Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Sep 25 12:02:05 MDT 2003


I would agree with you about that, with the proviso that I think Marx's term
"commodity fetishism" is a bit dated, he would have been better off talking
about commercial reification as the general concept. because it is just not
commodities that are reified, but money, capital, property, nature, the
whole works. Linguistically I think commercial reification is a better term,
because if I go and talk about "commodification", then before you know it,
the bourgeois parasites have hijacked the term and turned into
"marketisation" or some such thing. If I talk about commercial reification,
I capture the heart of the thing, and people will be forced to think, "what
the hell is reification anyhow ?". In addition, commercial reification also
suggests that there might be other kinds of reification.

The real and most important effect of that ideology which people call
neoliberalism has been to get us to think about human activity in ECONOMIC
terms, in terms of "inputs" and "outputs" (a terminology curiously stolen
from Wassily Leontief). As Timothy Bewes wrote in his book "Reification, or
the anxiety of late capitalism", which I bought for therapeutic reasons in a
world where many no longer even trust language, because anything can mean
anything and refer to anything, "the concept of reification ought to enjoy
more currency than ever. (...) One might even speculate that the world is
approaching that state of ''total reification' anticipated by Adorno at his
most mordant, a point at which the will to live finds itself dependent on
the denial of the will to live"..." (p. 7-8). On the other hand, the concept
of a "fetish" is also interesting, insofar as it clearly suggests that human
attributes may be attributed to a thing. But fetishism is often taken to
mean kinky sex, such as bootlicking, and bootlicking is confused with
politics, such that the US Government acquires a power it does not really
have, which you would discover if you were to do a candid interview with a
high-placed Government official.

My recent comments about price and value on PEN-L list, are not intended to
be a fully worked-out pseudo-Marxist theory according to which value is in
the final analysis an "aggregate price" or some such thing, as Ahmet Tonak
mooted. I am merely searching for some ways to make the concept of value
Marx uses,  intelligible to people who are hooked on prices and can see
nothing other than prices. Through a critical reflection about prices, by
focusing on the concept of price, I think that we can go a long way to
promote a better view of economics, gradually breaking up commercial
reification of social relations insofar as sexual liberty doesn't do it,
because sex gets incorporated into the accumulation process and sex itself
becomes reified. You have sometimes mentioned the fact, that Marx assumes
from the start that prices must NECESSARILY deviate from values, which is
correct, and this can be proved from his own texts. All I am really trying
to do, is spell out what that practically means at a micro-level, i.e. when
people actually practically work with prices, calculate them, estimate them
and negotiate them; that in so doing, they use what - for want of a better
word - I called "valuation referents" which go beyond prices and are not
reducible to prices, nor reduce to subjective preferences, unless you
believe that observing a price will, in the ordinary run of events, change
that price.

However, what I think people should bear in mind is that total reification
really signals the extreme weakeness of the very foundations of bourgeois
society in a deregulated, privatised, digitalised world, a world in which
most people think that bourgeois-parliamentary politics is so absurd and
arbitrary, that they do not want to be involved in it, or any other politics
for that matter, because they cannot see how it makes any difference and
they don't believe anybody anymore. A brilliant example is how the US
Government can hoax the world into a war with Iraq, that is total
reification, but look how feeble the political response to the unmasking of
the hoax is !!!


Jurriaan (I am posting this to PEN-L and Marxmail, hope this is okay).

----- Original Message -----
From: "Devine, James" <jdevine at>
To: <lbo-talk at>
Sent: Thursday, September 25, 2003 6:27 PM
Subject: value

> [was: RE: [lbo-talk] Parecon Discussion...]
> One of the big problems -- perhaps the biggest one -- with almost every
discussion of Marx's theory of value is that there's little or no discussion
of the purpose of that theory. Often, it is assumed (without any kind of
proof) that Marx was using "labor values" to predict or explain or
understand prices. As people who make that assumption note, much of Marx's
CAPITAL makes no sense if that was the book's goal. They, of course, reject
CAPITAL, or most of it.
> I don't think that Marx's goal was to grasp pricing issues. If asked to
explain prices, Marx would turn first to supply and demand (with little
emphasis on what we now call "market imperfections" such as monopoly). Then,
to discuss the "center of gravity" around which supply and demand
gravitate -- in order to add content to the S&D story -- he'd point to
long-term "prices of production" (Smith's "natural prices" or modern
"long-term average costs"). These in turn reflect technology, input prices,
and the tendency toward the equalization of profit rates between sectors.
That is, on the practical -- empirical -- issues of price-determination,
Marx was very much a Ricardian. (and Ricardo didn't think that
"labor-values" explained prices 100% of the time.)
> If Marx's goal was to explain prices, he should have simply skipped
volumes I and II of CAPITAL (as, I believe, economist Paul Samuelson has
said). But value had other purposes for him. I think the main concept of the
entire book is "commodity fetishism," referring to the way in which market
exchange (and commodity production) hides and distorts the appearance of the
societal relations of production, specifically class relations. People who
live within the system typically see the social relations between the
various producers as being nothing but the exchange of things, perhaps
mediated by individual buyers and sellers. Neoclassical economics takes this
fetishized vision and runs with it.
> Value, as I see it, represents a tool -- a method of abstraction -- for
cutting through the fetishized fog, to reveal the societal nature of
capitalism as a whole. (It's a tool of _sociological_ analysis.) Value --
socially necessary abstract labor-time -- represents _contributions_ to the
wealth of the hidden (latent) community of producers that comes from the
production and sale of a commodity. That community doesn't rule the world,
since capitalism and its social system of alienation (fetishism) does -- but
the solidarity of workers still represents a potential.
> One way of saying this is that if commodities actually sold at value,
Marx's conclusions would be obviously true to almost all involved. The
commodity fetishism involved in price/value deviations is thus one factor
that stabilizes the system by keeping the true nature of the system.
> Marx distinguished value from exchange-value (though not as clearly as he
should have). Exchange-value (in money terms, price) represents the amount
of value that the sale of a commodity can _claim_ when it is sold. For
simplicity, I'll call exchange-value "price."
> Just as someone can put a different amount of money into a kitty than he
or she takes out, under capitalism,  "unequal exchange" rules: almost all
commodities sell for prices that are higher (or lower) than their values.
Some commodity-sellers are able to claim more (or less) value than they
contribute. This value/price deviation is as important to Marx as is the
connection between values and prices.
> As shown in "transformation problem" discussions, value/price gaps arise
mostly because (1) different commodities are produced using different
technologies (measured by different organic compositions of capital) and (2)
surplus-value is produced. In volume I of CAPITAL, Marx assumed that
exchange was such that values = exchange values, while appropriately
abstracting from the manifest differences amongst industries. He also starts
with a world without surplus-value in order to explain its existence (in
volume I) before turning to the implications of its existence (in volumes II
and III).
> In this light, values also represent the types of exchange-values that
would prevail if we had simple commodity production (i.e., market-oriented
production with no class distinction). That kind of (hypothetical) simple
society represents a bench-mark that Marx uses for analyzing capitalism by
means of comparison.
> The volume I world is one of abstract capital exploiting abstract labor.
He turns only later to the heterogeneity amongst capitalists, while the
heterogeneity amongst workers seems to have been left to the never-written
book on Wage Labor.
> I am not the sort who does textual justifications of my interpretations of
Marx, since I have a bad memory for quotations (and the meaning of
quotations depends on context). Rather, I think that if this interpretation
is applied, suddenly Marx's analysis in CAPITAL makes total sense. That
doesn't mean, BTW, that it's "correct." That depends on how well it helps us
understand, explain, and even predict events in the real world, playing some
part in guiding practice.
> I don't think there's any indication that Marx wanted socialism to involve
trading at value. Similarly, he didn't see values as "just prices." However,
presents a picture of "feasible socialism" that centers around trade at
value by not-for-profit organizations. It's a useful alternative to consider
when discussing Parecon. Andrews also presents a good interpretation of
Marx's theory of value, one that's helped my understanding  a lot.
> ------------------------
> Jim Devine jdevine at &
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Wojtek Sokolowski [mailto:sokol at]
> > Sent: Thursday, September 25, 2003 6:50 AM
> > To: lbo-talk at
> > Subject: RE: [lbo-talk] Parecon Discussion...
> >
> >
> >
> > > Isn't the Marxist conception of this based on exchange
> > > of labor time?
> > > In
> > > other words, if you were willing to exchange what you
> > > made during your
> > > time painting with whatever someone else was doing
> > > during their time
> > > working, then this is the basis of the economy now,
> >
> >
> > That was Ricardo if memory serves, Marx simply adopted the concept
> > because it suited his claim that only labor (not capital) is the
> > producer of value.  Of course that statement may only be true in a
> > labor-intensive economy where different jobs are relatively homogenous
> > e.g. making a table takes about as much skill and effort (albeit of a
> > different kind) as say making an iron plow.
> >
> > Things get a bit more complicated where you have capital-intensive and
> > labor-intensive industries operating side by side e.g.
> > hospital care and
> > computer mfg.  A claim that an hour of a surgeon's and an assembler's
> > work produces a more or less equal value is ludicrous on its face.
> >
> > Wojtek
> >
> > ___________________________________
> >
> >

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