Kliman on Value

Adam Bandt bandt at cleo.murdoch.edu.au
Thu Mar 9 10:25:14 MST 1995

Louis Proyect asked whether anyone had read the Kliman paper on value yet.

To those that haven't, I recommend it. I have just finished reading
Kliman's value paper. I found it incredibly stimulating, and was heartened
to see the continual references to value as relative and relational.
However, some issues spring to mind, and I offer some tentative thoughts.
These comments are made in the spirit of discussion, not as a final
comment.  I am familiar with 'relationist' understandings of Marxist
epistemology and ontology (I can hear the tense shoulder muscles of all the
anti-Bhaskarians cringing right now), and after reading Baudrillard on Marx
and use-value, I found (unorthodox) writers like Robert D'Amico, Wal
Suchting, Andrew Collier, Roy Bhaskar et al providing tools which could
withstand the force of Baudrillard's anti-utilitarianism. (This is B's
1970's stuff, before he went off the rails and started writing drivel about
black holes and the Sears building.) Unfortunately, Kliman seems to have
overlooked some points about 'value', and at some stage I think a marxist
discussion of Buadrillard's _Pol Econ of the Sign_.and _Mirror of
Production_  would be great (if it hasn't already happened here).

(1) Kliman seems at pains to find Marx's 'inherent value' existing in
commodities. Obviously, it is not exchange value. If I understand Kliman
correctly, value is not located simply by flitting to the other pole (ie
use-value), but by escaping this 'circle' and, as he says: ''The "third
thing" immediately emerges to the fore:  every commodity is a product of
labor...As products, they are related, not to one another, but to their
producers. ...With the value/exchange-value distinction, Marx thus
transformed the concept of value, from one that refers to object-object
relations (relations of exchange), into one that refers to commodity
production as a subject-object relation (albeit one expressed as a social
relation between things)."
However, I would suggest that value, for Marx, had as much to do with
subject-subject relationships (ie worker-worker and worker-capitalist), in
that human relations become mystified and represented as 'things'. The
human who confronts an object also confronts human relations. Now, one way
in which the mystification of such relations occurs is, as Kliman points
out, through 'congealed' labour. However this process of abstraction of
labour only comes about because labour is commodified (labour-power). This
means that one cannot 'find' residual labour in a product as the thing
which grounds its 'value' any more than one can find exchange value in a
Marx says in Capital that "Human labour-power in its fluid state, or human
labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value in its
coagulated state, in objective form.'' Labour can help create (use) value.
One might suggest that under another method of production, labour will
directly create such values (this is debateable). Whatever side one takes
on that debate, however, it is the emphasis on labour _becoming_ (a form
of) value which is important. The means and relations of production
intervene: there is no 'natural' way in which labour is expressed as value.
It is in the process of 'abstraction' that objectification, in the sense of
social relations which appear to be 'standing against us'
[gegendstaendliche], occurs. It is part of the process which makes the
commodity exist.

Yes, labour makes things. Yes, Marx believed that things have use-values.
But whilst labour is a precondition for use-values, abstract labour is a
precondition for exchange value: its what helps to make (the expropriation
of) surplus possible. Using the words 'congealed' and 'residual', to say
that the only thing left after one removes exchangeability, utility etc is
labour and hence labour is the 'essence' of valuable objects, is to take
Marx's precise concept of abstract labour and strip it of its precision.

In this context, it is also worth quoting Marx in his Critique of the Gotha
Programme, specifically his response to the draft programme's first
principle, that: "Labor is the source of wealth and all culture, and since
useful labor is possible only in society and through society, the proceeds
of labor belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society."
Marx writes:
"FIRST PART OF THE PARAGRAPH: "Labor is the source of all wealth and all
culture." Labor is _not the source_ of all wealth.  _Nature_ is just as
much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material
wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of a
force of nature, human labor power.  the above phrase is to be found in all
children's primers and is correct insofar as it is implied that labor is
performed with the appurtenant subjects and instruments.  But a socialist
program cannot allow such bourgeois phrases to pass over in silence the
_conditions_ that lone give them meaning. ...  The bourgeois have very good
grounds for falsely ascribing _supernatural creative power_ to labor; since
precisely from the fact that labor depends on nature it follows that the
man who possesses no other property than his labor power must, in all
conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made
themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor.  He can only
work with their permission, hence live only with their permission. "

(2) Value is a form of an object, not a property of it.

For Marx, use-value, it could be argued was not a 'given' of an object but
simply a form for expressing social relations. Consider the following

Commodities come into the world in the _form_ of use-values or material
goods, such as iron, linen, corn, etc. This is their plain, homely, natural
form. However they are only commodities because they have a dual nature,
because they are at the same time objects of utility and bearers of value.
Therefore they only appear as commodities, or have the form of commodities,
in so far as they possess a double form, i.e. natural form and value form.
Capital (Marx, 1976: 138)
This contradiction [between the specificity of products and their
generality as commodities] can be overcome only by objectifying it: i.e. by
positing the commodity in a double form. Grundrisse  (Marx, 1973: 168).

Other such quotes exist in Marx, and they are in accordance with his
anti-utilitarian sentiments and the importance of understanding people's
relationship to the world in terms of social relations. Indeed, several
contemporary Marxists, such as Robert D'Amico, share the anti-naturalistic
view espoused by (eg) Baudrillard and argue that Marxists concepts -
including the use-value and exchange-value _forms_- facilitate this.
[Baudrillard says much much more about Marx and value, but now is probably
not the place.]

If this is 'correct', it means that Marx was not arguing that value inhered
in objects, but that the value-form was simply one way in which people
understood their relationships to objects and to other people. Maybe this
isn't inconsistent with Kliman's major points, but it does seem to me
important, as if we really want to go down the track of asserting things
which inhere in objects, then we must defend the essentialism that goes
along with it.

For example,if we were to say that use-value inheres in all commodites,
then we are adopting certain classical political economy's assumptions
about human 'need', something we should be wary of doing (here I agree with

To sum up, I have doubts about saying that labour is the thing which makes
value which inheres in all commodities and links them together. Kliman is
right in arguing that value relates to exchange value in way that is
emphatically not one of causation, or of a ratio. However, I think the
point is that labour-power-in-a-product, value, exchange value and
commodities are all simply more or less mystified expressions of social
relations. Commodities are not objects any more than abstract labour is
human activity. Marx started Capital with an analysis of the commodity as
it was a way from moving from the concrete to the abstract and back again:
from the supposed object which confronts us in the world, to the patterns
of relations which appear to give that object an 'essence', to the
exploitation inherent in those relations. Kliman tries to preserve the
objectivity of the commodity, when he has in fact done a very good job of
destroying it.

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