Chris,Juan and Value
chrisbailey at gn.apc.org
Wed Sep 14 13:44:18 MDT 1994
I did get your last mailing, but then I was travelling about and not
able to connect to the net for a week.
I sent you my snailmail address a couple of times, but the message
keeps coming back with a note saying my message is too long. How can
this be? It only has my address and one other line! What am I doing
wrong? I am not too keen to broadcast my home address around the
world. Without mentioning any names, there are some funny people
Back to the discussion on use-value. In my last mailing I said:
+ At the moment, the quotations you throw at me from both Marx and
+ Engels *after* the publication of _Capital Vol I_ have no effect. We
+ are both clearly reading our own interpretation into these quotations.
+ You see them as confirming your position and I see them as confirming
Your last mailing just proves that to me even more. First of all,
let's take your quotes and comments from page 188, the "crucial page
+ (b) Page 188 is the crucial page of Capital, of course. Does Marx
+ explain surplus there on the basis of the non-commodity aspects of
+ labor, or does he explain it on the basis of its commodity aspects?
+ A few excerpts from that page where the source of surplus is first
+ "What really influenced him [the capitalist] was the specific
+ use-value which this commodity possesses of being *a source not
+ only of value, but of more value than it has itself*."
+ That appears to support me, but of course you can argue that the
+ fact that this commodity possesses "more value than it has itself"
+ is a product of its non-commodity aspects (the concrete labor/
+ abstract labor analysis--how about a cl/al shorthand), and not
+ a consequence of it being a commodity (the uv/ev analysis).
+ However, everywhere on that page, Marx seems to be at pains to
+ argue the aspects that labor-power shares with commodities,
+ rather than to emphasise the ways in which labor is not a commodity:
+ "This is the special service that the capitalist expects from
+ labor-power, and in this transaction he acts in accordance with
+ the 'eternal laws' of the exchange of commodities. The seller of
+ labor-power, like the seller of any other commodity, realises
+ its exchange-value, and parts with its use-value." And so on.
You seem to have missed my point about labour not being a commodity
completely. As I said in my last mailing you continually ignore the
distinctions between labour-power, labour (concrete labour), and
abstract labour. Your comment above proves that further. On page 188,
Marx is "at pains to argue" that labour-power *is* a commodity *at one
and the same time as* he does "emphasise the ways in which labor is
not a commodity". *Labour-power* is a commodity, *labour* is not.
In Grundrisse, Marx had thought that *labour* was the commodity the
capitalist bought. This had led him into serious logical difficulties,
which he resolved before writing Capital. What is the relationship
between *labour* and *labour-power*? Marx clearly states it on this
same page 188:
"The use-value of labour-power, or in other words, labour"
Labour (concrete labour) is the use-value of labour-power. Labour-
power is the commodity; labour is its use-value. This *is* a very
important correction of Marx's position in Grundrisse. Do I buy the
use-value of a pair of shoes? No, I buy the shoes themselves. I might
then just chuck them in the dustbin and never use them.
Marx's original position in Grundrisse failed to make this distinction
between labour and labour-power. In line with everyday common sense,
it seems, at first sight, that what the capitalist buys from the
worker is his labour. This also appears to be quantitative. Most
workers are paid by the hour. However, after grappling with the logic
of this and, I suggest, in view of some of his comments, returning to
Hegel's Logic, Marx grasped that labour was not itself a commodity,
but was the use-value of the commodity labour-power. Once he grasped
this, it was now obvious to him, in contrast to common sense, that
labour (concrete labour) *could not*, in fact, be quantitative. Use-
value, (the Substance of a commodity) is essentially qualitative.
Although it is certainly not one of the clearest passages in Capital,
Marx is, I think, trying to explain precisely this in the paragraph on
page 506 that Steve *begins* to quote.
"Further. Exchange-value and use-value, being intrinsically
incommensurable magnitudes, the expressions "value of labour", "price
of labour," do not seem more irrational than the expressions "value of
cotton," "price of cotton." Moreover, the labourer is paid after he
has given his labour. In its function of means of payment, money
realises subsequently the value or price of the article supplied -
i.e., in this particular case, the value or price of the labour
supplied. Finally, the use-value supplied by the labourer to the
capitalist is not, in fact, his labour-power, but its function, some
definite useful labour, the work of tailoring, shoemaking, spinning,
etc. That this labour is, on the other hand, the universal value-
creating element, and thus possesses a property by which it differs
from all other commodities, is beyond the cognisance of the ordinary
For common sense, the expressions "value of labour", "price of labour"
do not seem irrational, *but they are*. As Marx, explains in the next
paragraph, *it seems* that the labourer sells 12 hours *labour* for a
price. This is what Marx means by the use-value being a magnitude in
the first sentence. This is clearly similar to what he was saying in
the Grundrisse. However, *unlike in the Grundrisse*, he immediately
corrects this by introducing the distinction between labour and
"Finally, the use-value supplied by the labourer to the capitalist is
not, in fact, his labour-power, but its function, some definite useful
labour, the work of tailoring, shoemaking, spinning, etc."
Despite initial appearances, concrete labour, the use-value of labour-
power, is qualitative. It constitutes "some definite useful labour,
the work of tailoring, shoemaking, spinning, etc".
How do you equate 1 hour of spinning with 1 hour of shoemaking? On the
face of it, they both constitute one hour of work, but this is
meaningless so long as they are viewed from the viewpoint of
Substance, as use-values. The real quantitative relationship between
them is only revealed through the transformation into exchange-values.
Then, and only then, is it shown that the concrete labour of spinning
and the concrete labour of shoemaking are both forms of abstract human
labour in general, "the universal value-creating element". There is a
definite quantitative relationship between 1 hour of spinning and 1
hour of shoemaking, but it is hardly ever 1:1. In fact, even 1 hour of
spinning is hardly ever equal to another hour of spinning.
Although it looks like it at first, the capitalist does not buy hours
of labour. He buys hours of the commodity labour-power. The use-
value/exchange value dialectic applies to this commodity in exactly
the same way as any other commodity. However, this commodity
"possesses a property by which it differs from all other commodities".
Concrete-labour, the use-value of labour-power, is *at one and the
same time* abstract, universal, human labour in general, "the
universal value-creating element". The use-values created by concrete
labour are at the same time exchange-values. The magnitude of these
exchange-values is greater than the exchange-value of the labour-power
that has been used in their creation. That is the source, *the only
source*, of surplus-value.
I am sorry I just didn't have time to reply to some of the points Juan
made earlier. One point he did make closely relates to the question
dealt with above and needs to be answered. He argued, in opposition to
me, that use-value could not be pure quality since it, very clearly in
his opinion, still contained quantity. He then gave examples *of
commodities* to show they possessed a quantitative aspect. Commodities
do always come in definite quantities and sometimes quantity is
essential to the use-value; e.g. a pair of shoes, but the use-value of
a commodity and the commodity itself is not the same thing. I still
maintain that use-value is the pure qualitative aspect of the
Marx's initial logical error in Grundrisse relates closely to this
question. At that time, Marx was confusing the use-value of the
commodity labour-power with the commodity itself. It therefore
appeared that the use-value was quantitative i.e. 12 hours of labour.
Only by introducing the vital distinction between labour and labour-
power was he able to correct this. The capitalist buys hours of
labour-power, but concrete labour, the use-value of labour power, is
I am sorry, Steve, but I find your point (2) on how to resolve our
differences absolutely ridiculous:
+ (2) Analyse Marx's language statistically to see: whether there was
+ a break between the Grundrisse and Capital, or whether there was
+ continuity; and to see which set of phrases--uv/ev or
+ concrete/abstract labor-- occurs most frequently.
+ I have been considering (2) for a long time; computer technology
+ would enable us to process and analyse Marx's word usage
+ statistically. Would you be interested in a joint research project
+ on this?
No. Do universities actually pay people to carry out this kind of
nonsense! The differences between us concern the logic of Capital.
This has been a much neglected question in the west. Althusser _et al_
sought to bury it completely. In the Soviet bloc, it was treated as an
important question, mainly because Lenin himself did some serious work
on it. Despite all the _dia mat_ shit that dominated Soviet philosophy
the Lenin-Deborin-Ilyenkov tradition did carry out significant work on
the logic of Capital that deserves to be rescued from the debris of
I think the only way to continue this discussion would be through
tackling these issues. An organised reading of _Capital_ was being
discussed when I first joined this Marxism mailing list. I think, if
there is enough interest, this still remains the way to proceed.
More information about the Marxism