Value, Anti-Value

S. Artesian

I was rereading Rubin’s Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value,  published in 1928 when Rubin was associated with the Marx-Engels Institute in the Soviet Union, when I came upon certain critical explorations.  Periodically, with the regularity of the capitalist cycle a debate erupts about the historical pedigree of value and the law of value, and if in fact the law of value regulates social production in pre-capitalist societies.  Marx explicitly refutes that notion, pointing to the Inca civilization, and communal societies as example of the specificity of value to commodity production, and the law of value to generalized commodity production.

Some, based on statements by Engels–

In a word: the Marxian law of value holds generally, as far as economic laws are valid at all, for the whole period of simple commodity production — that is, up to the time when the latter suffers a modification through the appearance of the capitalist form of production. Up to that time, prices gravitate towards the values fixed according to the Marxian law and oscillate around those values, so that the more fully simple commodity production develops, the more the average prices over long periods uninterrupted by external violent disturbances coincide with values within a negligible margin. Thus, the Marxian law of value has general economic validity for a period lasting from the beginning of exchange, which transforms products into commodities, down to the 15th century of the present era. But the exchange of commodities dates from a time before all written history — which in Egypt goes back to at least 2500 B.C., and perhaps 5000 B.C., and in Babylon to 4000 B.C., perhaps to 6000 B.C.; thus, the law of value has prevailed during a period of from five to seven thousand years.   (see Engels Supplement to Capital Volume 3)

–think value, as value, has dominated social production for thousands of years, imagining even societies of “simple commodity production” where individual self-reliant, and self-employing, producers exchange their commodities according to the values contained in each, and each value contained is actually the labor-time embedded in production.  It’s the pseudo-Marxist version of Jefferson’s “agrarian democracy,” conspicuous like that artificial construct, not only in its absence,  but in the reality that puts the lie to both– slavery, bondage, subsistence production.

Anyway,  Rubin writes, in his chapter on the content and form of value:

“This is why the reader frequently forms the idea that the value of the product is nothing other than the labor necessary for its production. One gets a false impression of the complete identity between labor and value.

Such a conception is very widespread in anti-Marxist literature. One may say that a large number of the misunderstandings and misinterpretations which can be found in anti-Marxist literature are base of the false impression that, according to Marx, labor is value. This false impression often grown out of the inability to grasp the terminology and meaning of Marx’s work…

…Labor cannot be identified with value. Labor is only the substance of value, and in order to obtain value, in the the full sense of the word, labor as the substance of value must be treated in its inseparable connection with the social “value form” (Wertform)…

….Marx wants to show why this content [labor-SA] acquires a given social form [value expressed as exchange value, which to Marx is the ONLY way value can be expressed-SA]. Marx does not only move from form to content, but also from content to form. He makes the”form of value” the subject of his examination, namely value as the social form of the product of labor–the which the Classical Economists took for granted and thus did not have to explain. ”

And of course, there’s the famous passage from Capital, Volume 1:

“Political Economy has indeed analyzed, however, incompletely, value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labor is represented by the value of its product and labor-time by the magnitude of that value.”

Returning to Rubin:

“Marx showed that the working relations among people and social labor necessarily take the material form of the value of products of labor in a commodity economy.”

So unless a commodity economy persists beyond the socialist revolution, the value form disappears, with, of course, the abolition of wage-labor, and the law of value with it. The commodity economy can no more persist beyond the triumph of socialist revolution, revolutionizing the social relations of production which means revolutionizing the relations of social reproduction,  than can the ideology of the commodity economy, political economy.

And if the commodity does persist? Then clearly the social revolution has not been completed, will devolve back to the rule of the law of value, back to capitalism.

What does matter is that value as a form is the condition of labor that is opposed to labor itself; value is the aggrandizement of labor power as private property.  It  is the product of unemancipated, alienated (as in commercially transferred), expropriated labor.  That unemancipated, alienated, expropriated  form assumes its dominant expression, its apotheosis, hideously perfect in its perfect hideousness, with capitalism, with capitalists and their analogues.

January 1, 2018

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