Value: state of play

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Jun 2 07:28:48 MDT 1995

Value: the state of play.

Leo also commented explicitly on political economy.

"it seems very heavily slanted toward
political economy. I have read Sraffa too, but frankly for those of us
trained and interested in political theory (or philosophy, or literature,
etc.), the labor theory of value discussion was just too narrow in focus."

Obviously not necessarily for Leo, I would like to add some comments to
those of others. There was intense debate about the law of value/
labour theory of value, from as I recall from the archives late July soon
after the list's birth, to beginning of October. It appeared to be
experienced as a bit hot, and people steered away from the subject for
almost six months.

The recent spate of letters was a revisiting that was I submit,
successful in taking things forward a little, even if no fucks, bumps
groans or grinds were audible.

My perceptions are limited and biased and misattributions that follow
are not designed to put anyone on the spot - please clarify if so
motivated. It is also not fair or comprehensive, but only the positions
I think I could discern. We are all blind to body language in this medium
and have to guess at all the unspoken comments. Often too we are blind to
people's perhaps quite considerable published track record.

I noticed Jerry Levy and Andrew Kliman coming in to support the broad
validity of the Marxist theory of value, Kliman with what appeared to be
a particularly robust but nuanced position, that was not necessarily open
to the charge of dogmatism. Steve Keen has moved his position from last
year from saying that there are logical inconsistencies in Marx's
presentation of the theory to saying there are two subsets of
relevant contradictions which receive different emphasis in different
parts of Marx's writings. He has not clarified as yet to what extent he
thinks they are clearly separable.

His summary of Sraffa was regarded by many as authoritative and (but?)
nobody commented on it specifically. When Steve returns from holiday in
July I wish to raise my naive scepticism at the first model being based
on a notion reminiscent of mediaeval alchemy, of iron turning into gold.
How much Steve or anyone else will wish to defend Sraffa remains to be
seen as far as I am concerned.

Justin, playing the role in my eyes of penetratingly sceptical agnostic,
conceded without necessarily abandoning his scepticism, that value might
equilibrate in an advanced capitalist society through the unconscious
social effects of the conscious decisions capitalists (and others) make
about prices.

Chris Sciabarra maintained from last year his clear objections to the
law of value being a predictor of prices under capitalism, but lowered his
guard a few inches at my presentation of the law of value as one
working on non-mechanical non-linear dynamics. Chris S enlarged further on
the Austrian model's handling of the essential indeteminacy of the data,
and no body shot him down in Marxist flames for bourgeois tendencies in
so doing. This aspect appears open to revisiting.

Paul Cockshott reserved his position, I assume, about approaches to the
law of value that are potentially loose and unmanageable from an empirical
point of view. Attention was drawn to the article by him and Allin
Cottrel in the Spring Capital and Class giving  empirical
data from the British economy supporting the relevance of the Marxist
theory of value for aggregate prices, and no criticisms were made on the

I for my part came to lean towards using the term "the law of
value" rather than "the labour theory of value". I still met no-one
apart from Lisa, who refers to having read Engels' article on the Law of
Value and the Rate of Profit. I find this curious in such an important
debate for Marxism.

Rakesh persisted in waving a flag for Postone, who I understand to be
arguing that the significance of labour and value is wider than something
subject to class expoitation and is about the social formation of the whole
of capitalist, commodity dominated society.

And now while I wait for the libel actions, (corrections will suffice, as
no defamation, is intended in my very crude, impressionistic, and biased
summary) let me draw attention to the contents of the April "Socialist
Economic Bulletin".

This is published by Ken Livingstone, left wing British Member of
Parliament and is written anonymously by leading left wing British
economists. The title is
"Behind the fall of the dollar: The end of history or the begining of

Its main observation is of a massive decline over a number of years in the
proportion  of the major economies (apart from Japan) devoted to
capital accumulation.

And to spell that out in Marxist terms, that is extremely bad news for
any classes relying on selling their labour power, extremely bad news for
the less developed world, and extremely bad news for the human race and
for rational care of the planet. It is a description of a global
social economy out of social control.

But the detail is highly important if not overtly so to wage slaves
struggling to survive in tolerable physical and mental health. So can I
ask Marxist economists, particularly in the USA, what is behind the fall
of "your" currency, and how does it relate to the changing distribution of
value and power in the world?

Chris Burford, London.

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