Value=Abstract Labour

Paul Cockshott wpc at
Wed Oct 4 23:37:00 MDT 1995

I had unsubscribed from the list but,
since I have been informed by a current
subscriber that Juan has challenged me
to produce evidence from Marx for the
argument that value=abstract labour,
and that this value or abstract labour
is not restricted to commodity producing
societies, I am posting the following:

Marx first argues that echange value
is a mode of representation of something

"the valid exchange-values of a given commodity
express something equal; secondly exchange-value,
generally, is only the mode of expression, the
phenomenal form of something contained in it,
yet distinguishable from it." (Cap 1 p 37)

He then argues what the only common substance
is :

"there is nothing left but what is common to them
all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of
labour, human labour in the abstract." (Cap 1 p38)

The then identifies this with value:

"the common substance that manifests itself in
the exchange-value of commodities, whenever
they are exchanged is their value." (Cap 1 p38)

Thus we have that exchange-value is the form
of representation of abstract labour which
is the same thing as the value of commodities.
Thus abstract labour = value.

He then says that the magnitude of value is
dimensionally equivalent to the magnitude
of labour required for a use-value's production:

"A use value or useful article, therefore has
value only because human labour in the abstract
has been embodied or materialised in it.
How then is the magnitude of this value to be
measured? Plainly by the quantity of the
value-creating substance, the labour, contained
in the article." Cap 1 p 38

Note that he talks of articles or use-values
having value - not commodities having value here.
Since commodities are a subset of use-values the
above obviously applies to them in particular,
but the concomitant is that, use-values that are not commodities
also have value.

Thus the expression of value as exchange value
is a historically specific form:

"the 'value' of a commodity only expresses in
a historically developed form, what exists in
all other historical forms of society as well,
even if in another form, namely the social
character of labour, so far as it exists as the
expenditure of 'social' labour power. ... Herr
Rodbertus takes Ricardos measure of the quantity
of value; but just as little as Ricardo has
he grasped or explored the substance of value
itself; e.g. the mutual charact of the labour process
in primitive community life as the
community organism of labour powers allied
to one another" ( Notes on Wagner p 207, Carver 75)

Thus although the value ( in quotes ) of a
commodity is a historically specific form,
because the commodity is a historically specific
phenomenon, the underlying substance that
constitutes value is both common to different
modes of production, and a property of all
humanly produced useful articles.

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