It is important to say I want to preserve the science of historical materialism. To be clear, the outcome of this debate has nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of the class struggle. Despite claims to the contrary by various vanguardist parties, no class in history ever made a revolution based on its theoretically accurate grasp of the society it was seeking to overthrow. The proletariat will not break that pattern. We can thus safely separate the issue of the scientific veracity of historical materialism from the social implications of its conclusions to answer the troubling questions raised by the value-form school argument.
I say this to emphasize I do not think Chris Arthur is “being revisionist” or some such nonsense. Instead, the science itself is being challenged by the appearance of something many people assume labor theory never predicted, a fiat currency filling the role of ‘world money’. Historical materialism has a big problem of explaining whether this fiat ‘world money’ is in fact money, and, if so, how it works.
NOTE 12: The end of exchange value?
According to Marx, a use value has value only if it is the product of human labor. The quantity of value contained in any product of human labor is the duration of socially necessary labor time required to produce the commodity. The value of a commodity is expressed as exchange value in a transaction in which the value of the first commodity is expressed in the use value of the second commodity. According to Marx the value of a commodity can only be expressed in the use value of another commodity also having value. The commodity socially recognized as playing the role of money is simply the one whose use value serves to express the values of all other commodities in the community.
This definition of money is commonly recognized by almost all Marxists. But if Marx is correct about this, the dollar, a valueless state issued inconvertible fiat paper currency, cannot be world money. The problem with the dollar serving in the role is that, as bitcoin shows, it can be produced with no expenditure of human labor whatsoever. And, it can be produced in whatever quantity is required almost instantaneously. This means the dollar is not a product of human labor and thus contains no value at all.
Which bring Marxists face to face with a paradox: If the dollar is world money, Marx must be wrong by his own definition. If Marxists recognize dollars as world money, they are — by the same definition — no longer Marxists.
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