Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Capital III, Engels Supplement - Part 3

As Marx says, Value is labour.” Whenever free labour is expended purposefully to create use values, it creates value in the shape of products (and as Marx demonstrates, in Theories of Surplus Value, these products do not have to be material products as Adam Smith believed, but can equally be immaterial products/services), and this is true from the first moment Man undertakes such free labour. It is only, as Marx and Engels demonstrate, as a result of a long historical process, during which these products start to be traded, that this value assumes the social form of exchange value, and the product assumes the form of the commodity.

Engels commends Werner Sombart's outline of Marx's system, but considers his conception of The Law of Value,

“... by no means exhausts the entire significance of the law of value for the economic stages of society's development dominated by this law.” (p 894)

That rather clearly refutes the view of all those who believe that the concept of value, and The Law of Value, is something specific and limited to capitalism.

Sombart's account, Engels says, was the first time a German university professor had really understood what Marx had written. According to Sombart, the Marxian system could not be refuted, but only further developed.

Sombart recognised the point made above that value does not arise from nor is manifest in the exchange relation between commodities, but exists independently of any such exchange, “... it is not an empirical, but a mental, a logical fact; the concept of value in its material definiteness in Marx is nothing but the economic expression for the fact of the social productive power of labour as the basis of economic existence”. (p 894) 

As Marx puts it, “value is labour”, and this value is produced and exists whether or not commodities are produced and exchanged. As Marx puts it in Theories of Surplus Value, supply is determined by value and demand is determined by use value. The essence of The Law of Value, in every society comes down to how these two are reconciled, how can use value (demand) be maximised, given the constraint of supply (value), i.e. a limited amount of social labour-time.

That is the economic problem facing Robinson Crusoe, which “tells us all we need to know about value”, that Marx sets out in Capital I.

“... after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.” (Capital III, Chapter 49, p 851)

Value must logically and historically precede exchange value, just as the product must precede the commodity. Exchange value is the value of one commodity expressed as a certain quantity of some other use value. For example, the exchange value of 1 coat might equal 10 metres of linen. But, unless the coat already possesses value it cannot be equated with anything. Its only because the coat already exists as a product, with value, that it can begin to be traded, and it is only because the linen exists as a product, with value, that its value can be related proportionately to the value of the coat!

It is precisely because these products have value, and this value was known, understood and measurable, by their respective producers, that they could begin to be traded on a rational and determinable basis, because the producers of these products knew quite precisely how much labour-time was required for their production.

“... in the final analysis, the law of value dominates economic processes in a capitalist economic system, and for this economic system quite generally has the following content: the value of commodities is the specific and historical form in which the productive power of labour, in the last analysis dominating all economic processes, asserts itself as a determining factor.” (p 894)

No comments: