value

Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU
Thu Aug 25 23:13:00 MDT 1994


Long posting (22 paras)

A few days ago, Juan Inigo posted the following. I will reply to it
with my comments surrounded by ## text ##.

        Chris Bailey writes

>In the heading to section I, Marx makes totally clear using
>very precise categories from Hegel's _Logic_ with which he was
>extremely familiar, that his intention is to begin his wactors of a commod
ity, use-value (the Substance of
>value) and value (exchange value - the Magnitude of value).

and Steve Keen agrees with him in that Marx ...

>found that it was possible to hold that use-value was the Substance
>of value and exchange-value the Magnitude of value in general

        I will extend here my previous reply to Steve concerning value.

        What Marx makes totally clear in section I (and not precisely by
using some Hegel's logical categories but by reproducing the real
determinations of the commodity in thought, though I will not specifically
consider the question here) is that use-value is certainly not the
substance of value.

        A commodity is the specific historical form that the general social
relationship (that is, the general regulation of the process of human life)
takes when human material productive forces are sufficiently developed so
as to make the regulation of social life overcome the scope of direct
personal relations, but not developed enough to be directly consciously
regulated as a collective force of the freely associated individuals.
Commodity production is at the same time a material production and the
production of the general social relation, the production of use-values and
the production of value.

        Being a use-value is what determines a real form as a means for the
human social metabolism process, whichever the specific social form through
which this process regulates itself may be. So use-value has no way to
provide commodities the substance for their historically specific
determination as today general social relationship. But abstract labor as
such lacks this same historical specificity: regardless its specific social
form, any use-value produced by human labor is a materialization of human
nerves and muscles, of the general, therefore, abstract, human capacity to
work. So (precisely contrary to what any, or specifically marxist, labor
theory of value would state) abstract labor cannot be the substance of
value by itself, either.

##

I would agree that use-value *in isolation* "has no way to
provide commodities the substance for their historically specific deter-
mination as today (sic) general social relationship". But use-value in
the context of capitalism does have that way, as Marx argued shortly
after the "dialectic of the commodity" first occurred to him.
He uses this dialectic to clarify his reasons for previously
concluding that amassing exchange value could not be the object of
transactions under simple commodity production (the C--M--C circuit)

"because use-value does not stand as such opposite exchange value, as
something defined as use-value by exchange value; while inversely use-value
as such does not stand in a connection with exchange value, but becomes a
specific exchange value only because the common element of use-values--
labour-time--is applied to it as an external yardstick... It must now be
posited that use-value as such becomes what it becomes through exchange
value, and that exchange value mediates itself through use-value."
[Grundrisse, p. 269.]

Distinguishing the capital labour relation from other capital commodity
relations, Marx comes to an important issue in dialectical logic: once
an aspect of an object has been identified as that which society brings
to the foreground, it is vital that the aspect which is pushed into
the background,  its opposite, is properly identified. (On this point
see The Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 39-46.) Having clearly identified
capital as the key relation in capitalism, and exchange value as the
aspect of commodities that capital brings to the foreground, Marx
concludes that the opposite of capital cannot be a particular
commodity "but all commodities":

"The only use-value, i.e. usefulness, which can stand opposite capital
as such is that which increases, multiplies and hence preserves it as
capital... the opposite of capital cannot itself be a particular
commodity, for as such it would form no opposition to capital, since
the substance of capital is itself use-value; it is not this commodity
or that commodity, but all commodities." [Grundrisse, p. 271.]

We agree that abstract labor isn't a candidate (though I am sure we
have different reasons for so concluding). However, it's interesting
to look at the reason that Marx had for believing that abstract labor
was the substance of value, using the above logic. Immediately after
the paragraph I quoted above, he says that the joint substance of
all commodities:

"as commodities and hence exchange values, is this, that they are
objectified labour... The only use-value, therefore, which can form
the opposite pole to capital is labour." (p. 272.)

There is an obvious logical mistake here: Marx's analysis of the
source of surplus was solely in terms of commodities (of which
labor-power is one, albeit very special); he has concluded that
the opposite of capital "is not this commodity or that commodity,
but all commodities"; and yet he concludes that a single commodity
is the opposite.

##

Juan continues

        As Marx discovers, what makes abstract materialized labor the
substance of value is that, in commodity production (where no general
direct social relationship among individuals exists), this labor is
represented as the capacity of the commodities to relate among themselves
in exchange and, through this, to socially relate their producers.
Consequently, their own social relations fetishistically appear to the
producers of commodities as potencies inherent in the materiality itself of
their products. Where, but in this fetishism, does taking commodities'
materiality, that is, their use-value, as the substance of their specific
social form that makes them be such commodities, belong?

## My preceding comment locates where in fact Marx made the identification
between abstract labor and the substance of value--erroneously. ##

        Steve's conception of use-value as the substance of surplus-value
is nothing but an attempt to follow this fetishistic image of commodity
through the development of commodity into capital, where all human
potencies take concrete form as capital's potencies. Chris, your struggle
against this alienation of human potencies will be hopelessly undermined if
you don't start by discovering it in its very roots.

##

I do not argue that use-value is the substance of surplus-value. What
I have said is that Marx found a means by which the conventional
classical attitude to use-value--that it is a pre-requisite to
exchange, but otherwise is irrelevant to political economy--could be
transcended, leading to an analysis fundamentally different both to
simple LTV classicism (which Ricardo and Smith effectively practised),
and to vulgar neoclassicism--which really does make use-value (utility)
the substance of surplus-value.

Marx's analysis is based on the dialectical "irony" that use-value,
which is normally qualitative and always unrelated to the exchange-
value of a given commodity, is a quantitative thing when the
purchaser is a capitalist and the object is production for profit.
There is no fetishistic identification of the productivity of
capital with that of the capitalist in the analysis Marx used, and
none in my thinking either.

Fetish analysis is something which has its place as a critique of
ideology under capitalism--I have applied the concept to criticise
neoclassical economics, and Marx did so himself brilliantly in his
satires concerning Madame La Terre and Monsieur Le Capital. But
it can also be a ready weapon with which to swipe more considered
analyses which criticise the labor theory of value.

The foundation of my critique is that the simple but profound logic
of Marx's dialectic of the commodity can lead only to the result
that all inputs to production are potential sources of surplus--or
as Marx put it as quoted above, "the opposite of capital cannot
itself be a particular commodity, for as such it would form no
opposition to capital, since the substance of capital is itself
use-value; it is not this commodity or that commodity, but all
commodities."

Cheers,
Steve Keen
##


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