Socialist Economics: 2 – Value
Articles are exchanged because they are different. This means that they possess a different kind of useful labour. It is the quality of the labour which makes them different. The labour of the bricklayer is different to that of the fitter, as is the labour of the pattern-maker to the coal miner’s. Consequently, the products are different. Identical goods or services are not exchanged for each other as there would be no useful purpose in doing this. Coal is not exchanged for coal. In a world of commodity production, this qualitative difference between definite types of useful labour develops into a complex system. A social division of labour. These useful forms of labour are carried on independently by individual producers working on their own account.
Human labour, in addition to producing Use-Values also produces value — It has a double function. The commodity is the depository of Value. Whilst everyone can see, eat or feel the Use-Value of a commodity, i.e. its material side, it seems impossible to grasp its Value. It is the very opposite of its Use -Value. Use -Value is something which can be experienced but Value is an abstract quality. However, we know that all commodities have one thing in common; they are products of human labour, and it is this which gives them their Value, and consequently their social reality. It is only during the social process of exchange that Value will declare its origin, that is, when commodities containing different forms of human labour confront each other on the market. This is nothing other than the social relation of commodity to commodity.
It follows then that value is a social relation not between persons but between their products. It is a relation between objects which contain an identical social substance, human labour. The multifarious sub-divisions of labour are directed entirely to the exchange of commodities, and there is no direct relation of social production to social producer.
The capitalist system does not produce for consumption. Its function is to produce surplus value, out of which the capitalists — industrialists, banks, landlords — take their profits. The sole agency through which Value comes into existence is the international working class (including Russian and Chinese who work within State capitalism). They allow the capitalist not only to take the fruit of this labour, but also to dictate the conditions under which they produce, no matter how soul-destroying and tedious. “Allow” is the operative word, because the capitalist system could not survive against the wishes of workers collectively opposed to it.
The worker’s access to his own product is through the wage packet. He obtains his means of subsistence in the form of commodities — articles produced for sale or exchange with a view to profit. This peculiar way of getting his livelihood, where there is no direct relation between production and consumption, leads to a situation where workers tend to avoid thinking about the overall purpose of production, and lend their thinking and activity to engaging in the wages struggle, which from their point of view is at least simple and uncomplicated. The capitalist is the enemy to be attacked but, as we know only too well, only on the wages front. It is the Socialist who tries to show the real significance of the class struggle by refusing to be dominated by the narrow Trade-Union issue, and demands that the capitalist be stripped of the means of production and that these become social property.
Because capitalism produces wealth in the form of commodities, the relations between the various producers are not direct. That is to say that there is no conscious co-ordination or specific purpose between the various branches of production and distribution. Everything appears to happen spontaneously or accidentally; everything has to be done for an anonymous market. Nobody has any direct control over what will be produced, when, or in what quantity. In earlier forms of society there was social co-ordination and planning of production, even though this was on a simple scale due to the undeveloped nature of the productive forces. The food supply was obtained through hunting, fishing, fruit-gathering, etc. Some members of the community made cloth, others pottery, weapons, etc. This simple division of labour produced simple methods of distribution, and both were integrated with the needs of the community and under its direct control.
Today we have a fantastic situation where the only laws governing production are the laws of exchange. Not having any direct interest in production as such, but only in the production of Value and the exchange of their own commodity — labour-power — the working class are unable to comprehend the social powers of production. The real world for them is the world of exchange. They wish to live in a situation where the hazards of capitalism can be tolerated, and where they can sell their lives in instalments of their labour-power, which will be exchanged ultimately with instalments of fellow-workers’ labour- power. However, capitalism will not let the worker live quietly or stabilize his slavery. It steps up the pressure, and eventually forces him into a situation where he has to learn something new in order to escape from the pressure-cooker.
The capitalist class, including their governments, do not control capitalism, do not control production, nor can they anticipate demand. Each capitalist carries on independently. His knowledge of the market is restricted because he cannot know how much will be produced and sold from time to time. Competition between capitalists creates conflicting interests, and these are a barrier to balanced social production. Most capitalists will back their experience, or engage in market research, in the hope of foreseeing demand. However, there is always some unforeseen factor. For example, few capitalists in Europe could foresee the action by Arab capitalists which was taken strictly in line with economic interests, and in opposition to the interests of other world capitalists. This was inevitable: in a capitalist society you cannot expect the Arabs to behave in a non-capitalist way. Our Alice-in-Wonderland economists are now desperately trying to explain away the advice they gave to their masters on the imminent boom which turned out to be a slump. The whole picture of capitalist production is one of social anarchy. This anarchy is the direct result of social production being appropriated by the capitalist class, resulting in the antagonism between producers and possessors — the class struggle.
We have the absurd situation produced by the relation of Value where the products, in effect, govern the producer. The Socialist proposes that the social means of production, including distribution, should be directly controlled by a society whose overriding concern is to provide all men and women with the best existence society is capable of, without the Value relation, or any other economic relation based on Value. The physical production of wealth is well within the technical capability of a world-wide community with the will to do it. We are forced to stand by when ignorant experts hold the field lecturing on the economics of scarcity and belt-tightening. Despite the scare stories about falling world resources, there is sufficient wealth-potential — used in a responsible way, not squandered or vandalized as is the case today — to maintain a Socialist society for a very long time. As for the figure of 3.5 annual growth rate, Socialist society would disdain such a small increase and take the fetters off the productive forces. Capitalism has nearly succeeded in creating a race without real ambition.
The social relation of Value represents a condition where the exchange of the product represents the exchange of the various types of labour embodied in the product, and consequently provides the only social link between the producers. It is a relationship of things rather than persons. The Value relation can only exist in a society concerned with exchange, where things are more important than people. If the social powers of production are brought under the democratic control of society, a new and progressive era will have been founded; exchange will become obsolete, and the higher social relations based on planned production for need will have been established.