Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 3 November 2011

The Law of Value – or, “a specifically bourgeois economic science and ethic”

“A specifically bourgeois economic ethic” such as the one that Max Weber incorrectly identified with the Protestant work ethic in fact requires a number of assumptions that are absolutely essential and vital to understanding how capitalism works in reality and how it “understands itself” intellectually and through its bourgeois “economic science”.

The first assumption is that “labor” is a human activity that can be described as an “individual property or power”, labour-power (Arbeitskraft), that can be measured “independently of” and “separately from” the labour-power of other “individuals”.

The second key assumption, which is a corollary of the first, is that this homogeneous “labour-power” can be measured in terms of “objects” to which atomized individuals can lay claim as “possessions” or “endowments” or “property” to the exclusion of all other “individuals”.

The third key assumption, again a corollary of the preceding ones, is that the “possessions” to which “individuals” can lay legal claim to the exclusion of others can be “means of production” necessary to the physical, mental and cultural reproduction of other “individuals”.

The fourth assumption is that the “labour-power” together with the “possessions” or “endowments” of each individual can be used “to acquire” the labour-power of other individuals who are excluded from access to the means of production necessary for their reproduction.

Therefore human living activity, living labour, is not seen as the interaction of human beings with their environment and with the means of their reproduction as species-conscious beings, as phylogenetic expressions of being human, but rather as the activity of isolated in-dividuals or separate a-tomic human beings with no relation to one another except that of “utility” and “self-interest” or “self-advantage”.

Because of the possibility that human living labour can be “separated” or “excluded” from the means of its reproduction and of production, living labour comes to be regarded not as the source and ex-pression of specifically human qualities but rather as “labour power” or “effort” or “toil” – in other words as “want” in search of “provision”, as “pain” or a “price” to be “paid” a “wage” for its “sustenance or maintenance or provision” because living labour is now “separate” from the means of its reproduction and is therefore wholly “destitute”, in a condition of “absolute misery”, of “poverty”, and forced therefore “to exchange” itself for the means of its own sustenance and reproduction – but only to the extent that in its exertion or work it does not thereby acquire (obtain legal claim to) the means of its own reproduction.

We must always bear in mind that by these definitions, it becomes absolutely and strikingly obvious that it is simply NOT POSSIBLE for human beings “to exchange” their living labour in return for the pro-duct of that living labour, which we will call “dead or objectified labour”. Such an “exchange” is quite simply impossible and absurd on any “scientific” basis because the two entities are entirely and absolutely incommensurable – they quite simply cannot be “measured” or “quantified” or “compared”! And that for two reasons that are apparent from our premises: first of all, because living labour is not and cannot be “quantified”; and secondly because it cannot be “divided” into “individual labours” but must constitute a “task” within “social labour” for the reason that human beings are expressions of “being human”.

It follows from all this that no economic equilibrium is possible (!) whether dictated by “the market” or by “socialist planning” because there is no “thing” – nothing! – to be “equi-librated” (literally, “equally weighted”) or even “exchanged” except through sheer capitalist violence, through the imposition of the will of the capitalist over the living labour of the worker and now over “society” itself (a “society” that has become an extended “office” or “factory” – a “capitalist enterprise”). In short, there is no Law of Value! All the economic “measures” and “indices” and “prices” and “econometrics” and “modeling” that bourgeois lick-spittle acolytic worms – maggots! – bombard us with each and every moment are “meaningless” without the realization that capitalist violence and expropriation – the “separation” of living labour from its means of production – are what make these “measures” even remotely possible!

The entire notion of a “general economic equilibrium” is therefore a complete fantasy, an utter bourgeois fiction that is the product of the capitalist will to power, the will to impose “labour power”, the destitution of living labour, its “separation” from the means of production and “parceling” into “individual labours” rewarded with a “wage”, as sheer complete and utter political violence against the vast majority of human beings in the society of capital – a “society”, that is, that is ruled and dominated and regulated for the sole purpose of reproducing the “wage relation” and therefore capitalism itself!!

Our next interventions will deepen the analysis we have offered so far through the central bourgeois theoretical figures of Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter and JM Keynes – the true inheritors of the Neoclassical Reaction and its Keynesian “synthesis” - who can be seen therefore as the three prongs of the bourgeois “scientific counter-revolution” that has dominated our lives since the Rooseveltian New Deal.

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