The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Some Further Questions of Marxist Economic Theory March 6, 2004 by RedStar2000

I want to refer you to this site:

Marxist Economics

It is the clearest and most accessable summary of Marxist economics that I've run across...especially with regard to developments since Marx's death.

What follows are some further posts that discuss Marxist economic theory.

You may also wish to look at this collection:

Does Capitalism Self-Destruct?



Under modern capitalism, significant sections of the working class are involved in the "realization" of surplus value, rather than its creation. (i.e. transportation, warehousing, distribution etc.) But the fact that a waitress doesn't "create surplus value" in the most narrow scientific sense, hardly makes her a parasite.

This statement raises an interesting question: are "services" commodities?

Granted, when Marx discusses commodities in Capital, he always appears to speak of physical objects -- corn, iron, etc.

However, why should services not be considered commodities?

If "Mr. Moneybags" hires a woman to clean his mansion, there is a purchase of labor-power and a service (house-cleaning), but nothing is produced from that exchange for the market.

But if Mr. Moneybags starts a "house-cleaning agency", then he hires house-cleaners on the market and uses their labor to produce a "commodity" (house-cleaning) that is sold on the market for a profit. The wage he pays his house-cleaners is the one necessary for the reproduction of the next generation of house-cleaners; he extends the working day or the intensity of labor or both beyond this point and appropriates the surplus-value as profit.

The employees of a restaurant -- cook, waitress, busboy, etc. -- collectively produce a commodity that is sold in the market place: a cooked and served meal and cleanup afterwards. Its exchange value is determined by the labor-power that went into its production (and into the raw materials that were used in its production).

Consequently, it seems to me that all those involved are producing surplus-value/profit...though it would be quite difficult to quantify the contribution of each person to the total.

It seems to me that anything produced for sale in the market "at a profit" must involve the creation of surplus value. Only the "self-employed" individual escapes this; the surplus is used to meet the individual's personal living expenses, and never returns to the market to purchase labor-power from someone else.

I will readily grant that this is "my take" on Marxist economics...I don't think I've ever seen it explicitly spelled out this way before. But it seems to me to be consistent with Marx's outlook.

Almost all "service workers" are, therefore, workers.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on February 23, 2004

As it happens, I've been "pondering" the problems of the labor theory of value for a while myself.

Here are two ideas that have occurred to me...though I lack the rigorous theoretical training to really develop them properly.

1. Suppose it is not simply human labor-power that "creates value", but any form of directed energy. Up to the time of Marx and for some decades afterwards, manual labor was the principal form of energy expended to create value. Even the machines of that era still required extensive manual labor to "make them work usefully". Also, they required extensive maintenance and had relatively short "useful lives" before they wore out.

But consider a lump of iron ore. We could say its exchange value is equal to the amount of socially necessary manual labor required to dig it out of the ground.

But no amount of manual labor can transform that lump of ore into a measure of high quality steel...a source of intense temperatures is required to do that. Energy other than human labor power is necessary to create new value from that lump of ore -- though human labor-power is also required.

Thus, exchange value would equal: socially necessary human labor power plus socially necessary non-animate energy. (Or, perhaps even animate: did not the farmer's horse, mule, or ox "labor" and "add value" to the farmer's crops?)

2. Along these lines, what of the "modern machine" that can "labor" unattended by humans for extended periods of time?

My understanding is that it is becoming commonplace to have machines that make simple parts for other machines which require someone to fill a bin with raw stock every so often and someone else to come by and roll away a basket full of finished parts...and the machine handles all the rest.

Could such machines be said to have added value "over and above" the value required to make them?

Marx thought a machine "added value" in increments to the commodity it was used to make...but that it could never add "more value" in its working lifetime than the value that was incorporated in it as a consequence of its initial manufacture.

Is that still true?

As you can see, I am in "way over my head" here and freely admit it.

But I suspect the problems of "the labor theory of value" are going to come up over and over again. Until that "bright young Marxist economist" comes along, we must "laboriously" struggle with the difficulties as best we can.
First posted at Che-Lives on February 26, 2004
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