Marx's 1st argument that the common element of commodities for exchange is being products of labour - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#15095134
Hello,

I've been reading about Marxist economics for a while, in an effort to educate myself about economics in general.

I agree with the assessment that alot in Marx seems to rest on whether his interpretation of the Law of the Value of the Commodities (Law of Value) obtains. I've been trying to work through each argument (or stage in argument) involved in this. It might be that not every argument he makes needs to be made in order to reach his general conclusions. But that's an aside.

I'd like to particularly ask about the argument found in Chapter 1, section 1: The Two Factors of The Commodity, in Volume 1 of Capital. After some reasoning about use-value and exchange value, Marx concludes that "If then we disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains, that of being products of labour."

Without going through the steps that take Marx to this conclusion (which can come out in the conversation if people like), I've been wondering whether this is true.

First, it does not seem that only one property need remain to be shared between the commodities. For a start, we can just list a number of (quantifiable) properties which the commodities can be expected to share. For instance, all the commodities will be composed of atoms, which will each have a given atomic mass, which can be summed to give the mass of a given commodity. Now obviously it would be a crazy result if we found out that the value of commodities was in ratio with their mass.

But more intuitively, we might think other properties fit the bill. The amount of labour used in producing a product (on average - but that's a complication I'm leaving aside just now) does seem intuitively connected to the value of something. If your firm, say, as put a certain amount of work into producing something, and someone comes along and proposes exchanging the goods for goods their firm produced, which they spent half the time on, you would naturally say, other things equal "Well, can't I have an amount of your goods which you used a comparative amount of human-hours to produce." If you end up having to accept the proposed deal, it's intuitive to say "I swapped those much below their value."

But we might think about things differently, and it still make some kind of intuitive sense. Imagine your firm has produced some goods, and another firm comes over to make an exchange, and the goods they offer are generally seen as half as desireable as those you are offering. I've been trying to think how to characterise this so it makes sense in the context, and the best I have come up with so far is if you think along the lines "My firm has made As. They are offering me some Bs, but only half as many as I'm offering As, and As are twice as desireable as Bs. In other words, you would need to offer me more than two Bs for me to think it worthwhile to hand over my one A." If you end up having to accept the Bs offered, exchanged 1 for 1 with As, let's say, you could be imagined to think "Of woe: I have swapped my wares for bit half of their value."

One thing I would note about this is that it attempts to explain what is valueable in exchange by reference to how desireable it is - assuming that all commodities have ratios of desireability between each other. However, we might ask what it means for something to be desireable, and the answer may be simply that it is valuable (or seen as valuable or whatever). How these further philosophical considerations enter into the debate I am unsure, and haven't thought enough about. In general, I am sure there is alot of relevant literature, but I lack the spare time to track it all down, but nevertheless any pointers would be much appreciated. But to get back to the general argument.

Now there is obviously alot more to say, and from the bit I have read about economics, I think people have said it. But I've not had much luck getting a grasp on the debate, so I am trying to break it down myself. I am definitely not sure which of these accounts make the most sense. In fact, it seems like they both make some sense. But if we accept Marx's argument that if we are going to make exchanges we need a common denominator (I think I agree, but we can assume he is correct for now), then we need just one of these (or some other alternative) or we need some theoretical way to combine them (and other metrics, perhaps).

Thanks very much
#15095142
I’m about to head into work so just a few quick links which might help.

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/

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
What is the distance between the syllable A and a table? The question would be nonsensical. In speaking of the distance of two things, we speak of their difference in space.... Thus we equalise them as being both existences of space, and only after having them equalised sub specie spatii [under the aspect of space] we distinguish them as different points of space. To belong to space is their unity.’ In other words, when we wish to establish a relation of some sort between two objects, we always compare not the ‘specific’ qualities that make one object ‘syllable A’ and the other a ‘table’, ‘steak’, or a ‘square’, but only those properties that express a ‘third’ something, different from their existence as the things enumerated. The things compared are regarded as different modifications of this ‘third’ property common to them all, inherent in them as it were. So if there is no ‘third’ in the nature of the two things common to them both, the very differences between them become quite senseless.
In what are such objects as ‘concept’ (‘idea’) and ‘thing’ related? In what special ‘space’ can they be contrasted, compared, and differentiated? Is there, in general, a ‘third’ thing in which they are ‘one and the same’, in spite of all their directly visible differences? If there is no such common substance, expressed by different means in an idea and in a thing, it is impossible to establish any intrinsically necessary relationship between them. At best we can ‘see’ only an external relation in the nature of that which was once established between the position of luminaries in the heavens and events in personal lives, i.e. relations between two orders of quite heterogeneous events, each of which proceeds according to its own, particular, specific laws. And then Wittgenstein would be right in proclaiming logical forms to be mystical and inexpressible.


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. 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
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.

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.



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.”


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.
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.

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.
Spoiler: show
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.

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

This appendix contains an extraordinarily clear and succinct exposition of Marx’s concept of value. Indeed there is no better introduction to the much more involved exposition in the first chapter of volume I of Capital as we now have it. Marx says in the Preface to the first edition of Capital (1867): “Beginnings are always difficult in all sciences. The understanding of the first chapter ... will therefore present the greatest difficulty. (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1996, vol. 35, p.7). Especially in the English literature there is still a strong tendency to skip these initial ‘subtleties’. As opposed to this, in the years after the student movement, young Marxists in West Germany have tried to acquire a new understanding of the whole of Marx’s analyses, taking the value-form seriously. As there has been no language barrier, study of the additional versions of the fundamental part of the analysis as contained in such work as the Grundrisse, the Results of the Immediate Process of Production, the first edition of Capital, and the Notes on Adolph Wagner, all until recently closed to readers with no knowledge of German, was an important part of this work. This has been combined with reading secondary literature like I. I. Rubin’s work, recently translated into English as Essays in Marx’s Theory of Value, V. S. Vygodskii’s book on the history of Marx’s economic work, translated as The Story of a Great Discovery: How Karl Marx Wrote ‘Capital’, and most important of all Roman Rosdolsky’s The Making of Marx’s ‘Capital’, which has only just now appeared in English translation. The result of this recent renaissance of Marx-studies in Germany, involving a greater number or people than ever before, is a rapidly increasing volume of literature on central topics of the analysis of capitalist society, much of which is not yet available in English. This includes work which emphasises the analysis of the value-form, listed in the bibliography below.




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#unit


https://www.marxists.org/archive/pilling/works/capital/pilling4.htm#Pill5

Hegel rejected this Kantian view of the concept on the grounds that it was confined to what he called abstract identity or abstract universality. Some aspect common to a range of objects is isolated (abstracted) as that which is ‘general’ to them, to be set against a ‘particular’ which, on this view, can exist on its own. The necessity of the aspects chosen can never be demonstrated and, given that this necessity cannot be established, these ‘aspects’ out of which the general is constructed must remain ultimately arbitrary. In short, regularity in appearance is not sufficient to establish necessity.



Hegel objected to the Kantian method of arriving at concepts because it made it impossible to trace the connection between the individual and the particular. All objects not included in a class were set against those standing outside this class. Identity (conceived as a dull sameness) and opposition were placed into two rigidly opposed criteria of thought. The direction Hegel took in trying to overcome the limitations imposed by such rigidity of thinking led to far richer results, and it was a method which guided Marx throughout Capital.



For Hegel a concept was primarily a synonym for the real grasping of the essence of phenomena and was in no way limited simply to the expression of something general, of some abstract identity discernible by the senses in the objects concerned. A concept (if it was to be adequate) had to disclose the real nature of a thing and this it must do not merely by revealing what it held in common with other objects, but also its special nature, in short its peculiarity. The concept was a unity of universality and particularity. Hegel insisted that it was necessary to distinguish between a universality which preserved all the richness of the particulars within it and an abstract ‘dumb’ generality which was confined to the sameness of all objects of a given kind. Further, Hegel insisted, this truly universal concept was to be discovered by investigating the actual laws of the origin, development and disappearance of single things. (Even before we take the-discussion further, it should be clear that here lay the importance of Marx’s logical-historical investigation of the cell-form of bourgeois economy, the commodity.) Thought that was limited to registering or correlating empirically perceived common attributes was essentially sterile – it could never come anywhere near to grasping the law of development of phenomena. One crucial point followed from this which has direct and immediate importance for Capital. It was this: the real laws of phenomena do not and cannot appear directly on the surface of the phenomena under investigation in the form of simple identicalness. If concepts could be grasped merely by finding a common element within the phenomena concerned then this would be equivalent to saying that appearance and essence coincided, that there was no need for science.



This insistence that the general is no mere mechanical summation of the individual phenomena concerned is reflected in Marx’s comment on Feuerbach:



”[he] resolves the essence into the human essence. But the human essence is not an abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble [author’s emphasis] of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence, is consequently compelled: (1) To abstract from the historical process and to fix the religious sentiment as something by itself and to presuppose an abstract isolated human individual. (2) Essence, therefore, can be comprehended only as an internal, dumb generality which naturally unites the many individuals.”



What is the significance of Marx’s criticism of Feuerbach when considered in the light of the nature of concepts? Really this: that one can never get to the essence of any class (in this case to the essence of man) through finding a series of general attributes possessed by each member of the class taken separately. The essence of man can only be arrived at historically. (Feuerbach was, says Engels, a materialist in connection with nature but left materialism behind when he came to consider the social and historical sphere.) And it was only possible to demonstrate that this essence was not something ‘fixed’ and immutable, a dead generality, but developed and changed as part of the ‘whole ensemble’ of man’s social and historical relations. The essence of anything was in this sense not internal but could be grasped only in and through its relation with other things. To grasp the real essence of man it was above all necessary to examine the formation and growth of human society as a whole – and of its separate individuals – as this process has taken place and is taking place. As a separate individual a person is only a member of a class (in this case man) in so far as he actualises some aspect or side of a culture which has been formed historically prior to and independently of him. To the extent that the human individual embodies this historically developed culture, to that extent he expresses the true, always changing and deepening, universal in man. So this universal is no mechanically repeated ‘uniformity’ at dead repose in each and every member of society. It is, on the contrary, reality, repeatedly and directly broken up within itself into particular (separate) spheres which complement each other and are in essence mutually connected in their transition, thereby constituting a real living ‘ensemble’.


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
In Hegelian philosophy, however, the problem was stated in a fundamentally different way. The social organism (the “culture” of the given people) is by no means an abstraction expressing the “sameness” that may be discovered in the mentality of every individual, an “abstract” inherent in each individual, the “transcendentally psychological” pattern of individual life activity. The historically built up and developing forms of the “universal spirit” (“the spirit of the people”, the “objective spirit”), although still understood by Hegel as certain stable patterns within whose framework the mental activity of every individual proceeds, are none the less regarded by him not as formal abstractions, not as abstractly universal “attributes” inherent in every individual, taken separately. Hegel (following Rousseau with his distinction between the “general will” and the “universal will”) fully takes into account the obvious fact that in the diverse collisions of differently orientated “individual wills” certain results are born and crystallised which were never contained in any of them separately, and that because of this social consciousness as an “entity” is certainly not built up, as of bricks, from the “sameness” to be found in each of its “parts” (individual selves, individual consciousnesses). And this is where we are shown the path to an understanding of the fact that all the patterns which Kant defined as “transcendentally inborn” forms of operation of the individual mentality, as a priori “internal mechanisms” inherent in every mentality, are actually forms of the self-consciousness of social man assimilated from without by the individual (originally they opposed him as “external” patterns of the movement of culture independent of his will and consciousness), social man being understood as the historically developing “aggregate of all social relations”.




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
#15095444
The Young Wizard wrote:I'd like to particularly ask about the argument found in Chapter 1, section 1: The Two Factors of The Commodity, in Volume 1 of Capital. After some reasoning about use-value and exchange value, Marx concludes that "If then we disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains, that of being products of labour."


If you disregard the cost of capital, the cost of producing a commodity is equivalent to the cost of labor required to produce it. If labor is homogeneous, the cost of every commodity is equivalent to the number of labor hours put into it. A Marxist would argue that the cost of a capital good is equivalent to the labor put into it, hence the capitalist deserves nothing for its production (other than a wage for managerial labor). A modern mainstream economist would argue that the capitalist must be rewarded for postponing consumption (he's paying the wages for producing the capital good now but gets the equivalent return plus interest only over time). Both would argue that market power on the product or labor market lead to a socially sub optimal allocation.

I have never read capital, but I hope that helps :D.
#15095458
A word of warning: I think its Smith/Ricardo that speaks of commodities being equivalent to the physical labor put into a commodity. But whilst a commodity must have a usevalue the value that is realized in exchanged is based not purely on the material technical production of commodities but is about the social relationships of production. This is why Marx’a socially necessary labor time emphasizes the productivity of different branches of industry and such. Because whilst one can introduce machines to inprove productivity and thus use values, this in fact lowers exchange once all forms are at around the same average of productivity as the socially necessary labor time is reduced and thus value. The sociological side of his theory must be emphasized as it is what is distinct from that which naturalizes production in more material technical terms.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch10.htm
The special character of Marx's theory of value consists of the fact that it explained precisely the kind of labor that creates value. Marx "analyzed labor's value-producing property and was the first to ascertain what labor it was that produced value, and why and how it did so. He found that value was nothing but congealed labor of this kind." [3] It is precisely this explanation of the "two-fold character of labor" which Marx considered the central part of his theory of value. [4]

Thus the two-fold character of labor reflects the difference between the material-technical process of production and its social form. This difference, which we explained in the chapter on commodity fetishism, is the basis of Marx's entire economic theory, including the theory of value. This basic difference generates the difference between concrete and abstract labor, which in turn is expressed in the opposition between use value and value. In Chapter 1 of Capital, Marx's presentation follows precisely the opposite order. He starts his analysis with market phenomena which can be observed, with the opposition between use and exchange value. From this opposition, which can be seen on the surface of phenomena, he seems to dive below toward the two-fold character of labor (concrete and abstract).
Then at the end of Chapter 1, in the section on commodity production, he reveals the social forms which the material-technical process of production assumes. Marx approaches human society by starting with things, and going through labor. He starts with things which are visible and moves to phenomena which have to be revealed by means of scientific analysis. Marx uses this analytical method in the first five pages of Capital in order to simplify his presentation. But the dialectical course of this thought must be interpreted in the reverse order. Marx passes from the difference between the process of production and its social form, i.e., from the social structure of the commodity economy, to the two-fold character of labor treated from its technical and social aspects, and to the two-fold nature of the commodity as use value and exchange value.

A superficial reading of Capital may lead one to think that by opposing use value and exchange value, Marx designated a property of things themselves (such is the interpretation of Bohm-Bawerk and other critics of Marx).
Actually the problem is the difference between the "material" and the "functional" existence of things, between the product of labor and its social form, between things and the production relations among people "coalesced" with things, i.e., production relations which are expressed by things. Thus what is revealed is an inseparable connection between Marx's theory of value and its general, methodological bases formulated in his theory of commodity fetishism.
Value is a production relation among autonomous commodity producers; it assumes the form of being a property of things and is connected with the distribution of social labor. Or, looking at the same phenomenon from the other side, value is the property of the product of labor of each commodity producer which makes it exchangeable for the products of labor of any other commodity producer in a determined ratio which corresponds to a given level of productivity of labor in the different branches of production.

We are dealing with a human relation which acquires the form of being a property of things and which is connected with the process of distribution of labor in production.
In other words, we are dealing with reified production relations among people. The reification of labor in value is the most important conclusion of the theory of fetishism, which explains the inevitability of "reification" of production relations among people in a commodity economy.

The labor theory of value did not discover the material condensation of labor (as a factor of production) in things which are the products of labor; this takes place in all economic formations and is the technical basis of value but not its cause. The labor theory of value discovered the fetish, the reified expression of social labor in the value of things. Labor is "crystallized" or formed in value in the sense that it acquires the social "form of value." The labor is expressed and "reflected" (sich darstellt). The term "sich darstellen" is frequently used by Marx to characterize the relationship between abstract labor and value.

One can only wonder why Marx's critics did not notice this inseparable connection between his labor theory of value and his theory of the reification or fetishization of the production relations among people. They understood Marx's theory of value in a mechanical-naturalistic, not in a sociological, sense.

Thus Marx's theory analyzes the phenomena related to value from qualitative and quantitative points of view. Marx's theory of value is built on two basic foundations: 1) the theory of the form of value as a material expression of abstract labor which in turn presupposes the existence of social production relations among autonomous commodity producers, and 2) the theory of the distribution of social labor and the dependence of the magnitude of value on the quantity of abstract labor which, in turn, depends on the level of productivity of labor. These are two sides of the same process: the theory of value analyzes the social form of value, the form in which the process of distribution of labor is performed in the commodity capitalist economy. "The form in which this proportional distribution of labor operates, in a state of society where the interconnection of social labor is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labor, is precisely the exchange value of these products." [5] Thus value appears, qualitatively and quantitatively, as an expression of abstract labor. Through abstract labor, value is at the same time connected with the social form of the social process of production and with its material-technical content. This is obvious if we remember that value, as well as other economic categories, does not express human relations in general, but particularly production relations among people. When Marx treats value as the social form of the product of labor, conditioned by a determined social form of labor, he puts the qualitative, sociological side of value in the foreground. When the process of distribution of labor and the development of productivity of labor is carried out in a given social form, when the "quantitatively determined masses of the total labor of society" [6] (subsumed under the law of proportional distribution of labor) are examined, then the quantitative (one may say, mathematical) side of the phenomena which are expressed through value, becomes important.

The basic error of the majority of Marx's critics consists of: 1) their complete failure to grasp the qualitative, sociological side of Marx's theory of value, and 2) their confining the quantitative side to the examination of exchange ratios, i.e., quantitative relations of value among things; they ignored the quantitative interrelations among the quantities of social labor distributed among the different branches of production and different enterprises, interrelations which lie at the basis of the quantitative determination of value.
...
One may also say that value must be examined: 1) as a regulator of the quantitative distribution of social labor, 2) as an expression of social production relations among people, and 3) as an expression of abstract labor.
#15095476
Wellsy wrote:But whilst a commodity must have a usevalue the value that is realized in exchanged is based not purely on the material technical production of commodities but is about the social relationships of production.


Well yes, the price (exchange value) is not equivalent to cost in labor time (value), because the capitalist gets a return in excess of the invested labor (surplus value). I guess a Marxist would argue this surplus value is due to the capitalist's bargaining power vis-a-vis labor. A neoclassical economist would argue the return is due to the scarcity of capital.

Wellsy wrote:This is why Marx’a socially necessary labor time emphasizes the productivity of different branches of industry and such. Because whilst one can introduce machines to inprove productivity and thus use values, this in fact lowers exchange once all forms are at around the same average of productivity as the socially necessary labor time is reduced and thus value.


Higher productivity increases utility (use value) in the sense that more goods can be produced given the same socially necessary labor time. It reduces the cost in labor time (value) for the same utility (use value).

Marxists and their terminology :lol:.
#15095482
Rugoz wrote:Well yes, the price (exchange value) is not equivalent to cost in labor time (value), because the capitalist gets a return in excess of the invested labor (surplus value). I guess a Marxist would argue this surplus value is due to the capitalist's bargaining power vis-a-vis labor. A neoclassical economist would argue the return is due to the scarcity of capital.



Higher productivity increases utility (use value) in the sense that more goods can be produced given the same socially necessary labor time. It reduces the cost in labor time (value) for the same utility (use value).

Marxists and their terminology :lol:.

I’ll come back to you as I see you get the the perspective somewhat although it’s not apparent you get the sociological basis of Marx’s critique and the crucial emphasis on commodity fetishism such that relations between people appear in objects as properties belonging to those objects such as a commodity having value in itself.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch08a.htm
If the product of labor acquires value only in a determined social form of organization of labor, then value does not represent a "property" of the product of labor, but a determined "social form" or "social function" which the product of labor fulfills as a connecting link between dissociated commodity producers, as an "intermediary" or as a "bearer" of production relations among people. Thus at first glance value seems to be simply a property of things. When we say: "a painted, round oak table costs, or has the value of 25 roubles," it can be shown that this sentence gives information on four properties of the table. But if we think about it, we will be convinced that the first three properties of the table are radically different from the fourth. The properties characterize the table as a material thing and give us determined information on the technical aspects of the carpenter's labor. A man who has experience with these properties of the table can get a picture of the technical side of production, he can get an idea of the raw materials, the accessories, the technical methods and even the technical skill of the carpenter. But no matter how long he studies the table he will not learn anything about the social (production) relations between the producers of the table and other people. He cannot know whether or not the producer is an independent craftsman, an artisan, a wage laborer, or perhaps a member of a socialist community or an amateur carpenter who makes tables for personal use. Characteristics of the product expressed by the words: "the table has the value of 25 roubles" are of a completely different nature. These words show that the table is a commodity, that it is produced for the market, that its producer is related to other members of society by production relations among commodity owners, that the economy has a determined social form, namely the form of commodity economy. We do not learn anything about the technical aspects of the production or about the thing itself, but we learn something about the social form of the production and about the people who take part in it. This means that "value" (stoimost) does not characterize things, but human relations in which things are produced. It is not a property of things but a social form acquired by things due to the fact that people enter into determined production relations with each other through things. Value is a "social relation taken as a thing," a production relation among people which takes the form of a property of things. Work relations among commodity producers or social labor are "materialized" and "crystallized" in the value of a product of labor. This means that a determined social form of organization of labor is consistent with a particular social form of product of labor. "Labor, which creates (or more exactly, determines, seztende) exchange value, is a specific social form of labor." It "creates a determined social form of wealth, exchange value" [2] (Italics added).


Otherwise Marx is seen as just another political economist describing production rather than revealing how the unregulated nature of the market seems to have control over production and not humans despite objects themselves having no power but are in fact seen with the power and autonomy of human beings.

So i didnt make the proper emphasis that things like socially necessary labor tome and all that isn’t to aspire to measure things in markets so as to know how to better navigate them and manage them. Its a means of showing the illusion of commodity fetishism and how value in its particular form in capitalist production arises in the way it does.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/pilling/works/capital/geoff4.htm#Pill12
It has been widely (and wrongly) believed by many economists and others that Marx emphasised labour precisely as this ‘practical’ standard of value. As opponents of Marx, such writers have directed their efforts to showing that labour could not be accorded this privileged status; they have argued along these lines because of the absence of precisely established units with which to measure the various forms of labour which are different from each other with regard to intensity, skill etc.
Such a line of attack utterly misconceives the nature of Marx’s value theory. It is both impossible and unnecessary to discover a measure of value which will make possible the equalisation of labour or the products of labour. It may be a simple point, but none the less profound, to insist that this equalisation of labour takes place objectively, spontaneously and indirectly – that is, independently of any participants within the capitalist system. It is in this real, objective process that value is measured. Out of the process of the production and circulation of commodities money (gold) arises. Gold is not some ‘external’ measure, standing outside the world of commodities. Nor was it ‘selected’ by conscious planning on the part of economists or politicians. This measure (gold) was historically selected, after long trial and error, in the sense that it was its physical-material properties which enabled gold to select itself as the most suitable money-commodity. The matter can be reformulated thus: it is not money that renders commodities commensurable; on the contrary, it is because all commodities as values are realised human labour, and therefore commensurable, that their values find their measure in one and the same commodity. By a social and historical process this commodity is converted into money. Unless the objective nature of these processes is grasped, then the significance of all Marx’s categories of political economy is lost. We have already spoken of the social character of the labour which creates value, summed up in Marx’s concept of abstract labour. Marx insists that the measure of value is not labour-time, but socially-necessary labour-time, that is labour-time required to produce a commodity at a definite stage in the development of the productive forces. And it is only when the producer of a product tries to sell this product on the market that he discovers its real, objective value (if any). During periods of capitalist slump the piles of unsold goods signify that the concrete labour embodied in them was socially unnecessary. Such labour cannot, through the market, be transformed into abstract labour and therefore creates no value. But the owner of capital can never discover this beforehand, even though he may be armed with the latest ‘market research’ techniques and may even have read Capital. The essence of capitalist production here is that he can only discover whether the labour incorporated into his products was socially necessary at the end of the process.
Our task is not, therefore, to seek some measuring rod for the processes of capitalist production. The very process is its own measure. Value does not measure commodities; commodities discover their own measure of value. The task of Marxism is to discover how this is done, to discover the laws and tendencies of this process, laws and tendencies which do not appear empirically on the surface of society but appear always in the form of crises.



Edit: I wonder if part of Marx’s assertion of value is also his historical perspective that all societies labour to satisfy human needs in some division of labor and this is simply a logical presupposition of human existence. Such that products of labour clearly have some value but it changes in particular modes of production and their relations.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch09.htm
After the publication of Volume I of Capital, Kugelmann told Marx that in the opinion of many readers, Marx had not proved the concept of value. In the previously cited letter of July 11, 1868, Marx responded quite angrily to this objection: "Every child knows that a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs require different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labor of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labor in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the form in which it appears, is self-evident. No natural laws can be done away with. What can change, in historically different circumstances, is only the form in which these laws operate. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labor operates, in a state of society where the interconnection of social labor is manifested in the private exchange of the individual products of labor, is precisely the exchange value of these products." [1]

Here Marx mentioned one of the basic foundations of his theory of value. In the commodity economy, no one consciously supports or regulates the distribution of social labor among the various industrial branches to correspond with the given state of productive forces. Since individual commodity producers are autonomous in the management of production, the exact repetition and reproduction of an already given process of social production is completely impossible. Furthermore, proportional expansion of the process is impossible. Since the actions of the separate commodity producers are not connected or constant, daily deviations in the direction of excessive expansion or contraction of production are inevitable. If every deviation tended to develop uninterruptedly, then the continuation of production would not be possible; the social economy, based on a division of labor, would break down. In reality every deviation of production, whether up or down, provokes forces which put a stop to the deviation in the given direction, and give birth to movements in the opposite direction. Excessive expansion of production leads to a fall of prices on the market. This leads to a reduction of production, even below the necessary level. The further reduction of production stops the fall of prices. Economic life is a sea of fluctuating motion. It is not possible to observe the state of equilibrium in the distribution of labor among the various branches of production at any one moment. But without such a theoretically conceived state of equilibrium, the character and direction of the fluctuating movement cannot be explained.

And his inference about value particular to capitalist production is how through price signals labour is reallocated and if one doesn’t adequately explain how value function as it does then how formally individual capitalists and their production is difficult to make sense of in its regularity. Supply and demand is rarely in equilibrium but it is necessary to explain the regularity of the market and adjustment of production.
#15095773
@Wellsy
We should stick to primary sources.

Pilling guy wrote wrote:Marx insists that the measure of value is not labour-time, but socially-necessary labour-time, that is labour-time required to produce a commodity at a definite stage in the development of the productive forces.


"socially-necessary" in this context simply means labor is allocated across industries in an optimal way given the demand for commodities. Another way to put it is that the set of commodities is on the production-possibility frontier.

Rubin guy wrote wrote:But without such a theoretically conceived state of equilibrium, the character and direction of the fluctuating movement cannot be explained.


Walras came up with his general equilibrium theory in the late 19th century. It's an attractive concept, and widely applied, though not without issues.
#15097128
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.
Spoiler: show
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#unit


https://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
[/quote]
#15099882
Rugoz wrote:If you disregard the cost of capital, the cost of producing a commodity is equivalent to the cost of labor required to produce it. If labor is homogeneous, the cost of every commodity is equivalent to the number of labor hours put into it. A Marxist would argue that the cost of a capital good is equivalent to the labor put into it, hence the capitalist deserves nothing for its production (other than a wage for managerial labor). A modern mainstream economist would argue that the capitalist must be rewarded for postponing consumption (he's paying the wages for producing the capital good now but gets the equivalent return plus interest only over time). Both would argue that market power on the product or labor market lead to a socially sub optimal allocation.

I have never read capital, but I hope that helps :D.


Thanks for replying Rugos, and apologies I have taken so long to reply.

So I have perhaps misled here by quoting Marx too narrowly. The quote in question comes in a discussion at the start of Capital Volume 1, when Marx is presenting an analysis of the commodity. He thinks that you can understand commodities as having two aspects. There are the properties they have which make them desireable for humans (or other species who can managed to create a social structure like capitalism). He calls these (a term I've always found a bit confusing) use-values. He thinks that there is another aspect, in that all commodities can be exchanged with each other at definite ratios. He calls the numbers in these ratios exchange value. He then assumes that, in order to be exchanged in definite ratios, the commodities must have a shared property in common - a quantifiable property. It can't be the properties which lead to the commodities being useful (Marx argues), because they are so diverse and heterodox. He thinks the only one which is shared is amounts of human labour.

I have a couple of observations on what you then say. As, for Marx, items used by workers in production (which you call capital in your first sentence above) are similarly produced by workers (even if it is just mining them etc.), their exchange value is also determined by the amount of labour, on average, needed to produce them. I think this is what you are saying in your second sentence. Capitalists, and managers, for Marx, are not necessarily the same. A manager is a waged worker. Capitalists are basically people who have money of a sufficient amount to allow them to employ other people to produce commodities for them, and pay for the resources needed in the production, who then sell those commodities (maybe to workers, maybe to firms, maybe to other capitalists in certain cases) for the purpose of making a profit, which they then reinvest to start the process again. Sorry - again looking over what you've said, you maybe realised this.

Marx also thinks that what is key for understanding capitalists, as opposed to say simply rich people, is that their actions don't end up being focused on personal consumption. Of course capitalists are also consumers, but if they consumed all their property, the capitalist system would grind to a halt. Due to all kinds of different factors (and this is more me glossing what I can remember from Marx and others), such as responding to competition or perceived competition, a desire for power, a fascination with making a profit, habit, protestant guilt(!), or being a corporate entity with a constitution which requires its management to aim to maximise profits, Capitalists keep putting their money back into the economy in order to realise a profit. When you think about it is abstract, in itself it is obviously mad, and the only reason at all it is appreciated is that it is perceived to have a lot of beneficial side effects, amounting to social and material progress.

If the Marxist is going to argue that
1.The exchange value of resources is equivalent to the (average) labour put into it
2.Therefore, the capitalist, who put in the resources, don't deserve any renumeration from the production.
C.The capitalist doesn't deserve any renumeration from the production

We need to assume, given that the exchange value being determined by the average labour put into it, whether something has labour put into it determines who should receive the renumeration from it. But that's a very tricky debate - there is a good book on that by G.A. Cohen. Marx seems most concerned to make it clear that that is what is going on, rather than argue that a worker must receive the full renumeration of their labour.

Finally, I've put this all in terms of exchange value, as Marx thinks that price (and cost, as a type of price) can be distinct from the exchange value of a commodity - though the former limits what the latter can be. This is another very complicated part of the debate about Marx. I'm very unsure about it myself, but I think it is important to take it seriously, as most criticisms of Marx don't even get what he exactly said correct - so how do we know if he is right or not.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply to me. I will try to find the time to respond when I can - but as you can see, I find it difficult to respond in anything less than a very thorough manner, as otherwise you aren't really questioning your own assumptions or those of anyone else.
#15100477
The Young Wizard wrote: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.

Well you’re certainly not compelled to read them, let alone thoroughly but not having a clear answer on the subject myself as I am only now trying to look into such things in greater detail. But they’re enough to have a quick glance and wonder whether it might be of interest.

>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.

Indeed, as Böhm-Bawerk’s criticisms are often the ones still reproduced today and so might as well go to the source of one of the greatest critic of Marx.


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.

I see your point, I can’t say I’ve delved too heavily into Hegel except on some particular points that I notice exemplified in Marx and summaries of Marx’s work like that found in Ilyenkov.

But yes, there must be a shared quality that allows for the quantitative measure between commodities.

A great criticism of those who don’t acknowledge how incommensurate use-values are is found in criticisms of Bentham’s Utilitarianism which reduces all properties of happiness/pleasure to a single point, but there is no clear point of comparing the pleasure of a nice steak or a holiday in the Caribbean or driving a nice car. Such pleasures are incommensurate. This continues in Marx’s expressed sense that there isn’t use-value in general as the use of an object is always concretely based on the particularness of the object.


>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)

That’s fair enough, I had taken an opposite approach in engaging with an assessment of Marx’s viewpoint as it has been my impression that many who dive straight into Marx make crude mistakes because his way of thinking isn’t familiar to their spontaneous thinking. This is seen in many asserted misinterpretations of Marx.

Agreed, there is too much information to properly digest without becoming a flat out scholar.

>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.


This is of course in particular interest in regards to Marx’s asserted value as I am beginning to think there is much that isn’t present in the first few chapters which are sort of in the background in his previous works and such. That there is the impression his assertion of value has the character of a merely analytical proof, of something simply of his mind rather than an expression of the objective or real world qualities of commodities themselves. Hence the approach to simply look for the formal similarity between asserting Labor as the substance of value and corn theory of value and such, an indifference to any content of the subject.
Although there is clearly debate even between those sympathetic to Marx’s value theory.

> 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.

I would suspect that “productive working relations” does denote the entirety of social relations between people within the production process. As a whole, the worker doesn’t exist independently of the capitalist and Marx makes a big deal to emphasize their internal relation to one another and how capital is the opposite to labor.

I see the point raised against one of Böhm-Bawerk’s criticism that nature offers things of value which aren’t derived from labor is that it’s impossible to think of such things as commodities outside if labor in a productive process. Nature isn’t too readily just available for consumption, and especially not as a commodity. Whether it’s chopping down trees, mining for raw materials or even building infrastructure for delivering water services.
Indeed (in regards to point 2.), one of points raised against mercantilism’s sense of money as wealth and thus trade as the means for realizing wealth is that trade doesn’t create value, it only exchanges it. Even if one swindles someone, you have shifted value around but not created any more value. Although his assertion of labour-power as distinct from labour itself is an interesting point as it is a commodity for exchange but also serves as the basis for the gap between what is exchanged and creation of value, because the use-value of labor enhances the value of things assertedly. It seems physiocrats thought of agriculture as the only valuable labor, then Adam Smith generalized this further in that all labor was value creating.


>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.

There are criticisms of the Austrian school of economics in that it assumes the functional relationships of capitalist production but do so in an ideological way of it being the rational psychology of the individual and thus a constituent part of human nature rather than how one acts within particular real world relations. This is the basic point against the Robinson Crusoe kind of approach to economics which begins with individuals and even then begins with simple commodity exchange in the form of bartering and largely neglects the actual role of price/money. This leads to somewhat of a cycle in being unable to explain price/money as it is simply a given where price depends on supply and demand which depends on earlier prices and so ad nauseam. This isn’t an explanation but a description and is a point of weakness for such an approach. Which is what Marx is going against as even the classical economists take their categories of production as production in general but don’t realize the historically contingent nature of them.

But I won’t dwell on this and simply agree that a good criticism comes from the assumptions within a line of thought rather than external to it and only then can one pose a different school of thought as more successful at explaining the very problems which the criticized one couldn’t. Without an alternative, a ‘debunked’



>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"

But see, individual attitudes are derived from objective conditions of human existence, they are interwoven with the material/social relations and man most definitely exists within definite relations. This comes from an ontological view where earlier philosophers considered epistemology in terms of the individual against nature, then Hegel came and considered man against culture/society and then Marx developed this further in assuming the ontological unity of man with nature. This might seem obscure, but without such a view in sight, then end up with all sorts of problems from past philosophy that boil down to things being merely subjective and there is no basis to recognize the objective qualities of the world beyond individual facts.

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For the understanding of Marx a different point is, however, important. The Marxian conception of nature, of man, and man’s relation to nature disposes of many traditional epistemological problems. Marx neither needs to prove existence of the external world, nor disprove its existence. From his point of view both these endeavours are prompted by false assumptions concerning the relation of man to nature, by considering man as a detached observer, setting him against the world or placing him, as it were, on a totally different level. For man, who is part of nature, to doubt the existence of the external world or to consider it as in need of proof is to doubt his own existence, and even Descartes and Berkeley refused to go to such a length.


This conclusion is of considerable significance for the interpretation of Marxian philosophy. As Marx refused to dissociate nature from man and man from nature and conceived man not only as part of nature but also nature in a certain sense as a product of man’s activity and, thus, part of man, Marx’s naturalism has no need of metaphysical foundation. Moreover, since man knows only socially mediated nature, ‘man’, and not natural reality, ‘is the immediate object of natural science’. To use Marx’s terminology, the natural science of man is logically prior to all other knowledge.[59] What Feuerbach said about his anthropological materialism applies even more fittingly to Marx’s naturalism. ‘The new philosophy’, wrote Feuerbach, ‘makes man, including nature as the basis of man, the sole, universal and highest object of philosophy, makes, therefore, of anthropology,

including physiology, the universal science.’ [60]


This is more a tangent that you can skip over about the distinction between the individual and the whole but why the individual is derived from the whole as it precedes the individual and is what determines the social development of the human.

Spoiler: show
And whilst the individual is most certainly not synonymous with the whole, the individual cannot be understood outside of that whole, to abstract the individual from real world relations is to render it empty or to fill it with content that simply naturalizes/universalizes the particularities of one’s existence within definite social relations.


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That is why a concept, according to Hegel, does not exist as a separate word, term, or symbol. It exists only in the process of unfolding in a proposition, in a syllogism expressing connectedness of separate definitions, and ultimately only in a system of propositions and syllogisms, only in an integral, well-developed theory. If a concept is pulled out of this connection, what remains of it is mere verbal integument, a linguistic symbol. The content of the concept, its meaning, remains outside it-in series of other definitions, for a word taken separately is only capable of designating an object, naming it, it is only capable of serving as a sign, symbol, marker, or symptom.


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We cannot, then, explain action simply by intention. To retreat too far into the inner life is not only to try to elude responsibility for consequences, as Pippin puts it, but it is also to strip 107 action of any meaning. Kenneth Westphal makes a point that is worth noting in this context. Practical reason is inseparable from social practice. It is true that actions are carried out by individuals, but such actions are possible and only have meaning in so far as they participate in sociocultural practices. There are two important questions here, Westphal suggests: (1) are individuals the only bearers of psychological states, and (2) can psychological states be understood in individual terms? Individualists answer both questions in the armative, and most holists answer both questions in the negative. Hegel, however, answers the rst question armatively and the second negatively. In other words, it is only individuals who act, have 108 intentions, construct facts, and so forth. Nevertheless, such acts, intentions, and facts cannot be understood apart from sociocultural practices—their meaning can only be understood as interpreted in a sociocultural context.


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Marx's second argument against Kantian morality is that its focus on the free will belies the extent to which the will is itself determined by material conditions and material interests. The abstraction of the “free will” is illegitimate according to Marx because it attempts to prize apart the intellectual life of individuals from their economic, social, and historical context. A person with a will that is “wholly independent of foreign causes determining it,” to adopt Kant's phrase, simply does not exist in reality, and therefore such a subject makes a rather poor starting point for moral theory. (Later, in 1853, Marx writes, there critiquing Hegel, “Is it not a delusion to substitute for the individual with his real motives, with multifarious social circumstances pressing upon him, the abstraction of “free-will” — one among the many qualities of man for man himself”74!)


And whilst I make this point, I do denote that unlike Kant, the mind of individuals aren’t

synonymous because one doesn’t identify the sameness in some sort of universal reason but notes that there are very different material conditions and social relations for people which constitute very different psychologies on average. This isn’t merely a sameness of a whole or difference of individuals against one another.

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The difference becomes self evident if we consider the psyche of the single individual as the subject of social psychology. It is obvious that the subject of individual psychology coincides with that of differential psychology, the task of which is the study of individual differences in single individuals. The concept of general reflexology, as opposed to Bekhterev’s collective reflexology, also completely coincides with this. “In this respect there is a certain relation between the reflexology of the single individual and collective reflexology; the former aims at clarifying the peculiarities of the single individual, tries to find differences in the individual mentalities of persons, and show the reflexological basis of these differences, while collective reflexology, which studies mass or collective manifestations of correlative activity, is essentially aimed at clarifying how social products of a correlative activity are obtained by the correlation between single individuals in social groups and by smoothing away their individual differences.”


It is obvious that we are dealing here with differential psychology in the precise acceptance of that term. What, then, is the subject of collective psychology as such? There is a simple answer to this question: Everything within us is social, but this does not imply that all the properties of the psyche of an individual are inherent in all the other members of this group as well. Only a certain part of the individual psychology can be regarded as belonging to a given group, and this portion of individual psychology and its collective manifestations is studied by collective psychology when it looks into the psychology of the army, the church, and so on.


Thus, instead of distinguishing between social and individual psychology, we must distinguish between social and collective psychology.

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In Hegelian philosophy, however, the problem was stated in a fundamentally different way. The social organism (the “culture” of the given people) is by no means an abstraction expressing the “sameness” that may be discovered in the mentality of every individual, an “abstract” inherent in each individual, the “transcendentally psychological” pattern of individual life activity. The historically built up and developing forms of the “universal spirit” (“the spirit of the people”, the “objective spirit”), although still understood by Hegel as certain stable patterns within whose framework the mental activity of every individual proceeds, are none the less regarded by him not as formal abstractions, not as abstractly universal “attributes” inherent in every individual, taken separately. Hegel (following Rousseau with his distinction between the “general will” and the “universal will”) fully takes into account the obvious fact that in the diverse collisions of differently orientated “individual wills” certain results are born and crystallised which were never contained in any of them separately, and that because of this social consciousness as an “entity” is certainly not built up, as of bricks, from the “sameness” to be found in each of its “parts” (individual selves, individual consciousnesses). And this is where we are shown the path to an understanding of the fact that all the patterns which Kant defined as “transcendentally inborn” forms of operation of the individual mentality, as a priori “internal mechanisms” inherent in every mentality, are actually forms of the self-consciousness of social man assimilated from without by

the individual (originally they opposed him as “external” patterns of the movement of culture independent of his will and consciousness), social man being understood as the historically developing “aggregate of all social relations”.




Indeed, but Marx’s work is an analysis of capital and not about society in general of course and we all engage in focusing on what seems essential to the subject rather than recreating the whole of reality in all its detail.


>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.


Agreed, propaganda or clarifying issues to a popular audience isn’t to be neglected. And the issue of the division of labor that splits intellectual labor from physical labor in significant degree is a problem in this issue also.
And for myself, in beginning to clarify Marx’s criticism of the political economy for myself, is in part to be able to actually pinpoint things consciously rather than my haphazard thinking through many associations without a clear end.
Which is why at the moment I’m doubling down on my studying again because I’m not really ready for this subject I believe, at most I only have things popping out at me here and there.

Though a kind of autodidactism or studying with others is strongly emphasized such that one can think for one’s self through things and isn’t merely lead by others. To actually think than to have your thoughts thought for you by others.

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It is necessary to open up each person’s access to the conditions of human development, including the conditions for the development of the ability to “think independently” as one of the chief components of human culture. And the school is obliged to do this. Intelligence is not a “natural” gift. It is society’s gift to a person. It is, incidentally, a gift that he will later repay a hundredfold—from the point of view of a developed society, the most “profitable” of “capital investments.” An intelligently organized—that is, a communist—society can be constituted only by intelligent people. And never for a minute must we forget that it is precisely the people of the communist future who are sitting behind school desks today


The above work is a very interesting piece in that it is a piece written for the popular audience and was widely read in the Soviet Union. Makes me wonder about the intellectual development of a nation and its people, whether poetry is only for the highly educated or something prolific among the masses and things of this sort.

>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.


I think when faced with a practical task or problem, ones focus of study becomes more deliberate in its aim such that you work to figure out an answer rather than simply for your own entertainment/consumption. But I imagine to participate in solving such problems presumes a connection to people’s lives and issues facing them, isolated from others it is naturally quite detached.
And on that front, I think the minimal effort is that of doctrinaire socialism.

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Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavourable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian”. Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.

I guess the role of theory as not just entertainment I think comes from Gil-Scott Heron’s song Message to the Messengers, if going to tell people things, best to know what you’re talking about. So theory is in the background less one try to agitate and end up unconsciously reproducing problematic conclusions based in spontaneous assumptions. Clear theoretical lines when informing practice can be quite divisive although it does often become something unto itself.

Anyway, a lot of this seemed tangential, I think I’m a ways of before I engage on the subject in some complexity and would ask that if you find certain interesting points that you might stop by and post your reflections. It can be difficult to find such discussions in a more conversational context. This sort of thing is not typically what one finds ready to discuss among family and friends unless it is sometimes a bit veiled and without the terms/words that tend to give people a knee jerk response which shuts them down from properly considering a point.

I think I might make a quick study of this brief summary on abstract labor as the substance of value with specific points delimitating its nature.
https://www.google.com/amp/s/kapitalism101.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/abstract-labor-capital-chapter-one/amp/
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