value, exchange-value, revolutionary action

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Wed Aug 23 06:19:10 MDT 1995

It took Marx almost his whole life to completely develop the specificity of
the value-form. He started from the appearance that labor is the
ahistorical substance of exchange value (the appearance at which classical
political economy necessarily stops). And he finally get to clearly present
how the historical specificity of commodity-producing society arises from
the fact that the socially necessary abstract labor materialized in the
products of the concrete labors (a materialization which is common to all
historical social forms) becomes represented as the capacity of these
products to relate among themselves in exchange (thus shaping a fetishistic
general social relation) only because it is performed by the independent
private producers; and that, consequently, this _vlaue_ developed by the
materialized socially necessary abstract labor, that gives its product its
value-form determining it as a commodity, necessarily takes concrete form
as a certain amount of its substance that is represented as a certain
amount of the use-value of another commodity that confronts it as its
equivalent in exchange, as its _exchange value_.

Anybody can follow Marx's laborious advance in this achievement, starting
from the 1884 Manuscripts, through The Poverty of Philosophy, Grundrisse,
The Contribution, Wages, Prices and Profits, up to Capital. And even at
this step, his correspondence with Engels concerning the form of the
exposition of the specificity of the value-form in the first chapter, and
his significant reformulating of this first chapter for de second edition,
clearly show the extreme difficulty Marx had to overcome.

But now Allin Cottrell wants us to believe that concerning the value-form
of the products of labor, value, all comes down to a

>shorthand way of saying "amount of socially necessary labor-time
>embodied".  The term "value" offers such a shorthand.

No wonder Allin believes it suffices with abstractly repeating (directly or
under the appearance of a numeric example) that value must be the "amount
of socially necessary labor-time embodied" in a product regardless of its
specific social form to sustain his claims about Marx's "incoherences and
inconsistencies"! And no wonder Allin sees in the post where I replied him
by developing the determinations of the value-form, just "an onslaught."

Allin's definition of value even overlooks the fact that, generically,
"value" means an aptitude for something. The socially necessary abstract
labor materialized in a product that is not a commodity lacks the aptitude
for doing anything. The only aptitude that the labor embodied in this
product has, arises from its nature as a concrete labor: its aptitude to
satisfy a given human necessity, its aptitude to produce an use-value. Only
when the materialized labor has not only produced (due to its concrete
form) an use-value, but has produced the social relation itself as a
materialization of abstract labor, this abstract labor acquires an aptitude
for something. Namely, the aptitude for being represented as the capacity
of its products for relating among themselves in exchange, thus socially
relating their producers. So only determined as the materialized socially
necessary abstract labor of the private independent producers does socially
necessary abstract labor become a "value." The attempt to empty value from
its historical specificity by reducing the value-form to its substance, has
to force "value" into a meaningless concept even from a mere idiomatic
point of view. Yet, according to Allin, Marx is the incoherent one
concerning value!

No wonder then Allin brings down the specificity of commodity production to
a question of calculation:

>Using the term
>in this way does not at all imply the erasure of the distinction
>between a commodity-producing society and a socialist one.  In the
>former, nobody (except perhaps a Marxist researcher) attempts explicitly
>to measure the total labor-time that goes into making the tractor,
>although this quantity ends up being expressed, to an approximation,
>in its exchange-value, in what it will fetch relative to the products
>of labor in other branches of production.  In a situation where social
>production as a whole is subordinated to a common plan, the tractor's
>value is calculated directly, and it never "assumes the form" of exchange-

The ahistoricity involved in reducing value to a natural form becomes also
visible when one follows the value-form in its development into capital,
that is, into the self-valorizing value, the value that engenders value,
regardless of its particular amount. If value is the "amount of socially
necessary labor-time embodied" in any product regardless of its social
form, it follows from here that the "amount of socially necessary
labor-time embodied" in the surplus-product should be, by nature,
surplus-value. And therefore, surplus-value should not be the specific
historical form taken by the expropriation from the direct wage-laborers of
the product that exceeds their individual reproduction, but an eternal form
of social product that, as such, inheres in socialist/communist society as
much as in capitalist society. If this is not an apologetics of capital,
which is? Or is Allin going to tell us that surplus-value has no other
content than being a "shorthand way of saying" surplus-exchange-value?

Notice that in Allin's definition of value, the differences between
abstract and concrete labor, and between social and private labor, have
vanished away. Is it that Allin has fallen back to Ricardo, to classical
political economy? After Marx's critique of political economy, such a
possibility does not exist. Quite the opposite, Allin's conceptions have a
very clear present-day existence. The omission of those differences is a
condition for representing commodity production as a society where all the
materialized private concrete labors immediately become materialized social
abstract labor (the same that Sraffa does). In this way, the specific real
question that value solves (that is, the indirect regulation of the
allocation of society's total labor-power into its concrete forms when this
regulation exceeds from the scope of the direct personal relations but is
still not developed enough as to take shape as a conscious collective
process) is represented as being solved as an a priori condition for the
determination of value itself.

The general regulation of social life is in itself the general social
relation. Therefore, value is represented in the way Allin does, deprived
of its determination as a historically specific social relation, and thus
reduced to the appearance of a mere matter of computation. The clue to this
reductionism becomes visible in "Markets, Value and Socialism" he
co-authored with Paul Cockshott. It is only on the basis of this
reductionism that a society that, on the one hand, is said to be
consciously planed, and on the other hand, is said to need the market in
the stage of individual consumption - and therefore, where the allocation
of the total labor-power is actually ruled through a commodity-based
relation, since individual consumption is the last instance in any social
production - can be conceived not as an absolute concentration of the
property of capital (and therefore, as a society that necessarily follows
the general law of capitalist accumulation, increasing the pauperization of
the wage laborers) but as a society were an abstract regulation whose
necessity just emerges from some proclaimed, and therefore abstract, "ought
to be", is conceived as the overcoming of capitalism.

Not in vain, Allin also wants to empty of any determination the real
transformation of surplus-value into average profit, and therefore, of
values into prices of production, by representing it as having no other
substance than being a mere question of calculation. What truly happens in
this transformation is that total social capital reaches its real
determination overcoming any formal aggregation of individual capitals,
only as simple commodities are turned into capital-commodities through the
transformation of surplus-value into average profit. From this
transformation on, the materialized general social relation takes a prices
of production-form. And it is only since the process of capital
accumulation takes from here on the form of a process that concerns total
social capital as such, that the realization of the proletariat's most
genuine historical determination, the production of the society of the
consciously associated, therefore, free individuals, becomes determined as
the political revolutionary action of the proletariat.

Through the reduction of value to a natural ahistorical form, and of its
specificity as the essence of the general social relation in capitalist
society to its mere form of appearance, Allin wants to present as being
possible a society where capital goes on existing in an absolutely
concentrated form, so there is no place for the social product to appear
under its commodity-form but in the relation between this capital and its
wage-laborers, as if it were not ruled in an alienated way by a fetishistic
materialized general social relation, but by some sort of abstract "moral"
collective egalitarian "will." Even the fact that moral itself is a
concrete form through which the regulation of commodity production realizes
itself, and not a natural eternal social relation, suffices to show that
this supposed overcoming of capitalism hasn't gone beyond its most crude

The proletariat's conscious revolutionary action gets its strength, and
therefore, its concrete forms, from being the personification of the
necessity of the present-day general social relation, of capital, to
annihilate itself into the general conscious regulation of human life by
the therefore freely associated individuals (a conscious regulation that,
as such, includes both social production and social consumption). And the
proletariat is this personification only as it is determined by the laws of
the production of relative surplus-value. But these laws are, at the same
time, the laws that take shape through the massive slaughtering of the
proletariat just for the benefit of the reproduction of capitalism, in
brief, the general law of capitalist accumulation. The abstraction of the
proletariat's revolutionary action from its determination by the
historically specific process of appropriation of relative surplus-value,
and the representation of its necessity as an abstract "moral" rejection of
the concrete forms taken by the reproduction of this appropriation, does
nothing but to represent the necessity of the conscious regulation of that
action inverted into the apologetics of the absolute concentration of
capital with a "fair" distribution of the social product through wages.

Marx was very clear in pointing out how in other forms of society all the
elements of the substance of value are present but, nevertheless, value
does not exist in them. Marx wasn't wrong when he said that the real
difficulty does not lie in discovering the substance of value, but in
discovering why this substance needs to take its value-form (that is, be
represented as the capacity of its materializations for relating in
exchange) in a certain stage of social evolution. And that this difficulty
arises from the representation of this value-form of the product, that is,
of commodities, as an eternal natural form.

It is very easy to speak about Marx's "incoherences and inconsistencies",
by naming real forms whatever one likes to and reducing history to the
absurd of finding "a shorthand way" to call a "natural form". It is quite a
different task to strictly follow the development of these real forms, and
by doing so, to show the existence of those supposed "incoherences and
inconsistencies". Now, this task is yet to be seen, and, positively, it
will remain in this state. But this fact does not render the claim about
Marx's imputed "incoherences and inconsistencies" an abstract matter. The
question is always about the specific social necessity that takes shape
through this imputation.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

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