via markets). Clearly if they accepted that the law of value was limited to capitalist societies, this gave the lie to their contention that the USSR was socialist.

Couldn't it be argued that that problem with the Stalinist USSR was not that they argued 'value is a feature of Socialism' (ie. the early phase of Communism), but that the economy of the Stalinist USSR was not under the democratic control of the proletariat?

In other words, 'value' under proletarian democracy would be entirely different to 'value' under market capitalism or Stalinist dictatorship, and that that was the real problem, ie. a lack of proletarian democracy, not the 'false use of historically-specific value'.

'Value', under prol. dem. would (once again?) become a 'socio-economic' category, rather than a narrowly 'economic' category, as under the impersonal, undemocratic market. The term 'value' under Critical Political Economy would be different to that under Neo-Classical Economics.

This whole post is very tentative, and I would welcome your criticisms, corrections and further explanations and clarifications.

Not only could that position be argued, but indeed it has been. But you're actually making two propositions here, which don't necessarily have to be connected.

1. The problem with the Stalinist economy was not the economic base of value accounting, but the political problem of the lack of genuine proletarian democracy?

2. Would the term 'value' itself not change meaning in a situation of genuine self-management of social production?

1. is commonly put forward by Trotskyists for e.g. - and equally commonly criticised by their opponents (whether anarchists or ultra-left Marxists) on the grounds that it reproduces the competitive 'dog eat dog' dynamic of capitalism.

2. That is indeed likely and desireable - i.e. that we "value" free time, methods of production that don't destroy our environment, processes that are co-operative rather than competitive, and so on. But here we are reclaiming 'value' as being something founded in subjectivities, brought together in cooperative political processes, rather than something alienated that stands objectified against our own desires and is expressed as a repressive relation of force.

LBird
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Apr 11 2011 17:17

Thanks again, ocelot. I sure you're as aware as I am that 'ideological underpinnings' play a great part in any analysis/ explanation - that's why I'm so keen to expose these, as a basis to further discussion about individual-use-value/concrete labour and social-value/abstract labour.

Indeed, my very characterisation of u-v/c-l as 'individual', and s-v/a-b as 'social', will have, I'm sure, some analytical (and political) consequences.

Two further questions, for now:

1. Why should 'value accounting' (ie. my 'social-value') necessarily reproduce 'dog-eat-dog' competition? Two 'social-values' can be communally compared and a democratic decision made about which is preferred, without either being chosen purely on narrowly 'economic' grounds. That 'keeping dogs' doesn't necessarily mean we'll allow them to eat each other - we'll be in control.

2. you say:

ocelot wrote:
But here we are reclaiming 'value' as being something founded in subjectivities, brought together in cooperative political processes...

I don't think I agree with how you are characterising 'value' here as 'subjective' - to me, 'subjective' means individual appreciation, ie. use-value (or the neo-classical 'psychological theory of value').

Again, to me, 'value' is 'social-value', which can only be comprehended/understood at the social level, ie. as a product of democratic discussion (as I posited, all those posts ago, in my early gropings with the 'Smith family' model).

Social-value/abstract labour can only be dealt with at the social level, not the individual. To emphasise, 'value' can't be calculated (for want of a better word) by an individual - it is a 'discussion/dialogue', not a personal feeling or intuition.

I'm not a fan of using models based on 'objective impersonal forces' - we must use 'socio-economics', and class struggle politics.

I'm sure you can see some implications here for one's ideolological basis: that is, 'Individualist Anarchism' versus 'Class Struggle Anarchism/Libertarian Marxism'. For the former, the starting point is the 'individual', whereas for the latter, the unit of analysis is society.

Communism is a 'social' ideology, in my eyes. 'Individualism' is rooted in bourgeois ideology.

Where these thoughts leave my attempt to understand the difference between 'abstract/concrete labour', I'm not sure.

Please give me some more input.

Dave B
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Apr 11 2011 18:19

There will no buying and selling in socialism and no state and no money, no exchange value.

It will be still necessary to in my opinion to take into account the amount of time required to produce one thing one way or another ie value, if you are interested in minimising the total or aggregate working days of the workers.

That will be more important than ever under communism because the capitalist market through the money system that performs that function automatically for you will no longer operate.

From 1877, when Karl was still alive;

Quote:
As long ago as 1844 I stated that the above-mentioned balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left, in a communist society, of the politico-economic concept of value. (Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, p. 95) The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx's Capital.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/notes.htm#n*15

So I say again where did Karl say that value and surplus value was specific to capitalism.

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Khawaga
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Apr 11 2011 18:47
Quote:
So I say again where did Karl say that value and surplus value was specific to capitalism.

In the chapter on the Working Day. Where he writes, among other things

Marx wrote:
Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production, [7] whether this proprietor be the Athenian caloς cagaqoς [well-to-do man], Etruscan theocrat, civis Romanus [Roman citizen], Norman baron, American slave-owner, Wallachian Boyard, modern landlord or capitalist. [8] It is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange-value but the use-value of the product predominates, surplus-labour will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labour arises from the nature of the production itself. Hence in antiquity over-work becomes horrible only when the object is to obtain exchange-value in its specific independent money-form; in the production of gold and silver.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch10.htm#S2

Thus surplus-labour has indeed always existed, but for the majority of human history it has been linked to use-value and concrete labour (but at times linked to exchange value). It is only in the capitalist mode of production, in which labour acquires a dual character and the production process becomes a dialectic of a labour process and a valorization process, that surplus-labour becomes (takes the form of?) surplus-value.

Dave B
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Apr 11 2011 18:53

OK then to put it in context we are being ‘transported back’ here, to exchange in barter and at the point at which money is just about to be introduced, somewhere around the dawn of recorded history.

Karl Marx. Capital Volume One

Chapter Two: Exchange

Quote:
In proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds, and the value of commodities more and more expands into an embodiment of human labour in the abstract, in the same proportion the character of money attaches itself to commodities that are by Nature fitted to perform the social function of a universal equivalent. Those commodities are the precious metals.

The truth of the proposition that, “although gold and silver are not by Nature money, money is by Nature gold and silver, is shown by the fitness of the physical properties of these metals for the functions of money.

Up to this point, however, we are acquainted only with one function of money, namely, to serve as the form of manifestation of the value of commodities, or as the material in which the magnitudes of their values are socially expressed. An adequate form of manifestation of value, a fit embodiment of abstract, undifferentiated, and therefore equal human labour, that material alone can be whose every sample exhibits the same uniform qualities. On the other hand, since the difference between the magnitudes of value is purely quantitative, the money commodity must be susceptible of merely quantitative differences, must therefore be divisible at will, and equally capable of being reunited. Gold and silver possess these properties by Nature.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch02.htm

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Khawaga
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Apr 11 2011 19:01

But that selection is meaningless without the discussion of the value-form in chapter one. And again you're doing a historical rather than logical reading. And while it's true that "the value of commodities more and more expands into an embodiment of human labour in the abstract" it only becomes an embodiment of abstract labour in the capitalist mode of production, i.e. when the commodity form is generalized.

dave c
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Apr 11 2011 21:24
LBird wrote:
Position A (that of Khawaga, ocelot, dave c, for eg.?)
Non-orthodox Marxism (based an Marx alone)
- value is historically specific to capitalism (ie. won't exist under Communism at all)
- Communism has only one phase/stage
- therefore, no need for any sort of 'state'
- based on 'Anarchism' (including Luxembourg)

Position B (that of Dave B, for eg.?)
Orthodox Marxism (based on Marx, but also Engels & Kautsky)
- value is trans-historical (ie. will exist at least in the early part of Communism)
- Communism has a early stage of Socialism
- therefore, a need for some sort of 'Workers' state'
- based on 'Marxism' (including Stalinism, Trotskyism, Left Communism)

I don't mean this as any attack on LBird, as he seems to be contributing in good faith, but this sort of schema is entirely misleading, and one's interpretation of Marx does not directly correlate with a series of political positions. To take a relevant example, Dave B clearly does not align with "Position B," while I do not align with "Position A" (or the "neo-ultra" tendency in general). Ironically, Dave B and I discussed this "first phase of communism" stuff on these forums, and our views were quite the opposite of what you might expect from this schema:
http://libcom.org/forums/theory/dreaded-labour-notes-02042009

LBird
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Apr 11 2011 22:40
dave c wrote:
I don't mean this as any attack on LBird, as he seems to be contributing in good faith...

No offence taken, dave, I'm only surprised you think your criticism can be seen as an attack - I've got a thick skin (for genuine criticism, at least), and I openly asked for criticisms and more.

dave c wrote:
...but this sort of schema is entirely misleading, and one's interpretation of Marx does not directly correlate with a series of political positions.

Well, I wouldn't call it entirely misleading, as I think it's a good starting point for our understanding of the various ideologies involved, but, of course, it needs a bit more detail, as you've provided.

[start edit]
Don't forget, I was just trying to summarise ocelot's longer post, into something more readable and 'shorthand', to prompt further discussion.
[end edit]

I just haven't got a lot of time for 'individualistic' explanations of ideological positions - that is itself ideological (as, indeed, is my dislike). We can fit people into broad categories - I just don't know yet what they are, in relation to the question of abstract/concrete labour.

By all means, if you want to correct or construct anew my tentative 'positions', be my guest. I'm here to learn. As for 'neo-ultra', I'm afraid you'll have to expand on that a bit - how does it fit into our discussion, and what would you see as your position?

Dave B
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Apr 11 2011 23:05

Lets not run before we could walk, the abstract labour stuff in bold was just meant to be the cherry on the cake

In an earlier post I said that Karl started analysing the law of value and the nature of value re commodities trans-historically and then having understood its general nature then went onto to analyse it in capitalism to analyse and understand capitalism, or something like that.

So lets test that thesis.

Chapter one opens up with;

Quote:
The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm

Note, not commodities in capitalism, but commodities in general, unless I am going to receive another bombshell that you only get commodities in capitalism and that they are specific to capitalism.

Now you could argue ah but he just means commodities in capitalism.

But in chapter one he doesn’t mention capitalist commodities.

Which would be out of character as regards his general style of tedious repetition on what was important

In chapter two he doesn’t mention capitalism at all but discusses barter and the introduction of money to facilitate this process. And that value at this stage is extant.

but at at this point the commodities already have this transhistorical value, the value exists;

Quote:
and the value of commodities
Quote:
one function of money, namely, to serve as the form of manifestation of the value of commodities,
Quote:
as the material in which the magnitudes of their values are socially expressed

There is an element of subjectivity and objectivity to abstract labour.

So suppose we are in a non-capitalist village or whatever and one bod is herding geese and selling them and the eggs or whatever.

He is a goose herder by nature as was his father and his father and its in his blood and the love of his life etc and he has no concept of goose herding being anything but concrete labour producing use values and gold money upon its sale.

So goose herding and goosey products take a turn for the worse he gets less and less gold money for his weekly work.

But what he notices is that the maker of the recently fashionable blue suede shoes is getting more money for the same amount of effort and or labour time.

Abstract labour or general effort suddenly enters into his consciousness as the other guys general effort is more rewarding than his own.

Envy and resentment is shortly followed by activity and he switches form goose herding to cobbling. And the search for the maximum amount of gold for the least amount of effort and labour time, and that least ‘amount of effort and labour time’, which is all that matters now, is nothing but abstract labour.

To conflate things further whilst he was in the to some extant delusional about the noble, purposeful and useful business of gooseherding and in denial as to his pecuniary motives he was to that extant ‘un-alienated’.

Now he is moves in terms that general effort, abstract labour, in return for money is all that matters.

As a humanist I believe that people do not so readily sell their souls in such a Faustian bargain.

But capitalism certainly energises that process.

Actually there is one great quote for you lot in volume one, although there is context that saves me, on capitalism being necessary to liberate, so to speak the Law of value, and letting it rip.

I was in a buttock clenching position yesterday not looking forward to having tackle that one.

But like Ted Grant on state capitalism and leftwing childishness I can chill out as no one but me has read it.

And oh yes, Dave C and Mikus were great fun and are challenge.

Down with labour notes and Deleonist .

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Khawaga
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Apr 12 2011 00:26
Quote:
Note, not commodities in capitalism, but commodities in general, unless I am going to receive another bombshell that you only get commodities in capitalism and that they are specific to capitalism.

But look at the quote you've just cited; he's interested in the commodity because it is in that form that the wealth of capitalist societies appear to us. He thus says that logically, not historically, we should start with the commodity because that is the dominant value-form (which he later expands to include money). The whole point of beginning with the commodity form is so that he can arrive at its fetish; to come full circle so to speak. The series of abstractions (away from concrete labour and use-value, exchange value, money) he goes through in chapter 1 leads up to the fetish. It is a logical argument, not a historical one.

I do not, however, disagree that commodities exists only in capitalism. Capitalism is simply a system in which that form has become generalized.

dave c
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Apr 12 2011 01:03

LBird, I'll try to clarify a little what I meant. I don't think the schema is misleading because it doesn't sketch out a place for my very important ideas wink but because I don't think that there are two coherent political/economic theoretical frameworks to identify here. In other words, I don't think it is a good starting point, if that means a starting point for clearly identifying two such frameworks (which I don't think exist). For starters, "Non-Orthodox Marxism" can mean many different things, both in terms of politics and in terms of interpreting Marx, and one interpretation of Marx does not necessarily lead to one politics, or vise versa. And in a discussion that centers around abstract labour and value in Marx, it seems like that should be what divides the two groups. What you would then notice is that you might have, under your "no value under communism" Group, various views on the state and transition, rendering the whole project of neatly classifying political positions under a side in an interpretative dispute somewhat useless.

That is not to say that some of the historical background that ocelot mentions is useless. But, in the context of this thread, it doesn't justify any classification for a coherent "Non-Orthodox Marxism," much less a grouping of individual participants on this thread. Hopefully that is a bit clearer. When I mentioned a "neo-ultra" tendency, I was just following ocelot, when he was talking about a modern tendency in a broad non-Leninist Marxist tradition (and which you, perhaps unknowingly, were using as a model for "Non-Orthodox Marxism"). It could be identified with Gilles Dauve and others who would share some of these positions with regard to the law of value and transition to communism. This modern tendency diverges from what ocelot called the "paleo-ultra" tradition of council communism. I don't really want to go on about it, but, within this tradition, I sympathize more with the "paleo-ultras," am closer to Marx's political views than those of the "neo-ultras," and think the "neo-ultra" critique of the "paleo-ultras" is very weak.

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Rabbit
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Apr 12 2011 02:21

Dave B, I like your story about the goose herder. I note that your conceptualization of abstract labour includes both labour time and effort, and if we generalize further we could probably include aspects like 'difficult to make tools' and 'difficult to acquire skills' within 'effort'. Can you think of a passage in Marx where he talks about this?

Also, why do you not think that your goose herder is, in fact, living in a capitalist village? We observe a division of labour, a currency based on gold, and a profit-oriented mindset.

S. Artesian
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Apr 12 2011 02:33
Dave B wrote:
Chapter one opens up with;
Quote:
The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.
Quote:
Note, not commodities in capitalism, but commodities in general, unless I am going to receive another bombshell that you only get commodities in capitalism and that they are specific to capitalism.

Well, besides the fact that you are ignoring the opening sentence, no, commodities are not specific to capitalism, but the regulation of production by, for, and through the accumulation of value... i.e. the organization of labor as a commodity is indeed unique to capitalism, and that is Marx's subject.

Quote:
But in chapter one he doesn’t mention capitalist commodities.

Uh.... yes he does, right there "the wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production..."

Quote:
Now you could argue ah but he just means commodities in capitalism.

But in chapter one he doesn’t mention capitalist commodities.

Except for that first sentence. And after that... Marx isn't concerned with the commodity per se, he is concerned with the commodity as the manifestation, expression of value,. And the existence of a universe of commodities as expressions of value, with the myriad of exchanges is only possible under capitalism. It is only possible under capitalism because the social expression of labor is as a commodity.

Quote:
Which would be out of character as regards his general style of tedious repetition on what was important

Given that this is a translation, and from the 4th edition I think, and that Marx had considerably edited the first chapters on value after the publication of the first edition, we are probably better off not speculating about what fits, and doesn't fit, his general style.

Quote:
In chapter two he doesn’t mention capitalism at all but discusses barter and the introduction of money to facilitate this process. And that value at this stage is extant.

Again, the question is not if value exists in barter, simple exchange, etc. The question is not if money represents the universal equivalent of value, standing for and apart from all commodities at one and the same time. The issue is if production is regulated by the law of value; if the social organization of labor is as a commodity, as a value producing activity.

Such an organization requires a very specific set of social conditions-- where the actual condition for labor opposes the laborers themselves. Those relations of production specific to capital are, besides making capital capital, make the law of value the regulating principle.

This is why surplus product takes the form of surplus value under capitalism and does not take that form in feudalism.

If the law of value regulated feudal economies, they would be capitalist not feudal.... not to put too fine a point on it.

Marx is the introduction to the first edition of volume 1 remarks how the human mind has struggled for 2000 years to understand the value-form. Does that mean the law of value regulated production in 33 BC? Obviously, not given that the production that predominated was slave production.

LBird
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Apr 12 2011 09:49
dave c wrote:
LBird, I'll try to clarify a little what I meant. I don't think the schema is misleading because it doesn't sketch out a place for my very important ideas but because I don't think that there are two coherent political/economic theoretical frameworks to identify here. In other words, I don't think it is a good starting point, if that means a starting point for clearly identifying two such frameworks (which I don't think exist).

No, it doesn't mean 'a starting point for clearly identifying two such frameworks' - I'm more inclined to see it as a 'good starting point' because there are more than two incoherent 'political/economic theoretical frameworks to identify here', which need at least discussing!

To be clear, I think 'frameworks' (or ideological positions) do shape one's views of economics/politics, which is why I'm keen to examine some of the beliefs behind the various views of 'abstract/concrete labour'.

dave c wrote:
And in a discussion that centers around abstract labour and value in Marx, it seems like that should be what divides the two groups. What you would then notice is that you might have, under your "no value under communism" Group, various views on the state and transition, rendering the whole project of neatly classifying political positions under a side in an interpretative dispute somewhat useless.

I'm prepared to accept there might be more than two positions, and there might be overlaps/lack of clarity/misunderstandings between all three, four, etc., but I don't believe they are simply individual positions which should be taken at face value.

So, again, I don't think "an interpretative dispute [is] somewhat useless". In fact, I think interpretation is at the heart of the matter.

Of course, I don't have the answer yet (and I probably never will), but the underlying interpretation of 'abstract/concrete labour' is as up for debate as there is no 'objective truth'. I'm interested in trying to understand all the points of view - which can only help me to choose between them.

A simple exegesis of Marx's words is not enough - all the 'counter-quoting' in the world won't settle the issue. We're not religious fanatics, quoting the relevant section of the bible as authoritative, are we? We are (or should be) Critical Communists.

Angelus Novus
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Joined: 27-07-06
Apr 12 2011 11:31

That attempt to link particular interpretations of value-form theory to certain political leanings is ridiculous.

FWIW, I don't feel any affinity for any "anarchist" tradition, think the adjective "libertarian" as applied to various strands of Marxism is just a decontextualized attempt to apply anarchist criteria to intra-Marxist debates, and would argue that Rosa Luxemburg is outside any anarchist heritage (most anarchists would agree). I mean, DIE LINKE in Germany even has their non-profit foundation named after Rosa Luxemburg.

By the same token, presumably anarchists who have any intellectual affinity for Proudhon also adopt Proudhon's substantialist, pre-monetary value theory.

So a Left-Ricardian/Engelsian/Proudhonian substantialist value theory is perfectly compatible with "libertarian" politics.

And a non-substantialist/value-critical/monetary value theory is also perfectly compatible with "reformist" politics (as can been seen by the countless left academics in Germany who attempt a synthesis between form-analytical readings of Capital with a state theory in the tradtion of Poulantzas and Gramsci).

Zeronowhere
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Apr 12 2011 11:37

If one wished to produce in order to buy a window, then one would have to produce commodities with the same price as a window. However, this labour could be expended upon commodities as different as cars and headphones, insofar as either could be exchanged for the window, while in either case the result would still be the same amount of wealth on the market. The physical act of producing different commodities is highly different, but on the market they do not count for you as specific physical things, but rather as salable goods, which find their use precisely in their ability to exchange. As salable goods, they would be equivalent insofar as they can sell for the same amount, and therefore they are equated qualitatively; one can sell commodities vastly different in physical form and receive the same amount, hence making them equivalent on the market, where they would be differentiated not in terms of their physical form, but rather only quantitatively, in one being able to sell for more than the other.

As such, the labour expended upon these commodities, insofar as it is production for exchange rather than for use as such, is equally undifferentiated qualitatively. As one is not using the product qua physical object, it becomes labour "expended without regard to the [physical] form of its expenditure." After all, the physical act of labour is determined by the physical product to be produced, and depends upon this; Homer did not write the Iliad by tap dancing. Conversely, in commodity production the various physical objects are equated insofar as they are commodities, and as such the various different physical acts leading up to and determined by this product in fact become qualitatively equated along with their products. I may spend some time producing cars, or spend some time producing doors, but if both are equal on the market, where it is only a quantitative matter with different commodities representing different levels of homogeneous market wealth, then the two forms of labour are also equated qualitatively qua homogeneous wealth-producing labour. They both give me the same amount on the market, and hence are equal as salable commodities, and my production, insofar as it is production for exchange, or production of salable commodities, is equated. At most they may be quantitatively different, with one taking more time than the other, and in this case I may choose to take the one which takes less time. Nonetheless, I could not do this if I were producing products for my own consumption, in which case it would not be simply a matter of quantity of time.

As such, we have abstract labour, which is not merely a mental abstraction from particular physical forms of labour (of course all labour is labour, as well as being a particular type of labour, and has a certain length, but that is not the point), but an abstraction made in actual practice in the market. As a product of abstract labour, production for exchange, the commodity is a value (this is a definition). A value is simply a product of abstract labour, in the sense above discussed. As such, the product as a value is simply the product looked at only in its aspect as a product of abstract labour, in which it is undifferentiated from all other commodities qualitatively. The product can be said to both 'be a value' ("as crystals of this social substance, which is common to them all, they are values - commodity values") and 'have a value' ("A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because abstract human labour is objectified or materialized in it") in the same way that an object both is a mass and has a mass. Likewise, just as mass has a certain magnitude, expressed in grams, pounds and so on, in which the product is treated only as a mass and hence as qualitatively equal with all other masses, value also has a magnitude; as we have seen, as values commodities are differentiated only quantitatively, and hence their magnitude is determined by the length of the qualitatively equivalent labour.

This determination is, for Marx, precisely how production is distributed according to social need in commodity production; I won't elaborate too much here, although Engels' notes on the subject here are fairly straightforward. In society, labour-time must be distributed among specific products in certain proportions. If one were stranded in a jungle and spent all of one's time producing swords rather than food, one may well starve, and that would be inconvenient. The same applies to society. The general conundrum here is that the individual producers produce for themselves, but not physical products for their consumption, and they carry out their labour as abstract labour for themselves, but this abstract labour must be distributed among specific types of physical labour. Production is not regulated on a social level, but carried out by individuals who do not need their products, but nonetheless it must be regulated, and this may only, ultimately, be done through private incentives, as production is carried out privately, and hence the distribution of social labour may only take the form of private incentives. This is done precisely through the fact of quantitative differentiation in the qualitatively equal abstract labour. The product is a product of a specific amount of abstract labour, but exchanges with others which may have different magnitudes of value, and this is precisely what is accomplished through the alteration of supply and demand, wherein products which have had excessive labour applied to their production exchange for less than the abstract labour represented by them, while conversely the opposite occurs when too little is produced of a product.

This takes the form of alterations in price, by which the product is manifested as a product of abstract labour, independent of the will of the producer, and hence of an independent law governing an ungoverned society. The law takes the form by which products are 'undervalued' and 'overvalued' on the market through price relative to their labour, so that a certain amount of labour in one sphere is more remunerative than the same amount in another, and hence production declines in one and increases in another. This 'undervaluation and overvaluation' as a means of distributing social labour-time may only take place due to the determination of value by labour-time. This law is, ultimately, simply the determination of value by labour-time, by which different forms of labour become qualitatively equal, allowing for transfer between them according to social need, and hence products may be undervalued or overvalued so that the producers are spurred to produce more or less in terms of labour-time, or to migrate between spheres of production, which is only possible because value is quantitatively differentiated in terms of labour-time. If not for this determination, then there is no way to thus spur the producers to migrate precisely because their product could not be overvalued or undervalued, and hence social labour could not be distributed. In other words, because value is in terms of labour-time, abstract labour may be socially distributed amongst particular forms in terms of labour-time; deviations of price from value are therefore simply how this law of value, namely the determination of value by labour-time, functions. The possibility of such divergence is, of course, inherent in the market, and it takes place simply as a means of distributing social labour-time.

As such, as soon as the product of labour becomes a commodity, "the measure of the expenditure of human labour-power by its duration takes on the form of the magnitude of the value of the products of labour." Likewise, "As values, [commodities] constitute only relations of men in their productive activity. Value indeed “implies exchanges”, but exchanges are exchanges of things between men, exchanges which in no way affect the things as such. A thing retains the same “properties” whether it be owned by A or by B. In actual fact, the concept “value” presupposes “exchanges” of the products. Where labour is communal, the relations of men in their social production do not manifest themselves as “values” of “things”. Exchange of products as commodities is a method of exchanging labour, [it demonstrates] the dependence of the labour of each upon the labour of the others [and corresponds to] a certain mode of social labour or social production." The second quote could perhaps do with some elaboration, but I think that I've written enough for now. In any case, it should make it fairly clear that value only exists in commodity production, that is, not trans-historically.

Quote:
Down with labour notes and Deleonist

I'm certainly down with labour notes and De Leonism.