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In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the
material depositories of exchange value.

be founded on the theory of development set forth by Darwin and his
followers has not been admitted by any biologists of eminence, and has
been repudiated even by such resolutely free-thinking evolutionists as
Oscar Schmidt and Ernst Hackel. What is presented as science and
history in Fr. Engel's" Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums, und
des Staats," and Bebel's "Frau," is notoriously superficial and uncritical.
Some portion of the evidence for this statement will be found well
exhibited in " Die Naturwissenschaft und die Socialdemocratische Theorie,"
1894, of H. E. Ziegler, Prof, of Zoology in Freiburg i. B.


"Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation,
as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for
those of another sort, a relation constantly changing with time and place.
Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely
relative, and consequently an intrinsic value — i.e., an exchange value that
is inseparably connected with, inherent in, commodities seems a contra-
diction in terms. Let us consider the matter a little more closely.

"A given commodity — c.t/., a quarter of wheat — is exchanged for x
blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c.; in short, for other commodities in the
most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat
has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk or z gold, &c.,
each represent the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking,
y silk, 2 gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other,
or equal to each other. Therefore, first, the valid exchange values of a
given commodity express something equal ; secondly, exchange value,
generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form of some-
thing contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.

" Let us take two commodities — e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in
which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can
always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn
is equated to some quantity of iron — e.g., i quarter corn = x cwt. iron.
What does this equation tell us ? It tells us that in two different things
— in I quarter of corn and in x cwt. of iron — there exists in equal quan-
tities something common to both. The two things must therefore be
equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of
them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this

"A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to
calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them
into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by some-
thing totally different from its visible figure — namely, by half the product
of the base into the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of
commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something
common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less

" This common ' something ' cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical,
or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our
attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities,
make them use-values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an
act characterised by a total abstraction from use-values. Then one use-
value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient
quantity. Or, as old Barbon says, 'one sort of wares are as good as
another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or distinction in

things of equal value An hundred pounds' worth of lead or iron, is

of as great value as one hundred pounds' worth of silver or gold.' As use-
values commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-


values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not
contain an atom of use-value.

"If, then, we leave out of consideration the use-value of commodities
they have only one common property left, that of being products of
labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change
in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use-value, we make
abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that
make the product a use-value ; we see in it no longer a table, a house,
yarn, or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put
out of sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the
labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of
productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products them-
selves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds
of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour ; there
is nothing left but what is common to them all ; all are reduced to one
and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.

" Let us now consider the residue of each of these products ; it consists
of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homo-
geneous human labour, of labour-power expended without regard to the
mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human
labour-power is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this
social substance, common to them all, they are — values.

" We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange
value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use-value.
But if we abstract from their use-value there remains their value as
defined above. Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself
in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is
their value." *

Such is the argument. Obviously it begins with the assump-
tion of a developed system of exchange, an organised trade with
common weights and measures, cwts., quarters, &c., and a host of
exact and invariable equations of value recognised as existing
between exchangeable objects. The assumption is unfair, and we
can never hope to understand the nature of exchange if we
examine it only at such a point. What we must commence by
looking at is exchange in its roots and rudiments, the rudest and
most elementary exchanges, those of the kind out of which all
others must have grown. The simplest conceivable exchanges,
such as necessarily take place between mere savages, presuppose
no equations, no definite measures of weight or capacity, no

"Capital," vol. i., pp. 2-5.


common standard of value. What is really implied when two
individuals in what may be called the state of natui-e (meaning
thereby one without culture or inventions) exchange, in the
economic sense of the term, any two objects ? Merely that each
of these two individuals, considering the two objects from the
point of view of his own present and prospective advantage,
regards what he gets as more desirable, mo7'e useful, than what
he gives ; in other words, that each of these individuals forms two
diflerent judgments or estimates of the vcdue of these objects.
Such judgments or estimates are obviously founded only on a
comparison of the use-values of the objects to the individuals who
exchange them. Such judgments are all that is necessarily
implied in the simplest economic exchanges; and they can never
be eliminated from the most developed and complicated processes
of exchange, although these processes Aviden the distance between
the final use-values, make their influence less conspicuous, and
render it easier for a fallacious reasoner to pretend that they
have none.

Marx not only takes up the consideration of exchange value at a
wrong stage, but also unwarrantably assumes that at that stage
it remains unaltered, so that a quarter of grain not only is
equivalent at a given moment but continues to be permanently
equivalent to, constantly to equate, the same definite amounts of
all other things. This assumption is utterly inconsistent with
facts. The relative values of objects are incessantly changing.
This of itself indicates that their values cannot be dependent on
" a constant," on what is unchanging with respect to them all,
equal to them all ; in other words, it shows that " an intrinsic
value in exchange," not merely " seems to be " but is " a contra-
diction in terms," a chimera which science and common sense
must repudiate.

Marx proceeds with his argument at a very rapid pace ; indeed
in reckless haste. There is, he next tells us, a common " some-
thing " in commodities without which, whatever utility they
might have, they would have no value ; and that this " some-
thing " cannot be any property afFecting their utility, inasmuch
as " the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised
by a total abstraction from use-value." We have a right to insist
on this evidently being proved ; we have a right to refuse to


accept either the mere assertion of Marx or a few irrelevant
words from " old Barbon " in lieu of proof. That the desir-
ability of commodities can ever be legitimately abstracted in the
determination of their values is plainly in the utmost need of
proof, and most unlikely to receive it. Without the former, use-
value, there would be not an atom of the latter, exchange-value,
and therefore to speak of the " total abstraction " of the former
in exchange is absurd. To take no account of the degrees of
desirability of commodities, and of the qualities and circumstances
on which they depend, and in relation to which they vary, is to
make all explanation of their values impossible. The resolution
of Marx to " leave out of consideration the use- value of commodi-
ties," without any justification of the doing so, was very con-
venient but quite illegitimate.

He carries it into effect : and then he has only to draw an
inference, and lo ! the whole world of commodities which compose
the wealth of societies is transformed as by the touch of a magic
wand, so at least we are asked to believe, not indeed into a fairy
scene, but into a fitting paradise for a German metaphysician, one
filled with characterless and undifferentiated objects ; with things
which have no elements or qualities, bodies or shapes ; with " pro-
ducts of human labour in the abstract ; " with " crystals of the
universal social substance, values." What rubbish ! What poor
dialectic jugglery ! And tliat is what Socialists take for invincible

In reality, notwithstanding the wave of the prestigiatory wand,
the world of commodities, the realm of values remains unaffected.
Among its contents there are not merely products of labour but
also products of natui-e. Its objects have not exclusively the one
property of having been originated by human exertion. They
are equally objects of human desire in various degrees, objects of
demand and supply, objects relatively rare or abundant. The
mere " crystals " and " congelations " of homogeneous human
labour into which Marx would resolve them, are the creations of
an abstraction and imagination unguided by reason and regardless

of facts.

So much for the doctrine of Marx as to the cause or principle

of value His doctrine as to the measure of value naturally

follows from it. He states it thus :


"A use-value, or useful article, has value only because human labour in
the abstract has been embodied or materialised in it. How, then, is the
magnitude of this value to be measured ? Plainly, by the quantity of the
value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article. The quan-
tity of labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour-time in
its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.

" Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is deter-
mined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful
the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time
would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the
substance of value is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one
uniform labour-power. The total labour-power of society, which is em-
bodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that
society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power,
composed though it be of innumerable individual units. Each of these
units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of the average
labour-power of society, and takes effect as such ; that is, so far as it
requires for producing a commodity no more time than is needful on an
average, no more than is socially necessary. The labour-time socially
necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal con-
ditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity
prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England
probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity
of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued
to require the same time as before ; but for all that, the product of one
hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour's social
labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

"We see, then, that what determines the magnitude of the value of
any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time
socially necessary for its production. Each individual commodity, in this
connection, is to be considered as an average sample of its class. Com-
modities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or
which can be produced in the same time, have the same value. The value
of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labour-time neces-
sary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production
of the other. As values, all commodities are only definite masses of con-
gealed labour-time." *

The validity of what Marx thus maintains is obviously and
entirely dependent on the conclusiveness of the argument which
we have already shown to be worthless. Had he made out labour
to be the sole principle, the common and only substance, of value,
we could not have reasonably refused to admit amount or quantity

* " Capital," vol. i., pp. 5-6.


of labour to be the only and the adequate measure of the magni-
tude and proportions of value. But as he has completely failed
to prove labour the source of value, he has left his doctrine that
it is the measure of value, hanging in the air, without any basis
or support.

This is very unfortunate for it, especially as there is not only
no natural probability in its favour, but intrinsic unreasonableness
is plainly stamped upon it. Labour itself varies in value with
the fluctuations of demand and supply. An hour of common
manual toil may be worth a few pence per working day in India,
a shilling in Ireland, three or four shillings in England, and six
or seven shillings in certain districts of the United States. In
all trades the value of labovir is liable to rise and fall from one
short period to another, sometimes from week to week, or even
from day to day. And there are unfortunately times and places
where it has no value, or almost no value at all. It varies from
the action and interaction of a great number of causes and circum-
stances, many of which may be in themselves independent and
unconnected. How can what thus varies be an unvarying
measure ? How can its duration be the sole, common, and exact
measure of the magnitudes of all values ? In fact, to pretend to
have proved that it is so is as absurd as to claim to have dis-
covered the philosopher's stone, or to have invented a machine
with the property of perpetual motion.

To say that the same quantity or duration of labour always
implies the same exertion, trouble, or sacrifice on the part of the
labourei's, and is therefore to be regarded as always of the same
value, is a quite futile attempt at defence of the Marxian position.
For, in the first place, what is alleged is not correct. Men
difier amazingly as regards both their natural and acquired powers
of labour, and consequently as regards the quantity and quality
of what they can produce in a given time, and as regards the
value of their labour in that time. In the second place, it has,
fortunately for the welfare of mankind, not been exclusively left
to labourers to determine the value of labour, to producers to
assign what piuces they please to their products, to sellers to
impose their own terms on buyers ; they must conform to what
employers of labour, consumers of commodities, buyers are able
and willing to give. The state of the market, the relation of



supply and demand, cannot be disregarded. Economic law can-
not be set aside by arbitrary will, nor can it be made to operate
only in the interest of one set of persons. It is neither capricious
nor partial.

Labour has an influence on value. The labour expended in
the production of commodities must be remunerated or it will
not continue to be given, and the remuneration is a part of the
cost of production which must be returned in the value of the
products. Nothing which does not repay the cost of production
will be permanently produced. But cost of production does not
alone determine the value of products ; and labour alone is not
the only element of cost of production. The crops reaped by the
farmer, the articles fabricated by the manufacturer, must repay,
not merely their expenditure in wages but also in rent, machinery,
materials, and all other drains on capital.

Marx ignores the influence of rent and capital on value. He
reasons as if they had no existence ; as if Socialism were already
established, and had successfully abolished them. As they still
undoubtedly exist, however, and undoubtedly affect cost and
price, and consequently value, the theory which " abstracts "
them, leaves them out of account, and represents labour alone as
the measure of value, is plainly one reached by shutting the eyes
to relevant but unwelcome facts. And rent and capital are facts
which Socialism, even if established, could neither abolish nor
prevent influencing value. The rent of land is just what is paid
for its productive advantages ; and agriculturists would be an
intolerably favoured class in the community, if, under Collectivism,
they did not continue to pay for these advantages. They would
pay, indeed, to the State instead of to private landlords ; but
they would equally have to pay, and the new arrangements
would as likely be disadvantageous to them as the reverse. Were
the capital invested in manufacturing industries collectivised that
capital would not, unless the collectivist State were bent on com-
mitting suicide, be handed over specially to the workmen in these
industiies ; nor would the profits thereof be added to their wages ;
while the expenditure and consumption of it necessary to
production would require to be returned out of the products,
however much wages might have to be diminished in


When labour enters largely, in comparison with other factoi's,
into the production of commodities for which there is a steady
demand it will have a relatively decisive influence on their value.
When there is no monopoly, no need for expensive machinery,
and an abundant supply of cheap materials on which to operate,
wages may be far the largest items in the cost of production, and
the labour expended on commodities may nearly measure their
value. But labour alone never really measures value, never being
alone in determining the cost of production, and cost of produc-
tion itself never alone determining the value of products. Labour
itself must be supported with capital, requires tools, and cannot
dispense with materials seldom, if ever, procurable for absolutely
nothing. And, above all, value is not an absolute objective thing,
a metaphysical substance, a Ding-an-sich, as Marx, with his sham
science, virtually represents it to be, but an essentially variable,
and, in the main, subjective relation, the relation between the
wants of human beings and the objects fitted to supply these

Marx falls into a still less excusable error. He was so engrossed
with the desire to prove that the labour which he regards as the
substance of value is " homogeneous human labour, expenditure
of one uniform labour-power," that he could see no labour con-
stitutive or originative of value except manual labour. He over-
looks what scientific knowledge, what inventive genius, what
commercial talent and enterprise, what powers of business
management and organisation, have done for industry ; he
attributes to them no merits, allows them no rights to remunera-
tion for what they have done, concedes to them no atom of claim
to the possession of what they have produced. Not seeing how
to measure the value of headwork by its duration, he chose not to
see that it had any, and so was able to reason as if hands alone
had value and could dispense with heads.

He could not, however, overlook the distinction between skilled
and unskilled manual labour, that being obvious even to the
bodily eye. What does he make of it ? How does he explain
such a fact as that while a hodman is paid, perhaps, two shillings
for a day's work, a sculptor for the work of an equal day will be
paid, say, two pounds ? He gets over the difiiculty as quickly as
lie can thus : — " Skilled labour counts only as simple labour


intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity
of skilled laliour being considered equal to a greater quantity of
simple labour. Experience shows that this reduction is con-
stantly being made. A commodity may be the product of the
most skilled labour, but its value, by equating it to the product of
simple unskilled labour, represents a definite quantity of the
latter labour alone. The different proportions in which different
sorts of labour are reduced to unskilled labour as their standard,
are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs
of the producers, and, consequently, appear to be fixed by custom.
For simplicity's sake we shall henceforth account every kind of
labour to be unskilled, simple labour."*

This is a very curious answer. The question to which it
should be a response is one not about " counting " or " consider-
ing " or what is " constantly being done " ; but about what is, and
what is implied in Marx's doctrine that duration of labour is the
measure of value. Our sculptor gets for one day's work twenty
times as much as our hodman gets for the same length of labour,
and labour as intense and much less pleasant. How does this
happen if duration of labour be the measure of value ? " ! "
replies Marx, " I am willing to reckon the scvilptor's day equal to
twenty days of the hodman." But that is no answer. What
alone would be an answer would be to show us that one day of
the sculptor really is equal in duration to twenty days of the hod-
man. And when that is done it will be further necessary to
show, how, if one day of labour may be twenty days of labour, or
indeed any number of days, a day can have any definite duration,
or the l-abour done in it any definite value ; in a word, how dura-
tion of labour can have the characters of a measure at all.

Further, Marx takes "simple average labour," "simple un-
skilled labour," as his basis of reckoning and reasoning. He
abstracts or disregards all that individualises and differentiates
men as labourers or producers. He represents " average " as
exchanged against " average," one hour's work of one man as in
the abstract equivalent to one hour's work of another man, even
although he is forced to reckon it as sometimes equivalent to
twenty or even more hours' work of certain men. Surely this is

* "Capital." pp. 1 1 -1 2.


exceedingly unreal and unreasonable. Is not all, or nearly all,
economic labour simply more or less unskilled, and most of it
that we call unskilled very far from really so ? The " average "
quantity of individual labour performed in a community may be
a quantity which not one individvial of the community exactly
accompUshes. Every man of them may produce either more or
less than the average so that there may be no avei'age to ex-
change. In a given time almost any one individual produces
more and another less than a special average, and hence cannot
exchange on the footing of such an average without the one

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 11 of 38)