Marx's Value Theory--a potential critique

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Thu May 9 10:32:06 MDT 1996

BodySat may claim to be aware of what Marx writes, but he has a strange way
of showing it. As he disagrees with fundamentals, he should polemicize
against these fundamentals. All to the good on this list of ours,
particularly given the recent workings-through of precisely the labour
theory of value, where most people now have easier access to Marx's main
arguments on the question.

Some points to take up in his unusually long (for him) posting.

>        The labor theory of value is unnecessary to prove exploitation.
>The capitalist simply pays the desperate worker *now* much less than the
>capitalist surmises his work will sell for.

Not so. The capitalist pays the worker a precise equivalent for the value
of his labour-power, but not for the labour he contributes towards the
commodity the capitalist will be selling. This difference, and the
capitalist's monopoly of deciding what to allocate to maintenance,
investment and other funds needed to keep things ticking over, constitutes
the economic exploitation the worker is subject to -- there is additionally
the 'common-sense' exploitation practised on workers by way of cheating,
violence, blackmail and so on.

>The labor "market" under
>capitalism is largely a social function, meant to be as independent as
>possible from the actual process by which the capitalist seller makes his
>production decisions.

It's entirely a social function. It's the way labour-power is distributed
to production under capitalism. The use of labour-power is one of the
capitalist's production decisions. The state of the labour market (supply,
cost, etc) directly affects production decisions. Consequently there is no
way the decision-making process can be 'independent' of the labour market.
The labour market is independent of the wishes of most capitalists, but
that's got nothing to do with any 'meant to be' that anybody willed.

>Without labor there *would be* no product.  If everyone at
>Chrysler quit, the cars on the lots would not instantly disappear. This is
>important because capitalists make their money in that time period between
>worker pay and goods sale.

Capitalists *realize* their profit by selling the commodities their workers
have produced. The profit itself is *created* during the production process
involving the addition of labour to the product. Marx is incredibly
explicit about this. No surplus value = no profit is produced at all by the
process of transforming capital from its commodity form into its money
form, otherwise you'd be paying the capitalist for the privilege of buying
>from him. This means there is absolutely no profit on alienation, sale,
circulation - whatever you choose to call it.

>The labor theory of value has become a very
>confusing way to understand this relationship because the metaphor of
>embodied labor has been taken as reality in some cases.

The new labour imparted to a product during the production process is a
material reality. Marx chases this one round the houses and brings it down
to earth in a memorable section of the Grundrisse - The Chapter on Capital,
notebook III pp 38-43, English version - Complete Works Vol 28 pp 279-291;
German version - Dietz 1953 pp 259-270. Central to the argument is the
following passage (notebook III, p 40, CW pp 284-286, Dietz pp 264-266)
(Marx's emphasis throughout) :

        Living labour time reproduces nothing more than the part of the
        objectified labour time (of capital) which appears as a payment
        for the right to dispose over the living labour capacity, and
        which, therefore, as an equivalent, must replace the labour time
        objectified in this labour capacity, in other words, keep the
        worker alive as a worker. What it produces in addition to that
        is not reproduction, but new creation, and indeed new creation of
        values, because objectification of new labour time in a use value.
        That the labour time contained in the raw material and instrument
        is preserved at the same time, is the result *not of the quantity of
        labour*, but of its *quality* of being labour as such; and there is
        no special payment for this general quality -- which does not qualify
        it as any specifically determined labour, but consists in *labour as
        labour being labour* -- since capital has purchased *this quality*
        in exchange with the worker.

        But the equivalent of this quality (the specific use value of labour)
        is measured simply by the *quantity* of labour time which has
        produced it. To start with, the worker's use of the instrument as
        instrument and his shaping of the raw material adds to the value of
        the raw material and instrument as much new form as is = to the
        labour time contained in his own wages; anything more he adds is
        surplus labour time, surplus value. But by virtue of the simple
        relationship, that the instrument is used as an instrument and the
        raw material is posited as the raw material for labour, by virtue of
        the simple fact that they are brought into contact with labour, that
        they are posited as its means and object and thus as objectification
        of living labour, as moments of labour itself, they are preserved not
        in their form but in their substance; and, viewed economically,
        objectified labour time is their substance. The labour time
        objectified [in raw material and instrument, CW editor's comment]
        ceases to exist in a merely one-sided objective form -- in which as a
        mere thing, it is liable to dissolution by chemical processes ,etc.
        -- for it is now posited as the material mode of existence, means and
        object, of living labour.

        Out of merely objectified labour time, in whose physical being labour
        exists only as vanished, *external form* of its natural substance, a
        form exterior to this substance itself (e.g. to wood the form of the
        table, or to iron the form of the cylinder), as merely existing in
        the external form of the physical matter, develops the indifference
        of physical matter to its form. Objectified labour time maintains
        that form not through any living immanent law of reproduction, as
        e.g. the tree maintains its form as tree (wood maintains itself in a
        particular form as tree, because this form is a form of wood; whereas
        the form as table is accidental to wood, not the immanent form of its
        substance); that form exists only as a form external to the physical
        matter, or it exists itself only physically. The dissolution to which
        its matter is subject, therefore dissolves the form as well. But
        posited as conditions for living labour, the instrument and raw
        material are themselves reanimated. Objectified labour is no longer
        attached to the physical matter as a dead, external, indifferent
        form, since it is itself, in turn, posited as an element [Ger.
        'Moment', HR's comment] of living labour, as a relation of living
        labour to itself as objective material, as *objectivity* of living
        labour (as means and object) (the *objective* conditions of living

        While living labour by its realization in the material transforms the
        material itself, a transformation determined by the purpose of
        labour, its purposive activity -- (a transformation which does not,
        as in the inanimate object, posit the form as external to the
        physical matter, as a mere vanishing semblance of its existence) --
        it preserves the material in a definite form, and subjects the change
        of form of the physical matter to the purpose of labour. Labour is
        the living, form-giving fire; it is the transience of things, their
        temporality, [III-41] as the process of their formation by living
        time. In the simple production process -- leaving aside the
        valorization process -- the transience of the form of things is used
        to posit their usefulness.

BodySat goes on:

>        Any given hour of labor may or may not create real use/exchange

True, but the capitalist purchases labour-power on the assumption that it
has done so in the past and will do so again in the future.

>Wages are an artificial "price", because nothing of value has been
>exchanged.  Wages are an arbitrarily determined distribution of money made
>by the owners of goods.

This is nonsense. What has been exchanged -- and for an equivalent, no less
-- is the capitalist's variable capital and the worker's labour-power. Both
forms of objectified value. Nothing arbitrary about it. And it's an
exchange, because the worker is an 'owner of goods' too -- workers own
their own labour-power, but nothing else (give or take the odd mortgage,
car debt and a couple of consumer goods).

>         One needs an "organic" or impartial standard of some kind (for
>goods and work) against which to compare the money flow, and a benchmark
>on which to base predictions.  Labor valuation of an economy is like
>"fundamental" valuation of a stock.  It serves to compare the actual value
>of a stock to some future predicted value, or to judge some "technically"
>assessed value.  By that token "technical" stock valuation is similar
>to analysis of an economy by money flow.  However, the only true valuation
>of anything comes when somebody pays for it.

This is going round in circles. Marx goes to a great deal of trouble right
at the start of Capital to demonstrate that this obvious necessity of an
impartial standard exists as money. Money (as gold, the foundation of even
the most high-flying systems of cyber-banking and credit) embodies value,
and acts as the universal equivalent, against which the value embodied in
all other commodities, including labour-power, can be measured.

>        I believe Marx's language and thinking was affected by the fact
>that, in his day, a large percentage of the population lived (literally)
>hand to mouth, as peasants.  They payed with labor where we pay with

Damn near the whole of the proletariat lived hand to mouth in Marx's day
(read the hair-raising sections on working-class living and working
conditions in Capital I!), just as they do today, worldwide. Peasants,
other than the poorest, managed to subsist pretty well in comparison,
unless they had to pay with money and got into the clutches of the

Peasants didn't pay with labour. Serfs might, but that's not the same
thing. Peasants not paying with money 'paid' with produce (barter or

>A capitalist economy only produces goods for market.  A socialist
>economy defeats alienation by capitalist ownership, not alienation between
>work and goods, by markets.

By removing capitalist ownership, given socialist hegemony in the world,
socialism will remove that specific kind of alienation. Alienation between
work and goods, if this is supposed to mean the total lack of personal
interest the worker under capitalism has for the product he is producing,
will vanish as workers' democracy decides what is to be produced and who is
to get the products.

>Workers' product will continue to be valued in
>the market.

Only for as long as the law of value operates as the hegemonic force
controlling exchange and distribution worldwide. This will be for as long
as production is mainly in the form of commodities. It will vanish
gradually as more and more production is linked to real social demand
according to the assessment and priorities of the freely associated

Let's leave the 'market' as a term to commodity production which needs it
as an interface between blind forces of production and consumption. There
are lots of possible ways of brokering supply to demand using information
technology and conscious decision-making (such as putting priority labels
on certain goods).



     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list