The German Debate on the Monetary Theory of Value

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Noa Rodman
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Aug 3 2017 16:54
Jura wrote:
Well, OK, but this is different from Marxian SNLT. Your SNLT is just the arithmetic average over individual labor times. The "L" in your SNLT is not abstract labor.

The commodity that is most universally accepted represents abstract labor (which is identical as its concrete labor). So in this intermediate stage between barter and the settled full value-form (money), which we are discussing (roughly 7000 years of human history), e.g. the labor for cattle, salt, or copper, etc. would have been (closest to) abstract.

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OK, so no fetishism, then, no law asserting itself similarly to the law of gravity, no opaque system of division of labor... but conscious calculation on the part of agents. Why would they bother with commodity exchange, then?

They bother because there's already some division of labor, but not so complex that it becomes opaque. The point Engels made about fetishism is that it is caused by the usually foreign origin of precious metals, so that local people don't know how much labor went into it. Though I think there were also local mines where people did have an idea. In any case if it happens that A and B don't know what the other's product is worth (its SNLT), then they could still compare it to a third product that they do know, eg cattle, which acts as proto-measure of value (hence the supposed difficulties of barter are often overstated).

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And do note that the example of Reuven and Shimon even forbids activities A and B that are "exchanged" to be different or even to be performed in different seasons.

It's not forbidding exchange of different labors per se, just that the principle of equality should be applied (i.e. work of the same difficulty/intensity).

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All the "work" of reducing and equating that is done objectively, through the market, in commodity exchange is already done here ex ante by the norm. This example is completely irrelevant even to a discussion of precapitalist commodity exchange. It simply isn't what you take it for.

The point is that they were already aware that different labors can have different intensities.

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jura
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Aug 3 2017 19:30
Noa Rodman wrote:
The commodity that is most universally accepted represents abstract labor (which is identical as its concrete labor). So in this intermediate stage between barter and the settled full value-form (money), which we are discussing (roughly 7000 years of human history), e.g. the labor for cattle, salt, or copper, etc. would have been (closest to) abstract.

I think you're evading the issue. Suppose you're correct and there's a commodity M for which concrete labor is immediately social labor. The real issue is how do you reduce the different concrete labors (and labor times) producing any commodity A to the concrete and immediately abstract labor producing commodity M. There are varying labor times (productivities and intensities) for commodity A. Which one do you pick? I don't think you can say we simply calculate the arithmetic average because you don't know the input values – unless you suppose that these peasants kept records of labor times of all their "competitors" and then used arithmetic to calculate the average labor time. They'd have to do this for all commodities which they exchange. I think it's much more reasonable to suppose that it was hit and miss, with lots of "political", extra-economic intervention, habitual pricing and sheer theft/usury/racketeering going on (all of which fits well into the image of precapitalist societies we have).

(I'm disregarding here the fact that socially necessary labor time isn't simply average labor time – the quantities produced and the amounts the market can stomach also matter, so it's more like a "weighted average".)

Noa Rodman wrote:
They bother because there's already some division of labor, but not so complex that it becomes opaque. The point Engels made about fetishism is that it is caused by the usually foreign origin of precious metals, so that local people don't know how much labor went into it. Though I think there were also local mines where people did have an idea. In any case if it happens that A and B don't know what the other's product is worth (its SNLT), then they could still compare it to a third product that they do know, eg cattle, which acts as proto-measure of value (hence the supposed difficulties of barter are often overstated).

Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to suppose that somehow there was a division of labor that naturally led to development of the market, which the peasants willingly turned to as an "opportunity", as some little medieval or ancient NEPmen, which then led to more market expansion, the division of labor becoming more opaque etc. This is very much like the "commercialization" model in Smith and some marxists. I think this is very problematic, as shown by the research done by Brenner and his followers.

Noa Rodman wrote:
It's not forbidding exchange of different labors per se, just that the principle of equality should be applied (i.e. work of the same difficulty/intensity).

I think the text it's pretty clear on this:

"Just as two different types of labor may not be exchanged for one another, so too the same labor may not be exchanged for the same labor if they are done during different seasons."

Noa Rodman wrote:
The point is that they were already aware that different labors can have different intensities.

Surely that's a fact of basic experience which predates even class society.

Dave B
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Aug 3 2017 19:59

Not been following this one but.

Post 28

Quote:
……..The real question is how the individual labor times would be reduced to social labor time in precapitalist commodity exchange, in the absence of the mechanisms that Marx describes as essential for this reduction in capitalism……..

Answer from Rubin;

.

Quote:
For the simple commodity producer, the difference in the conditions of production in two different branches appear as different conditions for the engagement of labor in them. In a simple commodity economy, the exchange of 10 hours of labor in one branch of production, for example shoemaking, for the product of 8 hours of labor in another branch, for example clothing production, necessarily leads (if the shoemaker and clothesmaker are equally qualified) to different advantages of production in the two branches, and to the transfer of labor from shoemaking to clothing production. Assuming complete mobility of labor in the commodity economy, every more or less significant difference in the advantage of production generates a tendency for the transfer of labor from the less advantageous branch of production to the more advantageous. This tendency remains until the less advantageous branch is confronted by a direct threat of economic collapse and finds it impossible to continue production because of unfavorable conditions for the sale of its products on the market.

In conditions of simple commodity production, equal advantage of production in different branches presupposes an exchange of commodities which is proportional to the quantities of labor expended on their production.

this whole chain of phenomena, which was not adequately examined by Marx's critics and was elucidated by Marx's theory of value, refers equally to a simple commodity economy and to a capitalist economy. But the quantitative side of value also interested Marx, if it was related to the function of value as regulator of the distribution of labor. The quantitative proportions in which things exchange are expressions of the law of proportional distribution of social labor. Labor value and price of production are different manifestations of the same law of distribution of labor in conditions of simple commodity production and in the capitalist society. [9] The equilibrium and the allocation of labor are the basis of value and its changes both in the simple commodity economy and in the capitalist economy. This is the meaning of Marx's theory of "labor" value.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch11.htm

if you don’t understand that I may bother to explain it later.

Noa Rodman
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Aug 3 2017 21:07
Jura wrote:
how do you reduce the different concrete labors (and labor times) producing any commodity A to the concrete and immediately abstract labor producing commodity M.

It's the same as asking how to compare concrete labors, since the reduction of concrete labor of A to abstract labor of M, is nothing but the same as the comparison of concrete labor of A to concrete labor of M. As you wrote, it is "a fact of basic experience" that different labors can have different intensities, so I guess by custom some proportion was established.

Quote:
There are varying labor times (productivities and intensities) for commodity A. Which one do you pick?

Mind you, we're not talking about vastly different (or, in composition of capital), rapidly changing production methods. There was only one kind of way often in use for many centuries by everyone.

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I don't think you can say we simply calculate the arithmetic average because you don't know the input values

We all are pretty average, no need to calculate it.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to suppose that somehow there was a division of labor that naturally led to development of the market, which the peasants willingly turned to as an "opportunity", as some little medieval or ancient NEPmen, which then led to more market expansion, the division of labor becoming more opaque etc. This is very much like the "commercialization" model in Smith and some marxists. I think this is very problematic, as shown by the research done by Brenner and his followers.

I guess so, but don't know why it's problematic. Simple commodity producers basically = free peasants. In post nr. 5 I gave a summary of 1500 years of European history documenting their existence.

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jura
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Aug 3 2017 23:58
Rubin wrote:
Assuming complete mobility of labor in the commodity economy

Well there you go.

If I'm not mistaken Rubin thought that the "simple commodity economy" he describes is a theoretical tool, not a particular historical period. I'm OK with that. I think the first three chapters of Capital describe a pure commodity economy. The description corresponds to the surface of bourgeois society. I don't think it corresponds to anything much before capitalism, although, like I said, it can be used to an extent to make sense of commodity production without capitalism.

Edit: Turns out Rubin does indeed view the "simple commodity economy" as a theoretical abstraction of capitalist relations:

Rubin wrote:
In capitalist society this average price is not proportional to the labor value of the product, i.e., to the quantity of labor necessary for its production, but is proportional to the so-called "price of production," which equals the costs of production for the given product plus the average profit on the invested capital. However, to simplify the analysis we can abstract the fact that the cloth is produced by the capitalist with the help of wage laborers. Marx's method, as we have seen above, consists of separating and analyzing individual types of production relations which only in their entirety give a picture of the capitalist economy. For the time being we are concerned only with one basic type of production relation among people in a commodity economy, namely the relation among people as commodity producers who are separate and formally independent from each other. We know only that the cloth is produced by the commodity producers and is taken to the market to be exchanged or sold to other commodity producers. We are dealing with a society of commodity producers, with a so-called "simple commodity economy" as opposed to a more complex capitalist economy.

I fully agree with this.

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jura
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Aug 4 2017 00:01
Noa Rodman wrote:
It's the same as asking how to compare concrete labors, since the reduction of concrete labor of A to abstract labor of M, is nothing but the same as the comparison of concrete labor of A to concrete labor of M. As you wrote, it is "a fact of basic experience" that different labors can have different intensities, so I guess by custom some proportion was established.

I think you're confusing two things. Labors A and B producing the same product can have different intensities. One of the laborers simply puts in more effort. This is an observable fact, and one can tell which of the two labors is more intensive. By measuring output (during equal labor times), one can even calculate how much more intensive.

Labors A and M producing different products are qualitatively heterogeneous. You can measure the individual labor times and "compare" them, but essentially you're comparing apples and oranges. These labors may require different skills, one is more difficult for most people than the other, they are simply labors of a different type. We know that in capitalist commodity production, such labors are routinely reduced to homogeneous abstract labor. This happens in competition, through the mobility of capital (and labor), through pressures towards economy in the use of commodified inputs etc. How does it work in precapitalist commodity production without capital, with extremely limited mobility of labor, with limited competition and with non-commodified inputs into the labor process?

Noa Rodman wrote:
Mind you, we're not talking about vastly different (or, in composition of capital), rapidly changing production methods. There was only one kind of way often in use for many centuries by everyone.

How do you know that? There were some advances in the productivity of agricultural labor in medieval times. Also, there are always natural differences the fertility of land, in skill etc.

It would actually be interesting to look at what was commonly traded and by whom. I guess interregional and international trade was much more important than the internal one.

BTW, here are historical nominal prices of grain in Britain from 1270 to 1620. Here's a paper which constructs various price indices for agricultural products from the 1200s to 1914.

Noa Rodman wrote:
I guess so, but don't know why it's problematic. Simple commodity producers basically = free peasants. In post nr. 5 I gave a summary of 1500 years of European history documenting their existence.

You can have free peasants with little commodity exchange, as long as there's relative autarky and access to the commons. I think E. M. Wood's book on the emergence of capitalism is a good critique of the commercialization view. It concentrates specifically on England and shows that the turn to the market and commodity production was not free peasants taking advantage of an opportunity (and gradually evolving into capitalists), but a rupture in which dispossessed peasants were forced by rapidly changing conditions to lease land or work directly for protocapitalist tenants. But I guess you've read that.

Noa Rodman
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Aug 4 2017 08:17
Jura wrote:
they are simply labors of a different type. We know that in capitalist commodity production, such labors are routinely reduced to homogeneous abstract labor. This happens in competition, through the mobility of capital (and labor),

In capitalism they're reduced to abstract labor (of the money-commodity, gold) but which is still also concrete labor, so effectively concrete labors are compared to one concrete labor. The concrete labor of gold production is "reduced" (or better, is simply identical) to the abstract labor of gold production. This is not due to competition, but already due to the (pre-capitalist) emergence of the value form (money).

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How do you know that? There were some advances in the productivity of agricultural labor in medieval times.

True, as Harman noted (in his book, now deleted from the libcom library), but still obviously it didn't happen as fast as in capitalism.

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I guess interregional and international trade was much more important than the internal one.

That was Marx's guess too, but elsewhere he also wrote that the relation among simple commodity producers can be regarded as one between foreign communities.

Quote:
You can have free peasants with little commodity exchange, as long as there's relative autarky and access to the commons. I think E. M. Wood's book on the emergence of capitalism is a good critique of the commercialization view.

Yes, but in my post I also presented quotes that support the hypothesis that commercialization among them was more wide-spread than the mainstream believes. (for the authorship of the quotes, see comments in this thread).

And commercialization is something different from the emergence of capitalism. I don't argue that commercialization leads to capitalism. The historical reading of Marx's first chapter is that the increase of commerce gradually leads to the value-form money. The first chapter is not about the emergence of capital.

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jura
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Aug 4 2017 08:29

Noa, thanks for the debate. However, I don't see the point of posting any more unless we move to discussing what I think is the key issue, i.e., how the law of value would have operated in a context of limited competition (and even a limited extent of the market in terms of the relative numbers of agents and kinds of commodities), absence of labor mobility, non-commodified inputs in the production process, and perpetual extraeconomic interventions. The question is what particular social forces cause the prices to reflect socially necessary labor time and how these forces appear to the producers. In other words, how did the "real abstraction" operate in precapitalist commodity production. Relating something to money and exchanging that thing for money is one part of the process. I guess it's a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. The other part is the mechanism that operates behind the backs of the producers. I think this is also a necessary condition. I'm asking about this mechanism.

After this discussion one could look at the evidence and try to find traces of that mechanism and its operation.

Noa Rodman
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Aug 4 2017 11:10
Jura wrote:
how the law of value would have operated in a context of limited competition (and even a limited extent of the market in terms of the relative numbers of agents and kinds of commodities),

Not sure what you mean by the mechanism of unlimited competition ("behind the back"). Free competition in supply and demand can actually lead to artificial monopoly.

Marx wrote:
For prices at which commodities are exchanged to approximately correspond to their values, nothing more is necessary than 1) for the exchange of the various commodities to cease being purely accidental or only occasional; 2) so far as direct exchange of commodities is concerned, for these commodities to be produced on both sides in approximately sufficient quantities to meet mutual requirements, something learned from mutual experience in trading and therefore a natural outgrowth of continued trading; and 3) so far as selling is concerned, for no natural or artificial monopoly to enable either of the contracting sides to sell commodities above their value or to compel them to undersell. By accidental monopoly we mean a monopoly which a buyer or seller acquires through an accidental state of supply and demand.

Is the situation Marx envisages here then one of competition according to your definition?

Quote:
absence of labor mobility,

The absence of the mobility of means of production is the condition for the "pure" law of value in SCP (as against price of production in capitalism):

Marx wrote:
Apart from the domination of prices and price movement by the law of value, it is quite appropriate to regard the values of commodities as not only theoretically but also historically prius to the prices of production. This applies to conditions in which the labourer owns his means of production, and this is the condition of the land-owning farmer living off his own labour and the craftsman, in the ancient as well as in the modern world. This agrees also with the view we expressed previously that the evolution of products into commodities arises through exchange between different communities, not between the members of the same community. It holds not only for this primitive condition, but also for subsequent conditions, based on slavery and serfdom, and for the guild organisation of handicrafts, so long as the means of production involved in each branch of production can be transferred from one sphere to another only with difficulty and therefore the various spheres of production are related to one another, within certain limits, as foreign countries or communist communities.

Or e.g. do you mean by competition that the SNLT will eliminate producers whose productivity falls below the average, thereby strengthening the domination of the standard? Or is it the abstract drive of profit for its own sake (M-C-M)? I wonder, because your argument is that the mechanism for the law of value can only be competition, there was no competition, ergo no law of value.

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perpetual extraeconomic interventions

We can abstract from extraeconomic interventions, just like we can abstract from other modes of production that existed alongside SCP (something Parvus didn't understand in his 1895 critique of Engels when he pointed to the feudal lord's exploitation of his subjects, whereas Engels had in mind free peasants or craftsmen). Btw, in the first chapter Marx does not construct some pure model of SCP (where all society's labour is involved in simple commodity production). Again, SCP occurs alongside other modes of production (e.g. production for own use).

If it is possible to estimate the labor time that went into a product on an individual basis, then comparisons can be made, and if producers want to exchange it on a equal principle, and they're both free men, they will do so.

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jura
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Aug 4 2017 12:03
Noa Rodman wrote:
The absence of the mobility of means of production is the condition for the "pure" law of value in SCP (as against price of production in capitalism):

I meant the absence of mobility of labor. If producers can't move between branches of production easily, then they can't really respond to signals from the market properly and thereby execute the law of value practically. This is also related to what you've pointed out, i.e., the elimination (or lack of it) of less efficient producers in the sense that they move to a different branch or withdraw from production entirely.

Noa Rodman wrote:
We can abstract from extraeconomic interventions, just like we can abstract from other modes of production that existed alongside SCP

This is a good point. I guess if we do that, we end up with an abstraction of pure commodity production and exchange governed by the law of value (with full labor mobility, competition within branches and between branches), i.e., that which is described in chapters 1 - 3. As long as there is no pretense to historical and empirical accuracy with regard to precapitalist societies (or commodity production within these societies), I have no problem with this. I still won't call it "simple commodity production" for terminological reasons.

Noa Rodman
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Aug 4 2017 12:31
Quote:
I meant the absence of mobility of labor.

There was no reserve army, but there was mobility of labor between branches. Free peasants can choose what they will grow/breed. (or to take a more extreme example, the return to the country side by many Petrograd workers following the October revolution).

Quote:
As long as there is no pretense to historical and empirical accuracy with regard to precapitalist societies (or commodity production within these societies), I have no problem with this.

Any investigation must make abstractions. Similarly, like I said before, in the analysis of capitalism we can abstract from monopoly, state intervention etc.

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jura
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Aug 4 2017 13:03
Noa Rodman wrote:
There was no reserve army, but there was mobility of labor between branches. Free peasants can choose what they will grow/breed. (or to take a more extreme example, the return to the country side by many Petrograd workers following the October revolution).

You'd have to show that there was indeed free choice. I very much doubt it, given that (I assume) a larger part of their production was for subsistence and mostly surpluses were traded. Well, maybe if we assume they were ready to eat pretty much anything. But I think agricultural production was pretty rigid in this sense. And I guess there would have been many other barriers, like the quality of land, the skills required, the means of production necessary etc. Another problem is that it would have been difficult to extend existing production in response to market signals, given the limited market (and limited fertility, as well as productivity) in land in many precapitalist societies.

Edit: Major advances in agricultural productivity and the whole discourse on "improvement" only came about as a result of the emergence of capitalist relations in the countryside. They were the result of market pressure towards efficiency (i.e., the law of value in operation) in competition and the producers (I mean the capitalists in agriculture) didn't have much choice other than to follow the trend. On the other hand, the development of labor productivity in agriculture in precapitalist societies was rather slow. I think this could be interpreted to mean that market pressures in these societies were generally pretty soft, i.e., the operation of the law of value was curtailed by the availability of other avenues to producers.

But this (the supposed mobility in a particular precapitalist society) is at least a hypothesis one can test.

Noa Rodman wrote:
Any investigation must make abstractions. Similarly, like I said before, in the analysis of capitalism we can abstract from monopoly, state intervention etc.

The nature of these abstractions does matter, though. In precapitalist societies, non-commodity production was dominant (as I think you'd agree). So when we abstract from the influence of non-commodity production and the related institutions in precapitalist societies on commodity production in these societies, we are in fact abstracting from the dominant causal factors in that society. Hence what you end up with is a less realistic abstraction, with regard to commodity production in precapitalist society, than when you abstract from state intervention or monopoly in a capitalist society, where these factors (I think we may assume) are subordinate to (capitalist) commodity production.

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Pennoid
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Aug 4 2017 16:50

If I'm understanding the discussion correctly, the contentions are this;

1. Primarily, whether or not Simple Commodity Production corresponds to some set of historically extant social relations. It is manifestly apparent that commodities were produced in exactly the way Noa quotes Marx; if I'm not mistaken, Roman agriculture engaged in the production of olives and olive oil (to name one) which was exported in exchange for grain. The dominant production relations were based on antique slavery, and to an extent so were distribution relations; never the less you have a "community" as marx put's it, exchanging with another.

2. Is Simple Commodity Production a MoP? I'd argue no in the sense of Antique, Feudalism, Capitalism. It might be better explained as the germ form of capitalism in these prior societies. Or it might refer to a set or relations in these societies that eventually grew into capitalism.

3. By what mechanism(s) does the law of value operate in SCP? Well, what would the law of value need to operate? Jura is arguing that labor mobility is necessary. I'm not sure. The thesis presented by Noa, based on Dunaevsky and some quotes from Marx and Engels is that the Law of Value operates in *some* form where commodity production obtains; and operates in a specific form in capitalism (via prices of production). There is a certain and reasonable logic there. Arguably, all you need for the law of value to operate is a surplus and the existence of exchange, no? Especially as a division of labor based on specialization occurs you are apt to have a dynamic where the ability to secure necessities by their purchase with money gotten as a result of the production of some useful object is in play, whether or not the production utilizes slave labor, family labor, or wage labor.

Appreciate the exchange. A minor note; I feel that Rubin, and by way of him, Heinrich and VFT theory promotes a sort of anti-political marxism as a result of their kind of metaphysical reading of value. By exorcising history, they exorcise the unfolding of class struggle and the relevant political implications. I don't think this is intentional but I think it has a result in their strawman critique of "world view" marxism etc.

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jura
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Aug 4 2017 17:35
Pennoid wrote:
It is manifestly apparent that commodities were produced in exactly the way Noa quotes Marx; if I'm not mistaken, Roman agriculture engaged in the production of olives and olive oil (to name one) which was exported in exchange for grain.

This is not a point of contention at all. Of course commodities were produced long before capitalism. The debate here is about how this commodity production was regulated. My position is basically that prices weren't equal to values.

Pennoid wrote:
It might be better explained as the germ form of capitalism in these prior societies. Or it might refer to a set or relations in these societies that eventually grew into capitalism.

I don't think Noa believes this. I certainly don't. This is basically the commercialization model.

Commodity production was a necessary condition for the emergence of capitalism, but not a sufficient one, and it didn't naturally "grew into" capitalism. Commodity production, even very developed, existed in multiple countries before the emergence of capitalism. Only in Britain did capitalism actually develop (at first, in agriculture) and the decisive factor was the disposession of peasants (which itself was a result of other factors). EM Wood's The Origin of Capitalism is an excellent exposition of this view, including the critique of the commercialization model.

Pennoid wrote:
Arguably, all you need for the law of value to operate is a surplus and the existence of exchange, no? Especially as a division of labor based on specialization occurs you are apt to have a dynamic where the ability to secure necessities by their purchase with money gotten as a result of the production of some useful object is in play, whether or not the production utilizes slave labor, family labor, or wage labor.

There are many hidden assumptions here. For example,that necessities are acquired on the market. Was there really an internal market in necessities in precapitalist Britain? Did peasants, even free peasants routinely acquire necessities on the market? Did they acquire most of their means of production on the market? Well, if I remember correctly, Brenner, Wood et al. show they didn't, they show that an internal market in food only emerged as a result of capitalism in agriculture, and this internal market was a necessary condition for the emergence of industrial capitalism.

(Nevertheless, I still fail to see how what you've describe leads to prices which reflect socially necessary labor time.)

Pennoid wrote:
A minor note; I feel that Rubin, and by way of him, Heinrich and VFT theory promotes a sort of anti-political marxism as a result of their kind of metaphysical reading of value.

Oh, please don't. I really don't like this sort of amalgamating of different things (Rubin, Heinrich and whatever "value-form theory" means to you). These are actually different positions. Also, the whole argument from "undesirable political consequences" is pretty weak. You can't reasonably judge a theory (if we agree that what we are dealing with here is a scientific theory) by its political implications. It's a bit like saying Lenin isn't worth reading because of Cheka arresting and shooting strikers. Wink, wink.

Also, it's just wrong. Arguably, one of the schools in "VFT theory" is Open Marxism, which is basically a merger of Italian workerism and the German "new reading of Marx". There's nothing anti-political or anti-class struggle about it. You may not like the politics (I don't know your preferences), but it certainly isn't anti-political. I don't think there's anything inherently anti-political about Heinrich, either. And Rubin was an academic economist and a Menshevik.

Noa Rodman
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Aug 4 2017 17:59
Quote:
the development of labor productivity in agriculture in precapitalist societies was rather slow.

fwiw, quote from Harman's People's history of the world:

Chris Harman wrote:
In the 6th century a new design of plough, ‘the heavy wheeled plough’ capable of coping with heavy but fertile soil, appeared among the Slav people of eastern Europe and spread westwards over the next 300 years. With it came new methods of grazing, which used cattle dung to fertilise the land. Together they allowed a peasant family to increase its crop yield by 50 percent in ‘an agrarian pattern which produced more meat, dairy produce, hides and wool than ever before, but at the same time improved the harvest of grain’. One economic historian claims, ‘It proved to be the most productive agrarian method, in relation to manpower, that the world had ever seen’.

There were still more new techniques in the centuries which followed, such as the adoption of the central Asian method of harnessing horses—which allowed them to replace the much slower oxen in ploughing—and the use of beans and other legumes to replenish the soil. According to the noted French historian of the medieval peasantry, Georges Duby, the cumulative effect of these innovations was to double grain yields by the 12th century.

Such changes took place slowly. Sylvia Thrupp has suggested that ‘the best medieval rates of general economic growth...would come to perhaps half of one percent’. Nevertheless, over 300 or 400 years this amounted to a transformation of economic life.

Such advance depended to a very large extent on the ingenuity of the
peasant producers.

.

Pennoid wrote:
Is Simple Commodity Production a MoP? I'd argue no in the sense of Antique, Feudalism, Capitalism. It might be better explained as the germ form of capitalism in these prior societies.

In a passage in the Grundrisse Marx referred to it as an "intermediate species":

Marx wrote:
It will be seen in the course of the further development how capital destroys craft and artisan labour, working small-landownership etc., together with itself in forms in which it does not appear in opposition to labour – in small capital and in the intermediate species, the species between the old modes of production (or their renewal on the foundation of capital) and the classical, adequate mode of production of capital itself.

In German:

Quote:
Es wird sich bei der weitern Entwicklung zeigen, wie das Kapital handwerksmäßige Arbeit, arbeitendes kleines Grundeigentum etc. und sich selbst vernichtet in den Formen, wo es nicht im Gegensatz zur Arbeit erscheint – im kleinen Kapital und den Mittelgattungen, Zwittergattungen zwischen den alten Produktionsweisen (oder wie sie sich auf Grundlage des Kapitals erneuert haben) und der klassischen, adäquaten Produktionsweise des Kapitals selbst.

(this quote I got from 'Reconsidering the Early Modern Urban Economy: The Cases of Leiden and Lille' at jstor. The article argues that:

Quote:
Small commodity production was, in fact, an endeavour
both to achieve a high level of output and to preserve critical
aspects of the urban community. As such, though destined never to
become the dominant system, it was not simply transitional or intermediate
but formed one of the "obstacles" to the rise of capitalism,
one which, because it was created in response to changing circumstances,
was resistant to many of the forces which had undermined
medieval craft production.

)

In Capital Marx referred to it like this (my emphasis):

Quote:
Of course, this petty mode of production exists also under slavery, serfdom, and other states of dependence. But it flourishes, it lets loose its whole energy, it attains its adequate classical form, only where the labourer is the private owner of his own means of labour set in action by himself: the peasant of the land which he cultivates, the artisan of the tool which he handles as a virtuoso. ...

This mode of production presupposes parcelling of the soil and scattering of the other means of production. As it excludes the concentration of these means of production, so also it excludes cooperation, division of labour within each separate process of production, the control over, and the productive application of the forces of Nature by society, and the free development of the social productive powers. It is compatible only with a system of production, and a society, moving within narrow and more or less primitive bounds.

In German:

Quote:
Das Privateigentum des Arbeiters an seinen Produktionsmitteln ist die Grundlage des Kleinbetriebs, der Kleinbetrieb eine notwendige Bedingung für die Entwicklung der gesellschaftlichen Produktion und der freien Individualität des Arbeiters selbst. Allerdings existiert diese Produktionsweise auch innerhalb der Sklaverei, Leibeigenschaft und andrer Abhängigkeitsverhältnisse. Aber sie blüht nur, schnellt nur ihre ganze Energie, erobert nur die adäquate klassische Form, wo der Arbeiter freier Privateigentümer seiner von ihm selbst gehandhabten Arbeitsbedingungen ist, der Bauer des Ackers, den er bestellt, der Handwerker des Instruments, worauf er als Virtuose spielt.

Diese Produktionsweise unterstellt Zersplitterung des Bodens und der übrigen Produktionsmittel.

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Aug 5 2017 16:27
jura wrote:
Also, the whole argument from "undesirable political consequences" is pretty weak.

To be fair, that's one of the main arguments used in the original article in this thread.

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Aug 5 2017 18:17

Sounds like SCP is synonymous with Brenner and Post etc.'s conception of "petty proprietorship". It is a sort of doomed set of social relations because what allows it to become legally predominant is precisely a set of legal arrangements which also allow for capitalist accumulation and the driving of these petit-bourgeois producers out of existence.

The quote from Capital provided above by Noa makes this clear.

You don't need wage labor to have a division of labor, exchange, markets, or commodity production. Forms of production for exchange based on different types of labor inputs will still have to account for the cost of those labor inputs. They may, given legal privileges, be able to go further in driving their producers to death, but would undermine their own enterprise if they failed to reproduce them. This might be thought of as a primitive form of the law of value.

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Aug 5 2017 18:30
Zanthorus wrote:
To be fair, that's one of the main arguments used in the original article in this thread.

Yeah, that doesn't make it stronger or relevant, though.

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Aug 5 2017 19:08
Pennoid wrote:
You don't need wage labor to have a division of labor, exchange, markets, or commodity production. Forms of production for exchange based on different types of labor inputs will still have to account for the cost of those labor inputs. They may, given legal privileges, be able to go further in driving their producers to death, but would undermine their own enterprise if they failed to reproduce them. This might be thought of as a primitive form of the law of value.

Well, in a sense, "the law of value" in a very broad sense always operates. No society can produce more than the total available labor time allows given existing productivity, and in the long run every society must at least reproduce its conditions of existence. So social labor always has to be apportioned within these constraints, even in communism.

But I think that, even given commodity production, these constraints provide quite a lot of leeway in the sense that there are various ways in which the regulation and apportioning can actually be executed. I think the law of value in the narrow sense – that the labor of agents involved in commodity production is apportioned through an impersonal mechanism which appears to agents as "market signals" to which they respond – only works where most inputs are commodified (accounting for them in money becomes possible), means of subsistence are mostly commodified (producers must engage in a substantial amount commodity production to even reproduce), there is competition (pressure toward economy in inputs and methods), and the ability to respond to market signals (i.e., the ability to switch between outputs, which also includes the switching of inputs and methods of production).

I think it's problematic to suppose that these things simply were there before capitalism. A division of labor surely was there, but probably pretty rigid and based on long traditions. So you get difficulties with switching. I don't believe means of subsistence were commodified to any considerable extent. You had things like the commons, customary laws of access to means of subsistence etc. So there are alternative, non-market strategies that agents can pursue in response to market signals. Etc. etc. I don't want to give the impression that I know these things for sure, but it seems plausible to me. One would have to actually look at the evidence.

So all in all, I think the operation of the law of value (in the narrow sense) in precapitalist commodity exchange was more or less blocked by these sorts of things (these other factors involved in the apportioning of social labor within the constraints I mentioned).

BTW, what you describe, i.e., "someone's" "producers" being "driven" by that someone to do whatever, corresponds more to some form of domination by, e.g. merchant's or usurer's capital, as in the putting-out system. That would be more like an early form of formal subsumption of labor under capital. Of course these situations existed even in antiquity, but I don't think they correspond to what is traditionally understood as "simple commodity production" (i.e. a mode of production based on free private producers who own their means of production and are not exploited by a capitalist). I would be much more willing to concede the operation of the law of value in the narrow sense in situations like this. Even after capitalism in agriculture first emerged in Britain, obviously not all of Britain's social labor was apportioned through the law of value (in the narrow sense). It was like a mini-capitalism within a different mode of production that gradually grew (although not entirely "naturally" but with the help of a lot of extra-economic intervention) to encompass the whole economy. I think there could have been mini-capitalisms in ancient Greece and Rome or in late medieval Europe that were to a considerable extent regulated by the law of value in the narrow sense. But they were different from the supposed "simple commodity production".

I'm a bit loaded so take all of this with a grain of salt, lol.

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Aug 5 2017 19:18

Right, but things like tool production, or really whatever production of non-necessities became a sphere (perhaps outside the state?) of specialized production, and exchange takes place.

It's this way that I think you could read a concept like "Simple Commodity Production" but then this is quite abstract and already generalizes further than marx is willing in the quote noa presented. Though this does allow for a framework to investigate the hypothesis (and I agree an investigation would be necessary).

This would, it seems, lend to the ideas put forward by Marx about how forms of exchange have a logic to them; that they manifest socially for reasons people might not (And don't need to) fully grasp, on the basis of different social classes in different epochs, but never the less have a particular logic in each context.

I don't have a problem with the idea that SCP (as you describe it which departs from my more general conception of a broad or vague or kernal of the law of value developing) *can* be but is not always governed by the law of value. You're right that it depends on their market integration which in turn depends on their ability to produce their own necessities.

I guess it would make sense that specialized producers have to exchange for their necessities (unless state subsidy but thats another can of worms) meaning that they *would* be more subject to something like a primitive law of value, rather than independent petty proprietors who *don't* exchange for necessities.

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Aug 5 2017 20:56

(Quote Heavy)

These are from Capital Vol. 1, that I could remember.

Right in chapter one:

Quote:
Every product of labour is, in all states of society, a use value; but it is only at a definite historical epoch in a society’s development that such a product becomes a commodity, viz., at the epoch when the labour spent on the production of a useful article becomes expressed as one of the objective qualities of that article, i.e., as its value. It therefore follows that the elementary value form is also the primitive form under which a product of labour appears historically as a commodity, and that the gradual transformation of such products into commodities, proceeds pari passu with the development of the value form.
We perceive, at first sight, the deficiencies of the elementary form of value: it is a mere germ, which must undergo a series of metamorphoses before it can ripen into the price form.

And for more relating of the 'abstract-theoretical' to the historical:

Quote:
The forms A and B were fit only to express the value of a commodity as something distinct from its use value or material form.

The first form, A, furnishes such equations as the following: – 1 coat = 20 yards of linen, 10 lbs of tea = ½ a ton of iron. The value of the coat is equated to linen, that of the tea to iron. But to be equated to linen, and again to iron, is to be as different as are linen and iron. This form, it is plain, occurs practically only in the first beginning, when the products of labour are converted into commodities by accidental and occasional exchanges.

The second form, B, distinguishes, in a more adequate manner than the first, the value of a commodity from its use value, for the value of the coat is there placed in contrast under all possible shapes with the bodily form of the coat; it is equated to linen, to iron, to tea, in short, to everything else, only not to itself, the coat. On the other hand, any general expression of value common to all is directly excluded; for, in the equation of value of each commodity, all other commodities now appear only under the form of equivalents. The expanded form of value comes into actual existence for the first time so soon as a particular product of labour, such as cattle, is no longer exceptionally, but habitually, exchanged for various other commodities.

The first may be seen as occurring wherever DoL takes permanent hold, and the second wherever different types of societies, specialized (e.g. nomads based on cattle production?) come into regular contact with settled agricultural societies?

And from the oft-quoted Fetishism Section:

Quote:
In all states of society, the labour time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development.27 And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.
Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities?
Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products

That footnote 27 says:

Quote:
Among the ancient Germans the unit for measuring land was what could be harvested in a day, andwas called Tagwerk, Tagwanne (jurnale, or terra jurnalis, or diornalis), Mannsmaad, &c.

In this general direction it is admitted at least, that commodity production does of course unfold in ancient societies:

Quote:
In the ancient Asiatic and other ancient modes of production, we find that the conversion of products into commodities, and therefore the conversion of men into producers of commodities, holds a subordinate place, which, however, increases in importance as the primitive communities approach nearer and nearer to their dissolution. Trading nations, properly so called, exist in the ancient world only in its interstices, like the gods of Epicurus in the Intermundia, or like Jews in the pores of Polish society. Those ancient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent.

This is contrasted with one (of the three I could find) of the instances in which the term "law of value" appears:

Quote:
On the surface of bourgeois society the wage of the labourer appears as the price of labour, a certain quantity of money that is paid for a certain quantity of labour. Thus people speak of the value of labour and call its expression in money its necessary or natural price. On the other hand they speak of the market-prices of labour, i.e., prices oscillating above or below its natural price.
But what is the value of a commodity? The objective form of the social labour expended in its production. And how do we measure the quantity of this value? By the quantity of the labour contained in it. How then is the value, e.g., of a 12 hour working-day to be determined? By the 12 working-hours contained in a working day of 12 hours, which is an absurd tautology.1 In order to be sold as a commodity in the market, labour must at all events exist before it is sold. But, could the labourer give it an independent objective existence, he would sell a commodity and not labour.2
Apart from these contradictions, a direct exchange of money, i.e., of realized labour, with living labour would either do away with the law of value which only begins to develop itself freely on the basis of capitalist production, or do away with capitalist production itself, which rests directly on wage-labour. The working day of 12 hours embodies itself, e.g., in a money-value of 6s. Either equivalents are exchanged, and then the labourer receives 6s, for 12 hours’ labour; the price of his labour would be equal to the price of his product. In this case he produces no surplus-value for the buyer of his labour, the 6s. are not transformed into capital, the basis of capitalist production vanishes. But it is on this very basis that he sells his labour and that his labour is wage-labour. Or else he receives for 12 hours’ labour less than 6s., i.e., less than 12 hours’ labour. Twelve hours’ labour are exchanged against 10, 6, &c., hours’ labour. This equalisation of unequal quantities not merely does away with the determination of value. Such a self-destructive contradiction cannot be in any way even enunciated or formulated as a law

Although this points out that the law of value "develops freely" in capitalist society, not that value or the law has no role to play in non-capitalist society.

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Aug 5 2017 21:52
jura wrote:
generally speaking, the idea that there's a neat chronological progression is misleading.

It's misleading with regards Hegel as well. Hegel's Logic begins with pure Being, whereas the actual course of Western philosophy began with Thales' water, and only later with Parmenides did the Greeks arrive at 'Being' in general as a metaphysical principle. The culminating movement of the Phenomenology and the Logic, Absolute Knowledge and the Absolute Idea, are things that can be found in Plato's dialogue Parmenides. Hegel treats Greek mythology and art in the Phenomenology after the Enlightenment and the French revolution.

Nevertheless, Hegel's method and overall system is obviously more engaged with history than say for example, someone like Spinoza who elaborated his philosophy as a series of supposedly universal axioms, propositions and deductions.

I suppose to think back upon one of the original questions I asked, there actually is no universal logical relation between theory and history. It's a connection that has to be decided on a case by case basis depending on the specific question that needs answering or the point that has to be brought to the fore. But that there is always necessarily some connection is I think implied in the fact that what is being examined is a form of activity (Mental production in Hegel's case, capitalist production in Marx's case), which always occurs in time, and therefore always has a history.

EDIT: I'm don't know if this is immediately relevant to the question under discussion in this thread, I was mostly reacting in my original post to the original article posted.

Reading Hegel is more fun than discussing Simple Commodity Production tho tbh

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Aug 6 2017 14:25

I think too much is sometimes made of the historically specific "all powerful" role of capital. It seems like if their is any geist on the historical development of humanity from a materialist perspective it would be located on the fact of an unfolding and complicating division of labor, taking many forms (Modes of production) as humanity develops. Capital is a social relationship between classes - a form of the division of labor.

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Aug 8 2017 16:20

Despite Dunaevsky's critique, I think at least elsewhere Rubin more clearly believed the law of value did apply in simple commodity production and the latter was historically real (and already apropos his main work he was condemned for this by Projekt Klassenanalyse in 1975). Some of these other texts (including his essay on money) are translated in the forthcoming Responses to Marx's Capital.

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Aug 8 2017 18:13

Well good for him, that absolves him from the charge of exorcising history wink.

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Aug 8 2017 19:21

incidentally Jura, while searching for soviet commentary on this topic I stumbled on a Czech economist Josef Mervart (born 1927), who wrote on prices and international trade. One of his books (Význam a vývoj cen v mezinárodním obchodě, 1960) was translated into Russian: Ценообразование в международной торговле (1962). Couple of English translated articles in Czechoslovak economic papers 1959 on law of value on the world socialist market. Apparently last active in the 1990s when he wrote on the Czech banking sector.

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Aug 8 2017 20:41

Yeah, he was moderately famous. He led the economics department at the Institute of ML and also wrote a texbook on planning. The book you mention, or at least part of it, was also published in German, it seems.

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Aug 10 2017 22:11

Mandel's Traité d'économie marxiste volume 1 (downloadable online), page 68 onward gives anthropological/historical examples of labour time accounting, page 75 onward is about equal exchange, and pages 77–81 is specifically about SCP.

There's just a brief relevant for us section in English (also without the references given in the book): https://www.marxists.org/archive/mandel/1967/intromet/ch01.htm#s4

btw Mandel asserts there was mobility of labour.

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Aug 11 2017 19:39
Noa Rodman wrote:
Despite Dunaevsky's critique, I think at least elsewhere Rubin more clearly believed the law of value did apply in simple commodity production and the latter was historically real (and already apropos his main work he was condemned for this by Projekt Klassenanalyse in 1975). Some of these other texts (including his essay on money) are translated in the forthcoming Responses to Marx's Capital.

I'm sorry Noa, but I don't think you are accurate about Rubin on this thread. Earlier in the thread you claimed that there was "no doubt that Rubin believed that SCP was real historically and that it transitioned into capitalism", but Rubin makes it clear that he (and Marx) is using the category of simple commodity production as a theoretical tool in order to describe developed capitalism. He also makes it clear that he doesn't believe that the law of value existed before capitalism. He goes into these questions in some detail towards the end of Chapter 18 of his book.

Here are a few key quotes from that section:

Rubin wrote:
Thus the labor theory of value and the theory of production price are not theories of two different types of economy, but theories of one and the same capitalist economy taken on two different levels of scientific abstraction. The labor theory of value is a theory of simple commodity economy, not in the sense that it explains the type of economy that preceded the capitalist economy, but in the sense that it describes only one aspect of the capitalist economy, namely production relations among commodity producers which are characteristic for every commodity economy.

5. Historical Foundations of the Labor Theory of Value

After the publication of the third volume of Capital, opponents of Marx's theory of value, and to some extent its advocates, created the impression that the conclusions of the third volume demonstrated the inapplicability of the law of labor value to the capitalist economy. This is why certain Marxists were prone to construct a so-called "historical" foundation for Marx's theory of value.

(...)

First of all, we turn to Marx's work. Some passages in Volume III of Capital can be used by proponents of a historical explanation of labor value. However, now that other works by Marx are available to us, we know with certainty that Marx himself was strongly opposed to the view that the law of value was in force in the period preceding the development of capitalism.

(...)

Marx emphasizes that the method of moving from abstract to concrete concepts is only a method by which thought grasps the concrete, and not the way the concrete phenomenon actually happened. This means that the transition from labor-value or simple commodity economy to production price or the capitalist economy is a method for grasping the concrete, i.e., the capitalist economy. This is a theoretical abstraction and not a picture of the historical transition from simple commodity economy to capitalist economy.

(...)

Applying this conclusion to the question which interests us, we can say: labor-value (or commodity) is a historical "prius" in relation to production price (or capital). It existed in rudimentary form before capitalism, and only the development of the commodity economy prepared the basis for the emergence of the capitalist economy. But labor-value in its developed form exists only in capitalism.

(...)

The labor theory of value and the theory of production price differ from each other, not as different theories which function in different historical periods, but as an abstract theory and a concrete fact, as two degrees of abstraction of the same theory of the capitalist economy. The labor theory of value only presupposes production relations among commodity producers. The theory of production price presupposes, in addition, production relations between capitalists and workers, on one hand, and among various groups of industrial capitalists on the other.

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Aug 12 2017 09:27
Felix Frost wrote:
Earlier in the thread you claimed that there was "no doubt that Rubin believed that SCP was real historically and that it transitioned into capitalism", but Rubin makes it clear that he (and Marx) is using the category of simple commodity production as a theoretical tool in order to describe developed capitalism.

But again, the question is not about the existence of SCP and that it preceded (or more strongly, transitioned into) capitalism. Everyone knows that commodity production existed prior to capitalism, and that it did not encompass the whole of the economy then as it does in capitalism. SCP is not just some "category", but a historical fact. The question is whether the law of value applied in SCP. Although Rubin says that he will not consider that question:

Rubin wrote:
Here we will not be concerned with the historical controversy over whether commodities were exchanged in proportion to the labor expended on their production before the emergence of capitalism.

nevertheless it appears that he is ill-disposed toward the notion that the law of value applied prior to capitalism:

Rubin wrote:
If the analyst finds that primitive tribes, who live in conditions of a natural economy and rarely resort to exchange, are guided by labor expenditures when they establish exchange proportions, he is prone to find here the category of value. Value is transformed into a supra-historical category, into labor expenditures independent of the social form of the organization of labor.

But that's just a slippery slope argument. It is as if acknowledgement of the fact that commodities existed prior to capitalism, would automatically lead to the position, that commodities are a supra-historical category present since the dawn of homo sapiens.

Really, do even bourgeois economists now believe that anymore? Perhaps yes, but surely it functions for them as some kind of simplistic model, but then in your view Marx used SCP only as a hypothetical model as well. Dunaevsky's critique is that it is theoretically inadmissible to regard the law of value in capitalism as a merely "more complex" version of it in SCP as Rubin does. Rather, there is a qualitative difference.

And if bourgeois economists believed the law of value applied prior to capitalism, why don't they then now all accept the LTV in capitalism? Actually, because the law of value undergoes a fundamental modification which they couldn't explain and hence the Ricardian school disintegrated.