What is value?

April 2024 Forums General discussion What is value?

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  • #106068
    ALB
    Keymaster
    LBird wrote:
    Comrades just have to understand that not everything ‘powerful’ in nature is ‘material’ (in a ‘touchable’ sense). Perhaps like magnetism or gravity: they have power, but can’t be touched.As an explanation of ‘value’, though, I think that this will be rejected by the ‘materialists’, who like their ‘things’ to be concrete.

    Anyone who knows anything about the SPGB will know that we have always insisted that "value" is a social relationship, i.e between people, but which expresses itself as a relationship between things (commodities). The same for "capital" which is a sum of values. And in fact for "money". We don't want to simply abolish the thing of money but the social relationships that give rise to it.Members have been hauled over the coals for describing "value" as a relation between things. There was a famous incident in the 1970s when an article in the Socialist Standard which said this had to be repudiated. And woe betide any speaker who talked about the "ownership" of capital.  Because of course if "value" and "capital" were things it could be argued, as by certain advocates of state capitalism masquerading as socialists, that they could survive into socialism. In fact this is "marxist-leninist" orthodoxy.I don't think even 18th crude materialists would have any problem accounting for gravity and magnetism, though more modern ones might baulk at reviving Aristotle's idea that there are hidden forces at work. But let's not digress.

    #106070
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    …more modern [materialists] might baulk at reviving Aristotle's idea that there are hidden forces at work. But let's not digress.

    The issue that we should not digress from is better explanations for workers by Communists, so that understanding of value becomes ever-more widespread amongst workers.As to 'reviving Aristotle and hidden forces', Marx was influenced by Aristotle, and Marx's famous quote about science lets us know his view on 'the hidden'.

    Marx, Capital III, wrote:
    But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch48.htm

    ALB wrote:
    Anyone who knows anything about the SPGB will know that we have always insisted that "value" is a social relationship, i.e between people, but which expresses itself as a relationship between things (commodities).

    Yes, fair enough, but it's not an explanation.Most workers who take an interest enough to ask for help in understanding (and I include myself in that category, in the past), want to know what the statement " "value" is a social relationship, i.e between people, but which expresses itself as a relationship between things (commodities) " actually means.To me, even now, it's essentially meaningless, even though I now understand what you and the SPGB are trying to get at.It's taken me a long time to wrestle with the issue of understanding it, and understanding it enough to explain it to others, in a way that they can get a handle on it, far faster than I could.To me, this explanation must take the form of analogies, using forms that any worker finds readily understandable, like cars, lego, walls, castles, acid, grace, etc. And I think that the concepts and methods that Critical Realism uses in explanations (components, structures, levels, emergence) are the best that I've found to make explanations easier to understand.And, as you well know, I regard talk of 'materialism' and Engels' 'matter' as entirely counterproductive of explanation for workers, and also as providing the philosophical basis for Leninism.I'm quite happy to accept that my particular explanations can be improved (as analogies, better ones could be found) or their ontology changed (perhaps CR's concepts could be bettered, although I don't know yet of any), but I won't be 'digressed' from the importance of the need to explain, rather than endlessly repeat 'formulae' that contain some usefulness (as you show above), but that don't explain.It's time for Communists to explain to workers what the hell we (and Marx) are on about, and help workers to come to class consciousness of their physical and social world.

    #106071
    DJP
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    To me, even now, it's essentially meaningless, even though I now understand what you and the SPGB are trying to get at.

    If the concept of value is meaningless, this means that the whole of Capital is meaningless. So why does it need explaining? In fact how can a meaningless concept be explained?

    #106072

    Actually, Marx did use an analogy:

    Quote:
    A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

    But we don't ned analogies: the concept is simple, that we can only evaluate or compare like things (we can't compare apples with oranges) if we're going to exchange we need sopme sort of common feature to compare them, and the only one available is abstract labour time.  That is the basis on which we make exchanges and measure the worth to the community of work done.  One way to think of it is as below

    Quote:
    In a village in Somewhereia, everyone shares a set of skills and their produce is derived from local natural resources. Through custom or inclination each person pursues a particular trade, but is capable of pursuing any other in the village.These people exchange their products on a regular basis. Each would know how long it took their fellow to produce their good, and how long it would take them to make it themselves. They would also know how much of their own product they would produce in the same amount of time and how much they would be able to exchange for that product.If anyone tried to overcharge for a good, people would stop buying and make it themselves (or a competitor could enter the market and undercut them). Each person would thus be able to calculate whether it would be better for them to buy a good or make it themselves.In this scenario prices and values would be equal.
    #106073
    LBird
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    In fact how can a meaningless concept be explained?

    [my bold]Errr… by using a meaningful concept to explain the meaningless concept? Y'know, by analogy?Isn't this entirely normal human behaviour? The idea that we teach each other? Y'know, good old-fashioned social interaction.It's a bit worrying that fellow comrades seem to have difficulty with the idea of humans passing on information, and helping each other to develop.Hmmm…. I'm tempted to think that you, being a 'materialist', think that 'meaning' is within an object, so that the very idea of something being meaningless to one person, but meaningful to another, is anathaema.Perhaps you came out of the womb, DJP, entirely up to speed on Marx's Capital, but for most of my life this book was almost entirely meaningless. Large parts of it still are!What's more, I know that my experience of the meaninglessness of Capital is also the experience of the vast majority of workers who've tried to read it.Of course, there are always the clever shites, who join 'parties', but whenever they're asked to explain to baffled workers, they can not do so. They can mouth the platitudes (see ALB's post, which I took a quote from), but they can't explain.Apparently, these 'materialists' (let's call a spade a spade) think that 'matter' tells humans 'what it is', so 'meaning' is within the 'matter', and any worker, who continues to look baffled in the face of platitudes, is written off.So, workers, faced with the continuing refusal of 'socialists' to explain the meaning of the world, and thus still finding it meaningless, turn to those people who can explain 'meaningless concepts'. I, of course, refer to various hornswoggling liars, like the bourgeoisie and their 'invisible hand' of the market, or the religious and their 'invisible deity'.But, while comrades like you continue to be astonished at the very idea that we actually explain the meaningless to workers, then we will remain well behind the Market, Catholicism and Islam, in the list of 'ideologies to turn to for explanation' for the baffled yet  curious worker.It's the 21st century, and we're still arguing about why we should explain the world to workers. Ah well, Charlie's been dead for 131 years, and Fred for 119, and we're still not explaining our ideas.Mind you, how long did it take after the deaths of Smith, Jesus and Mohammed for their ideologies to take root?I suppose all this talk, for materialists, is just evidence of the evil 'Idealism' trying to make inroads in the SPGB?

    #106074
    LBird
    Participant
    YMS wrote:
    But we don't ned analogies: the concept is simple, that we can only evaluate or compare like things (we can't compare apples with oranges) if we're going to exchange we need sopme sort of common feature to compare them, and the only one available is abstract labour time. That is the basis on which we make exchanges and measure the worth to the community of work done.

    I'll pass that one on, YMS, next time a curious worker asks me to explain 'value'. I, too, always find the concept 'abstract labour time' is so obvious, that the mere mention of it sees 'the lights coming on', and other curious workers, overhearing that 'simple concept', throng around me for more 'obvious explanatory concepts', like 'A L T'.[uncrosses fingers]

    #106075
    DJP
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    Errr… by using a meaningful concept to explain the meaningless concept? Y'know, by analogy?

    But if it really where meaningless they'd be nothing for the meaningful concept to refer to. Meaningless means there's no meaning in there to be had, like saying "the number 7 sleeps furiously", not that there's meaning there but that it's not understood…

    #106076
    LBird
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    LBird wrote:
    Errr… by using a meaningful concept to explain the meaningless concept? Y'know, by analogy?

    But if it really where meaningless they'd be nothing for the meaningful concept to refer to. Meaningless means there's no meaning in there to be had, like saying "the number 7 sleeps furiously", not that there's meaning there but that it's not understood…

    On a thread entitled 'What is value?', there's no real answer to your strange concerns, DJP.Perhaps you've been influenced by something like analytical philosophy, but, as a Communist, I'm concerned with how we can explain our ideas better to workers, rather than discussing the 'meaning of meaning', or the 'meaning of the 'meaning of meaning' '.

    #106077

    It's as complex as explaining centimetres, litres, feet and stones.  The application of human labour is the only commonality for commodities.  The Robinson analogy makes things very celar, if we as a community only have a set amount of time available for work, it makes sense to measure tasks by the time taken by members of our society to achieve them. 

    #106078
    LBird
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    It's as complex as explaining centimetres, litres, feet and stones.  The application of human labour is the only commonality for commodities.  The Robinson analogy makes things very celar, if we as a community only have a set amount of time available for work, it makes sense to measure tasks by the time taken by members of our society to achieve them. 

    But you still haven't given an example of how you would explain 'value' to a worker, who doesn't understand economics.Or are you saying that, if they refuse to accept that they must use economic categories, they must be rejected?

    #106079

    The above is how I'd explain value to a someone.  Since value is itself a massive simplification and abstraction it shouldn't be necessary to go beyond: "there is only so much work done in a community, and when items are exchanged between people, their economic value is based on the labour time taken to produce them, as that is the only property common to all comodities."  One sentence.

    #106080
    DJP
    Participant

    Wouldn't you have to add "socially necessary average" before "labour time" in the above, and then explain what is meant by that…But I don't really see how it's that difficult. If someone doesn't understand something you just track back to a concept or frame of reference that you both understand then start from there…

    #106081
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
    As I said earlier, "love is the product of a social relationship".But 'love' can't be touched, it's not a 'material thing', but a product that emerges from a loving relationship, and a product that has 'causal powers' over humans. Put simply, it can make humans do things, even though it has no material body.In a similar way, 'value is the product of an exploitative social relationship'.Value has no material body, but is emergent from a relationship, and has causal power over humans.

    The product emerges from a relationship and has power over people. How does this mechanism work? Where does the 'product' with the 'power' to make us do things exist? I assume that the product –  'love' for example – leaves a couple's brains and becomes non-material and then takes over the couple and makes them do things they have no control over? If 'love' and 'value' had a non material existence then logically they would/could continue to exist – in a non-material plain –  if the material humans were removed?  

    #106082

    DJP, as I said, Value is a simplification, average socially necessary is the next complication.

    #106083
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
     The ‘materialists’ who seek to measure or count ‘value’ might as well measure or count ‘grace’. The ‘materialists’ who think ‘value’ is within the physical body of a commodity might as well cut open a rosary bead to reveal ‘grace’, or break open a communion wafer to display ‘the body of Christ’. Of course, beads, wafers and tins of beans are real in a physical sense, but grace, Christ and value are also real in a relational sense, and so are not material, but are social and thus ideal. 

     Materialists were the first to explain how 'exchange value' is a relation between people and not things – See Marx and SPGB literature from more than 100 years ago.  Why would you say otherwise? You attach rediculous ideas to 'materialism' then accuse us all of holding those rediculous beliefs. Why would you do that?  

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