Sunday, 12 May 2019

Value and Its Historical and Logical Development - An Exchange On The Use of Value - Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I set out an introduction to an analysis of the history of value, in relation to discussions in the pages of the Weekly Worker, on the matter. In this second part, I continue to examine this historical and logical development of value, in the context of an exchange of views on the matter, with John Bridge.

John Bridge, in his letter, notes, 

“According to Moshé, Marx is of the view that value - ie, exchange value, as opposed to use-value - exists “under any form of social organisation”. Well, looking through the text of Marx’s 1868 letter, that contention is simply unsupportable. Marx does not argue that value exists “under any form of social organisation”. 

Anyone who has been reading my blog posts over the last few months, looking at Marx's analysis in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20, will immediately see what is wrong with this statement, because, in it, Comrade Bridge explicitly equates value with exchange value, in opposition to use value. But, in considerable detail, in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20, Marx draws out the difference between value and exchange value, demonstrating that these are, necessarily, two different concepts, and that, before exchange-value can come into existence, value itself must exist, just as before commodities can exist, products must exist. A product, as Marx describes, in the opening chapter of Capital I, is a use value that has been produced by free human labour, as opposed to having been provided free by Nature. A product, Marx says, has value, whereas a use value provided free by Nature does not, precisely because the former is the product of this free human labour. 

“A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values, but use values for others, social use values.” 

(Capital I, Chapter 1) 

In other words, it is a product, containing both use value, and value, but it is not a commodity, and consequently does not have an exchange-value. It is not an exchange-value, precisely because, and only because, it is not produced for, or placed in a position of being exchanged for some other product. But, this product certainly is, and does have value, for the reason that Marx set our earlier in the chapter. 

“Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are – Values. We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value. But if we abstract from their use value, there remains their Value as defined above. Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The progress of our investigation will show that exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed. For the present, however, we have to consider the nature of value independently of this, its form.” 


So, Marx, here, in this final sentence, specifically delineates value from exchange-value. Exchange-value is merely the form in which the value of a commodity manifests itself, but value as opposed to exchange-value exists “independently of this, its form” as manifest in the commodity. What is value? It is, as Marx sets out above, the amount of abstract labour embodied in a product. Its measure is abstract labour-time. This is the direct and immanent measure of value, as Marx discusses in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20. 

For example, responding to the subjectivist Samuel Bailey, who also equates value, with exchange-value and price, Marx says, 

““There is, in actual fact, a very significant difference (which Bailey does not notice) between “measure” (in the sense of money) and “cause of value”. The “cause” of value transforms use-values into value. The external measure of value already presupposes the existence of value. For example, gold can only measure the value of cotton if gold and cotton—as values—possess a common factor which is different from both. The “cause” of value is the substance of value and hence also its immanent measure.” 

What, by contrast, is exchange-value? It is the form that this value takes, when the product itself becomes a commodity. Instead of being the direct, immanent measure of value, it can only exist as a secondary, external, relative measure of value, as Marx describes in Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter 20. In other words, I can directly measure the value of a litre of wine as being 10 hours of abstract labour-time, but I cannot measure the exchange-value value of that litre of wine in that way. 

I can only measure the exchange-value of a litre of wine as being the quantity of some other use value that I can obtain in exchange for it. In other words, I can variously measure the exchange-value of a litre of wine as being 1 metre of linen, or it might be 10 kilos of corn, or alternatively 1 gram of gold. What is it that establishes this exchange value, this exchange relation between these disparate use values? It is precisely, as Marx states above, that before they are commodities, they are first of all products, each of which has a value, completely independent from subsequently also becoming a commodity, and thereby having an exchange-value. The product and value is necessarily, logically and historically prius to the commodity and to exchange-value. Exchange-value is not just the form in which value manifests itself for commodities, it is a derivative of value. I can only determine that a litre of wine has an exchange value of 1 metre of linen, because I know that a litre of wine has a value of 10 hours of abstract labour-time, and a metre of linen also has a value of 10 hours of abstract labour-time. If exchange-value is a derivative of value, then clearly value and exchange-value cannot be the same thing, and it is impossible to derive something from something else that does not itself exist, independently, and prior to this derivation. 

Unless these commodities exist as products, each with their own intrinsic value, determined by and measured in abstract labour-time, it is impossible to establish any objective relation between them whatsoever. It is only because these commodities, as products, are repositories of an equal amount of value, of an equal amount of abstract labour that any equivalence between them can be derived. In fact, as Marx points out, in Theories of Surplus Value, a commodity is only a commodity when it is actually thrown on to the market, so that its value, can be expressed as an exchange-value. 

If we take a product that is not a commodity, as defined by Marx above, in Capital I, then it is quite clear that such a product has value. In Capital I, Marx says, 

“The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.)” 

Did these products have value, even though they were not commodities? Certainly they did. Moreover, in Capital III, in examining pre-capitalist forms of rent, Marx details the historical development, from Labour-Rent, To Rent in Kind, to Money Rent. How could this latter form of feudal rent be possible, unless the product of the peasant represented a quantity of value? The Money Rent is merely the value of the product, paid as Rent In Kind, converted into an exchange-value, i.e. the exchange value of that product expressed in money. 

Discussing commodity fetishism, and the way exchange-value hides the true nature of value, as determined by labour-time, Marx says, in Capital I, Chapter 1 

“The determination of the magnitude of value by labour time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.” 

Marx then goes on to strip away that fetishism that exists as a result of the measurement of value indirectly, as exchange value, by examining the actual determination of value from the perspective of Robinson Crusoe, who measures the value of all the products he requires for his existence on the basis of the labour-time he requires for the production of each. As Marx says, 

“All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.” 

And, Marx also then gives the example of the medieval peasant, and this payment of Rent in Kind. 

“Personal dependence here characterises the social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of life organised on the basis of that production. But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality. They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite quantity of his own personal labour power.” 

I will continue this analysis in the context of the discussion with John Bridge in Part 3

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