Value (to John Ernst 4/4)

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Sat Nov 11 16:42:48 MST 1995

"Typical commodities," or what jump are we talking about?

John Ernst writes:

> Let me be less
>cryptic than usual.   I'll simply agree that
>labor creates all value.  Now let's consider
>the following "economy" in which a typical
>commodity is produced in the following fashion.
>9 units + 150 labor hours  ---->   15 units
>Typically, if we assume that workers receive 3
>units of the surplus of 15 units as a wage, we
>could represent production in the following
>9 units + 3 units + 3 units   =  15 units
>or since the net product of 6 units is produced
>in 150 labor hours, we could express our
>last expression in terms of labor hours.
>225 hours + 75 hours + 75 hours  = 375 hours
>  c       +  v       +  s        =   w
>Note that no matter how we compute the rate of
>profit s/(c+v),  we get the same thing rate of
>profit whether we use material terms or the
>labor hour expression. It is 25%.   This is
>the essence of Steedman's criticism of Marx in

Not so damn fast, John!

In his first equation, John presents a relation between qualitatively
different _material_ forms. In the first place, these material forms can
only formally be placed in a purely quantitative relation. So this relation
has no quantitative content whatsoever. But, as everybody knows, economist
enjoy the pedantry of presenting what ordinary people understand when
expressed in words, as a mathematical formula. Still, does John's formula
involve just an inoffensive (is it ever?) pedantry? Certainly not, John
tells us that he mistakes this material apparent relation for the rate of
profit. Have he not isolated apparent concrete forms from their
determinations he would have known that the rate of profit is a _social_
form, the concrete expression formally taken by the capacity of the
present-day materialized general social relation, capital, to realize
itself as the concrete subject of social production by increasing its own
magnitude, profit. But John attributes this relation to the materiality of
capital itself, showing again how he has not gone beyond the fetishistic
nature of commodities.

Now we have John's second expression, and, at last, a true quantitative one
since only "units" fit into it. But "units" of what? Once more, John
mistakes material forms for social relations!

Now let us take John's third expression.

>225 hours + 75 hours + 75 hours  = 375 hours

We have now "labor hours." Value, at last, isn't it? Absolutely NOT.

Value has no way of expressing itself directly through its substance, the
socially necessary abstract labor materialized in a commodity. To do it,
this labor should manifest itself as being socially necessary at the very
moment the concrete labor that produces each commodity is performed. In
other words, such expression presupposes that the concrete labors are
performed as a directly social one, and therefore, presupposes the direct
regulation of the social metabolism process. Still, if the products of
labor take the social form of commodities, it is precisely because the
concrete labor that produces them is the very negation of directly social
labor, i.e., private labor. Only after its has been materialized, and
indirectly as abstract labor, this private concrete labor can be confirmed
as a part of the social labor or not. Since it is the socially necessary
materialized abstract labor represented as the capacity of commodities for
relating among themselves in exchange, value lacks any way for manifesting
itself other than in exchange itself. Therefore, the value of a commodity
necessarily expresses itself only in the use-value, in the body, of the
commodity that is exchanged for the commodity in question as its
equivalent. With its quantity determined by the amount of time of socially
necessary abstract labor materialized in a commodity, value takes its
concrete form of exchange-value; that is, of the quantity of a commodity's
value that expresses itself as a certain quantity of another commodity's

Commodities are the simplest specific form of present-day general social
relation. Still, until the very moment they are realized in exchange,
commodities are this relation only potentially. Commodities solve this
contradiction they are in themselves by determining a particular commodity
as the substantive general equivalent of their community, in which all the
rest of them express their value. This special commodity, money, ceases to
have its exchangeability, the realization of its value, determined as a
possibility; it is the direct incarnation itself of exchangeability. It
thus develops a specific use-value, that of being the substantive
incarnation of value, a pure materialization of the general social
relation. The product of a concrete private labor becomes the direct
incarnation of abstract social labor.
(taken from my "From Simple Commodities to Capital-Commodities: The
Transformation of Values into Prices of Production")

So, back to John's equation,

>225 hours + 75 hours + 75 hours  = 375 hours

has no way of being an expression of the value-form of the general social
relation. On the contrary, it reflects:

a) a material relation abstracted from its social form in
commodity-production. Furthermore, this is a relation that can only be
constructed through a completely abstract mental process. The amount of
social labor materialized in each commodity is precisely what the
commodity-form of the social product solves by itself, given the still
limited capacity of society to directly rule the allocation of its total
labor-power into its concrete material forms.

b) a relation inherent in the very negation of commodity production, in a
social production where labor is directly allocated into its concrete forms
either through personal relations or through a collective conscious
process. In which case, it is also a purely material relation.

But John wants us to take this material relation between material forms,
for what it is not, for a social relation, presenting it as the proper
reflect of the rate of profit! Hasn't John ever noticed that, in the many
numerical examples that Marx gives in Capital concerning the circuit of
capital, he does never express value by its substance, abstract labor, but
by its necessary substantiated form, money?

The only relation that properly reflects the movement of capital is:

$ 100 + $ 50 + $ 50 = $ 200
   c  +   v  +   s  =    w

Of course, John is far from being original in reducing value to its
substance by abstracting from its necessary concrete form, to go on
mistaking from there on what has been inverted into direct social labor for
the social labor that only becomes determined as such through the exchange
of commodities. His "typical commodity" is the typical example of what real
commodities are ideally turned into in a typical version of vulgar economy.
This is precisely the case of Sraffa, and a fortiori, of Steedman (let
alone Sweezy). Srafa's "commodities" have of such only the name, since all
the supposedly private concrete labor embodied in them immediately is a
part of the total social abstract labor. Obviously, on such a basis, all
the specificity of commodity production can be labeled "redundant," since
its necessity has been taken out of sight from the very beginning. In fact,
taken out of sight for those who personify the necessity of capital to
nurture the alienation of human consciousness by turning every real
concrete form into an ideological abstraction.

Now, John says to me

>Folk like Keen know that problems arise as one tries to move
>from value to concepts like a FRP.  His solution seems to be to
>refine* the concept and start anew.  You argue against his refinements.
>I'd like to know where they take him.   In fairness, I'd like to know
>where your ideas about value take you. So I'll wait for your response.

and in another post

>When we do battle with folk like Keen who know the
>traps one can fall into with the LTV, we have to not
>only  avoid the traps but also present a version of the
>LTV that makes sense and, again, allows us to develop
>the FRP and crisis theory.

and yet in another one

>Where we now seem to agree (wiyh Keen) is that the LTV defined in the
>usual way is useless.
>... we both know the usual way goes nowhere other
>than to some rather rigorous demonstrations that Marx was

Do these "problems" and "traps" really arise from Marx's reproduction in
thought of the specificity of the present-day process of social metabolism,
of capitalism, until discovering its real necessity to annihilate itself
into socialism/communism through the conscious revolutionary action of the
proletariat, i.e., from "Capital"?

Or is it that these "problems" and "traps" only exist in the minds of the
economists that abstract Marx's developments from the specificity of their
form and content? "Rigorous demonstrations that Marx was wrong" a
collection of pedantic abstractions that start from giving as solved that
which the value-form is specifically determined to solve in the real world?

And, by the way, doesn't such abstractions start to arise when the initial
steps of that reproduction in thought, and therefore, the initial steps in
the conscious ruling itself of revolutionary action, are labeled a "labor
theory of value"? Did ever Marx call his own product such way? In his own
words he says something quite different:"I never start from 'concepts,' nor
therefore, from the 'concept of value,' ... I start from the simplest
social form in which the products of labor take shape in present-day
society, '_commodities_.'" (Notes on Wagner).

So, as everybody can see, John will find me always willing to jump forward
from the most abstract forms of our general social relation, capital, to
its most concrete ones that can be relevant for my conscious action, always
by following in thought the unfolding of their real necessity. But, is he
really willing to jump with me? In that case, there is a jump he must give
first: he must jump from the abstractions he has produced by isolating the
real concrete social forms from their determinations, to the analysis of
the real abstract social forms.

So far, John has announced here his decision to give quite a different jump:

>I'll hop aboard Keen's Pequod and see where it takes me,
>bearing in mind the seemingly fatal flaws at the beginning of
>our journey.  Call me what's his name.

Of course, in Steve's company John will enjoy the chance of claiming "it's
hard to be more orthodox about Marx than I am,"  have lots of abstractions
to discuss about so their dicussion "could well extend into the next
century" and have access to those peer refereed journals that are willing
to publish literally falsified "quotations" from Marx provided the proper
apologetics of capital is thus achieved. But, John should know that Steve
Keen's name actually is that of "Captain Silver of vulgar economy," and the
social necessity he personifies is that of simply reproducing the
alienation of human consciousness as a necessary concrete form of the
production of surplus-value.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list