Schrodinger’s Capital: The fatal defect of the value-form

by Jehu

NOTE 3: The concrete is always concrete

I pointed out in my last note that the value-form school places great stock in Marx’s question:

“why [is] labour … represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value”?

Marx’s argument seems to be this occurs because the productive activity of the total labor power of society is not regulated by the producers. The value-form school, however, provides another reading of Marx’s question:

“how [do] people’s productive relations find their expression in value.”

reificationWith Marx, it appears the nub of the problem lies with the lack of conscious organization of social production. But with the value-form school, the problem lies elsewhere: the process by which unregulated private productive activity becomes social. In either case we begin with a common social fact: the existing organization of the total labor power of society in which producers carry on their productive activity through exchange of commodities.

Marx asks WHY the total labor power of society manifests itself as the value of its product. The value-form school asks HOW the total labor power of society manifests itself as the value of its product.

We already have Marx’s answer: the total labor power of society manifests itself as the value of its product, because the productive activity of the total labor power of society is not regulated by the producers whose powers they are.

The necessary form of appearance…

This answer is inadequate for the value-form school, because they think Marx does not explain the process by which concrete, particular, useful labors are reduced to identical units of abstract homogenous labors. This, they argue, requires an appreciation for the role of the value-form, of money. According to Rubin, use values are reduced to abstract labor values by being universally compared to one and the same use value by the producers of a commodity producing community.

If this is true, we have a real theoretical problem. Since neither the individuals nor their products carry any information about the values of their commodities, this information cannot be transferred between them through an exchange of the commodity for a money commodity.

I have no information regarding the socially necessary labor time required to produce my commodity and neither does anyone else. Moreover, this information is not contained in my commodity nor in the commodity of any other producer. Even commodities like gold or silver have no information on their socially necessary labor times. They, like all commodities, are simply concrete, particular, use values and the product of concrete, particular useful labor.

In a commodity producing society, the critical information regarding the productive activity of individual producers is carried only in their actual living material relations of production. The information is not carried by individuals, nor does it appear in their products in a manner the information can be gleaned by the individuals. This suggests the productive activity of the individual producers always remains concrete, particular and useful; and the products of their labors always remain concrete, particular use values.

All of the above is true not just at the dawn of the epoch of commodity production and exchange, but remains so today. None of the labor expended today is inherently ‘value producing labor’; nor are any of the products of labor intrinsically ‘values’.

Commodities are the product of concrete, particular, useful labor and are themselves concrete, particular use-values. They can never be anything but concrete, particular use values and have no capacity to become abstract, homogenous and identical values. Nor is there any technology, application of scientific knowledge or material process by which human beings can turn use values into values. (If the above were not true, alchemy would be a branch of industry, not a mediaeval superstition. No one can turn a base metal like lead into gold and no one can turn a pair of shoes or an apple into values.)

The value-form is itself concrete

The exchange of an ordinary commodity for the money commodity, however, has the same defect that is found in the exchange of use values in general: Each use value is incommensurable with others. It does not matter that, in place of the exchange of many separate use values with many other use values — e.g., apples for pitchforks, shoes for hats, cars for houses — all use values are exchanged for one money commodity. Either in the case where many commodities are being exchanged for many other commodities or all commodities are exchanged for a money commodity, the problem is the same: Each use value — the apple, the pitchfork, the shoes, the hats or the gold coin — is a concrete, particular, useful object that is qualitatively unique and satisfies a qualitatively unique need. None of the concrete labor going into each can be compared to the concrete labors of the others.

In labor theory, no use value can be compared to another qualitatively different use value, because they are not commensurable — and this must be true even if one of the commodities in the exchange serves as the universally recognized money in the community.

Even if we concede to the value-form school that abstract labor requires a money, they still must explain how money, a concrete, particular use-value, accomplishes this. How does replacing all of the use-values on one side of the exchange equation with a single use-value solve the problem that concrete labor times of none of the use-values can be compared.

Information is embedded in relations, not commodities

Marx’s theory suggests the productive activities of commodity producers are being coordinated by information they do not themselves possess and which is not contained in the products of their activities. While this might seem bizarre, it is not. It is actually a principle found in quantum theory.

According to The Complete Idiot’s Guide to String Theory:

“Objects can become coordinated and only then acquire specific properties. … relationships between objects can embody information that the individual objects do not.”

While various prequantum theories assumed the state of a particle was determined by its specific properties, quantum theory shows this is not true. In quantum theory, the behavior of a particle is coordinated with the behavior of other particles first and only later does the particle acquire the specific property.

This is exactly the process labor theory proposes for the emergence of value: Producers enter into material relations of cooperation first, and the products of their labor only later comes to express those relations of dependence. Contrary to the argument of the value-form school, it is not money that makes value possible, but the pre-existing productive cooperation of producers of commodities that makes money necessary.

Since the problem identified by Marx at the outset is the lack of conscious organization of social production, this cannot be fixed by money. Money itself is only the visible expression of the lack of conscious organization of social production.