Value=Abstract Labour

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Tue Oct 17 21:12:41 MDT 1995

Paul Cockshott did not find necessary to reply my critique concerning the
incoherence he and Allin Cottrell impute to Marx by reducing value to "a
shorthand way of saying" "abstract labor" whichever its social form, by
identifying commodities with "anything," by not seeing "anything terrible
about" saying that "surplus value" is "required in all societies," etc.
Instead, he just replied that when Marx says

>"A use value or useful article, therefore has
>value only because human labour in the abstract
>has been embodied or materialised in it.
>How then is the magnitude of this value to be
>measured? Plainly by the quantity of the
>value-creating substance, the labour, contained
>in the article." Cap 1 p 38

he is referring to

>Note that he talks of articles or use-values
>having value - not commodities having value here.
>Since commodities are a subset of use-values the
>above obviously applies to them in particular,
>but the concomitant is that, use-values that are not commodities
>                             -----------------------------------
>also have value.

All the secret of Paul's claim lies on his overlooking of the very first
paragraph of Capital, from which the paragraph Paul quotes follows in an
interrupted flow:

"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities,' its
unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with
the analysis of a commodity."

Marx is analyzing commodities, and not use-values in general. "A use value
or useful article" is here, above all, not "anything," but a commodity.
Only later, Marx introduces for the first time other forms taken by the
social product into consideration after finishing with the development of
the specificity of commodities. He does so to contrast the historical
specificity of value as the socially necessary abstract labor materialized
in commodities that is represented as the capacity of commodities to relate
among themselves in exchange thus socially relating their producers, with
the immediate form that the social abstract labor takes in other social
forms, where it does not need to be represented as value since the general
social relation is not mediated as a relation among the products of social
labor. Paul has to violently isolate one phrase from its context to make
Marx appear as contradicting himself and agreeing with Paul's point of

Paul goes on:

>Thus the expression of value as exchange value
>is a historically specific form:
>"the 'value' of a commodity only expresses in
>a historically developed form, what exists in
>all other historical forms of society as well,
>even if in another form, namely the social
>character of labour, so far as it exists as the
>expenditure of 'social' labour power. ... Herr
>Rodbertus takes Ricardos measure of the quantity
>of value; but just as little as Ricardo has
>he grasped or explored the substance of value
>itself; e.g. the mutual charact of the labour process
>in primitive community life as the
>community organism of labour powers allied
>to one another" ( Notes on Wagner p 207, Carver 75)
>Thus although the value ( in quotes ) of a
>commodity is a historically specific form,
>because the commodity is a historically specific
>phenomenon, the underlying substance that
>constitutes value is both common to different
>modes of production, and a property of all
>humanly produced useful articles.

Quite conveniently, Paul has ommited in his quotations the sentence that
runs between:

"so far as it exists as the
expenditure of 'social' labour power. ... Herr
Rodbertus takes Ricardos"

This sentence starts:

"And if the "value" of commodities is only a concrete historical form of
something that exists in all forms of society, ..."

Yes, Paul, the substance of value, the expenditure of human brains and
muscles in general needed to produce it, is common to any social product.
The specific social form that this substance takes when it becomes
represented as the capacity of the products of the private independent
producers to relate among themselves in exchange thus socially relating
these producers, is the value of commodities. And this is what Marx is
pointing out one more time in his Notes on Wagner.

As I have pointed out in my previous post:

"Concerning Marx's supposedly openly contradicting himself in his Notes on
Wagner, ... clearly appear the difference I have already pointed out Marx
establishes between the _substance of value_ and the fact that this
substance takes its historical form of _value_ as it becomes specifically
determined in commodity-production."

Paul's critique of Marx comes down to the assumption that because
commodities are a historical form, and Marx says "the 'value' of
commodities" (and value is "in quotes" here because Marx has been using
quotes all along the Notes to mark the points of his replies to Wagner and
Rodbertus, not to give value any special meaning), value "alone" must be an
ahistorical form. Paul is opposing again to what Marx explicitly develops
step by step, this empty claim. Concerning Paul's reduction of _value_ to
its substance, _materialized socially necessary abstract labor_, Marx
explicitly points out (although I have included this quotation in my
previous post, it seems that it needs to be brought into consideration once
and again):

"Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely, value and its
magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has
never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its
product and labour-time by the magnitude of that value. These formulae,
which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakeable letters that they belong
to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery
over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulae appear to the
bourgeois intellect to be as much as self-evident necessity imposed by
Nature as productive labour itself."

The true question is always about the social necessity that Allin and Paul
fulfill with their attempt to degrade value to an ahistorical form. The
clue is in their "model of socialism/communism," where a commodity
producing society, in which capital has reached its complete concentration,
is represented as the realization of human freedom.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

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