value, exchange-value, revolutionary action

Juan Inigo jinigo at inscri.org.ar
Mon Oct 2 20:12:14 MDT 1995


A month ago, Allin Cottrell and Paul Cockshott replied to my questioning of
Allin's imputation of "inconsistency and incoherence" to Marx, that Allin
bases on depriving value (the materialized socially necessary abstract
labor that represents itself as the capacity of commodities to relate among
themselves in exchange, thus socially relating their independent private
producers) from its historical specificity by bringing it down to a

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

Unfortunately, I had to postpone my response to their posts until now. I
will address Allin's and Paul's replies in separated posts, except for what
directly concerns their "model of socialism/communism." I will address this
particular point in a further post, probably later on this week. What
follows is my reply to Allin's post (given the time gap, I will keep in
these posts the specific quotations that Allin and Paul made from my
previous post):

>> 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.
>
>Marx: "[T]he value of a commodity represents human labour pure and
>simple, the expenditure of human labour in general" (Capital, I,
>Penguin edn., p. 135).
>
>"In the production of the coat, human labour-power, in the shape
>of tailoring, has been expended. Human labour has therefore been
>accumulated in the coat.  From this point of view the coat is a
>'bearer of value', although this property never shows through, even
>when the coat is at its most threadbare" (op. cit., p. 143).
>
>This is what I had in mind.  To say that something 'has value' (as
>opposed to use-value) in Marx's terminology, is to say that its
>production requires some definite expenditure of human labour-time.

Allin is completely clear about what he has in mind: where Marx writes
"commodity", Allin's mind reads "something." But, of course, at this stage
of the discussion it is clear that, concerning Allin, "commodity" comes
down to a "shorthand way of saying" "anything." Allin seems to believe that
naming all the specific determinations of the social product that embodies
at the same time the general social relation among the private independent
producers, a "shorthand way of saying" the attributes that are common to
all the products of human labor whichever their social form, suffices by
itself to deprive this product from its historical specificity. It happens
that this is the basis he needs to present as a revolutionary task the
construction on a moral basis of a "socialism" that, since it is still
regulated through the commodity-form that the social product presents on
reaching individual consumption, is just a capitalism in an apologetic
disguise.

>Juan's 'aptitude theory of value' strikes me as very odd,

Of course, "Juan's 'aptitude theory of value'" only belongs in Allin's
imagination as a poor attempt to avoid facing the historical specificity of
value. But since Allin enjoys so much his fantastic world made of
"shorthand ways of saying", I will only add here that the fact that Allin
finds strikingly odd that value imports the "aptitude," "capacity," "power"
or "worth" (as Lisa Rogers properly pointed out) of commodities to relate
among themselves in exchange, is a "shorthand way of saying" that Allin
hasn't paid much attention to Marx:

"The value of a commodity is something different from the commodity itself.
Being a value (exchange-value), commodity is such only in (real or ideal)
exchange; value not only is the exchangeable character of a commodity in
general, but the specific exchangeability of a commodity." (Grundrisse)

and

"In exchange-value the general social relation among persons transforms
itself into a social relation among things; the personal capacity, into a
capacity of things. The lesser the social power of the means of exchange
is, the more it is still linked to the nature of the immediate product of
labor and to the necessities of those who exchange, the greater the power
of the community that links the individuals, the patriarchal relation, the
ancient community, feudalism and corporation. Each individual possesses the
social power under the form of a thing. Take away this social power from
the thing and it will have to be given to persons on persons." (Grundrisse)

Is it clear, Allin? "Value is the exchangeable character of a commodity,'
"a capacity of things," "the social power of the means of exchange."

>but if
>I can twist my own view into his terms I would say that the labour
>embodied in a non-commodity product in a socialist society "has the
>aptitude for being represented as as a particular fraction of the
>total labour-time at the disposal of society".  In this case the
>representation is direct, and quite different from the representation
>of value via exchange-value in commodity-producing societies.

What truly happens is that Allin mistakes "represent" for a "shorthand way
of saying" "present." To _represent_ concerns the manifestation of some
substance under a form that is not immediately identical to this substance
itself. Only in commodity-production, the materialized socially necessary
abstract labor needs to _represent_ itself as the capacity of a commodity
to relate with another in exchange to socially relate their producers.

In a socialist society, labor is consciously allocated into its concrete
forms directly as such, as a specific concrete form of human labor.
Therefore, the socially necessary abstract labor materialized in the
products of this society, does not need to be _represented_ in any way.
Moreover, it even lacks the possibility of being _represented_ as anything,
but directly _presents_ itself as such. It happens that Allin's socialist
society is far from being the conscious regulation of the process of social
metabolism, since it is only an abstract direct regulation of social
production abstracted from social consumption.

>> 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?
>
>IMO, a lot less hangs on one's choice of words here than Juan seems to
>think. A socialist society will need to produce a product over and above
>that required just to maintain the direct producers and their offspring
>(for building up its stock of means of production, for instance).  Do
>we want to call that a 'surplus product', and the labour-time that goes
>into its production 'surplus labour'?  Let's suppose we do.  A surplus
>product is also produced under capitalism, and surplus labour is performed.
>Of course the conditions are very different in these two cases.  Under
>capitalism the surplus accrues to the owners of capital, who decide on
>its disposition; under a democratic socialism both the amount and the
>disposition of the 'surplus' are matters for public debate and decision.
>Under capitalism the surplus assumes the form of profit, rent and interest;
>under socialism the categories of profit and interest disappear (rent is
>a bit more complicated and I won't get into it here, but at any rate
>there will be no class of private landowners receiving rent).  Now,
>when it comes to summarizing these and other crucial differences between
>capitalism and socialism, do we want to say (a) that under capitalism
>surplus labour (required in all societies) assumes the form of surplus
>value, or (b) that surplus value (required in all societies) assumes the
>form of surplus exchange-value?  Alternative (a) is certainly the
>standard formulation, but I don't see anything terrible about choice
>(b), provided we all understood what it meant

Marx carefully unfolds how the capitalist process of production is
determined as the unity of the labor-process (which is common to all social
forms) and the valorization-process (which is specific of capitalist
production). Then he develops how the determinations of the labor-process
(where living-labor appropriates the use-value of the products of
dead-labor) become inverted in the determinations of the
valorization-process, of the process of producing surplus-value (where
dead-labor appropriates the use-value of wage living-labor, that is, its
capacity for producing surplus-value). It is only through these inverted
determinations of the valorization-process that the process of
appropriation of the social surplus-product acquires its specific
historical form as a process where the human generic capacity for
productively appropriate nature, becomes specifically alienated as a
capacity inherent in the materialized general social relation, in capital.

Marx then develops how, through the production of relative surplus-value,
the formal subsumption of labor in capital becomes a real subsumption,
where labor itself becomes a product specifically determined by capital
accumulation. Next, Marx develops how the production of relative
surplus-value develops by itself the "general law of capitalist
accumulation" making the proletariat progressively become an
over-population, thus pushing it into pauperism. But, at the same time,
Marx develops how it is the production of relative surplus-value itself
that produces the material conditions for the overcoming of capitalism, by
producing a proletariat able to consciously rule the process of social
metabolism.

Along this developments, Marx constantly points out how vulgar economy gets
hold of every inverted appearance to ideologically represent the
determinations inherent in the production of surplus-value, in capital
accumulation, as being the natural and eternal forms inherent in any social
production. And, by the way, he points out how vulgar economy needs to
overlook surplus-value itself and stops at the concrete forms it takes as
profit, rent, interest, thus overlooking not only the specificity itself of
capitalist production, but the determination of capital as a direct social
potency, as total social capital, through the transformation of
surplus-value into average profit.

But, of course, I was almost forgetting that, from Allin's point of view,
all that Marx adds to the scientific cognition of present-day society are a
bunch of "shorthand ways of saying" "capitalism lacks any specificity", so
the only necessity to overcome it is of a "moral" nature, that leaves
"value," and believe it or not, surplus-value itself, untouched. Since
"moral" and "value" are forms inherent in commodity-producing society, this
form of society is eternal. Nothing terrible, obviously, and certainly
quite a standard formulation, from an apologetic point of view! And we all
understand what this means.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at inscri.org.ar



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