Postmodern Philosophy and the Law of Value

to Cyril and Julio, cc to Davie, Geoff, Alex and Bill.

[I am not broadcasting this to the list as it does not relate directly to the list's core subject of Hegel's Logic]

Firstly Cyril, I think you have misunderstood my comment.
I have consulted what you say in "Wealth, Value and Nature", and barring the characterisation of Marx "showing the incoherence of any such theory" of value, which I don't find borne out by the article, I find myself agreeing with what you say, to the extent that I understand it (I know nothing of Aristotle).

I read the first 4 sections of Capital on a regular basis and it is precisely in those kind of terms that I raised the issue. Of course we begin with how millions of people are living - and that gives us plenty of reasons for "concern"! I do my very, very inadequate best to follow what has been happening in the economy and have put some time into studying the development of the workers' movement. I react in a similar way to you when exposed to postmodern philosophy (and art, architecture, music, etc., etc.) and my current project is not yet that philosophy, but currently working my way through the past 150 years the better to understand it.

My own impression, confirmed by Geoff and Davie, is that there is no Hegel of this period. One has to look at a range of different individuals. Geoff says that the thesis is attractive, but "the mediations need to be substantiated". So, I will have to continue patiently with the background work for the moment. ... but when very learned and intelligent people say patently absurd things but appear to be expressing the "spirit of the times", then this is an ideological phenomena that is worth trying to understand.

Now Julio: I don't think here that the distinction between "socially necessary labour time" and "actually expended labour time", vital though it is, is the issue here, but ... for example, people talk of "the law of value exerting itself" when a mass of fictitious capital built up through speculation and credit, collapses, restoring a "real" proportion between accumulated and living labour. Since the late 60s, the deregulation of the exchange rate of the dollar with gold and the massive expansion in the volume of capital circulated and generated in credit and speculation has grown out of all proportion to the accumulation of value in industry, etc. Many of us looked forward (and many still do) to a collapse of credit in the form of the wiping out of the national debts of Latin American countries etc., .. however, speculation and credit is still expanding on an ever increasing scale!

So, what do we mean by "regulating ... in an increasingly indirect manner". It's a little bit like "in the last instance" if you know what I mean. When and how exactly does the dream touch reality? Well, I have a view about that but that would lead us into massive speculation. The fact is that we live in a society which acts, and continues to act as if tomorrow never comes. The "dream" is a "real illusion". I believe that living like this has led to a view of the world which is embodied in particularly sharp and absurd form in the writing of these people who have the cheek to call themselves philosophers.

I think that answering Cyril's question: "How must we live?", answering the question of millions of people "What is to be done?", understanding post-modern culture and philosophy are all closely interconnected questions.

The "Law of Value" is not a "law of nature", it is a characteristic of social relations in a society where commodity production is generalised. No exchange of commodities, no "law of value". The day we start living by "to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability", on that day there is no longer any "law of value".

So, we are witnessing the "law of value" becoming ever more pervasive. But what is productive labour in this society? It is not labour in any sense that would be understood in Ancient Greece. We spend our time doing things that only have meaning within a society of "generalised commodity production". The ad. man who spins a line which enables Nike to sell twice as many shoes as Adidas will "produce" millions of bucks for Nike. That's what I was referring to by "culturally produced exchange-value". What is the use of the billion dollars spent re-tooling a car factory that already produces perfectly good cars? That's what I was referring to by "culturally produced use-value".

So, the fact that these economic leaders are ignoring the "law of value" in the sense that they don't care two-hoots for what people actually need and how it may be produced in humane conditions - and they get rich by it - this is mirrored by philosophers who actually don't know what you mean when you talk about the "material world" - they don't!

But our role is not to warn the masses about the inevitable crash and the return to good old-fashioned extraction of surplus labour-time, but on the contrary, we advocate the abolition of the law of value, that is, we call for human relations NOT based on exchange of commodities.

In that sense, we can see the sense in post-modern philosophy!