value, exchange-value, revolutionary action

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Mon Oct 2 22:10:58 MDT 1995

This is the reply to Paul Cockshott's post I referred to in my previous
post on the subject.

>Allin's definition of value even overlooks the fact that, generically,
>"value" means an aptitude for something.
>If I recall Marx was somewhat scathing about similar etymological
>approaches to the concept of value by Herr Wagner.

Paul needs to recall a little deeper into Marx. In his Notes on Wagner,
Marx points out that: "In this way it is understood that our vir obscurus,
that has not even noticed that my _analytical_ method, that does not start
from man (in general), but from a concrete social epoch, does not keep the
remotest relation with that method of interweaving concepts that the German
professors are so fond of ('it is easy to discuss about words and it is not
hard to build a system on them'); ..."


"De prime abord, 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_.' I
analyze it, and I do it paying attention above all to the "form under which
it presents itself_. And I discover that a 'commodity' is, on the one hand,
a material form, an _useful object_, in other words, an use-value, and, on
the other hand, the _incarnation of exchange value_, and, from this point
of view, 'exchange value' itself. I go on analyzing 'exchange value' and I
find out that it is nothing but a 'form of manifesting itself,' a specific
mode of appearing of the _value_ contained in the commodity, so I proceeded
to analyze it. ... I do not divide _value_ in use-value and exchange value
as antithetical terms in which the abstract, 'value,' has to be divided,
but what I do say is that the _concrete social form_ of the product of
labor, of the '_commodity_', is on the one hand use-value and on the other
hand 'value', not exchange value, since this is a simple _form_  that value
takes to manifest itself, but not its very _content_."

In my posts questioning Allin's reduction of value to its substance, and
therefore, to an ahistorical form, I unfolded the determinations of
commodities, for instance, in the following way:

Human life is a social metabolism process. The regulation of this process
takes shape as the social relation among its members. The historically
determined absence of a general direct coordination in the allocation and
development of social labor determines individuals as private independent
producers. Insofar as purely such, they have no way to get into relation by
themselves to shape their social metabolism process. These producers do not
retain any social relation other than being individual personifications of
society's total capacity for laboring. This total labor-power is, as such,
the capacity for human laboring in general. The development of this
capacity under its different concrete forms is, thus, the development of
the general social relation among the private independent producers in an
autonomously regulated social metabolism process. In it, society allocates
its total laboring capacity among the different concrete modalities of
labor by representing the socially necessary abstract labor embodied in the
products of the concrete labors carried out by the independent private
producers, as the capacity of these products for relating among themselves
in exchange and, therefore, for socially relating their producers. That is,
the general social relation takes form in the determination of the
use-values produced by labor as commodities; and the socially necessary
abstract labor materialized in the commodities and in that way represented,
becomes the value of commodities.

Allin only opposed to my developments the repeated assertion that value was a

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

Since Allin's argument lacked any foundation other than the definition of
the 'term "value"' itself in the way he liked, I pointed out that value
involved an aptitude for something, as it was clear in the term use-value
and in value as "the materialized socially necessary abstract labor that is
represented as _the capacity_ of commodities to relate among themselves in
exchange, thus socially relating their producers."

Paul adds no foundation to Allin's assertion. Moreover, he repeats it again
in his post. Now, who is bringing down the question of the historicity or
ahistoricity of value, not even to an "etymological approach", but just to
a matter of asserting the equality between a definition abstracted from any
specificity and a word abstracted from any meaning, Herr Paul? Yes, Paul,
it is very easy to build a system on words, and to hide it by turning facts
upside down by imputing to your opponent what you are doing, suggesting
that this falsification can be rooted on Marx. But just for a change, why
don't you give a foundation to your assertion about the eternity of value
beyond repeating "abstract social labor = value".

It is no secret that all along his works Marx points out how the precise
meaning of words do matter. For instance, and from what following Paul
should be labeled a strict "etymological approach," Marx wrote:

"'The natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to supply the
necessities, or serve the conveniences of human life' (Locke, ...) In
English writers of the 17th century we frequently find 'worth' in the sense
of value in use, and value' in the sense of exchange-value. This is quite
in accordance with the spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic
word for the actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion." (Capital


"We may here remark, that the language of commodities has, besides Hebrew,
many other more or less correct dialects. The German "Wertsein," to be
worth, for instance, expresses in a less striking manner than the Romance
verbs "valere," "valer," "valoir," that the equating of commodity B to
commodity A, is commodity's A own mode of expressing its value. Paris vaut
bien une messe." (Capital I)

>The socially necessary abstract
>labor materialized in a product that is not a commodity lacks the
>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.
>I am not aware that aptitudes ever
>figured in Marx's theory of value.
>However, in any social formation
>with a division of labour, the product
>even if not a commodity, presupposes
> social labour and its division
>between branches of production. Thus
>it presupposes abstract social
>labour - value - though not the value form.

It is cleat that Paul is not aware about Marx discovering that the
"aptitude for exchange" (capacity, or power or worth, as Lisa Rogers
pointed out, producing Paul's declamatory but empty rejection) of the
products of the private independent producers is the essence of the
value-form of this products, what specifically determines an use-value as a
commodity. In my reply to Allin I presented some specific quotations from
Marx concerning this question. I will add here:

"A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the
social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character
stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the
producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a
social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products
of their labour. This is the reason why the products of labour become
commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible
and imperceptible by the senses. ... This I call the Fetishism which
attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as
commodities ... This Fetishism of commodities has its origin, ..., in the
peculiar social character of the labour that produces them. It is only by
being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform
social status, ... Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label
describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product
into a social hieroglyphic. ... The recent scientific discovery, that the
products of labour, so far as they are values, are but material expressions
of the human labour spent in their production marks, indeed, an epoch in
the development of human race, but, by no means, dissipates the mist
through which the social character of labour appears to us to be an
objective character of the products themselves" (Capital I)

And notice how, once again, all the foundations given by Allin or Paul for
the depriving of value from its historical specificity as a social relation
is ... the enunciation that it is eternal

>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
>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. So only determined as the materialized socially
>necessary abstract labor of the private independent producers does
>necessary abstract labor become a "value."
>This shows some confusion between value,
>commodities and the form of appearance
>of value. Consider the sentence <<So
>only determined as the materialized socially
>necessary abstract labor of the private
>independent producers does socially
>necessary abstract labor become a "value.">>
>It is wrong to talk of a value
>in this way. One may talk of an hour or
>second of value, or of a commodity
>but not a value. It would be more correct
>to say that << Only the product
>of independent producers becomes a commodity.>>
> or if you wish to focus on
>the labour << Only as the labour performed
>in independent units of production,
>does social labour get represented as exchange value.>>

"It is wrong to talk of a value in this way ... It would be more correct"!
According to whose standards? Certainly not Marx's!:

"When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all,
they are -- Values." (Capital I)

Attending exclusively to its historical specificity as a social relation,
and this specificity is what the present discussion is about, a "commodity"
is a "value."

Funny optic, Paul's, that makes someone who shares the confusion of
"commodities" with "anything," of "value" with a "shorthand way of saying,"
etc., believe other people are the confused ones concerning value. Paul's
pedantry has here no other content that to allow him to say one more time
"social labor = value" whichever the historical form of the former. Notice
how, with no foundation other than his asserted "wrong" and "more correct,"
he attempts to turn my development into two assertions where the true
question of the historical specificity of the value-form of the products of
labor in commodity-producing society has been completely erased. What a
scientific way of arguing!

> The attempt to empty value from
>its historical specificity by reducing
> the value-form to its substance, has
>to force "value" into a meaningless
>concept even from a mere idiomatic
>point of view. Yet, according to Allin,
>Marx is the incoherent one
>concerning value!
>Allin is careful not to confuse
>the value-form (i.e., exchange value ),
>with what is expressed in this relation,
>value (i.e., social labour time).
>Behind Juans attack on Allins presentation
>of value is a misconception, shared
>by several interpreters of Marx, that
>his concept of value applied only
>to commodity producing societies.
>This misreading dates from Rodbertus,
>and is explicitly refuted by Marx in
>his Notes on Wagner's Lerbuch,
>( see pages 185 and 207 Karl Marx,
>Texts on Method, Oxford 1975), where
>he points out the applicability of
>the concept to primitive community

I have shown in my posts how Allin is careful _to_ confuse the value-form
taken by the products of labor in commodity-production that determines
these products as the materialized general social relation, the _value_ of
commodities (which is not their exchange value, the form in which value
necessarily manifests itself in exchange and, therefore, as a determined
amount of itself that is expressed in a certain quantity of the use-value
of a different commodity), with the _substance of value_, the socially
necessary abstract labor materialized in commodities, but that, as such
materialized socially necessary abstract labor, inheres in any product of
this labor whichever its social form..

In Capital, Marx constantly makes clear that the substance of value is
common to all social forms, but that, yet, this substance only becomes the
_value_ of the products of labor when it becomes historically represented
as the capacity of these products for relating among themselves in
exchange, shaping the fetishistic general social relation among the private
independent producers. The section on "The Fetishism of Commodities and the
Secret Thereof" is the complete compendium of Marx's developments in this
sense. Just to quote a specific part of it:

"Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its
magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has
never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its
product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. These formulae,
which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakeable letters that they belong
to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery
over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulae appear to the
bourgeois intellect to be as much as self-evident necessity imposed by
Nature as productive labour itself."

In fact, my imputed "misconception, shared by several interpreters of Marx,
that his concept of value applied only to commodity producing societies,"
seems to be so widely shared that it reaches ... Marx himself!.

And, of course, it is not even about Marx's "concept of value," it is about
value itself: see above my quotation of Marx's Notes on Wagner.

Concerning Marx supposedly openly contradicting himself in his Notes on
Wagner, in the two Spanish translations I have consulted, the difference I
have already pointed out Marx establishes between the _substance of value_
and the fact that this substance takes its historical form of _value_ as it
becomes specifically determined in commodity-production, clearly appears.
So it would be really enlightening if Paul could post those quotations
stating that _value_ is an ahistorical form, from the English translation.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

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