Thank you very much for your replies and reading suggestions Wellsy. I won't necessarily have the stamina to reply to all of them, and read all the material at this point - and I am sorry I've taken a few days to reply - but I'll see what I can manage to say.
1. This is a summary of the early criticism of Marx asserting labor as the basis of value in a commodity: https://www.google.com/amp/s/kapitalism101.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/on-labor-as-the-substance-of-value/amp/
>Thanks, I'll definitely try to get through this at some point. Early criticisms, in my experience, are always illuminating, whatever we decide about them.
2. This is a point about finding a third thing, although very brief as you need to engage with the Hegelian point of an Abstract notion being a concrete universal which I might come back to as not all abstractions are equally valid and the concrete universal is a better concept than abstract identity (A = A).https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/essays/essay1.htm
I don't want to say that Marx's Hegelian influences aren't relevant here, but I do hope that we can grasp the argument without having to go into that. The general claim seems clear - and it's one I'm familiar with from studying moral philosophy in the analytic tradition. If we are going to exchange items on some quantitative basis, the items need to be commensurable in some way. If they aren't, then we are talking about comparing ravens and writing desks. So we need some shared property - at least, that's a plausible assumption.
3. A piece that summarizes the means of abstracting that Marx engages in, a very good summary although I might add to it later also: https://www.google.com/amp/s/kapitalism101.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/abstraction-abstract-labor-and-ilyenkov/amp/
These I think are relevant to situating the debate a bit although particular knowledge of other parts of Marx’s method and his concepts in his analysis of the commodity is probably required and beyond my current understanding.
>This might be so, but I wouldn't assume so. We require complex analysis when things get complex, not before. If we can make sense of what's going on before that, then we needn't assume we are missing something (which is not to say we should become close minded or stop reflecting). There is so much theory from the past, with some many varieties of terminology and assumed ontology, that it threatens to weigh (like a nightmare) on our brains (! - little joke there, sorry)
For example the idea of abstract labor as a real thing and not simply of the mind is a difficult thing to conceive which makes me think of another pivotal piece from Ilyenkov that has helped me so much:https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/ideal/ideal.htm
So, as far as I understand it, and I've heard committed Marxists put it this way, value is a social construct, as is abstract labour. This means, ultimately, they are dependent on existing on human beings, human life and human cognition. But at a social level. At one opposite to this would be some kind of subjective attitude, such as liking green clouds. At the other, things which are genuinely completely mind independent. Big debate about what falls into this category, but mountains, atoms and physical laws might all be in the offing.
Abstract labour as a social phenomenon is one of the things I'm kind of not sure about actually, as I keep wondering about the social/psychological processes that bring it about and help to govern our judgements of value, price, etc. Marx, I would assume, doesn't mean that the value of an item is literally determined by the socially necessary labour time needed to produce in some kind of precise way. Imagine this case. An isolated village abandons weaving tweed. They wove tweed the quickest, and hence pulled up the average labour time needed for tweed. With them out the game, all examples of tweed immediately
lose value. I struggle to think it could be that instantaneous. What if there is no awareness for a while the village has done this? It must be something more genuinely social, and linked into what society as a whole generally knows and takes to be true. Or else he needs a really good argument as to how this socially determined phenomenon can alter when there is no social contact between two parts of the society which is meant to be producing the phenomenon.
This helps one see how Marx considered value in his own Dialectical view. It doesn’t answer the problem directly but I think helps understand some of the nuances of his outlook especially in regards to how he develops his concepts and how he abstracts.
>It's always helpful to know someone's methodological assumptions, as otherwise we might be uncharitable. However, I do think that ultimately, it comes down to the arguments, and awareness of methodology simply highlights to us other ways to approach the arguments charitably, look for further material, and think about whether we are using the terms with the same understanding as the author.
4. Not sure what you’ve read but Isaak Rubins essays on Marx theory of seems an accessible classic with some good points of clarification. Im working through it atm although I haven’t a clear position on the nature of value yet but it so far has certainly offered some clarity on how to think about it.https://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch09.htm
“Critics of Marx's theory of value are particularly opposed to the "privileged" position which is given to labor in this theory. They cite a long list of factors and conditions which are modified when the prices of commodities on the market change. They question the basis according to which labor is isolated from this list and placed in a separate category. To this we must answer that the theory of value does not deal with labor as a technical factor of production, but with the working activity of people as the basis of the life of society, and with the social forms within which that labor is carried out. Without the analysis of the productive-working relations of society, there is no political economy. This analysis shows that, in a commodity economy, the productive-working connection between commodity producers can only be expressed in a material form, in the form of the value of products of labor.
> This is an important point, but I'm not sure whether it addresses the particular issue, which is whether the value of commodities is the same as the labour time necessary to produce them (alone). The language is very condensed, and there's not much effort to explain what's going on. What are the "productive-working relations" for instance? Does he mean the relations between workers and capitalists, or between workers themselves, or both? Even if this were all true, we might wonder if there is some other factor entering into the determination of value (as distinct from price - Marx thinks that other factors do influence the price of individual commodities, causing them to be sold above or below their value). After all, the natural resources of the earth are part of "the basis of the life of society". Marx gives us at least three arguments why they aren't relevant to determining value (off the top of my head) 1. the argument that labour is the only common property of commodities that can be the basis of exchange value 2. I'm sure somewhere he talks about how increasing the supply of a resource doesn't increase the value of that resource (or lower it, admittedly, according to him, unless there is less labour involved in producing the increased stock) 3. it doesn't matter what the individual resources are, just that they are useful (in numerous different ways) and can be exchanged. So increasing the physical things available to society shouldn't, in itself without some further explanation, increase the value produced by that society.
One may object that our view of the internal causal connection between value and labor (a causal connection which necessarily follows from the very structure of the commodity economy) is too general and undoubtedly will be questioned by critics of Marx's theory of value. We will see below that the formulation of the labor theory of value which we give now in its most general form will later acquire a more concrete character. But in this general formulation, the presentation of the problem of value excludes, in advance, a whole series of theories and condemns to failure an entire series of attempts. Concretely, theories seeking the causes which determine value and its changes in phenomena which are not directly connected with the working activity of people, with the process of production, are excluded in advance (for example, the theory of the Austrian school, which starts with the subjective evaluations of individual subjects isolated from the productive process and from the concrete social forms in which this process is carried out). No matter how keen an explanation was given by such a theory, no matter how successfully it discovered certain phenomena in the change of prices, it suffers from the basic error which assures all its special successes in advance: it does not explain the productive mechanism of contemporary society nor the conditions for its normal functioning and development. By pulling value, the transmission belt, out of the productive mechanism of the commodity economy, this theory deprives itself of any possibility of grasping the structure and motion of this mechanism. We must determine the connection between value and labor not only to understand the phenomena related to "value," but in order to understand the phenomenon "labor" in contemporary society, i.e., the possibility of unity of the productive process in a society which consists of individual commodity producers.”
>I agree with Rubins that something seems to be missing from the Austrian Theory, but you can't argue with an opponent by saying they don't have the right premises, you need to expand yourself on what they can't explain which you can - otherwise you are just appealing to which seem more intuitive assumptions. He may go onto this in the rest of the article, but I've got to admit I'm not getting the sense that he's going to expand on exactly what he means. If we don't do this, but just rely on what we are saying sounding like it's along the right lines, then we are just gesturing towards the correct argument rather than giving it. If I was drawn towards the Austrian School, I wouldn't find this troubling at all. Some kind of argument that subjective value judgements can't explain the data, or can't be determined completely subjectively as they pose, is what we need. However, I admit I haven't read the rest of the article.
A very interesting point summarized by Rubin is how Marx’s critique of the political economy examines the social relationships that are determined by the relations of production and by paying particular attention to the form is able to explain why the categories discovered by the Political Economists before him exist as they did. They simply assumed these things as givens but didn’t bother to ask why things existed in the particular form they do within the capitalist economy, they presume capitalism in strictly material technical terms and not in its socially contingent functions/forms.
And in the above quote we see that Marx in beginning from society as a whole as his presupposition always rather than simply individuals with their relations abstracted, he is able to follow deductively problems which infer certain concepts in order to explain them.
>Starting from society as a whole in economics is a good one, even if we think that ultimately everything sociological is explained by reference to completely individual attitudes. We might easily miss some phenomenon otherwise. I've got to confess, I find the last clause in the last sentence very obscure.
So here how does one explain how society functions as it does, reproducing itself through its particular mode of production where there are individual capitalist firms/companies or whatever in different industries and branches of which it all comes together and is able to be regulated without any conscious intervention such that labor is reallocated and changed in response to the market.
It's a good question, but I don't think that we need to rely on the law of value to necessarily do this. There has been lots of work done over the years in all kinds of fields which may be relevant - sociology, economics, ecology, etc. Plus part of the point of Marx is to show how the system often doesn't work that well. And also - historically he is quite happy to admit of times when the whole thing breaks down due to just other factors - either outside of society's control, or else just some other sociological phenomena going on. As Engels put it, the economic structure only determines what happens in the society "in the last analysis"
Edit: here is massive amount of resources to read further on the concrete universal if it takes ya fancy. This won’t answer the question directly but situates and essential point in dialectics and thus Marx method although it is but a moment within the method really.
Might need to highlight stuff within the spoiler.
This is going to be overwhelming but I think it is an important background which I’m not sure what you’ve studied before diving into Marx’s critique of the political economy and the many resources are touching upon the same thing but in different ways they explain it but I think understanding the concrete universal is pivotal as something that is quite persuasive once it is grasp as a superior means of abstraction than what comes naturally within modernity and how we’re taught to think logically in terms of sets.
>If that is true, I struggle to think how Marx's critique can get any political or sociological traction, as it will be too obscure. That's kind of orthogonal to his advocacy of a kind of democratic humanism - people in general need to be able to roughly grasp what is wrong with their society. And they do. It's not difficult to realise the owners are ripping you off, that they are not looking out for most people's best interests, and that humanity at large is fundamentally the same. It's very clear in that early lecture he gave - I think it's called "Labour, Profit and Capital" or something, delivered to an audience of working men. It is not obscure at all. Lots of the other stuff is necessary to reply to other writers and academics, but it can't be essential, or else the political goal of Marxism (real democracy) is up in smoke, and what we are really doing is developing some kind of esoteric theory of history. I'm not interested in that - it won't save anyone.
This is the sort of stuff I’ve been grappling with before even really touching upon Marx’s mature works because many have simply not seen the value or nuances in what he says because they have no sense of what his method is. And even in getting hints of the method doesn’t mean his mature work is an easy study to make either. At the moment I in fact looking at I. I. Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value as a good primer as I saw it cited on Kapitalism101 and it was recommended as an important preliminary read on Marx’s most explicit work on the logical transitions in his examination of the commodity.https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm
>I suppose I've got to be honest and say I don't think this is the best way to go, for reasons I just said. The problem is with falling into a trap of theory for theory's sake. There is always going to be someone who wants to show they are the theoretical big shot and have grasped the whole better than anyone else. It's easy even to feel a kind of moral compunction to do this - to feel a kind of censor or judge on your shoulder telling you you haven't done enough study to ascend to the level of the masters yet. I did a whole PhD on Rawls - who is often obscure as a driving rain - and that's a urge I recognise in myself. And that's fine if there is nothing we can change in this world. And it's also fine if we just want to know alot about a topic. But in terms of the reasons Marx wrote, it can't be the best path; in my opinion at least. Sorry if that's a bit harsh, but if I didn't share some of the insights from those years I wasted peering spectrally into that liberal buffoon, well, I'd feel I was doing other people a disservice.
So here are some resources to help understand what a concrete universal is and how it might help in conceptualizing why Marx began his study with the commodity and why he conceives of it as a unity of opposites and it is through the contradiction of use-value and exchange-value that he is able to logically reconstruct through his many years of study the nature of capital and it’s historically particular nature as opposed to those who naturalize economic categories and thus treat its particularity as a universal.
Basic unit of analysis is synonymous with the unity of opposites or concrete universal: https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/chat/index.htm#unithttps://www.marxists.org/archive/pilling/works/capital/pilling4.htm#Pill5
This is also a great resource from Ilyenkov, once again, in explaining the concrete universal in contrast to the abstract universal/generality.https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/articles/universal.htm
It reproduces Wittgenstein’s criticism of the essentialism based in abstract universals and which is easily disposed of with a smart nominalism that the reality of such concepts is inferior to the actual particular and individual cases. But unlike Wittgenstein recreates the point that the concrete universal is the concept which actually underpins all other particulars and thus when Marx examines the commodity, it is the starting point because following this logic, he can expand upon it to reveal the whole of what Capital is beginning with this simplest archetypal unit.
This is a chapter in a book he wrote that is largely the same in content to the above article but with some slight differences” https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/abstract/abstra1f.htm
and the following chapter that explains how the unity of opposites is about the real world connection/bond between two things rather than their sameness https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/abstract/abstra1g.htm
And from the earlier article on the Concept of the Ideal in the Dialectical sense it also has a piece that summarizes the same idea.https://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/ideal/ideal.htm
This is also a brief summary of this same point by an Australian Marxist, Andy Blunden that shows how this idea of the concrete universal comes from Goethe’s romantic science and influenced Hegel.https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/pdfs/Epoque_Keynote_Address.pdf