[Marxism] Non-subscribers on the Heinrich discussion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Feb 17 11:39:06 MST 2013

When Cockshott says:

In a socialists as in a capitalist society copper will be less valuable 
than silver, and we will choose to wire up houses and
motors with copper rather than silver wire in consequence.

he shows just how close to Ricardo, and far from Marx he is.    In a 
socialist society copper will not be less "valuable" than silver, 
because value cannot exist apart from alienated, expropriated, wage 
labor.  Cockshott here, as everywhere, confuses time with value.   Value 
is a specific social expression of time.  Marx notes that “Wealth is the 
disposition over time”  and that “all economy is the economy of time.” 
  But not all wealth is capitalist wealth.  Copper and silver will no 
longer be exchanged for the purpose of accumulation, of control over the 
labor time of others.    Silver and copper will be parties to the 
process of accumulation.

Socially necessary labor time will, in effect, be emancipated from the 
accumulation of private property, and then production will be organized 
for use, and need.  Copper will have more social utility based on a) 
certain physical characteristics  b) less demand, requirement, for human 
labor, for social time per unit.

All economy is the economy of time.  Not all economy of time is the 
economy of value.



There are in fact not two, but at least three concepts of value in 
Marx’s Capital.

1) The Ricardian one of embodied labour (labour contained), summing 
direct and indirect labour costs, which is used by Marx for pedagogic 
purposes (used by neo-Ricardian Marxists like Paul Cockshott).
2) Some sort of average or equilibrium money-price, a “standard price” 
which Marx uses as a shorthand (used by Fred Moseley and his school).
3) The correct finished concept, which is the current reproduction 
(replacement) cost of commodities, measured as labour hours, or sums of 
money, or as a trading ratio (used by Ian Wright).

As regards 3) Marx says explicitly  "...the value of a commodity is 
determined not by the quantity of labour actually objectified in it, but 
by the quantity of living labour necessary to produce it." –( Capital, 
Volume I, Penguin, p. 676-677).

And further:

"...the value of commodities is determined not by the labour-time 
originally taken by their production, but rather by the labour-time that 
their reproduction takes, and this steadily decreases as the social 
productivity of labour develops." (Capital, Volume III, Penguin ed., p. 

Very clearly, Marx distantiates himself from the Ricardian conception 
here, and, actually, he notes that the concept of value as an “average 
price” is also wrong:

“The continual oscillations in prices, their rise and fall, compensate 
each other, cancel each other out, and carry out their own reduction to 
an average price which is their internal regulator. This average price 
is the guiding light of the merchant or the manufacturer in every 
undertaking of a lengthy nature. The manufacturer knows that if a long 
period of time is considered, commodities are sold neither over nor 
under, but at, their average price. If, therefore, he were at all 
interested in disinterested thinking, he would formulate the problem of 
the formation of capital as follows : How_can we account for
the origin of capital on the assumption that prices are regulated by the 
average price, i.e. ultimately by the value of commodities? I say 
'ultimately'— be­cause average prices do not directly coincide with the 
values of commodities, as Adam Smith, Ricardo, and others believe.” 
(Marx, Capital Vol. 1, p. 269 Penguin).

Marx uses the Ricardian concept and the average price concept only for 
pedagogic purposes, knowing very well that they are only approximations 
to the concept of product value.

The fully formed concept of value becomes apparent really only in the 
discussion of land rents, where Marx notes for example that “It is 
possible for agricultural products to be sold above their price of 
production and below their value, while, on the other hand, many 
industrial products yield the price of production only because they are 
sold above their value.”

Michael Heinrich is a nice guy and he is open to argument, but his 
interpretations of Marx’s theory of value are a scholastic mistake. The 
main problem with the Neue Marx-Lekture is, in fact, its scholastic 
obscurantism. That obscurantism arises I think mainly because the 
obscurantists fail to understand the questions Marx aimed to answer. 
Simply put, they don’t understand the problem to which the text was an 

Jurriaan Bendien

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