Value debate: reply to MIM/more readings for Miller

Steve.Keen at Steve.Keen at
Sun Oct 29 15:29:03 MST 1995

MIM's comment on this discussion raised a number of useful
issues, which I'll consider in turn:

|How could labor-power NOT be the privileged commodity?

I have no argument with the proposition that labor-power
is unique, and therefore priveleged in some sense. It
just happens that the sense is not as a source of surplus
value. Marx did argue this in Capital, but I argue that
his grounds for it were erroneous in terms of the logic
he developed in the Grundrisse.

The proposition that there should be a privileged commodity
which is solely the source of value is something which *was*
in Marx up until the Grundrisse. Then, while developing what
I call the dialectic of the commodity--the dialectical
relationship between use-value and exchange-value--he
specifically repudiated the notion that any one commodity
could be the "opposite" of capital, and hence the source of
surplus value. This analysis begins with a footnote on
pp. 267-68, where he first realises that the classical
treatment of use-value vis-a-vis exchange-value may in
fact be expanded dialectically.

Continuing, Marx says that "In the relation of capital and
labour, exchange value and use value are brought into relation;
the one side (capital) initially stands opposite the other side
as exchange value, and the other (labour) stands opposite
capital, as use value." (pp. 267-68.> While "the
commodities are of interest in the exchange value relation only
in so far as they have exchange value; on the other side their
exchange value is only of passing interest..." (p. 268.)

"We have seen earlier that it cannot be said that exchange
value is realized in simple circulation. This is so, however,
because use value does not stand as such opposite exchange value,
as something defined as use value by exchange value; while
inversely use value as such does not stand in a connection with
exchange value, but becomes a specific exchange value only
because the common element of use values -- labour-time --
is applied to it as an external yardstick... It must now be
posited that use value as such becomes what it becomes through
exchange value, and that exchange value mediates itself through
use value."

Distinguishing the capital labour relation from other capital
commodity relations, Marx says that "The only utility
whatsoever which an object can have for capital can be to
preserve or increase it." The motive to accumulate is thus
inherent in capital itself, "value which insists on itself as
value preserves itself through increase." (p. 270.)

"The only use value, i.e. usefulness, which can stand
opposite capital as such is that which increases, multiplies and
hence preserves it as capital." (p. 271.) Searching
for the Hegelian opposite of capital, Marx finds that it cannot
be a particular commodity "but all commodities":

"the opposite of capital cannot itself be a particular
commodity, for as such it would form no opposition to capital,
since the substance of capital is itself use-value; it is not
this commodity or that commodity, but all commodities." (p. 271.)

So there is not one priveleged commodity: all commodities
form the opposite of capital.

What happens next, in my opinion, is a logical mistake,
which allows the concept of a priveleged commodity to
reappear. Despite having said that no single use-value can
form the opposite of capital, Marx now concludes that
labor is that single use-value:

"The communal substance of all commodities, i.e. their
substance not as material stuff, as physical character, but their
communal substance as *commodities* and hence *exchange
values*, is this, that they are objectified labour... The
only use value, therefore, which can form the opposite pole to
capital is labour (to be exact, value creating, productive
labour...)." (p. 272.>

So my argument is that there is not one priveleged commodity--
vis a vis value creation--but all commodities, and that all 
commodities CANNOT be reduced to labor alone. This issue is best
taken up with Pat's next point.

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?

For the same reason as given above: there is no one
priveleged use-value. Surplus arises out of the exploitation of
all use-values in productive consumption (a phrase you will
find Marx discussing at length in the Grundrisse, by the way).

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
basis of the analysis of another book which should be on
Jim Miller's reading list: Arun Bose's _Marx on Inequality
and Exploitation_. He took an axiomatic approach to revising
Marx, and three of the key axioms were:

"Axiom 2: No commodity can be produced by pure labour
Axiom 3: No commodity can be produced by commodities alone.
Axiom 4: All commodities are produced by processes which
use both labour and commodities directly or indirectly."

He then undertook a "reduction" process, where the commodity
(non-labor) input to a a commodity produced today was reduced
to the direct labor used to produce that input yesterday, plus
the commodities used in conjunction with that dated labor. He
repeated that process ad infinitum, to show that no matter
how far back you went, there would always be a "positive
commodity residue". Thus, if value was something intrinsic
to commodities, then it could not be based solely upon labor,
but on labor and commodities jointly.

Bose's is a highly intelligent and well-reasoned case, which
deserves close scrutiny by anyone interested in Marx, especially
if you are inclined to believe that one thing can be identified
as the source of surplus.
The next point is a polemic one:

|3. Perhaps Steve would like to explain how
|attributing surplus to machines will not lead
|to capitalist apologetics for a share of the

Some weak-minded people probably would develop such apologetics.
But that is based on a confusion of the person who owns the
machine with the machine itself--which I think Marx would
have referred to as reification? I think Marxists have resisted
ideas like mine so much because they actually feel that acknowledging
that machines are productive somehow implies that capitalists must
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
| 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)

"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.)

"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.

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.)

So again, this is an explanation for surplus that "sounds like"
Marx at one level, but his was a theory of exploitation based on
the exchange of equals, not upon unequal exchange.

Otherwise, your analysis of why a machine can't be a source of 
surplus value--because that is a capitalist-capitalist exchange--is
similar to Desai's argument as expressed in his _Marxian
Economics_. He is the only other person, apart from me, who has attempted to employ Marx's use-value/exchange-value analysis
actively in his interpretation of Marx, but unlike me he uses
it to support the labor theory of value. However, his arguments
rest, as do yours, on unequal exchange.

Steve Keen

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