Value debate: reply to MIM/more readings for Miller

Maoist Internationalist Movement mim3 at nyxfer.blythe.org
Sun Oct 29 22:01:01 MST 1995


On Mon, 30 Oct 1995 Steve.Keen at unsw.edu.au wrote:

[snip]
Pat for MIM replies to snipped: I'm not going
to get into your reading of use-value and 
exchange-value concepts, because I believe
Marx had a more limited agenda than you make out
of the use-value discussion
and I believe I can more efficiently kill
the possibility of non-labor-power commodities
being the source of surplus-value and thus
end the argument there. In fairness, this
is something that academia does sidestep
all the time--why labor-power is the
privileged commodity--so I recognize that
it will be the "religious" fanatics like
myself who will carry the burden of 
scientific argument. On this I agree with
Proyect entirely, "Western Marxism" is
something that can be learned from, just
like the Wall Street Journal. It's great
that economists such as Keen are so
adept with Capital, because once being
so familiar with it, they can't help
carrying some of it over into the rest of
life, life beyond dissertations, even if
it is just teaching for instance.

> ------------------------------------
> 1. Which preceeded which historically-speaking?
> Are you going to say that there was always something
> abstract called pickle juice or machine innards
> going back as far as labor does? By the way,
> why privilege machines and machine-power?
> Why not pickle-power?
> 
> On the point of which preceded which, the answer is: neither.
> There is no product in human history which has been made by
> humans without the assistance of any other use-value. To
> believe otherwise is to believe in magic, which I hope that
> on a marxism list, we can rule out! This in fact formed the

Pat for MIM replies: Well, I don't want to hang your
argument with just anthropological or semantic points,
but what do you think of this beauty contest question, anyway.

I may use a rock to kill a rabbit for meat. Someone else
may use a stick to knock down a coconut. Might they
not exchange--the coconut and rabbit? What does Marx
say about the use of things in production that
are not commodities? Is it just semantic to say that
there is a production process going on and no other
inputs (commodity inputs?) And can't it reproduce itself
by reproducing the one means of production--people?

I missed something else too. If I live on one side
of the river and climb coconut trees
and  without using
a stick, may I not obtain commodities for exchange?
Won't I cross the river to see my friends on the
other side to give them as many coconuts as I can
carry for as many bananas? I suppose you could object
it's likely I need transport to really make
exchange meaningful. But maybe I run back and forth
100 times to give 300 coconuts to obtain a certain
kind of meat difficult to catch. But are you saying 
coconuts are inputs themselves? Rabbits?
 
My next point is more contemporary. Most other people on this list
actually appear to disagree with you on the possibilities of
surplus-generation without other inputs. The sales of massages come to
mind as requiring no inputs in production. I've seen many companies set up
to do this, not to mention selling sex. On the other hand, I can't think
of any situation where an input WITHOUT labor becomes a commodity, never
mind a source of surplus-value. However, I admit that all of this is foggy
like the beginning of time to me and Keen seems to have Marx more at the
tip of his tongue. From what I understand of Marx's "Critique of the 
Gotha Program," his point was that this sort of labor by
"savages" is indeed labor that is pre-society.

In another stage of production, when it comes to certain kinds of
labor-power involving salepersonship, it seems the gift of gab gets you
rewarded. In any case, as I have tried to argue, since
the COMINTERN, we Marxists have looked at 
"services" as very suspect categories of production.
They are constituents of the "semi-proletariat"
as the COMINTERN of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin said.

On the question of apologetics for capitalists
by attributing surplus generating powers to
non-labor inputs, I admit it's not the focus
of argument, just an indication of its importance, like
Keen said, pure polemic or advertising.

Now I turn to where I believe Keen's argument
can be efficiently destroyed.

> -------------------------------------------
> This next issue is one of unequal exchange:
> 
> |If pickles or machines are the input, trade/exchange
> |happens within the capitalist class. Without
> |technical change, every capitalist will come to
> |know exactly how much pickleness can be gotten
> |out of pickle-power. There will be no surplus
> |because all will trade for the exact value of
> |pickle-power....as a CLASS, it still remains that
> |capitalists can't derive a surplus from pickle-power,
> |even while individual ones might get some temporary
> |advantage at one moment only to lose it at another.
> |
> |Now look at exchange between capitalists and
> |the proletariat. Recall that proletarians are
> |by definition for our time people with nothing
> |to sell but their labor-power... For this reason
> |labor-power is the ONLY commodity that might
> |exchange in such a way as to allow surplus-value...
> |So it all boils down to WHO owns the commodity,
> |and the commodity labor-power is the only one
> |that can generate surplus for surplus-value.
> 
> This is one way to argue that labor is the only source
> of surplus. However, not only is it not Marx's way, it
> is a way about which he was highly dismissive:
> 
> "A worker who buys commodities for 3s appears to the seller in the 
> same fashion ... as the king who does the same."(Grundrisse, p. 241)

Pat for MIM replies: The word "appears" is key in Marx's
whole discussion of exchange, and why Marx takes
bourgeois conceptions of exchange seriously. It explains
why there is such a powerful ideology connected to exchange
in capitalist society.
> 
> "Indeed, in so far as the commodity or labour is conceived of
> only as exchange value, and the relation in which the various
> commodities are brought into connection with one another is
> conceived as the exchange of these exchange values with one
> another, as their equation, then the individuals, the subjects
> between whom this process goes on, are simply and only conceived
> of as exchangers. As far as the formal character is concerned,
> there is absolutely no distinction between them, and this is the
> economic character, the aspect in which they stands towards one
> another in the exchange relation; it is the indicator of their
> social function or social relation towards one another. Each of
> the subjects is an exchanger; i.e. each has the same social
> relation towards the other that the other has towards him. As
> subjects of exchange, their relation is therefore one of
> equality. It is impossible to find any trace of distinction, not
> to speak of contradiction, between them; not even a difference.
> Furthermore, the commodities which they exchange are, as exchange
> values, equivalent." (Grundrisse, p. 241.)

Pat for MIM replies: Isn't Marx great? Let's just remember
from the above quote that it starts "only as exchange value."

I am not disagreeing with this at all. It can't be said enough
that this particular relationship of exploitation Marx is talking
about does not originate in exchange, sharping etc. 
If people don't understand what I am saying about the 
difference in class ownership of commodities, it would be
better to agree with Keen here than to mess up this point.

> 
> "Regarded from the standpoint of the natural
> difference between them, individual A exists as the owner of a
> use value for B, and B as owner of a use value for A... so
> that they stand not only in an equal, but also in a social,
> relation to one another." (ibid, pp. 242-43.)
> 
> In other words, the "beauty" of exploitation under capitalism,
> according to Marx, was that it occurred behind an appearance
> of equality. He had a theory which explained why a system
> founded on class equality in exchange could nonetheless
> lead to exploitation and the maintenance of class inequality,
> and this foundation is maintained in my analysis. It is
> sensible to supplement it with the observation that power
> can lead to unequal exchange in some circumstances, and they
> may well be important and prevalent circumstances. But if
> that is the sole foundation of your analysis of exploitation,
> you don't measure up to Marx's own standards.

Pat for MIM replies: I admit that I really don't see
much relevance in 1995 for what Marx said in most of volume I,
if we are speaking of specific social relations. 
The world's majority does not enjoy a free market for
labor-power, and the portion that does have that free
market for labor-power is not exploited. However,
I do think Marx was correct about social relations of his day,
and I am only arguing with you as if I lived in 1850.

> 
> In your analysis of why a machine can't be a source of surplus,
> you say at one point:
> |There will be no surplus because all will trade for the exact value 
> 
> |of pickle-power...
> 
> This is an argument that surplus is extracted from labor because
> it is paid *less* than its value, whereas machines can't be a
> source of value because they exchange at exactly their value.
> I can even cite pre-Grundrisse Marx against that one:
> 
> "To explain, therefore, *the general nature of profits*, you must 
> start from the theorem that, on the average, commodities are *sold at 
> their real values*, and that *profits are derived by selling them at 
> their values*, that is, in proportion to the quantity of labour 
> realized in them. If you cannot explain profit upon this supposition, 
> you cannot explain it at all." ("Wages, price and profit" in
> *Marx-Engels Selected Works*, Volume I, Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute 
> (ed.), Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1951, p. 384.)

Pat for MIM replies: Oh good point, I could be easily
misconstrued here. Go back and look at the quote from
me. I was talking about pickle-power. Keen's problem
is that he immediately see an analogy with labor-power,
but the whole point is that pickle-power and expended
pickleness are COLLAPSED together in Marx.

Let me repeat that the issue of the difference
between pickle-power and pickleness extracted is uninteresting,
because as I said the pickle is predictable to the capitalist.
Furthermore, the capitalist that doesn't "get it," about pickles
will be driven out of business. In exchange, pickle-power will
exchange for the value of its expended pickleness. (If we want
to be quote-mongers and formal, Keen must admit that
Marx doesn't distinguish between pickle-power and expended
pickleness and I'm trying to tell him why Marx doesn't. He
does explain machine depreciation etc., but again I don't want
to get into that. I have no doubt that academia found Keen's
argument on that most attractive. I am only making one point
that is nonetheless crucial, the privileged position of labor-power.)

The difference between labor-power and labor IS interesting,
from both classes' perspective. But let's start in exchange
to see why it is so baffling to economists. There IS
an equal exchange between capitalists and workers.
The workers seek commodities for their own reproduction and
they get them, with no cheating. Both classes only think to
exchange for labor-power instead of labor, because
to do otherwise is impractical for
accounting reasons and impossible because it's not possible
to exchange labor for labor equally in any
foreseeable system. Even from the 
workers' point of view in equal exchange, exchanging
for labor isn't what they want.
They want the value of their labor-power because that
way they can survive. That's the market they are in; that's
the question on their minds.

The purchase of labor-power says nothing about what work
will actually get done. Once we buy a pickle, we know
what will be done with it and the result. When it comes
to labor-power though, it's consumption can result in
no production at all, but on average it ends up in production
of values greater than the values that went to purchasing
labor-power. That is not unequal exchange.
Surplus-value only originates in production, after exchange, and obviously
only if some production occurs! In contrast, what happens after
exchange is fully accounted for in the case of pickles in exchange itself.

What Keen has done is use an important argument by Marx against
a certain view of exploitation that leads to focussing
on swindles. It's just not relevant to my point about
the difference between capitalist-owned commodities
and proletarian-owned labor-power. If a pickle could talk
it would ask for sunshine and soil in exchange for its consumption.
All the pickles would ask for the same thing and if it were
possible pickle-power would be exploited.

In actuality, Keen is the one implying unequal exchange.
He is saying non-labor-power commodities can be exchanged
amongst capitalists for less than the socially necessary
labor time than went into making them. If this were
possible as Marx said, LTV or not, it would be possible for the
capitalist class to become richer by deceiving itself.
That's the only way to see such commodities as 
producing surplus-value.

Aside from the problem of swindles and unequal exchange,
Marx said exploitation wasn't the fact that workers
don't get ALL their labor back in commodities
bearing equal value. His focus on the labor-power market
instead of the labor market assured him a way out
of this problem. He believed workers SHOULD turn over
a portion of their work for reproduction, expanded
reproduction, insurance etc. as explained in the 
"Critique of the Gotha Program." That is a different
issue than the fact that surplus-value originates
in production beyond the value of labor-power
under capitalism. I should
have explained that before. Even the part that
used to be surplus-value that will become
worker directed reproduction investment, expanded reproduction investment
and insurance etc. points to the idea that part of
what is exploitation is lack of control. 
Exploitation is not
just turning over a quantity of labor to someone else.

"Since Lassalle's death there has asserted itself in ITAL
our END Party the scientific understanding that wages are
not what they ITAL appear END to be, namely, the ITAL
value, END or ITAL price, of labour, END but only a masked 
form for the ITAL value, END or ITAL price, of labor power. END.
Thereby the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto,
as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against
this conception, was thrown overboard once for all
and it was made clear that the wage-worker has 
permission to work for his own subsistence." ("Critique
of the Gotha Program")

This is the whole reason labor-power is privileged. There
is a market. There is no market for pickle-power or machine-
power apart from their expended forms.


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