In Marxian economics, there are four different applications of the term “value”—use-value, surplus-value, exchange-value and value.
Surplus and exchange derive from value, which is the whole basis of wealth produced under capitalist relations of production. Use-value stands out as the exception, it simply means the usefulness of any given product. This will be the sole surviving application of those terms in future society— Socialism.
Value is created in the process of production under conditions of capitalist exploitation. The idea of measuring the worth of a product only arises when it is to be alienated from its producers—when it is to be exchanged.
Value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour, embodied during the production process; including administration and transport. The time taken to produce any given commodity under conditions of the prevailing intensity, determines in what proportions it will be exchanged for any other commodity. This exchange of values is obscured by the common equivalent of all commodities—money, But money only expresses or measures the amount of value, which is why it is a means of exchange and the standard of prices.
Value, therefore, has the deceptive appearance of being a relationship between things, whereas what lies behind it is a relationship between people. It is only because capitalism is a class divided society where the means of production are concentrated in the hands of a privileged minority, that the present set of economic and social relationships exists. Owner to non-owner, employer to employee, buyer to seller, rich and poor, landlord and tenant, all these relationships depend upon the divorce of the producers from their social products.
The exchange of value and the circulation of money as a means of exchange, demonstrates the existence of private property. Therefore, when organisations like the Labour Party and the so-called Communist Party talk about “Common-ownership of the means of exchange”, they are voicing a contradiction in terms.
Surplus value is the total surplus product over and above the total amount of wealth represented by wages. To obtain and enlarge this surplus value is the whole motive force behind production in capitalist society. The intervention of the State in industry by way of controls and nationalisation has obscured this fact in the minds of many workers, particularly those who support state capitalism in countries like Russia and China.
The wages system is the universal badge of class servitude and exploitation. When the class system of capitalism is scrapped, the wages systems will go with it; so will the alienation of the producers from their social products. Whereas to-day the product seems to dominate the producer, in Socialism this will be reversed. Where value and surplus value exist there is a barrier between the working- class and the wealth they produce. Poverty and insecurity are inherent in this situation. Wages only represent enough wealth, on average, to keep workers in working order and to provide replacements when they wear out.
When the markets and warehouses of the world are choked with unsalable masses of all kinds of goods, this is the time of greatest privation for members of the working class. Always our lives centre around finding someone to exploit us, in order that we may survive from pay day to pay day, while those who own the means of wealth production, and the rest of the things we produce, are able to live in luxury.
All wars in the modem world are predatory—fought by workers who own no means of production, to enable the victorious sections of the capitalist class to re-divide the plunder. Workers clearly have no stake in such a set-up.
Capitalism necessarily degrades both workers and capitalists in a thousand different ways. But this degradation presses harder upon the workers whose whole lives are spent as appendages to someone else’s pursuit of profits, mere extensions to the productive resources of another class. They are harried and driven, deceived and deluded by more refined methods and to a greater degree of intensity than any exploited class in history. They are divided and subdivided and taught to take up the spurious ideology of their masters as their own. All this because wealth is produced as exchange values. An irresistible sequence of events follows from class ownership. A pattern of social conduct is brought about which must remain while this basis of society continues. The life of the working class is spent in struggles to maintain a meagre level of existence at the mercy of blind economic forces they as yet can only understand vaguely, if at all. Leisure becomes a respite between work shifts and work becomes a drudge to be regarded as a necessary evil, instead of an essential means of self-expression through social creativity. As much as workers hate employment and have little interest in what they do, they live in fear of unemployment and develop neuroses of resentment against “outsiders” like coloured people who are seen as a threat to “their” jobs. They fill half the hospital beds with cases of nervous and mental disorders which arise from the pressures to which capitalism subjects them. Yet, epithets such as “agitator” and “trouble-maker” are commonly applied to anyone who seeks change.
Things which workers produce but cannot afford, such as Rolls Royce cars, yachts and big houses are revered as luxuries—the status symbols of a privileged few whose social prestige is supported by possession. These things contain so much workers’ congealed labour, that they are beyond the means of those who produce them. There can be no greater social absurdity than this.
With the advent of Socialism, goods and services of all kinds will be produced solely for use. Social products will no longer be exchanged, but will be freely available, because the means of production will belong to society as a whole. There will be no means of exchange or any other barrier between people and the things they need.
The pattern of conduct that follows from common ownership will be a harmonious one; just as that arising from class ownership is antagonistic. Human dignity will again be able to assert itself, free from exploitation. The conditions which cause war and poverty will disappear.
People will willingly co-operate because they will be conscious of their involvement in society and will be in control of their environment. The fact is that in order for Socialism to be established, a majority of the world’s workers must understand and desire it. From the basis of this understanding, new, truly human relationships will arise in place of the crude cash nexus.