Capital Vol 1 Reading Group: Chapters 1-2

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Felix Frost
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Jul 6 2011 07:11

Well, Marx does contrast individual value with social value, but in both these cases he is taking about value, and not use value.

For the most part, he uses the term "market value" instead of social value.

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 08:33
Felix Frost wrote:
For the most part, he uses the term "market value" instead of social value.

Ahhhh, now you've confused me again, Felix!

If Marx can say "The real value of a commodity is... its social value; that is to say, the real value is... measured... by the labour-time socially required for its production", how can the term 'market value' (ie. 'price') mean 'social value'?

By your logic, 'market value' thus equals 'value' (because Marx equates 'value' with 'social value', and you then equate 'social value' with 'market value', thus you must equate 'value' with 'market value').

Or I am missing something?

I would maintain that 'social value' is most clearly not 'market value'.

[edit]
To be clear, I'm claiming that 'social value' should be used by beginners as a synonym for 'value', and now I think there is textual support from Marx for my suggestion.
[end edit]

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Felix Frost
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Jul 6 2011 09:45

Market value isn't the same as market price. In the simplified model that Marx uses in Vol I of Capital, market value (or social value) would be the same as the average price that market prices fluctuate around. In other words, average prices of goods would be determined by the labour-time socially required for their production. (In reality, it's not so simple, but Marx doesn't really get around to this until Vol III.)

You are right in saying that value is social. (Ultimately value is a social relationship that is expressed as a property of things.) However, when Marx contrasts individual with social value, he is making a more technical distinction: If a capitalist can produce a product at a lower individual value that the social (or market) value of the product, he will make a bigger profit, as he will be able to sell the product at its social value and pocket the difference.

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 13:35
Felix Frost wrote:
You are right in saying that value is social.

At my state of development at the moment, I'll happily just grasp onto this statement of yours!

As to the rest, I'm only at the front end of Capital, Vol. 1, and given the difficulties of merely understanding the simple stuff, I think I'm very unlikely to graduate to Vols. 2 & 3, and so I'll have to accept your word that "Market value isn't the same as market price", as I'm not capable of judging.

My only defence is that this thread is only about Chapters 1 - 2.

And when xslavearcx moves onto the thread for chapter 3, I think I'll stick pins in my eyes as the more attractive alternative to participating.

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Khawaga
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Jul 6 2011 16:32

As I said before, LBird, I think you're right for the sake of learning to adopt social vs. individual value if it makes sense for you, but using that terminology you will run into difficulties later in the text. As Felix has pointed out, the terms individual and social value later in the text means something completely different. The former referring to the value of a commodity produced by a particular capitalist, the latter being the socially necessary value. In a nutshell, the difference between individual and social value is Marx's theory of competition/ drive for exploiting workers more.

And the thing is that use-value is also social. In that if you are to sell what you've produced to someone else they would have the need for it. Strictly it's not individual anymore since it's a relationship between two people. And the more use-value becomes social (i.e. the more production is based on exchange rather than directly satisfying needs), the deeper the division of labour becomes.

So:

Quote:
To be clear, I'm claiming that 'social value' should be used by beginners as a synonym for 'value', and now I think there is textual support from Marx for my suggestion.

if ti works for you, good. but there is no textual support for social value being a synonym for value since they refer to two very different things.

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xslavearcx
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Jul 6 2011 17:04
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xslavearcx, I'd like to tease out some of the consequences that I think follow from what you've said above, to try to help us all to understand a little bit more. It seems to me that unless we can use Marx's ideas in some way in examples that we can easily grasp, then we haven't really understood him at all. Just re-writing notes or quotes from Capital, for me anyway, doesn't do the job.

Yeah, i'd agree with that. At the moment, im just trying to be able to remember dictionary definitons as it were of the concepts involved, but as you rightly state, it is only through the application of such concepts that one can possibly develop some real understanding of what is going on. This thread is definitely going to play a good role in me getting this understanding that i'm desperate to develop...

Lbird are you saying that because, we are talking that within the market essentially old products become devalued in reference to products because, productive conditions means that more can be produced for less labour? Sorry but once numbers come into the mix my brain gets ever foggier. But if so this is where it all gets confusing to me, because this would seem to signify that value is not a constant given that productive conditions are changing all the time.

My understanding at this stage was that there was in essence, a dichotomy between value and wealth where value is constant and wealth is determined by productive conditions. I thought that magnatude of value is pretty explicitly stated value as a constant ala "Now we know the substance of value. It is labour. We know the measure of its magnitude. It is labour time"

Does this mean that my understanding of a dichotomy these concepts is completely wrong? And if so, is it possible to arrive at an underlying labour theory of value, given that value (according to my basic understanding of it as being abstract human labour measureable in labour time) itself is influenced by other factors of production?

Also, can someone explain to me the difference between individual value and social-value? I thought that value was simply abstract labour measurable in average time/duration etc which could only be revealed through the relationship between two commodites, where one commodities value is expressed in the use value of another?

Maybe I should be reading through my old notes of this chapter again, dont get the pins out just yet!!

Edited to add: Khwanga i think explains this difference, but i think at this stage im goign to try and stay very close to the particular chapter and verse im on just now...

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Jul 6 2011 17:05
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Also, can someone explain to me the difference between individual value and social-value? I thought that value was simply abstract labour measurable in average time/duration etc which could only be revealed through the relationship between two commodites, where one commodities value is expressed in the use value of another?

Since you're going through the first few chapters I wouldn't bother with it at the moment. It will make sense when you get to the production of surplus value (specifically chapter 15; the chapter on machinery). The reason why it's raised now is because Lbird has used those terms as a way for him to untangle value and use-value. But this is not how Marx uses the terms, though they are, of course, related. So don't bother re-reading the first couple of chapters to find those terms: you won't.

edit: didn't notice your edit there smile

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 17:33
xslavearcx wrote:
Lbird are you saying that because, we are talking that within the market essentially old products become devalued in reference to products because, productive conditions means that more can be produced for less labour? Sorry but once numbers come into the mix my brain gets ever foggier. But if so this is where it all gets confusing to me, because this would seem to signify that value is not a constant given that productive conditions are changing all the time.

xslavearcx, I'm trying to stay away from 'markets', 'products' or anything else in the real world at the moment, and just see if I can apply the logic, as I understand it, of what I've read and been told on this site about 'use-value', 'value' (my 'social-value'), 'wealth', 'concrete labour', 'abstract labour' and 'socially necessary labour time'.

That's why in my example I tried to show the logic using numerical values, to help contrast 'wealth' and 'social-value'. As you say, this seems to show that 'value is not a constant': coats produced on 'new' machinery have less 'social-value' than coats produced on 'old' machinery, and the old coats are moreover also reduced in 'social-value' at the same time.

Perhaps numbers don't work for you, but for me I can clearly see a relationship between 10 times more wealth versus only a tenth more 'social-value'.

Unless I can use the concepts in, for now at least, a simplified form in which they make sense and I can grasp, the term 'value' remains, like I said on an earlier thread, analogous to the Catholic church's concept of 'grace'.

That is, it's 'bollocks', used by a priesthood to mystify, not clarify, the world we workers inhabit.

And at this very moment, I'm close to reverting to that identification. We seem to always be going round in circles, where when any learner tries to make a statement about anything we are trying to learn about, a 'priest' who has already been exposed to the 'revealed truth' contradicts and complicates, rather than encourages beginners to keep learning. There's never any substance to the concepts, and everything is supposed to be taken on faith that "you'll understand one day, when you've read a bit more".

Can you tell I'm near to reaching for the box of pins? Hopefully, I'll feel better tomorrow - don't let my tantrum put you off, xslavearcx.

dave c
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Jul 6 2011 18:28
Khawaga wrote:
but there is no textual support for social value being a synonym for value since they refer to two very different things.

This comment surprised me. Didn't LBird just quote some pretty explicit textual support? (Of course "individual value" is in no way the same thing as "use-value," but that doesn't seem to be what you are dealing with)

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 18:00
xslavearcx wrote:
Also, can someone explain to me the difference between individual value and social-value?

There's no such thing as "individual value." Marx himself is quite clear on this point:

"“The reduction of different acts of concrete labour to this abstraction of equal human labour is consummated only through exchange, which in fact equalizes products of different acts of concrete labour.”

and:

"A product of labor, considered by itself in isolation, is therefore not value, anymore than it is a commodity. It only becomes value in its unity with another product of labor, or in the relationship within which the various products of labor, as crystalizations of the same unity, human labor, are equated to one another.”

So there is no "value" as an individual property of a commodity. This is precisely the fetishistic perception that Marx is attempting to tear down.

Quote:
I thought that value was simply abstract labour measurable in average time/duration

Abstract labour isn't immediately measurable in terms of hours, etc. Money is the measure of abstract labour.

The whole point of the first chapter, which is notorious for being difficult to grasp on first reading, is that Marx is logically deriving money as a form of representing value. Early Ricardian socialists wanted to know why labour-time couldn't be represented by slips of paper denoting hours worked. Proudhonians wanted to abolish money while retaining commodity production.

Marx is trying to demonstrate why a society of generalized commodity production necessitates money.

I translated a fantastic book by a German author named Michael Heinrich, which wonderfully elucidates these concepts in very easy to understand terms (and has the added advantage of covering Vols. II and III of Capital as well). It's been quite the hit in Germany and has recently been published in a 9th edition. It's become sort of the standard secondary text in Capital reading groups.

Unfortunately, two leftist publishers in the English-speaking world have already rejected it, which is a shame because I think a lot of people trying to make sense of Capital would benefit from this book.

dave c
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Jul 6 2011 18:20
Angelus Novus wrote:
There's no such thing as "individual value."

I think the reference is to Marx's usage of this phrase in chapter 12, which had just been quoted. Saying there is no such thing probably won't elucidate what Marx is doing there, am I right?

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 18:39

Yeah, some unnecessarily confusing useage on Marx's part:

Quote:
The real value of a commodity is, however, not its individual value, but its social value; that is to say, the real value is not measured by the labour-time that the article in each individual case costs the producer, but by the labour-time socially required for its production.

In other words, the real value is the "value" as already conceptually determined by Marx in Chapter 1. Given that the substance of value has already been determined as socially necessary abstract labour time, it's sloppy for Marx to use it in the sense of concrete labour expenditure measurable in hours.

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888
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Jul 6 2011 18:41

LBird/xslavearc, don't give up, the exact terminology isn't vital as long as the general idea is well understood. I am at Chapter 15 rigth now and the last few chapters have been fairly straight forward, it's really chapters 1-3 that are a mess because of the way they are laid out and the subtle terminological differences that don't matter that much unless you are a Marx scholar.

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888
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Jul 6 2011 18:49
Angelus Novus wrote:
I translated a fantastic book by a German author named Michael Heinrich, which wonderfully elucidates these concepts in very easy to understand terms (and has the added advantage of covering Vols. II and III of Capital as well). It's been quite the hit in Germany and has recently been published in a 9th edition. It's become sort of the standard secondary text in Capital reading groups.

That sounds interesting, is there any chance we could have a sneak peek at it?

Also, you could try Amazon for publishing kdp.amazon.com/ and https://www.createspace.com/ - they might be convenient and quick ways of getting it out there if you're unconcerned about the particular publisher.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 18:51
888 wrote:
it's really chapters 1-3 that are a mess because of the way they are laid out and the subtle terminological differences that don't matter that much unless you are a Marx scholar.

I wouldn't say the terminological differences "don't matter", but I would agree that the "official" version of Chapter 1 isn't very clear for the first time reader. Marx kept revising Chapter 1 because of Engels and Kugelmann thinking the original version was too difficult.

There are a lot of Marx scholars who try to make sense of it by comparing the text of the 1st and 2nd edition, as well as the revision manuscripts (some of which had been incorporated into the French translation overseen by Marx, but weirdly enough not in the official German version in MEW23).

The thing is, the casual attitude toward the first three chapters that they "don't matter" is precisely the reason why most available introductions to Capital are crap, because they don't adequately address the distinction between Marx's value theory and the pre-Marx "labour theory of value".

The most irritating reading is in the Francis Wheen biography, which tries to argue that Marx is being intentionally absurd or having a joke at the reader's expense.

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888
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Jul 6 2011 18:51

Well perhaps not that they don't matter, but they have potential for a lot of confusion, and it's better to move on and then revisit them later.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 18:54
888 wrote:
Also, you could try Amazon for publishing kdp.amazon.com/ and https://www.createspace.com/ - they might be convenient and quick ways of getting it out there if you're unconcerned about the particular publisher.

Still trying a few other publishers, hoping someone will take a bite. The thing is, I think a lot of publishers assume that if you've seen one Capital introduction you've seen them all, and are complete uninterested in the research on Marx conducted in (West and East) Germany in the past 40 years. It seems like English radical publishers, to the extent that they're interested in Marxian stuff at all, are only interested in French Maoist philosophers or Slovenian psychoanalysts. Actual economics-oriented work from the land of Marx's birth seems to be not as much of interest.

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Jul 6 2011 19:08
Angelus Novus wrote:
Proudhonians wanted to abolish money while retaining commodity production.

Technically their scheme was to abolish the gold standard and allow the government to print fiat money, which they believed would allow the rate of interest to be lowered to the minimum needed to cover transaction costs. The corresponding expansion of credit was expected to allow the working-class to start their own business' and out-compete the capitalists. It wasn't so much a question of the abolition of money as the abolition of commodity money, although I am fairly convinced that Marx was a commodity-money theorist so it's roughly the same thing.

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 19:14
Angelus Novus wrote:
Yeah, some unnecessarily confusing useage on Marx's part:...

Christ, I could cry at this!

As if his fuckin' book wasn't difficult enough, he also tossed in a bit of 'confusing usage'...

888 wrote:
LBird/xslavearc, don't give up...

Nah, I won't yet, mate. I'm just letting off steam.

Though I might take a slight diversion into learning the rather more obviously understood mysteries of Catholic 'grace'. It seems to me that if I'd persevered at five years old a bit longer with 'grace', I'd have had more chance of 'seeing the light' than I have now with 'value'.

At least Father Dempsey laid off the 'confusing usage': in comparison, he was a model of clear exposition. Oh, to have the certainties of Catholicism once more...

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 19:28

LBird, do you know the famous "Letter to Kugelmann"? It's not a panacea by any means but I think it helps a bit in untangling the gist of Marx's value theory:

Quote:
And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products.
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Jul 6 2011 19:31
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This comment surprised me. Didn't LBird just quote some pretty explicit textual support? (Of course "individual value" is in no way the same thing as "use-value," but that doesn't seem to be what you are dealing with)

Well, in that quote the only reason Marx uses social value is to counterpose it with the individual value produced by a particular capitalist. So individual value refers to the value of commodities that one capitalist has produced, whereas social value refers to the value of the same commodity as established by socially necessary labour-time. If the individual value is greater than social value, the capitalist will still have to sell it at its social value (well s/he could try, but it likely wouldn't sell well). On the other hand, if, because of increased productivity, the individual value is lower then social value the capitalist is in a sweet spot. S/he can sell the commodity lower than social value, but higher than its individual value and thus earn higher profits. So social value is not different from value per se (so in that case LBird is correct), but the reason it reads social in that chapter is to clarify it against the individual value produced by one capitalist/business. Value is per. definition social. But counterposing social value to individual (use) value can be confusing since use-value is also social. Indeed both value and use-value have to be social, otherwise the commodity wouldn't be sold.

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 19:45
Angelus Novus wrote:
LBird, do you know the famous "Letter to Kugelmann"? It's not a panacea by any means but I think it helps a bit in untangling the gist of Marx's value theory: ...

Well, you've got me laughing out loud at myself now, Angelus!

The only bits that I understood were "And every child knows...", and "It is self-evident...", which is truly ironic, isn't it?

I only wish I was that child, who 'knows', and to whom it is all 'self-evident'.

Still chuckling, mate. Do you know Frank Carson?

LBird
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Jul 6 2011 20:13
xslavearcx wrote:
Lbird are you saying that because, we are talking that within the market essentially old products become devalued in reference to products because, productive conditions means that more can be produced for less labour? Sorry but once numbers come into the mix my brain gets ever foggier. But if so this is where it all gets confusing to me, because this would seem to signify that value is not a constant given that productive conditions are changing all the time.

xslavearcx, I've just thought of a non-numerical example to explain the idea of 'value' suddenly being lost because of new technological production.

When the new Royal Navy battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought was introduced in 1906, it was so technologically advanced that it made the entire world's battleships all obsolete, including the whole battleship fleet of the Royal Navy.

So, the RN's overwhelming power of dozens of battleships over all the rest of the world's navies put together was wiped out at a stroke, and now the RN only had an advantage of 1.

If you read 'naval power' as 'value', it might help. The previous 'value' was destroyed by new, more advanced production - 'value' is not constant.

Hope this helps.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 6 2011 21:15
LBird wrote:
The only bits that I understood were "And every child knows...", and "It is self-evident...", which is truly ironic, isn't it?

Well, Marx was from the Rhineland, so you known he's got that rather Catholic sense of irony. Add to that fact that he was from a family of Rabbinical converts to Lutheranism (in a region of Germany where Protestants are a minority!) and you get a sense of layered irony. wink

But seriously, the first three Chapters of Capital are wicked irritating, especially the first one. When Marx speaks of his "flirting" with Hegelian modes of expression, one really wishes he had chosen a simpler way of expressing himself. And I wouldn't have spent a good year or so of my life translating a work of secondary literature into English if I thought that Capital could be easily grasped on its own.

I spent a few painful sessions in my first Capital reading group where Martin Glaberman had to beat the notion out of my head that housework was value-producing. At the time I was convinced by some of Harry Cleaver's ideas.

My point though was that the letter to Kugelmann illustrates what the point of Marx's value theory is, namely a theory of how labour in capitalist society is allocated among different branches of production. Freddy Perlman is also good on this in his introduction to Rubin's book (I think that's on Libcom, do a search).

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Still chuckling, mate. Do you know Frank Carson?

Sorry, my comedic heroes are Titanic magazine and Chris Rock. twisted

dave c
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Jul 7 2011 02:25

Khawaga, you've got to admit that your previous statement that "value" and "social value" refer to "two very different things" is quite different from your later statement:

Khawaga wrote:
So social value is not different from value per se (so in that case LBird is correct), but the reason it reads social in that chapter is to clarify it against the individual value produced by one capitalist/business.

The latter statement I do not object to at all. Perhaps you were making a more esoteric point earlier, but clarity should be the aim, right? So I would just say: In that discussion in chapter 12, Marx describes value as "social value." This makes sense because he has already in chapter 1 described how the magnitude of value is determined by a social norm: socially necessary labor-time. There would be no need to qualify "value" in this way were it not for the contrast Marx is drawing with "individual value," which is "measured by the labour-time that the article cost the producer in each individual case." (Penguin, 434, emphasis added) To identify "individual value" with "use-value," however, would be more than a bit confusing. "Individual value" refers to an immaterial quantum of labor expended in production, while use-values "constitute the material content of wealth." (126) Furthermore, labor is not, for Marx, the only source of material wealth. (134) To summarize: calling value "social value" is in itself unproblematic with regard to trying to understand Marx; calling individual value "use-value" is problematic.

LBird
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Jul 7 2011 08:05
dave c wrote:
To identify "individual value" with "use-value," however, would be more than a bit confusing.

Dave, I'm at fault for this confusion about 'individual value', not Khawaga. On an earlier thread, when I was trying to understand myself, and to help other beginners, I thought that stressing the big difference between 'use-value' and 'value' as being the difference between 'individual-value' and 'social-value' would be helpful to beginners.

FWIW, I'm still of the opinion that this is helpful. Making it plain that 'use-value' is something that an individual person on their own can see, feel or estimate (and indeed, use), whereas in contrast 'value' is not able to be seen, felt or estimated by an individual, but only estimated by society; hence my employment of 'social-value' as a synonym for 'value'.

Clearly, when I came to this conclusion earlier, I wasn't aware of the later issues in Capital about 'individual value' which have since emerged, on this thread.

dave c wrote:
To summarize: calling value "social value" is in itself unproblematic with regard to trying to understand Marx; calling individual value "use-value" is problematic.

I accept that this is true, when reading the later chapters of Capital, but for chapters 1-2 I still think it can be helpful as a device to contrast two terms, the meanings and usage of which are very unfamiliar and confusing to beginners.

Once again, my fault for the confusion. Sorry.

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Jul 7 2011 11:05
888 wrote:
Well perhaps not that they don't matter, but they have potential for a lot of confusion, and it's better to move on and then revisit them later.

I think this is key. Modern textbooks are structured such that you must master chapter 1 before (complete with little test questions at the end of the chapter) before you can progress to chapter 2 and so on.

This just doesn't work with Capital (Marx's process & sequence of exposition is almost the complete opposite of the textbook model). The thing is to grit your teeth and get through chapters 1-3 as best you can, in the first instance, without worrying too much about the bits you dont "get". Then press on with the rest of the book (and indeed the other two volumes).

The attempt to "master" chapter 1 before reading the rest is both misguided and doomed to failure. Particularly as ch 1 is inseparable from the battleground of value theory, which is a site where rage marxist religious wars of a character so interminable and intractable that they make the Thirty Years War look like a minor spat on the way home from the pub.

dave c
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Jul 7 2011 15:54
LBird wrote:
Once again, my fault for the confusion. Sorry.

No need to apologize. I was aware of the history of the discussion. I don't share your opinion about encouraging beginners to call value and use-value "social value" and "individual value." This is partly because I think it encourages a misunderstanding of what Marx means by "use-value," thus obscuring the distinction between value and material wealth, and possibly making the discussion of the form of value more difficult than it already is. I realize this probably doesn't seem like a clear reason at all, but if it is any help, I made a relevant argument against a common misunderstanding of "use-value" in post #58 here: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/questions-concerning-marxs-capital-11032011?page=1 If my argument on that thread is unclear to you, I would say don't get hung up on it. You seem to have understood a key aspect of the distinction between value and use-value anyway: that producing an increased number of commodities doesn't necessarily mean an increase in total value.

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Jul 7 2011 16:57
Dave C wrote:
The latter statement I do not object to at all. Perhaps you were making a more esoteric point earlier, but clarity should be the aim, right?

You're right. Clarity should be the aim. My point was more with the argument Marx makes in chapter 15 and the confusion that using "individual value" as short-hand for use value might cause at a later point in Capital. So I didn't make myself clear. The "not any textual support for" was about individual value really, not social value. But I see that I didn't make that clear at all.

LBird: I think that if the usage of social and individual worked for you to understand the concept better, then awesome. But I am not sure that it will help others. Still, I do know folks that do almost the same, though they refer to subjective rather than individual value to get their heads around use value.

LBird
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Jul 8 2011 08:59
Khawaga wrote:
LBird: I think that if the usage of social and individual worked for you to understand the concept better, then awesome. But I am not sure that it will help others. Still, I do know folks that do almost the same, though they refer to subjective rather than individual value to get their heads around use value.

Yeah, this usage of 'subjective-value' seems to me to be very similar to my term 'individual-value' in its intention: that is, to help a beginner clarify the difference between 'use-value' and 'value'.

As you say, it certainly has helped me (going by dave c's comment that "You seem to have understood a key aspect of the distinction between value and use-value anyway: that producing an increased number of commodities doesn't necessarily mean an increase in total value") to at least start to get to grips with difficult concepts.

Again, as you say, it might not help others. At the end of the day, we're all interested in trying to help others to come to some understanding of Capital. If it works as a tool for some, then I'm happy. If it doesn't work for most, then there are other strategies offered here to help comprehension.

I don't think that there is a right or a wrong answer. It's a 'tool', not the 'truth'.

Perhaps xslavearcx and others will be the best judge of its utility.