Labor Theory of Value: Bad Science and Bad for Eco-Socialism

January 2021

Forums General discussion Labor Theory of Value: Bad Science and Bad for Eco-Socialism

  • This topic has 14 replies, 5 voices, and was last updated 1 year ago by Anonymous.
Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
  • Author
  • #192762

    Marx’s Labor Theory of Value: Bad Science and Bad for Ecological Socialism

    I started this new thread rather than add it to existing climate change because it is a very long and detailed critique of Marx and Marxism from what is said to be the ecologists viewpoint where the  Labour Theory of Value is held culpable for the weakness of the socialist environment case.

    It is an article far too long for me and to tell the truth a bit too theoretical difficult for me to answer.

    Hopefully others on the forum can tackle the task which to put it in simplistic terms continues the accusation that Marx was a productivist.

    The author begins by saying that we need to measure value. I always thought it was near impossible to calculate labour value and that Marx wished to abolish the whole concept of value. But the author returns to the labour voucher certificate as the Marxist model which we already recognised is a flawed one.

    He also criticises the idea that we should be creating  society of abundance once again as many do, equating it with “limitless” consumption.

    “Because the material world is ultimately entropic (as expressed by the Boltzmann entropy equation (S = k log W)”

    I said it often enough on the forum, soon as algebra equations are mentioned my mind blurs.

    And the lazy greedy aggressive human nature rebuttal of socialism is again re-phrased

    “Consumption must be understood as compensation for one’s material contribution, not a reward for virtue of any kind (which must be its own reward if it is to remain virtuous); otherwise, talented workers, and this includes those who are talented at self-promotion, fraud, deception, theft, violence, and gluttony, will take the vast bulk of social goods for themselves and condemn other to second class status as the deserved outcome of their inferiority”

    Shades of Stalin’s “…according to work”

    Just a few points to whet your appetites, for the essay is long and requires more than one reading but I think it is important that we have an answer. Because I am sure it will crop on the web elsewhere.

    It is unfortunate that it appears on a website that has no comments section and that the author doesn’t give any contact details.

    However, I believe this might be his bio

    I should also add that the Dissident Voice website are receptive to submissions (I have had a few articles published on it) so  if someone seeks to give a full answer to this article i’m sure it would appear,


    Dodgy thinker wrote: “By “scientific” I mean a theory that identifies an empirically detectable and measurable…

    alan, it’s the definition of ‘scientific’ that you need to question.

    You’ll lose any argument where a bourgeois definition of a socio-historical activity is simply accepted.

    By ’empirical’, they actually mean ‘accessible to a biological individual‘ (by ‘senses’, like ‘touch’, which are not regarded as socio-historical products, as Marx argued) and by ‘measurable’ they mean ‘only quantitative and not qualitative values are acceptable‘ (whereas Marx regarded ‘value’ as ‘qualitative’).

    Marx’s labour theory of value can’t survive such ‘scientific’ analyses. If we employ their definitions, we’re lost from the start.

    Of course, this definition of ‘science’ is widely accepted by many…


    I’ve taken your advice and read it once before reading it again. It does seem something we should reply to in detail in a future issue if the Socialist Standard.

    I already noted a few points.

    1. He is basically criticising that oxymoron that he sometimes calls “Marxism-Leninism” and its practice in what he calls and presumably regards as having been “socialist” countries. Since Leninism is an ideology of capitalist development in countries with a weak private capitalist class then, yes, it is “productivist” as accumulating more and more capital is what capitalism is all about.

    2. Like many critics of Marxian economics (and some supporters) he completely misunderstands Marx’s conception of “value”, taking it to be something physical that exists in all societies and not just capitalism and so which will have to  continue to exist in socialism too. Or, insofar as he does understand that this is not Marx’s view, he dismisses it as “metaphysical”, as does conventional academic economics. But this is to confuse wealth production with value production. All wealth is produced by the application of human labour to materials that originally came from nature, but wealth only has “value” when it is produced for sale in a market economy. This is why it won’t exist in socialism where wealth will be produced and distributed directly to meet people’s needs.

    3. He accuses Marx of being in favour of “perpetual” growth whereas the most that can be said is that he was in favour of further growth even under capitalism, up to the point where a full socialist society became possible; which he recognised wasn’t yet the case in his day. But it is now. Marx’s 1875 idea of a relatively lengthy “first” stage of communist society set out in his notes on the German Social Democrats’ Gotha Programme has been overtaken by developments and is no longer relevant.

    4. There is a gross distortion when he interprets a passage in the Communist Manifesto which talks of the “subjugation” of “natural forces” to mean that Marx and Engels were in favour of subjugating “nature”. But what are renewable energies but the result of subjugating, harnessing, directing,  whatever, the natural forces that are the Sun’s rays, winds, waterfalls, tides, etc? Doesn’t he want to do this too?


    Most of these so-called teachers and theoreticians who like to raise critic against Karl Marx should become students of Marx because they do not know anything about Marxian economic theory.

    Marxism-Leninism was a hybrid created by Joseph Stalin and probably Lenin would have never accepted it either, and there is not any relationship between Marx and Lenin. Just by using the expression of Socialist countries it shows that he does not know anything, he is just repeating the same distortions propagated by the capitalists from the left and the right

    if we make a proper tabulation of Marx and Lenin and compare them, we can see the great differences, and we can conclude that Leninism is anti-Marxism and it is only a state capitalist current and his vanguard party is a Jacobin conception or the Machiavelli Prince of Russia, up to the point that Lenin himself said that it was only applicable to Russia

    There is a tendency in this society to blame the real problems in somebody else all the time and now they want to pick it up on Marx instead on the logic or the laws of capitalism, real socialism is not going to be the unification of mankind with nature, and Marx promoted that, as we can see on his ethnological notebooks.

    Marx very clearly wrote that the law of value is only applicable to capitalism, therefore, wherever the law of value prevails, the capitalist mode of production prevails too, and in those so-called socialist countries the law of value prevails, therefore, this professor must become a student of Marx


    As they say, if he claiming to be a Marxist and socialist, when we have friends like him, who needs enemies.

    I found it verbose, full of academic language, and it seems he is seeking the reputation as someone who has refuted Marx, despite many of the arguments he presents being old discarded ones jazzed up with a “green” over-tone.

    I’m sure you criticisms could easily be expanded to more than four points.

    Yes, LBird also adds something useful for a rebuttal.

    As I said, Dissident Voice is one of those few websites that welcomes articles and if you do respond, it would carry your rebuttal. It would reach an audience out with our customary circle. A link to the WSPUS would also boost its name-recognition.

    And then the Standard can have a introductory note in a later issue.


    The core point is that, if one uses a non-Marxist definition of ‘science’, Marx’s views will be ‘non-scientific’; if one uses a Marxist definition of ‘science’, Marx’s views will be ‘scientific’.

    The most unsatisfying course to choose, is to unwittingly employ Pena’s mainstream definition of ‘science’, and then be baffled as to how Marx’s Labour Theory of Value doesn’t fit as ‘scientific’, because in its own terms, Pena’s article is correct.

    It’s better to examine Pena’s political and ideological assumptions, and indeed one’s own, before wrestling with the riddle of a ‘scientific’ LTV.

    • This reply was modified 1 year ago by LBird.

    LBird, as I said, Dissident Voice website is accessible to any with something relevant to say.

    I’m sure you can write a full rebuttal of Pena for it to publish and in doing so adding to the Marxist case in the media.

    In my case I simply am not qualified enough to offer a detailed refutation other than some simple bullet points so am reluctant to engage in a academic polemic which is why I am urging those more erudite and articulated to engage in it.


    alan, the problem is, I’m a Democratic Communist, and I’ve long realised that most supposed ‘Marxists’, like Pena, know nothing whatsoever about Marx’s political, philosophical and ideological views. It’s pointless me writing a full rebuttal, based on my ideology, of an ideology that does not recognise my ideology.

    That has become ever clearer to me, given the years and hundreds of posts I’ve made here, in the forlorn hope that the key building block of ‘democracy’ vaunted by the SPGB would triumph, but it has proved to play no part in most posters’ views about the social production of science. Whereas most ‘Marxists’ don’t even pay lip service to ‘democracy’ (think Lenin, Plekhanov or Kautsky – all ‘materialists’), at least the SPGB makes the right noises. That’s why I initially gave so much time and effort (followed up posters’ own views and reading recommendations, and dug out quotes ranging from Marx and Engels to Einstein and Rovelli), but nothing worked to convince other posters to question why ‘democracy’ played no part in their view of ‘science’.

    Pena has won the battle, alan.

    You personally would give more credence to his view of ‘science’ than to mine. But Pena’s ‘science’ has nothing to do with Marx’s democratic social production of knowledge. If it can’t be voted upon, it’s in the hands of an elite – whether ‘truth’, ‘science’, ‘matter’, even ‘rocks’, or ‘ideas’, like ‘value’.

    Pena is a ‘specialist’, the ilk defended to the hilt by all the other posters here. A worker can’t rebut a specialist.


    Another way of illustrating this problem, is to regard the phrase “Scientific Socialism” as contradictory, because one or the other aspect must predominate.

    It’s a bit like ‘National Socialism’ – and we all know, not only what came to predominate in that, but that the very purpose initially was to ensure that only one of the two aspects predominated, and to fool those with a bent towards the losing aspect.

    The political question is “Is ‘socialism’ to be made ‘scientific’ or is ‘science’ to be made ‘socialist’ ?“.

    The former is Pena’s position, and indeed the position of all materialists.

    Of course, the latter is my political position, and I would argue it was also Marx’s position.

    I hope this helps to clarify the problem with any political ‘rebuttal’ of Pena’s article.


    While researching the subject I  came across this guy  –   a contemporary of Marx and Engels  with whom he corresponded –  who made arguments not dissimilar to those made by Pena


    • This reply was modified 1 year ago by robbo203.

    robbo’s link wrote: “Podolinsky… set out to reconcile socialist thought with the second law of thermodynamics by synthesising the approaches of Karl MarxCharles Darwin… In his essay “Socialism and the Unity of Physical Forces”, Podolinsky theorized a labor theory of value based on embodied energy.

    Yeah, this is a bog-standard attempt by a ‘materialist’ to ‘reconcile’ or ‘synthesise’ what they regard as the ‘mind and matter’ problem. Of course, Marx had already achieved this. Marx had no time for the bourgeois separation of ‘being’ from ‘consciousness’ (object from subject, matter from mind, nature from humanity, natural from social, science from art, etc.). There are numerous ways of expressing this conscious separation taken for class reasons, at a particular socio-historical juncture.

    The bourgeois academics have been striving ever since to ‘reconcile’ the irreconcilable, under the pressure of their own developments, especially since Einstein’s works. They’ve had over a hundred years since then, and bourgeois physics hasn’t found (and I’d argue, can’t ever find) a solution, although our planet is dying for both aspects, the social and the natural.

    The only political solution is democratic socialism, which embodies both ‘Green’ and ‘Red’ aspects of our social production. Marx provided the basis for this, with his unifying of philosophy into ‘idealism-materialism’.

    Unfortunately, the ‘materialists’ will continue to supposedly try ‘to reconcile… by synthesising’, by actually reducing ideas to the physical. As for Podolinsky, ‘value’ must be ’embodied’. But ‘value’ is a social product, not a form of ‘matter’.

    Marx didn’t reduce ‘mind’ to ‘matter’. He unified the two, into ‘social production’, and this was done by 1845.


    Yes, there is a confusion in Pena’s article between “labour” as the creator of the “value” that underlies the exchange value/price that products have in a market economy and work as what transforms materials that originally came from nature into something to be used by humans. The latter exists whatever the type of society humans live in and is in fact a condition of human existence.

    Humans have to transform parts of nature — the definition of “production”— in order to live. No doubt the amount of human energy needed to  be expended to produce some particular thing could be measured and would be a legitimate area for scientific study, but it would have nothing to do with the Marxian labour theory of value.

    Despite Pena’s and similar criticisms “value” is not something material in the sense of something tangible even though it is the characteristic of something that is. Pena makes great play of the word used by Marx’s English translator   — “congealed” — to describe this, but it is not meant to be taken literally. It could equally be expressed by the word “acquired” as it is something that products of labour have when, and only when, they are produced for sale on a market. It is why in a socialist society, where products will not be produced for sale, they will not have such a “value” despite involving an expenditure of human labour.

    Anyway, Robbo has written a detailed refutation of Pena’s criticism of the Marxian Labour Theory of Value that should be appearing in the March Socialist Standard.


    Unfortunately, the ‘materialists’ will continue to supposedly try ‘to reconcile… by synthesising’, by actually reducing ideas to the physical. As for Podolinsky, ‘value’ must be ’embodied’. But ‘value’ is a social product, not a form of ‘matter’.


    David Pena, if you read the article,  actually takes the view that “value” is pre-social – that is, it predate human society and indeed organic life itself.   ‘Exchange value’ is predicated on the exchange of energy.   He doesn’t seem to understand the point that exchange value presupposes commodity exchange and therefore a particular kind of society in which commodity relations have developed to a vey significant degree.


    Strange that he wants to consider himself some sort of Marxist while rejecting this basic Marxian insight


    robbo203 wrote “Strange that he wants to consider himself some sort of Marxist while rejecting this basic Marxian insight“.

    Oh, I don’t know, robbo…

    I think you’d be very surprised at just who consider themselves some sort of Marxist, while rejecting basic Marxian insights!

    You could do worse than starting with a consideration of some of Engels’ writings!


    If Marx was not a Marxist and he never called himself a Marxist, why do we have to be a Marxist? Socialism-Communism would have existed with and without Karl Marx

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.