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“Ninety percent of all the mistakes, misunderstandings and brain-torturings which occur when our young people study Marx result from a naturalistic conception of the law of value.”34  — Yevgeni Preobrazhensky

Source: Weekly Worker
Lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks

Marx’s theory of value

Far from being natural, value is characteristic of commodity production and capitalism, its most developed form. John Bridge upholds Marxist orthodoxy

The English word ‘value’ refers to: (1) the importance, worth or usefulness of something; (2) morals, principles, standards of behaviour.1 Suffice to say, what interests us here is the first, not the second set of meanings.

Dating back to the early 14th century, English merchants were already referring to anything that could be brought, sold or bartered in terms of ‘worth’ and ‘value’ (not insignificantly words adapted from Old French). Merchants possessed a commanding knowledge of the different prices operating within their particular sphere of trade, and would – using well-honed negotiating skills, guild solidarity and royal patronage – buy cheap in one place and sell dear in another.

That way, often via the mediation of silver and gold coin, English cloth exchanged for French wine, Venetian glassware, Icelandic salted fish, Russian furs and Asian spices. Risks were high. However, profits were considerable. Sometimes fantastic. The richest merchants elbowed their way into the ranks of the high aristocracy.

Medieval society was, though, quite incapable of intellectually comprehending what common substance united cloth, wine, glassware, salted fish, furs and spices. Arriving at the concept of value was simply impossible.2 Production relations were far too underdeveloped. Most products of human labour remained just that: products, not commodities. Needless to say, the mass of the population were peasants – their labour dispersed, small-scale and patriarchal. The bulk of what they produced was for immediate household consumption (plus the portion allotted to the parish priest, manorial lord and local abbey, as required by the gouging system of tithes). True, better-off tenant farmers produced with the intention of selling on the market. So did artisans. Here, on the margins, there was perhaps, through haggling, the inchoate notion of exchanging equal labour-times.

The feudal state concerned itself with weights, measures, coinage and setting just prices. Merchants were, of course, notorious liars and cheats … and because of that faced widespread moral opprobrium. Their commodities sold with enormous mark-ups, though they did nothing to work them up or otherwise change them (apart from space and time). In the minds of the religiously pious: “sin always lodged between buying and selling.”3

However, the triumph of agricultural and industrial capitalism, circa 1450-1800, swept aside all such holy sentimentalities. Buying and selling assumes universal proportions. Commodity production dominates the entire economy. Therefore the tendency towards equal exchange. Paradoxically, despite that, the wealth of the few grows in leaps and bounds. Correspondingly, the many are deprived of any independent economic existence. Social relations cease being customary, personal, direct and founded on the threat of force. Instead, people relate to each other commercially, through commodities. The dull compulsion of securing a wage ensures the subjection of labour to capital.

Under these radically altered circumstances, the likes of William Petty, Adam Smith and David Ricardo – the best representatives of bourgeois political economy – attempt to discover the common inner substance of commodities. Through trial and error, they establish the labour theory of value. Labour is the common substance that allows for equal exchange. However, they never properly explained surplus value, profit, rent, interest, etc. In point of fact, surplus value, profit, rent, interest, etc led them into all manner of blind alleys.

Marx took as his starting point the achievements of classical political economy. On these foundations he developed the concept of “value in general”.4 In other words, human labour, as embodied in and equalised through commodities; labour as it appears in the value of a commodity and the use-value of a commodity.

Putting aside profit, rent, interest and other such categories, Marx made a necessary abstraction. Given simple commodity production, he moves first from the elementary form of value (eg, one coat = 20 yards of linen) to the relative form of value (20 yards of linen equating the human labour contained in a range of other commodities), to the equivalent form (this logically gives him ‘money = the universal equivalent’). The value of each commodity is “directly proportional” to the amount of necessary social labour needed for its production.5 As already noted, not only are commodities equalised through exchange: so is labour time. Hence, besides concrete labour, which creates particular use-values, we have another form of labour: abstract labour. Commodities embody abstract, or homogenised, labour-time, the value of which is realised through exchange, through a money sale (under mature capitalism, gold served as the universal equivalent). Crucially, when it comes to making profits – ie, turning money into more money – the biggest, most technically advanced and competitive capitalist firms are able to realise the value of the abstract labour produced in smaller, technically backward and less competitive capitalist firms. Value has a fluid quality to it. All of this will, of course, be familiar to anyone who knows Capital.

To further his investigation, Marx develops value conceptually. He treats value both independently of exchange-value and in relationship to exchange-value. To gain an all-sided view, value has to be analysed in terms of: (1) substance, (2) magnitude and (3) form. In short, the substance of value is social labour. The magnitude of value is labour-time. What about value as form? The most abstract, most universal form taken by the product of capitalist society is exchangeability. Exchangeability stamps capitalist production as a “particular species of social production, and thereby gives that production its special historical character”.6Hence, neither value nor value as a social regulator should be treated ahistorically, as natural, as eternal.

The classical school of bourgeois political economy concentrated on the quantitative side of value, on the amount of labour-time embodied in commodities. Exchange was never given its proper due. Marx establishes exchange as the mechanism through which the capitalist system spontaneously moves and brings forth its “golden eggs”.7 Capitalism is generalised commodity production. Labour-power itself becomes a commodity – as the norm, not the exception. The class of workers exchange their ability to labour in return for wages. Labour-power is, though, a special commodity. Having performed their necessary labour, over say four or five hours – which pays for their wages – the rest of the worker’s day amounts to surplus labour. Capital mercilessly seeks to extend and, more importantly, intensify the working day. Herein lies the secret of capitalist wealth. Marx, doubtless inspired by Goethe’s The bride of Corinth (1797), vividly depicts the horrifying reality of everyday capitalism: “Capital is dead labour that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”8

Exchangeability unites labour-power, commodity production and value. And, of course, the social labour necessary for the production of a commodity is not expressed directly, but indirectly, in the “form of value”, in the form of commodities which exchange for other commodities.

Yet, while social labour is the substance of value, socially equalised labour, not abstract labour, takes other forms too. Socially equalised labour can take the form of labour organised in a capitalist economy, or the form of labour organised under socialism-communism.

On a number of occasions, Marx also writes of the allocation of labour being a “natural law”. That labour is, therefore, applicable to every society. Eg, in his famous letter to Ludwig Kugelmann in 1868, Marx says that the “necessity of the distribution of social labour in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production”.9 Likewise in Capital: the “groundwork” that forms the “quantitative determination of value” – that is, the expenditure of human labour-time – applies to “all states of society”.10 Obviously, as a species, we humans require a range of use-values if we are going to successfully maintain and reproduce ourselves. That is nature-imposed and inescapable. So, when it comes to labour, content and form must be categorically distinguished.

Quoting Capital

There are, though, those on the left who insist that for Marx value is natural, and therefore a feature of the past, present and the future. To uphold that claim there is a trivial and highly selective (mis)reading of Marx.

Take Joan Robinson (1903-83), the celebrated left Keynesian economist and admirer of Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution. She declares that Marx, like Ricardo, was a seeker after an “invariable measure of value”. In her An essay on Marxian economics (1942), Robinson has Marx believing that “under socialism” the “labour theory of value” would at last come into “its own”11 – a contention backed up with some carefully chosen quotes. This from Capital volume three:

It is only where production is under the actual, predetermining control of society that the latter establishes a relation between the volume of social labour-time applied in producing definite articles and the volume of the social want to be satisfied by these articles …. The exchange, or sale, of commodities at their value is the rational state of affairs: ie, the natural law of their equilibrium. It is this law that explains the deviations, and not vice versa – the deviations that explain the law.12

Through making a substantial textual cut, Robinson fuses two distinct ideas into one. Under socialism-communism, society directly calculates the amount of labour-time necessary to meet the needs of people for various products. No argument. Under capitalism, commodities, not products, tend towards selling, exchanging, at their value. Value acts as the centre of gravity, towards which the entire system of commodities is drawn. Once again, no argument. However, to conflate labour time with value is a fundamental mistake. And, of course, to state the obvious, it is Robinson’s mistake. Not Marx’s.

Robinson provides another quote from volume three. Here Marx, discussing market-value, land fertility and differential rent, gives an example in which 10 quarters of wheat sell for 600 shillings. He then says this:

If we suppose the capitalist form of society to be abolished and society organised as a conscious and planned association, then the 10 quarters would represent a quantity of independent labour-time equal to that contained in 240 shillings. Society would not then buy this agricultural product at two and a half times the actual labour-time embodied in it and the basis for a class of landowners would thus be destroyed. This would have the same effect as a reduction in price of the product to the same amount resulting from foreign imports.13

But what Marx is trying to establish is that the market-values of commodities, including agricultural commodities, are based on exchange-value, not upon “the soil and the differences in its fertility”. Marx is not laying down a blueprint for the future socialist-communist society. Suffice to say, communist society neither buys nor sells.

Robinson has another quote, this time from volume two. Marx says that under “socialised as well as capitalist production”, workers will use the means of production and the means of subsistence for a shorter or longer period, depending on the nature of their tasks. This arises from the material character of the production process, “not from its social form”. Marx is then cited as follows:

In the case of socialised production the money-capital is eliminated. Society distributes labour-power and means of production to the different branches of production. The producers may, for all it matters, receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate.14

So no money. Nevertheless, society distributes available labour-power according to the various and many tasks. Corresponding to their labour-time, workers may get paper vouchers (doubtless, a transitional measure along the road to full communism and the principle of ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs’). In other words, there is still the principle of ‘work done’: an hour’s work by a doctor equalling an hour’s work by a hospital porter, etc. Finally, once again from volume three, Robinson gives us Marx, discussing commodity-value, saying this:

[A]fter 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.15

For Robinson this is a clincher. Marx thought that value would continue to operate under socialism-communism. The exact same approach would have had Robinson taking the scattered passages where Marx writes about “capital” in the ancient Greek world and concluding from this that he considered capitalism to be a natural, not a historical, category.

Shorn of its essential form, shorn of exchangeability, ‘value’ will continue under communism, but as nothing more than enhanced book-keeping. Social labour will be allocated through direct calculation. But nothing more.

‘Trade’ too will continue, “in the sense that” use-values will be distributed to meet the various and many needs of each and every individual. But book-keeping is no more value than distribution is trade. Under communism people take from the common repository, based on their needs, not their contribution. There is, in other words, neither value, exchange nor trade.

Disingenuously, Joan Robinson claimed to hold Marx in some high regard. Not that she had any time for the Hegelian “stuff and nonsense”.16 She, therefore, dismisses volume one of Capital as metaphysical. However, in contrast, she grudgingly rated volume three as at least making sense. Not surprisingly then, Robinson dismisses the transition from values in volume one to production prices in volume three. She sees only an “irreconcilable contradiction” between two different theories.17 Put another way, she was simply incapable of grasping Marx’s method.

Robinson attaches an appendix, ‘Value in a socialist society’, to her ‘Labour theory of value’ chapter. Here we find her dismissing Marx’s idea that the common substance which determines the value of commodities is not their colour, chemistry or some other natural property, but their common social substance. Marx, she insists, had to be mistaken. Only their “material nature” can be held in “common”. Nonetheless, for Robinson, Marx considers that, while the law of value does not properly function “under capitalism”, with socialism it would “come into its own”.18 In the utopian spirit of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), Marx is depicted as searching out an “ideal system of pricing”, which would allow the realisation of social justice.

Actually, the real Marx never tired of attacking the likes of Proudhon, who not only advocated a morally based social transformation, as opposed to a violent revolution, but small-scale peasant and worker cooperatives. Hence his dream of a Bank of the People and paper bills allowing the equal exchange of one product for another.

Marx never pursued the ideal of equal exchange between values. Indeed, it is perfectly clear that he envisaged society abolishing value and the law of value. In the Critique of the Gotha programme (1875) he writes:

Within the collective society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour.19

Elsewhere, in Capital, Marx notes that bourgeois political economy has explored value and its magnitude, and has discovered what “lies behind” these forms (however incompletely). But because value appears to be natural it has never asked the question:

[W]hy labour is represented by the value of its product and why labour is represented by the magnitude of that value. These formulae, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulae appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by nature as productive labour itself.20

Not the only one

It is, sad to say, not only bourgeois political economy that considers value to be as natural as productive labour itself. Arthur Bough maintains that value is nothing more and nothing less than productive labour. Hence the contention that value has existed since the dawn of humanity and will exist into the communist future. Presumably, there must have been surplus value too (presented by Marx in terms of commodity production, the accumulation of capital and the formula M-C-M’).

To achieve those ends there is a mangling and misrepresentation of Marx (and Engels). Fully in the spirit of Joan Robinson, Bough does much cutting and pasting and joining together entirely separate ideas. All in all, he refuses to actually read what is there in front of his nose. What makes the whole exercise particularly regrettable is that Bough comes to praise Marx, unlike Robinson, not to bury him.

Take this example from Capital volume three (for the benefit of the reader I include what had been cut in bold).

Value is labour. Therefore surplus value cannot be earth. Absolute fertility of the soil affects nothing more than the following: a certain quantity of labour produces a certain product – in accordance with the natural fertility of the soil. The difference in soil fertility causes the same quantities of labour and capital, hence the same value, to be manifested in different quantities of agricultural products: that is, causes these products to have different individual values. The equalisation of these individual values into market-values is responsible for the fact that the “advantages of fertile over inferior soil … are transferred from the cultivator or consumer to the landlord” (Ricardo, Principles, London 1821, p62). And finally, as third party in this union, a mere ghost – “the” labour, which is no more than an abstraction and taken by itself does not exist at all, or, if we take … [? illegible] [As has been established by later reading of the manuscript, it reads here: ‘wenn wir das Gemeinte nehmen’ (if we take that which is behind it) – ed],the productive activity of human beings in general, by which they promote the interchange with nature, divested not only of every social form and well defined character, but even in its bare natural existence, independent of society, removed from all societies, and as an expression and confirmation of life which the still non-social man in general has in common with the one who is in any way social.21

Everyone knows that Capital volume three was put together by Engels, using the hellishly unreadable notebooks Marx left behind after his death. Hence the ‘illegible’ interpolation. Suffice to say, we are told that the conclusion to be drawn from the above passage is clear: “Value, whether of a product of a primitive commune or under communism, or as a commodity in a commodity-producing economy, is nothing more than an expression of the labour-time required for its reproduction.”22

Well, if one thing is clear, it is that Marx is not trying to establish that all labour equals value. What Marx is saying is that all values equal labour. The two propositions are hardly the same. Eg, all apples are fruit, but not all fruits are apples. And, having discussed the equalisation of individual values into market values, Marx allows Ricardo to explain how this benefits the landlord class, when it comes to capitalist agriculture. As for labour without any historic specificity, all you have is the expenditure of human energy and the interchange with nature.

If one cannot grasp the concept of value, further confusion must follow. Hence this statement: value and exchange-value are “two logically different and historically divergent concepts”.23 In fact, as argued above, the exact opposite is the case. Value and exchange-value are closely related concepts. Exchangeability is the form that value takes. Without exchangeability there can be no value, no surplus value and no realisation of abstract labour. Hence, far from value and exchange-value being “logically different” and “historically divergent”, they are, in fact, logically and historically bound together.

Obviously labour existed in the original communist society. But there was no calculation of individual contribution. A sexual division of labour reigned. Men hunted game. The most successful earned a certain prestige … but were expected to behave with extreme modesty. Alpha-male bragging would be mercilessly punished with ridicule and mockery. Meanwhile, women cooked, gathered roots, leaves, seeds and insects, and often made the decisive decisions. Everyone took according to need.

Despite the irrefutable evidence from the writings of Marx and Engels, there is outright denial too. An unhappy example is how Engels’ Anti-Dühring (written in collaboration with Marx) is dealt with (disposed of). Engels is, as the title suggests, busy demolishing the system-mongering of a certain Eugen Dühring, who likewise argues that “in the future society” the principle of value will be maintained as a “natural law” … when it comes to distribution. Here is what Engels says in reply:

From the moment when society enters into possession of the means of production and uses them in direct association for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its specifically useful character may be, becomes at the start and directly social labour. The quantity of social labour contained in a product need not then be established in a roundabout way; daily experience shows in a direct way how much of it is required on the average. Society can simply calculate how many hours of labour are contained in a steam-engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a hundred square yards of cloth of a certain quality.

It could therefore never occur to it still to express the quantities of labour put into the products – quantities which it will then know directly and in their absolute amounts, in a third product – in a measure which, besides, is only relative, fluctuating, inadequate, though formerly unavoidable for lack of a better one, rather than express them in their natural, adequate and absolute measure: time ….

Hence, on the assumptions we made above, society will not assign values to products. It will not express the simple fact that the hundred square yards of cloth have required for their production, say, a thousand hours of labour in the oblique and meaningless way, stating that they have the value of a thousand hours of labour. It is true that even then it will still be necessary for society to know how much labour each article of consumption requires for its production. It will have to arrange its plan of production in accordance with its means of production, which include, in particular, its labour-powers. The useful effects of the various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the quantities of labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan. People will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted ‘value’.24

So the communist mode of production would “not assign values to products”. Society will dispense with value. Instead, it will apportion labour and use labour-time as the standard unit of account. Definitive, emphatic, unequivocal, one would have thought. But no, we are told that in the Engels passage quoted above the “reference to value is to exchange-value. He uses ‘value’ as shorthand for exchange-value.”25 It cannot mean anything else can it? If, against all the evidence, you dogmatically assert that value is natural, is just another word for labour, what other conclusion could you possibly draw? In the process, of course, rational communication breaks down, theoretical cohesion is lost and Marx and Engels are made to look dreadfully inconsistent, if not complete fools.

The same treatment is meted out to 20th century Marxists such as Yevgeni Preobrazhensky (1886-1937), a ‘left’ communist in 1918 and close ally of Leon Trotsky’s in the mid-1920s. When he says that the “law of value begins to operate wherever the production relations of commodity and commodity-capitalist economy appear”,26 we are innocently informed that what he really meant is that “from the 15th century commodities do not exchange on the basis of their values, as determined by the law of value”.27 No, what he really meant is what he really said. The “law of value begins to operate wherever the production relations of commodity and commodity capitalist economy appear”.

Besides Preobrazhensky, what about the other sources provided to show the very broad consensus that exists between Marxists of every phylum, class and order? To remind the reader:

Firstly, Wikipedia: “When speaking in terms of a labour theory of value, ‘value’, without any qualifying adjective, should theoretically refer to the amount of labour necessary to produce a marketable commodity, including the labour necessary to develop any real capital used in the production.”28

Secondly, a Progress Publishers dictionary definition: “Value: social labour materialised in commodities.”29

Thirdly, Isaak Illich Rubin, a former Menshevik: “In a primitive communistic community, or in a feudal village, the product of labour has ‘value’ in the sense of utility, use-value, but it does not have ‘value’.

The product acquires value only in conditions where it is a product specifically for sale and acquires, on the market, an objective and exact evaluation which equalises it (through money) with all other commodities and gives it the property of being exchangeable for other commodities. In other words, a determined form of economy (commodity economy), a determined form of organisation of labour, through separate, privately owned enterprises, are assumed. Labour does not, in itself, give value to the product, but only that labour which is organised in a determined social form (in the form of a commodity economy).”30

We are bluntly told that if that is the consensus, then the consensus is “wrong”. Iconoclasm is welcome, praiseworthy, if and when it breaks an antiquated, unsustainable mode of thought. But an iconoclasm which denies elementary facts, which relies on tortured reasoning, which blithely dismisses serious sources of authority – such iconoclasm is worthless.

Soviet Union

As the reader will know, in his The new economics (1926) Preobrazhensky posited the idea that in the Soviet Union there were two diametrically opposed laws operating: the law of value and the law of the plan. Armed with that insight, he pithily declares: “We counterpose to commodity production socialist planned production; to the market the accounting of socialist society; to value and price the labour costs of production; to the commodity the product.”31

Along with other Marxists, Preobrazhensky considers that the October revolution allowed a partial negation of the law of value. But he knows the enormity of the odds pitted against the socialist regime. It is not just the military power of Britain, France, the USA and Germany that ought to be feared. The law of value was an enemy within and an enemy without: “In the law of value,” he writes, “are concentrated the entire sum of the tendencies of the commodity and commodity-capitalist elements in our economy, and also the entire sum of the influences of the capitalist world market on our economy.”32 In short, the weak post-capitalist economic forms in the USSR confronted 22 million peasant households … and the outside pressure excreted by the capitalist world market. Needless to say, the Soviet Union was not self-sufficient. It had to import goods and to pay for them it had to export goods. Their prices being set according to the calculations, requirements and mechanisms of capitalism.

Preobrazhensky envisages superseding the law of value through planning the rapid development of heavy industry. That necessitates an “exploitative” relationship of “non-equivalent exchange” between town and country. Agriculture would provide the surplus to enable “primitive socialist accumulation”. The childhood stage of the law of planning is, therefore, the law of primitive socialist accumulation. Not that Preobrazhensky believes in socialism in one country. By itself the Soviet Union can only go so far. In the last analysis its fate relies on revolution in the west.

Inevitably, given the factional alignments in the Communist Party, there were strong objections to Preobrazhensky’s perspectives. In the name of preserving the worker-peasant bloc, Nikolai Bukharin attacks him for wanting to turn the countryside into a “socialist colony”. Not that Bukharin denies the necessity of transforming the law of value into the “law of proportionality of labour expenditure” (aka the “law of socialist planning”). Others, however, launched themselves against the idea that there were two conflicting economic laws in operation.

According to Preobrazhensky, in the process they revealed “their own naturalistic, non-historical conception of the law of value”. They confused the way the economy is regulated under commodity production with the “regulatory role of labour expenditure in social economy in general: the role, that is, which this expenditure has played and will play in any system of social production”.33 Later on, in his The new economics, Preobrazhensky bemoans what he sees as the miseducation of Soviet youth, when it comes to the ABCs of Marxism:

Ninety percent of all the mistakes, misunderstandings and brain-torturings which occur when our young people study Marx result from a naturalistic conception of the law of value.34


Value is a socio-economic category, which is “the most comprehensive expression of the enslavement of the producers by their own product”.35 We can see this even in emergent forms. Take the owners of slaves in the ancient world. As I have argued before, they knew perfectly well how much time and how many hands were needed to perform various tasks.36 To begin with, in the early period, what was produced through slave labour was entirely directed towards the immediate consumption of the household. There was no value, no generalised system of exchange. The slave-owning patriarch is interested himself in use-values. However, if the product was characteristically made for others – worked up for sale on the market, for exchange – then the product assumes the well-known dual characteristics of a commodity: use-value and exchange-value. The distinction between use-value and exchange-value allows us to locate the source of the different social relationship that correspondingly arise.

The production of use-values alone could see slaves treated in a relatively benign fashion. Homer provides a touching description of his hero, Odysseus, working alongside his slaves in the fields of his island kingdom of Ithaca. Social relations are direct. Slave-owner and slave have a real bond of affection – doubtlessly sincere for the master; a necessary pose, as far as the slave is concerned.

Either way, compare Odysseus and patriarchal Bronze Age civilisation with the harrowing, sickening accounts of classical Athens. The demos of Athens treated the slaves it set to work in the silver mines of Laurion as mere things, not fellow human beings. Slaves were mercilessly driven to exhaustion and often beyond. Death rates were horrendous. All that mattered, as far as the Athenian state was concerned, was the price of silver, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the price charged by pirate-merchants for the human cargo seized from around the eastern Mediterranean coastline.

Both sets of slaves were exploited; both produced a surplus. In the first case, though, surplus product; in the second, surplus value. As shown, though, radically different social relationships result on the basis of such an elementary distinction. Hence, joked Engels, wanting to abolish money, production for exchange and class exploitation, while retaining value, amounts to abolishing Catholicism by electing a new pope.


1. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/value.

2. “The concept of a phenomenon exists, in general, only where this phenomenon is understood not abstractly (that is, not as a recurring phenomenon), but concretely: that is, in regard to its position and role in a definite system of interacting phenomena, in a system forming a certain coherent whole. The concept exists where the particular and the individual are realised as more than merely individual and the particular (though recurrent) – they are realised through their mutual links, through the universal construed as an expression of the principle of these links” (EV Ilyenkov The dialectics of the abstract and concrete in Marx’s ‘Capital’ Moscow 1982, p96).

3. D Wood Medieval economic thought Cambridge 2002, p112.

4. K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p53.

5. Ibid p202.

6. Ibid p81n.

7. Ibid p154.

8. Ibid p233.

9. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 43, Moscow 1998, p68.

10. K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p71.

11. J Robinson Essays on Marxian economics London 1982, p23.

12. K Marx Capital Vol 3, Moscow 1971, pp187-88. I have presented Robinson’s quotes from Marx as they appear in the Moscow edition of Capital Vol 3. I am not sure what edition she was using, but the rendition of Marx is pretty poor.

13. K Marx Capital Vol 3, Moscow 1971, p661.

14. K Marx Capital Vol 2, Moscow 1967, p362.

15. K Marx Capital Vol 3, Moscow 1971 p851. The cooperative socialist, Arthur Bough, also fields this quote in his attempt, like Joan Robinson, to ‘prove’ that what Marx meant by ‘value’ was nothing more than labour. See A Bough, ‘Subjective and objective value’ Weekly Worker January 17 2019. His article was a reply to my ‘Value is a human creation’ (Weekly Worker November 8 2018).

16. J Robinson Essays on Marxian economics London 1982, p2.

17. Ibid pp15-16.

18. Ibid p23.

19. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 24, London 1989, p85.

20. K Marx Capital Vol 1, London 1970, p80-81.

21. K Marx Capital Vol 3, Moscow 1971, p815.

22. A Bough, ‘Subjective and objective value’ Weekly Worker January 17 2019. It should be pointed out that comrade Bough does not provide many full quotes. In his defence, the editor insisted, understandably given the quality of his argument, on giving him only a single page for his reply to my article, ‘Value is a human creation’ (Weekly Worker November 8 2018).

23. A Bough, ‘Subjective and objective value’ Weekly Worker January 17 2019.

24. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p294-95.

25. A Bough, ‘Subjective and objective value’ Weekly Worker January 17 2019.

26. E Preobrazhensky The new economics Oxford 1967, p57.

27. A Bough, ‘Subjective and objective value’ Weekly Worker January 17 2019.

28. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_theory_of_value#Definitions_of_value_and_labor.

29. MI Volkov (ed) A dictionary of political economy Moscow 1985, p382.

30. II Rubin Essays on Marx’s theory of value Montreal 1990, p68.

31. EA Preobrazhensky The new economics Oxford 1967, p183.

32. Ibid p168.

33. Ibid p24.

34. Ibid p170.

35. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p297.

36. For a modern-day popular account, see J Toner How to manage your slaves by Marcus Sidonius Falx London 2014.

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