Eastern Economic Association 1996




Stavros D. Mavroudeas

Department of Economic Studies

University of Macedonia





                        The question of the ontology of abstract labour is a thorny issue of Marxist Value Theory, since it touches upon the realism of the concept and its subsequent relevance in differentiating Marx’s Value Theory from that of Ricardo. The first part of the paper surveys the methodological foundations of the problem. These are situated in the dialectics of essence and form. The second part examines the dominant approaches to the question. one purports that the ongoing transformations of the labour-process lead to the immediate appearance of abstract labour as concrete undifferentiated labour. However, the current historical reality of the capitalist labour- process – based on contradictory forms of skilling and deskilling – refutes the very basis of this approach. The other dominant approach, usually misnamed as «Rubin school», attempts to discover an equally unmediated existence of abstract labour in money. The «New Solution to the Transformation Problem» is a characteristic derivative of the second route. Both these two approaches to the question at hand suffer from crypto-positivism and maltreat dialectics, in the sense that they are trying to discover an unmediated expression of existence of essence. The third part reviews and criticises New Solution’s pivoting of value by money and the related formulation of the Labour Equivalent of Money.







I.1 The value abstraction in Marx


The Marxian Critique of Political Economy – as opposed to the Classical Political Economy tradition of Smith and Ricardo – aims at the construction of a social and historical perspective. The difference of Marx’s paradigm is founded on two essential areas: the method and Value theory.

Marx’s method does not make the separation between logic and object that is characteristic of the positivist «model-real world» dichotomy, pertaining in Economics. Instead, he applies rigorously the dialectics of form and essence by positing that all science would be redundant if the outward appearance of things coincided with their internal essence. It is the latter that generates the former and, therefore, science should discover it and then explain why and how appearance is created. In this approach Marx follows Ricardo’s perspective. As Pilling (1986, p.29) has shown, Ricardo break radically with the pre-Ricardian methodology:

Ricardo, in effect, insists that the science can no longer operate with «description» on the one hand and «analysis» on the other. It must, starting with its basic principle – the determination of value by labour-time – make all the outward appearances of the system «answerable» to it.

However, Marx’s understanding of the form-essence dialectics differs significantly from Ricardo’s. According to Zeleny (1980, ch.3) «while for Ricardo essence is something qualitatively fixed and non-differentiable, Marx sees and investigates the alteration of that essence; he understands it as something historically transitory which proceeds through different levels of development and qualitatively changes». This perspective enables Marx to capture the historical and social – and transitory – character of the capitalist mode of production.

From within this methodological perspective Marx advances his Value theory. Whereas Ricardo employed a concept of embodied-labour which is a mere mental construct, Marx derives his labour theory of value from the actual workings of commodity-producing society itself, as a consequence of social relations between producers and non-producers and formulates an abstract-labour value theory. Value abstraction is a real – not mental – abstraction because it derives from a real social process: that of commodity exchange. The “reality” of the commodity abstraction, however, defies the dominant (posivitist-empiricist) perception for what is “real” (as opposed to the “ideal”): an empirically specifiable content. It is precisely this empirical non-particularity of the value that renders it “abstract”, just as its provenance in the socio-temporal sphere of actual human interactions renders it “real”.

Marx’s perspective that value constitutes the essence of which prices are the necessary form of appearance implies a determination process as well as a feedback relationship between them. This perspective hinges upon his understanding of the movement of capital as a total circuit of capital (production-circulation-exchange-distribution). Contrary to Ricardo who, by not considering the social-historical dimension and ignoring the value-value form distinction – thereby confusing value with exchange value – limited his perspective to the determination of the magnitude of value, Marx not only emphasises the primacy of value’s social determination but also notices the social and historical character of the difference between use-value and exchange-value. Therefore, he distinguishes substance of value (labour-time), value and exchange-value.

Value is the representation of abstract labour and it is a characteristic pertaining to the capitalist mode of production exclusively. In this it differs from exchange-value (the exchange ratio between commodities) which applies to all commodity-producing modes. Every social mode of production has a certain mechanism of equalisation of concrete labours. In the capitalist mode of production this equalisation takes the form of the renumaration of concrete labours to the space of abstract labour. The latter is expressed through market exchange. However, the value abstraction – and therefore abstract labour – is not generated in exchange but in production and refers to the capital-labour relation. It hinges upon a double indifference. On the one hand, capitalists are indifferent towards the particular type of production process they are going to exploit, since use-value is of no significance for them. The only thing that matters is the availability of a working population for exploitation. Only at a secondary level an individual capitalist considers the particular type of production process he will exploit. On the other hand, with the advent of the real subsumption of labour by capital, workers become equally indifferent to the particular type of labour they are going to perform in exchange for wage.

On the other side, this abstraction of labour as such is not merely the mental product of a concrete totality of labours. Indifference towards specific labours corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of chance for them, hence of indifference. Not only the category, labour, but labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general and has ceased to be organically linked with particular individuals in any specific form. Such a state of affairs is at its most developed in the most modern form of existence of bourgeois society – in the United States. Here, then, for the first time, the point of departure of modern economics, namely the abstraction of the category “labour”, “labour as such”, labour pure and simple, becomes true in practice.

(Marx (1981), p.104-5)


In this sense, abstract labour – as a social concept – is established at the primary determining level of production and then expressed through exchange. Abstract labour, as the immanent measure of value, is operationalised through the socially necessary labour-time.

The ultimate and most mature form that value – as the representation of abstract labour – assumes is that of money. However, money-form acquires its power of universal representation only because the labour-powers expended are primarily indifferent towards their specific concrete application.



I.2 The ontological status of the Marxian type of abstraction


It is a trivial statement to reiterate that for Marx as he declares in the Preface to the first edition (1867) of Capital I, the power of abstraction should provide the point of departure and the foundation of the dialectical movement of investigation, through a continuum of mediations, towards the concrete. The starting point of the investigation is the «cell-form» (Marx (1982, p.90), which he identifies with Hegel’s «in itself» (or essence) (see Zeleny (1980), Banaji (1979), p.17). The movement from the essence to the concrete is continuous, so that in approaching the concrete forms in which the world exists we do not abandon the sphere of essence; rather, we now investigate this very essence in its form of appearance. This is a journey from the simple (the abstract) to the combined (the concrete as the unity of many determinations). This process is supplemented with a movement from the concrete to the abstract. In this dual-way process the movement from the abstract to concrete is, in Ilyenkov’s (1982, p.138) terminology, the leading or determining aspect[1].

Two possible criticisms and/or misconceptions can arise from this thesis.

The first is an explicit criticism and boils down to the outright rejection of the form-essence dialectics – and therefore value-price relationship – as Hegelian sophistry. Orthodox economics – as exemplified first of all by Bohm-Bawerk (1975) – are the most vocal representatives of this view. In this case abstraction becomes only a mental activity, since in the positivist world the status of the “real” is attributed solely to empirically unmediated presences. Theory becomes a mere simulation of reality.

In the first case, abstraction is rejected outright and it is substituted by the inductive-deductive method of positivism (usually, in the traditional form of successive approximation). If abstraction is not all together discarded, it is substituted by the contentless abstraction which is characteristic of the positivist method. Abstraction becomes either a purely logical trick, which enables us to approximate reality (similar to the neo-classical method), or an average of immediately observable factors. In a strong version, it hinges on the more general proposition that logic stands outside the object of the study and that «reasoning» exists solely in the mind and has no organic relation with the world outside. In a weaker version, it denotes that not all theory, but only abstraction is merely a logical construction.

From the point of view of the dialectical logic both versions are equally unacceptable. Indeed, Marx’s method does not make the separation between logic and object that is characteristic of the positivist «model-real world» dichotomy. In the dialectical world, the object under investigation determines the path and the movement of logic, while the latter retains its separate identity. According to Marx (1981, p.101-102), «the totality as it appears in the head, as a totality of thoughts, is a product of a thinking head, which appropriates the world in the only way it can… the real subject retains its autonomous existence outside the head just as before; namely as long as the head’s conduct is merely speculative, merely theoretical». Historical Materialism posits a dialectical relationship between reality and its appropriation by thought, which is grounded in reality and operates simultaneously on both the level of theoretical or logical development and the level of real historical events.

The second misconception, while accepting the reality of abstraction, attempts to discover an empirically unmediated presence of its subject. Therefore, it search for a historically present essence as such. In this sense concepts should follow and reflect closely historical reality. However, the grounding of Marxian dialectical abstraction in historical reality does not imply a crude naturalistic identification of theory with objective reality. The ordering of economic categories derives not by their historical sequence but by their essential relations of determination within capitalism, which might be precisely the opposite of what it seems to be their historical sequence (see Marx (1981), p.107-108).

The level of theoretical development is derived from real historical events. Activity on this level, insofar as it diverges from and runs counter to the actual historical events (and the level of immediate appearances), is not an a priori construction, but reflects the «life of the material» in its essence and expresses the essential and necessary relations of reality. There is, therefore, in Marx’s works a continuous dialectical oscillation between abstract dialectical development and concrete historical reality. The Marxian system does not posit a simple, straight line from reality to the theory nor from appearance to essence. On the contrary, it relates them through a continuous spiral pattern: it oscillates from the one to the other, each time at more complex levels (assuming more determinations).

Hence, abstraction  is neither a mere logical tool nor a necessarily unmediated presence (see Ilyenkov (1982, p.33-34)).Therefore, the search for an unmediated presence of essence within the totality of concretes – while attempting to answer the positivist rejection of essence as non-existent and, hence, being either redundant or a logical trick – fails to the same empiricist error by implicitly attributing the status of the “real” only to empiristically tangible things.






The “problem” of the form of existence of abstract labour:

money vs. concrete undifferentiated labour


During the recent years, there has been a continuing controversy over the nature and the form of existence of abstract labour. One approach attempted to discover an unmediated (existing without the mediation of others) actual existence of abstract labour within the production process, i.e. a generally common form of undifferentiated work. Another approach posited money as the incarnation and the sole measure of abstract labour, resulting to a market-centered and circulationist conception of value. We will contend that both approaches are equally erroneous since they suffer from the same crypto-positivism and cannot understand properly the dialectics of form and essence.



II.1 Unmediated existence of abstract labour


Gleicher’s (1983, 1985, 1985-6) approach is characteristic of the first and not-so-popular today answer to the problem of the status of abstract labour. Gleicher (1985-6, p.463) attempted “to sketch an alternative ontology of value as abstract labour… which includes both traditional Marxist, as well as Sraffian elements, while also rejecting elements from both approaches”. He linked Uno’s (1980) conception of value (derived from an analysis of the “commodity as such”, i.e. without identification with a particular set of relations of production) and the views concerning the capitalist labour process which have been articulated by Braverman (1974) and Aglietta (1979). The cornerstone of his view is the actual-physical existence of abstract labour in the production process. This approach is contrasted to that of what Gleicher (1983, p.98) branded the “Rubin school” (defined as “the writers who argue that money is the sole measure of abstract labour; that labour only becomes abstract in the act of exchange between commodity and money”). He argued, contrary, that abstract labour has been the ongoing historical result of the development of the capitalist mode of production.

Gleicher (1985-6, p.465) assumed a middle-of-the-road position and contended “that the conditions cited by he Sraffians – technical coefficients and the wage rate – can be understood to determine prices of production only through the existence of abstract labor as an actual social phenomenon constituting commodity value, as well as through the formation of surplus value”. Then he considered the form of existence (the ontology) of abstract labour and maintained that it exists in its own right (i.e. as a great mass of basically undifferentiated work), through the implications of Babbage’s (1832) principle on the simplification of collective labourer and Braverman’s (1974) thesis on the deskilling of work in capitalism.

On the basis of this Gleicher (1983, p.107) suggested that capitalist development results in the historical abstraction of labour: “abstract labour is taken to be actual (concrete) labour that has become independent of, and hence homogeneous across, various use-values”. This is based on an extremely problematic definition of abstract labour as the “subjective activity of producing use-value that is not specific to the production of any single use-value, but which, to the contrary, represents the possibility of producing a wide variety of use-values” (Gleicher (1983), p.107).  This definition conflates abstract and concrete labour. It is the latter that is expressed in use-value. Additionally, it implies that any labour aiming at a specific use-value (highly skilled and dedicated work) is not accounted as abstract (social) labour, which is obviously wrong.

Facing criticisms – well grounded in the fact that capitalism has not a single tendency to deskill labour but a contradictory relation of skilling-deskilling  – Gleicher (1985-6, p.466) shifted his answer from the organisation of production to the system of hierarchy:

While the proportion of unskilled workers is vastly increased by mechanization, the existence of a hierarchy of skills is not eliminated… With mechanization the differentiation of human activities manifest in the hierarchy of skills is no longer determined by the nature of the direct interaction of the worker and the a commodity in the process of being produced. Instead, the hierarchy of skills comes to correspond to the differences in activities operating, maintaining and designing systems of machinery… As such, they come to be common over a wide range of industries. Even skilled tasks become available to industries across the social division of labor; that is, even highly skilled labor becomes abstract.


And he concluded: “the hierarchy of skills is not a ranking of the relative productivity (units of use-value per hour) of individual workers engaged in the different tasks associated with a labour process. The individual worker, no matter what rank he/she occupies in the hierarchy of skills, is not the producer of a use-value. Each worker’s labour is abstract.” (Gleicher (1983), p.115-6). This argument is highly controversial. Not even the most simplistic approaches suggest that hierarchy of skills is a ranking of labour productivity. Moreover, since the end of manufacture and the mechanisation of production (machinofacture) no individual worker is the sole and exclusive creator of a use-value; instead, use-values are produced through co-operation. Of course each worker’s labour is abstract – that is belongs to social labour and it is (socially) accounted as such – exactly because of this common social aspect and not because of an indifference to either its physical-technical conduct or its particular product (use-value).

Finally, Gleicher bundled together hastily under the label of the “Rubin school” nearly every writer that adhered to value-form analysis (e.g. Pilling, Rowthorn, Arthur, Gerstein, Kay, Fine and Harris, Himmelweit and Mohun, Elson, Eldred and Hanlon, De Vroey, Foley and Lipietz) and disregarded both their differences and whether they recognise money as the sole measure of value. For example, Foley, De Vroey and Lipietz accept this characterisation and are guilty to a considerable extent to Gleicher’s accusations. Eldred and Hanlon support the same theses and even discard Value theory in general, but they recognise that Rubin actively disagreed with their view. Himmelweit and Mohun occupy a middle position: they consider that the socially necessary labour time is determined in the sphere of exchange. But, on the other hand, Elson[2], Fine and Harris, Pilling, Gerstein etc. do not accept that money is the immediate incarnation of abstract labour and they distinguish rigorously – following Marx – between the immanent (labour time) and the external (money) measure of value.



II.2 The “Rubin school”


The second and more popular course has been proposed by a significant number of authors and was, more or less, self-proclaimed as “the Rubin school”. However, Rubin was explicitly opposed to the views that his modern “disciples” voice. In many places he affirmed that value can be studied without having previously established money (Rubin (1978), p.36). Additionally, he explicitly condemned the view that value is created in circulation and stated that “abstract labour and value are created or “come about”, “become” in the process of direct production … and are only realised in the process of exchange” (Rubin (1978), p.125). Finally, referring to the quantitative determination of abstract labour, Rubin (1973, p.154) clarified that it is a misunderstanding “to admit that the social equalization of labor in the process of exchange is carried out in isolation of dependence on production (for example, the length, intensity, length of training for a given level of qualification, and so on), and thus, the social equalization would lack any regularity since it would be exclusively determined by market spontaneity”.

Writers such as Benetti (1974) and Cartelier (1976) are representative of the “Rubin school”. They have defended Marxist Value theory by elaborating an abstract-labour theory on the basis of a social paradigm, as opposed to the technological Sraffian one. They, therefore, emphasised the necessity for a connection between the physical-technical dimension and the social dimension of economic activities. Money, then, was posited as an indispensable element and as the ultimate expression of the transformation of private to social labour and as the social embodiment of value-in-process. Benetti and Cartelier argued that it is only through the exchange of commodities against money that private labour is validated and becomes abstract social labour. For them, value, rather than being linked to a mere embodiment of labour – a technical process – referred to this validation of private labour through the exchange of commodities against money. So they accepted that the analysis of value-form is fundamental for the construction of the social paradigm. They maintained that the aim of Value theory should be to explain the specific functioning of a decentralised economy in which no a priori defined social cohesion is conceivable, rather than determining the equilibrium exchange-magnitudes. The qualitative aspect of Value theory was divorced from the quantitative one; and while the former was prioritised, the latter was undermined. In this context Benetti and Cartelier argued that values and prices are «incommensurable» factors and attacked Marx for attempting to establish equations of the type «sum of prices equals sum of values», since these bring together those two «incommensurable» factors.

The shortcomings of this theory were considerable and took their toll in its subsequent evolution which ended, for most of these authors in the complete overhauling of their initial theses and the rejection of value and its substitution by money, as the main determinant of their theoretical systems. or example, For example, Benetti-Cartelier (1980) and Deleplace (1981), while still supporting a social paradigm, have rejected all reference to value. They dropped the commodity as the starting-point of the analysis, for connecting the physical and social aspects of the capitalist mode of production. They retained only the social aspect, because economics can only study the forms of socialisation and not the physical aspect (concrete production). The new starting-point is money, which serves as both substance and form of socialisation and is no longer related to abstract labour and value. The valuation of commodities is simply their monetary equivalence.

The main deficiency of their initial theories is a common characteristic of the «Rubin school». Their justified preoccupation with the social dimension often results in an attempt to establish one representative of this dimension as the absolute embodiment of it. This is usually discovered in money. Indeed money, as the general equivalent with which every commodity is exchanged and, thus, as the general mediator of all commodity exchanges, has an obvious social character. However, the deification of the general equivalent as the sole and absolute expression of the social dimension is an oversimplification and has its own fetishised connotations as well. It certainly undermines the inherently social character of production and reduces it to a fragmented sum of private processes, conceived from a basically technical perspective, and related solely through exchange. This is a caricature of Marx’s theory of the anarchic character of capitalism, it neglects the social division of labour (or it understands it in a circulationist sense) and has strong similarities with the exchange economics of vulgar political economy. For Marx, in exchange is made visible the contradiction internal to production itself (the contradiction between private labour and the social division of labour), which is internal, inherent to the social division of labour itself. The social dimension, therefore, derives and exists first and foremost in production. Value, as the central pivot of social relations, is created in production and defined prior to, and independent of, money. In this sense, Marx employs Value theory, in “Capital” vol.I, in order to analyse production while abstracting from exchange and distribution. Exchange is considered only in the simple form of worker-capitalist relation. The fact that exchange, which in its developed form implies the level of “many capitals”, is not present does not hinder Marx from employing Value theory in the analysis of production in abstraction from the other spheres. Of course, for Marx money is indispensable for capitalism (contrary to the Classicals’ theorisation of the economy as a barter system). Nevertheless, it is a secondary and dependent element.

The common consequence of these views of the «Rubin school» was a recourse to circulationism and the undermining of the primacy of the moment of production within the total circuit of capital. These errors opened the way, at a later stage, to the dethronement of value by money. The hypercriticism of the initial phase and the absolute separation between the qualitative and quantitative aspects of value (in order to establish the significance of the social aspects) led, later, to a subsequent divorce between the physical and the social dimension. Money, then, provided an easy but also highly narrow and unstructured solution to this dilemma. On the one hand, it could not be accused of technicism since it was posited directly at the social level (usually via its derivation from the functions of the state rather than the Marxian derivation from the commodity). On the other hand, it has an immediate physical presence. Hence, the broken relation between the social and the physical was re-established somehow through an arbitrary reformulation around money and at the cost of the redundancy of value. The initial dive into the social and the realm of essence ended with a covert return to the physically observable and the level of appearance.

De Vroey (1982, p.40) provides a typical example of this circulationist deficiency by declaring that Value theory is neither a production theory nor a circulation theory, since exchange creates value, but production determines its magnitude. Abstract labour truly becomes a circulation category (being defined as the social form for the allocation of social labour among specific production tasks) and is separated from labour power actually expended in production. In order to disengage value from a crude and simplistic linkage to the difficulty of production, he ends up with a downgrading of the primacy of production within the total circuit of capital. This error is made most obvious when he criticises Meek for seeing the economy as a «system of production» and for neglecting the commodity form (which he defines as the other basic component of the capitalist mode of production, the particular social form in which social labour is allocated in a decentralised economy), since «the theory of value is constructed without any consideration of circulation or money» (De Vroey (1982), p.40). He fortifies these accusations with the argument that without money the theory of value simply cannot stand up (De Vroey (1982), p.40). For him, «the notion of value refers to a social property of commodities: rather than being linked to a mere embodiment of labour – a technical process  – value refers to the validation of private labour through the exchange of commodities against money» (De Vroey (1982), p.40). Then, from this thesis it follows necessarily that value is created in exchange. With this the evolution of his argument is brought to its conclusion. He begins by correctly rejecting the embodied-labour value theory. Then he continues by breaking almost any link between the socially necessary labour-time and the concrete labour expended in a particular production process and expressed in a commodity. In his approach, labour is the substance of value at the general level (as total abstract labour) but the relation between particular production processes and commodity values (based on and mediated through socially necessary labour-time and concrete labour) is undermined significantly. Hence, the assertion of this relation on the whole opens the way for its negation in its parts: labour-power expended in all production processes establishes the commensurability of the products of these processes in general. Money is posited as the necessary and sufficient factor, the true incarnation of this relation. Then, money displaces labour-time as the main determinant at the level of exchange of particular commodities. Abstract labour and value become exchange categories.

On the contrary, for Marx commodity exchange is organically prior to the category of money and ought to obtain without the mediation of the latter. This has nothing to do with the actual historical succession, but refers to the essential nature of history. The capitalist mode of production was born and subsequently inherited forms of money deriving from the context of pre-capitalist modes. However, these forms has to be transformed to the money-form appropriate to capital. In this sense, the capital-labour relation is an organic prerequisite for the emergence of capitalist money-form. Thus, the exchange equivalence between commodities derives primarily from their common intrinsic character, namely of being products of labour. Money and money prices mediate this equivalence, but are not the primary determining factors[3]. Money does not precede the commodity but it is generated from the differentiation within commodity exchange. Value, then, is created in production and is validated in exchange. The crucial distinction is that between use-value (expressing the material foundation of production) and value (the social form). The production and circulation of use-values can be defined independently: a certain determinate quantity of use-values is first produced and then exchanged. However, the production and circulation of value cannot be defined independently: labour-time is expended in production but it is socially validated in circulation. Consequently, abstract labour and value are prior to money. Abstract labour creates value in the immediate production process, prior to exchange. The category of money is derived from the commodity category only when the value category is sufficiently developed.

Marx’s (1987, p.296-7) critique of Franklin (1836) is tantamount to the above:

Franklin, on the contrary, considers that the value of shoes, minerals, yarn, paintings, etc., is determined by  abstract labour which has no particular quality and can thus be measured only in terms of quantity. But since he does not explain that the labour contained in exchange value is abstract universal social labour, which is brought about by the universal alienation of individual labour, he is bound to mistake money for the direct embodiment of this alienated labour. He therefore fails to see the intrinsic connection between money and labour which posits exchange value, but on the contrary regards money as a convenient technical device which has been introduced into the sphere of exchange from outside.


Contrary to this approach, De Vroey posits money before value and abstract labour, as the necessary condition for their existence. Hence, money, in liaison with a vague notion of labour as the source of human wealth and as the creator of commodities create abstract labour, at the general level (on the level of the whole economy). Then, abstract labour creates value as the social form which permits the commensurability and exchangeability of commodities. Value, in its turn, determines the market value of each particular commodity. Market value is a money mediated representation of the amount of abstract labour congealed in the particular commodity. The main primary determining factor is money, which should exist from the outset. It is, therefore, posited implicitly as an exogenous parameter that determines ultimately the whole circuit. The weak and ill-defined association of money with abstract social labour at the general level, which gives a flimsy pretext of a value perspective, collapses completely as De Vroey moves from the general level to that of the particular commodities. Then, money – albeit under the guise of being the social incarnation of total abstract labour – becomes openly the chief determinant; the link between labour and value is all but nominally lost.






Historicist forerunners of the Labour Equivalents of money



III.1 Aglietta on the monetary expression of the working hour


A derivative of the second answer to the problem of the form of existence of abstract labour are those approaches that attempted to construct a labour equivalent of money and, thus, transform value variables to monetary ones.

The forerunner in this course is Aglietta (1979). In his attempt to connect value and monetary terms in the same equation, he ended up with a qualified confusion of the distinction between the immanent (socially necessary labour-time) and the external (money) measure of value and an arbitrary and mathematical juxtaposition of these two, rather than a dialectical interrelationship. What is, ultimately, wrong in his approach is not the aim to theorise value and monetary terms in a unified framework and within the same system of equations (as Bohm-Bawerk has accused Marx for doing) but the way he established this link. The pivot for such an approach is not the mathematical linearity but dialectical abstraction.

His theoretical and definitional premises are quite contradictory, since in a number of places, Aglietta holds that value is the primary determinant and he even supports Marx’s derivation of money from commodity money. Yet, behind these assertions lies a more subtle argument. Money is derived from abstract labour and value on the aggregate level, but this derivation is implicitly refuted in its constituent parts (individual commodities and production processes), where money is posited as the main determinant. The separation of abstract labour from concrete useful labour and from socially necessary labour-time expended in the production of a particular commodity operate as the implicit and silent foundations of his approach. It has been argued elsewhere (Mavroudeas (1990)) that Aglietta separates the determination of wage from the socially necessary labour-time for the reproduction of labour-power. Now this separation seems to be generalised for all commodities and not only labour-power (the commodity nature of which is seriously questioned by the Regulationists). The neglect of concrete labour and its relation to abstract labour and the conception of the latter exclusively through money are the next steps.

He maintains that what he considers the dual problem of conceptualising a commodity economy (as expressed by abstract labour) and the wage relation (as expressed by the partition of abstract labour into the value of labour-power and surplus-value) can be solved by developing an intermediate theory of social forms. From this intermediate theory he infers the transformations brought about by the effect of these social forms on the space of value. These social forms ultimately give rise to the concepts of the monetary expression of the working hour and the nominal reference wage (Aglietta (1979), p.275). Two points ought to be brought forward with regard to these formulations. Firstly that, when Aglietta is talking about social forms, he refers primarily to structural (and, in his conception, institutionalist and historicist) forms. Secondly, Aglietta (1979, p.275) argues that these social forms (through the monetary expression of the working hour and the nominal reference wage) link together value and income magnitudes.

According to Aglietta (1979, p.64), total abstract labour is divided into value of labour-power and surplus-value. Thus, he establishes a net product approach:

VA = V + SV     (1)          where VA = total abstract labour

V = value of labour-power

SV = surplus-value

Then, he assumes Marx’s equation of total price to total value, albeit in a slightly transformed version: total income (VP) is the monetary form of total abstract labour. From this he derives a weight through which he wants to establish an equation between particular values and particular prices. This is the «monetary expression of the working hour» (or the monetary constraint):


He, subsequently, normalises this variable taking into consideration its past magnitudes. This is the «monetary expression of the socially necessary labour», which is a function of the past magnitudes of m and on which depends the conversion of the value of labour-power into wages:

(3)          where S=total wages

V = value of labour-power

Finally, from these he defines the “nominal reference wage” as the wage related to the quantum of abstract labour:


From (4) it follows that:


where the rate of surplus-value: e = SV/V


Finally, from this conceptualisation of the relation between value and monetary expressions, Aglietta derives his theory of distribution; and he, essentially, monetises all the value determinants by drawing two conclusions:

(1) that the overall distribution of revenue is founded on the social relations of production and depends on the transformation of the conditions of production.

(2) that the distribution of income depends crucially on the conditions that form the general equivalent. The latter has a determining influence on the wage relation.

The first conclusion is an assertion of the primacy of the moment of production within the total circuit of capital. Nevertheless, it is a non-substantial assertion since it is immediately undermined. The second point is tantamount – especially in relation to his theory of value and money – to a substitution of value by money as the main determinant of income distribution. Another consequence is the adoption of a Keynesian demand-side perspective. Both fallacies are made evident in what Aglietta calls the autonomy of the monetary system and the, consequent, pivoting of value by monetary factors.

Aglietta (1979, p.329) argues that «the formation of the general equivalent, and consequently also its reproduction in time, has a certain autonomy in relation to the sum total of conditions of production and exchange». This autonomy is the solution to what he perceives as the main contradiction of capitalism; namely its anarchic character. The autonomous monetary system is the necessary instrument for synthesising the separate and independent economic acts into a commodity economy. It is indicative of this covert inversion of the Marxian position by Aglietta (1979, p.329) that he explicitly maintains that, although capitalism «can only be analyzed scientifically on the basis of an objective, abstract labour, that defines a homogeneous social space», this social space cannot solve its main contradiction:

The solution to this contradiction lies in the autonomy of the monetary system. The formation of the general equivalent makes possible a refraction of the homogeneous space of value that evolves over time. This refraction is summed up in the monetary expression of the working hour. On the basis of this logical solution, we were able to link the formation and division of total  income to the fundamental concepts that define value and capitalist relations of production.


From this, the pivoting of value by monetary factors follows necessarily. Innovating individual capitals are able to gain a surplus profit but the generalisation of the new techniques lead to the disappearance of this surplus profit. The old conditions of production will then have been destroyed and the capital still fixed in them devalorised. This process is effected through the monetary determination of (monetary) prices, separately from the system of prices of production:

This ability of the monetary determination of prices to give an objective economic representation to local changes in the division of labour beyond the coherence of a system of production prices can be called the pivoting of value. It is the continuous evolution of nominal market prices that maintains over time the social link between individual capitals, despite the heterogeneity of the conditions of production. The pivoting of value is thus the homogenization by the monetary exchange C-M through which the value  generated in a particular productive operation is measured within the current system of norms of production and exchange.

(Aglietta (1979), p.302)


At this point a crucial matter remains unanswered. If there is an autonomy of the monetary system and if values are pivoted by monetary factors, then what determines the monetary system? Since monetary circulation (i.e. the price level) affects value commensuration, then how is the former determined? In the case that the monetary system assumes more than a certain autonomy, then a variant of the Quantitative Theory is at sight. The other route open is an exogenous institutionalist determination of the monetary system. In this case, a subsequent question is posed: if distributional struggle is the main determinant of institutional compromises, then is it itself beyond almost any determination? Aglietta alludes that it is loosely determined – in the interaction between the regime of accumulation and the mode of regulation – by the labour productivity and the general price level. The first constrains capital-labour distributional struggle. The question remains about what determines the latter.

Finally, it should be noted that Aglietta’s thesis is situated within the general historicist and middle-range framework of the Regulation Approach[4]. The autonomisation of the monetary system and the institutional determination of the wage are considered as particular characteristics of the Fordist epoch, not pertaining to previous periods. In this sense, they rely heavily on empirical factors pertaining to that period. Two elements are considered of paramount importance: (i) the development of the credit system and the emergence of non-commodity forms of money, and (ii) collective bargaining and the supposed separation of the determination of the wage from its pivoting by the value of labour-power (understood as the value of the bundle of commodities consumed by the worker).

In recent works Aglietta discards value in favour of a theory of socialisation based on routines and money. Aglietta-Brender (1984) while rejecting the market as the fundamental regulatory mechanism of the capitalist mode of production, they portray the latter as a complex network of social relations based not on the entrepreneurial spirit but on the existence of a tight imbrication of routines. Then they proceed by stressing the importance of money as the factor around which the whole system evolves. Aglietta-Orlean (1982), dismiss «labour value» as «Ricardian dross». They reject the notion of any substance behind the form of commodity exchange, which is considered as a process of socialisation that does not presuppose a social substance. Labour – which, according to Marx, is the object of socialisation and also the inherent essence that operates as the immanent measure that ensures the commensurability of commodities – is thrown out as well. Instead, Girardian behaviourism and anthropology («the desire to be» fragmented by the lack of «being») assumes the role of the substance of the whole process. Money substitutes value as the basis of social forms and operates as the necessary mediator of social cohesion. As even Lipietz (1985, p.169) admits, production is removed from the centre of attention and Aglietta-Orlean slip back to the economics of exchange.





Measure of value and Labour Equivalent of Money


Aglietta’s initial considerations with regard to the relation between value and money find their culmination in the so-called «New Solution to the Transformation Problem» (Dumenil (1980), Lipietz (1982), Foley (1982)). It is indicative that although he did not participate in this project many of its contributors attribute their initiating intuitions to his work.

The main novelty of the «New Solution» project lays in its «transformation of input prices». This is held to be necessary because the prices of production of the material elements of the advanced capital (means of production and means of subsistence) are not proportional to their values. This approach is exemplified in Lipietz (1982) where he: (a) interprets the value of labour-power as a share of value added and, (b) applies the transformation to the net product. The crux of his solution is that variable capital should be treated differently from constant capital, whose value must be transformed. In contrast, in the case of variable capital, the wage – insofar as it represents a share of value added, i.e. it is a «number of hours» – is conserved by the transformation, while the labour-time itself (considered as the equivalent of a particular bundle of commodities) is transformed. To that effect, the «New Solution» is rightly criticised for separating value and price.

In this paper we would not engage with the central aspect of the “New Solution”, but rather confine to two of its major pillars, namely the Labour Equivalent of Money (LEM) – or its inverse Monetary Equivalent of Labour (MEL) – and the value of labour-power. These are interrelated since the first is based on the second.



IV.1 LEM and the relation between abstract labour and money


Lipietz (1985, p.23) defines LEM as the quantity of abstract labour represented by the unit of money (called currency), which can be found by dividing the quantity of labour needed to produce the net product by the price of that product.

Foley (1982, p.41) follows a similar line by defining what he calls the «value of money» as the ratio of aggregate direct labour-time to aggregate value added. Also De Vroey (1981) proposes the «monetary expression of social labour-time» as the ratio of the sum of prices to the sum of values. Notwithstanding, Foley, while endorsing Lipietz’s formulation, has reservations about De Vroey’s formula since it does not clarify whether the sum of prices refers to aggregate price or aggregate value added (as he proposes).

The central aspect of this theory, as we already have pointed out and as is freely admitted (Foley (1982, p.41), derives from the contours of a «Rubin school» approach. Foley, who is more frank about possible deviations from Marx’s theory, points out that rather than labour-time determining price, this theory begins at the global level by positing that the money value of the whole mass of net production of commodities expresses the expenditure of the total social labour in a commodity-producing economy. Hence, it retains at the global level the relation between money and embodied labour which is central to the idea that money is a form of value and that the substance of value is abstract social labour. The concept of value is recognised as a property of the whole mass of the net commodity product. This requires a strict relation between the monetary unit (whether that unit is linked to a general equivalent money-commodity or not) and abstract social labour-time. Thus, a unit of money is defined as a claim to a certain amount of the abstract social labour expended in the economy. We have already criticised this approach, in the less developed form that it appeared in previous works, for opening the floodgates to a subsequent negation of Value theory. The new element that Foley and De Vroey (1984) introduce here is that money is no longer derived from the commodity, as Marx has proposed.

As it is obvious, this approach keeps one of the so-called “invariance postulates” – namely the equation between total prices and total values (Σp=Σw) – while rejecting the other – the equation between total profit and total surplus-value (Σπ=Σs-v).

De Vroey (1984, ch.1) relates these developments to the Benetti-Cartelier latest theories as well as to Aglietta a-Orlean. He argues that the first step was made by Benetti-Cartelier (1980) when, while rejecting Value theory and the commodity nature of money, money was posited as the only «directly social relation», the only institution transcending the opacity of the fragmented commodity economy. Money rather than deriving from commodity exchange was attributed to state sovereignty. The next step was established by Aglietta-Orlean (1982). Their thesis was that money is not exclusively a directly-social reality but has an ambiguous character, since it belongs both to the indirectly-social (private) form and to the directly-social form (for example, private forms of money should be taken into account).

The attempts to construct LEM reflect a similar – though from the opposite side – with the neo-Ricardians’ misunderstanding of the relation of form and essence. Instead of searching for a technically defined (by the technical coefficients of production) invariable measure of value, a “social” quasi-invariable measure of value is advanced in the form of the “labour equivalent of money”. In this they are quite close to Ricardo’s initial – and futile – attempts to establish an invariable measure through gold. Neo-Ricardian physicalism is substituted by institutionalism as the basis for the social determination of money and the value of labour power (and subsequently its price, the wage). The same empiricist search for an unmediated tangible form of existence of labour value is closed in the one case with the recourse to production and technicism and in the other case with the recourse to circulation and institutionalism. In the first case the social aspect is absent from production and added artificially in distribution. In the second case the social aspect is present but through the misfiguring lenses of institutionalism and – despite the analyses of the labour process – ultimately in circulation.

With regard to MEL’s justification, two arguments can be brought forward.

First, the usual textual references to Marx are at least sketchy and insufficient. Although Marx seldom used the measurement of value by socially necessary labour-time and by money interchangeably, this is done usually in passim and there is no sustainable evidence that this rather casual treatment constituted a theoretical position per se. Additionally, Marx  nowhere established explicitly a theoretical relation – such as the monetary expression of labour – which relates the quantum of SNLT  expressed in money or vice versa.

Marx distinguished rigorously between the intrinsic or immanent and the external measure of value. The intrinsic measure of value is the labour-time expended under the normal conditions of productions (average degree of skill and intensity etc.), i.e. socially necessary labour-time. However, in commodity production (and moreover in capitalist commodity production) labour is not directly socialised but only indirectly through commodity exchange. For this reason, the quantitative expression of value must assume a form of expression appropriate to the modalities of exchange. In this sense, the qualitative and quantitative dimension of the sphere of production must assume a qualitative and quantitative form of expression conforming to exchange. The primary determining sphere of production must be expressed according to the prerequisites of the secondary sphere of exchange. Thus, an external measure, namely money, is needed.

Second, when supporters of MEL recognise the Marxian distinction between the immanent and the external measure of value, they fail to understand its substantive content. Thus, they subordinate both to MEL:

social labour and money are not two mutually exclusive measures of value but two aspects of the same measure… In this sense, value has a twofold measure: the MEL

(Ramos (1995), p.11)


If for Marx value has labour as an immanent measure (one appropriate to its nature, its primary determination in production) and money as an external measure (one appropriate to the secondary determination in exchange), it is the first that assumes primacy, it is inherently appropriate; and the second is externally necessitated. On the contrary, for the MEL approach, this distinction becomes mere lip-service and both aspects are being subsumed by MEL. In the latter the primary determination by production is lost and the causal determination – accurately expressed in the distinction between immanent and external measure – is at least blurred. Seldom, if a causal relation is defined this is a circulationist one. money (and exchange) are the primary determinants.



IV.1.2 On the nature of labour-power

                The question of the commodity nature of labour-power is the crux of the LEM perspective. It hinges upon an almost explicit rejection of its commodity character. In this it finds a forerunner in Bowles-Gintis (1981, p.7-8):

If wage labour is treated as a commodity, and labour as its use-value, it has no «special character» in terms of which the labour theory of value can be justified. If the labour theory of value is to be defended at all, it must be by virtue of some non-commodity aspect of wage labour… the theoretically necessary and sufficient non-commodity aspect of labour-power must be located at sites distinct from the site of capitalist production: family and state…


Essentially, Bowles and Gintis have taken up an argument advanced by Samuelson (1982), namely that since labour-power is a commodity it is similar to any other commodity and, therefore, it does not deserve a special status. They accept the essence of this position and propose that almost any kind of commodity (e.g. land) can be used to construct a value theory and even to define a form of exploitation. Then, in order to rehabilitate the significance of labour-power they reject its commodity nature. What this approach neglects, in both radical and conservative versions, is that Marx has proposed that although labour-power is a commodity it is different from any other commodity because it is the source and the creator of human social wealth. This constitutes labour-power’s value-creating capacity.

Lipietz (1985, p.154) endorses the Bowles-Gintis thesis:

The debate which led to the new solution, by contrast [to the Standard Solution’s “economism” of the “production of commodities by means of commodities” (including labour-power, a commodity produced by feeding with the basket of wage-goods)], emphasised the non-commodity nature of wage-labour and opened the way to analysis of the social constitution of the monetary equivalent and its “value”.


Lipietz (1985, p.155) even argues that there are only «few incidental arguments» in Marx’s work where he tries to justify the reduction of value to labour as «the only element common to commodities». This is an obvious mistreatment of Marx, who considers – not in few incidental arguments but in his whole theory – that labour is not simply the common element but the inherent common substance that constitutes the value of commodities. But Lipietz stops short of breaking any link with the Labour Theory of Value by warning against stretching their thesis till the abandonment of the labour substance of value.

Within the LEM approach two versions can be discerned. The first and earlier emerged under the auspices of Regulation and is characterised by the usual institutionalist-historicist flavour. The second derives from the “New Solution” and views the nature of labour-power abstractly, i.e. irrespectively of particular historical stages. In the first there is an uneasy relationship between the value of labour-power (understood as a bundle of commodities) and the autonomisation of the monetary system. In the second version, the value of labour-power depends explicitly upon the formation of the general equivalent which is not derived from commodity-money. Thus, the unstable Regulationist theoretical geometry is being restructured and acquires theoretical coherence, at the cost of breaking away from the Marxian and Classical course.



1. The Regulationist historicist perspective

                For Regulation, in the pre-Fordist stages wage is linked to the labour cost of the goods consumed (i.e. wage is a typical price of a value, namely the value of labour-power), but the latter are not considered as commodities or at least as capitalist commodities. Working-class consumption is perceived as non-capitalist before Fordism. It is the latter that extends capitalist dominance on this area.

Regulation totters between, on the one hand, a classical Marxist (and Classical) understanding of the value of labour-power as determined by the bundle of commodities consumed by the labourer and, on the other hand, an income distribution that depends crucially upon the formation of the monetary equivalent. Whereas in the Marxian and Classical framework the latter is derived from commodity, in the Regulationist framework it depends on the autonomy of the monetary system with the abovementioned problems. Within this framework, Regulation considers that in the pre-Fordist periods the wage-goods were non-capitalist and hence the reproduction of labour-power (and its value) remained outside the realm of capitalist relations. Only in the Fordist era it comes under capitalist domination, via the creation of a social norm of consumption and the coupling of mass production with mass consumption.

Two versions of this argument have been proposed. The strong one – exemplified by De Vroey (1984) – argues that workers’ consumption during the pre-Fordist stages had the following characteristics: a) non-commodity relations were dominant over commodity relations, b) the reproduction of labour power took place mainly through domestic activities, c) wages only complemented this reproduction, d) the greater amount of the commodities purchased were non-capitalist (De Vroey (1984), p.48, 52). Lipietz, for example, adopts a weaker one. In the strong version the distinction between commodities in general and capitalist commodities is not important, since it is held that working-­class’ consumption as a whole lay primarily outside the sphere of commoditisation and otherwise comprised mainly of non-capitalist commodities. That leaves domestic production, petty-commodity production and agriculture as the possible providers of the workers’ means of subsistence. On the other hand, the weak version sidesteps the question of the extent of commoditisation of working-class’ consumption and only asserts that the latter did not include capitalist products. In this case the distinction between capitalist and non-capitalist commodities is crucial, because it may be accepted that workers’ consumption was commoditised but the goods that entered it were non-capitalist commodities. There is, furthermore, a significant failure of both versions to define non-capitalist sectors that produced these goods.

There are insurmountable empirical problems with the strong version. Working-class’ consumption was commoditised very early. The separation of producers from their means of production cannot but result in them not being able to produce the greater amount of their means of subsistence. During the early phases of capitalism, the bigger part of all their major needs – such as food, clothing, housing etc. – had to be bought. This was supplemented by their own production; or rather the domestic production of their family since it was impossible, especially considering the longer working hours of that period and the worse working conditions, for the working members of the family to work extensively and regularly in domestic production. Another significant factor – quite important in many newly industrialised countries, also – could be the support of the extended family, who were peasants. Their support was usually in the form of either agricultural products or money. However, all these contributions had a complementary and irregular character.

The weak version proposes a more sustainable position. Workers’ consumption may have come under the dominance of commodity relations, but these were mainly non-capitalist until the ’20s; true capitalist relations emerged only after W.W.II. This version is also erroneous. There are two implicit assumptions that inform this misguided regulationist thesis.

Firstly, Regulation has a simplistic understanding of capitalist commoditisation, derived from their Althusserian conception of a specific society as the sum total of different modes of production one of which assumes hegemony over the others and provides the unifying framework. Consequently, it cannot conceive how remnants of previous modes of production can be integrated into the capitalist mode of production and although they retain their formal characteristics their function has altered radically by becoming operational parts of the capitalist mode of production and by ceasing to represent a different mode of production. Their much acclaimed example of petty-commodity production is characteristic. Capitalism has assimilated elements of simple commodity production, such as craftsmen and family works, and has benefited from certain of their aspects as they provided at the same time a market for capitalist products as well as cheap complementary products and services. Many of petty-commodity producers’ means of production were capitalist products and many of the services they provided were serving as side-products and complementary aspects of capitalist production (an obvious example being clothes repairs by tailors). A typical case where these regulationist shortcomings are evident is agriculture. It provided much of urban population’s means of subsistence and capitalist concentration and centralisation, in many cases, took place quite late. The majority of the agricultural sector was till late, and often it is still, comprised by small farmers. Despite that, it has become capitalist and has ceased to represent small commodity production since it was not surplus products that were exchanged nor was the main bulk of production for self-subsistence. Production for exchange had become the norm and the agricultural sector represented both a market for capitalist commodities (such as machines, certain materials, fertilisers etc.) and a provider of means of trade (as traders and merchants were the main retailing outlet of agricultural products). Regulationists are suspiciously silent on this subject.

Furthermore, the regulationists identify Fordist mass production with mass consumption. More accurately, they assume that Fordist mass production must come before mass consumption. This is a very neat and almost algebraic logical formulation. Notwithstanding, historical reality is often a very capricious thing and it tends to override logic formulas and take the most «irrational» routes. There is no reason whatsoever why mass consumption must follow mass production, let alone Fordist mass production. Indeed, there existed mass consumed products before the advent of mass production. Even in the crucial area of consumer durables – which may provide a last ditch defence for the regulationist argument organised around the notion of a consumer durables revolution – a mass market was created before the 1920s[5].

Concluding, Regulation rejects implicitly the commodity character of labour-power by arguing that, whereas its value depends on the bundle of goods, the latter are not commodities or not capitalist commodities. Only in the Fordist era they become commodities. But then wage is autonomised from the value of the bundle of commodities and depends on the social conditions that form the monetary sphere. Keynesian social structures and policies of effective demand determine – and are established through distributional class struggle – the level of wage.



2. New Solution’s general formulation

                Foley (1982) and Mohun (1994) propose a more general formulation of the value of labour-power, liberated from Regulation’s historicist preoccupations. Labour-power is not considered as a commodity since it is not capitalistically produced in general.

Mohun (1994, p.397) considers first a case similar to that of Regulation: “if people have non-market access to the means of subsistence, or if people own resources which enable them to produce commodities on their own account to exchange, via money, for means of subsistence, then labour-power will not be a commodity at all”. He rejects these cases because as a rule the reproduction of labour-power under capitalism passes through capitalist channels: “So there must be some condition, or social relation, which separates the majority of people from the means of production, and which either forces people into the market to sell the only commodity they posses, their capacity to work, or labour-power, or forces them into non-market dependence upon those who do so sell” (Mohun (1994), p.397). Thus, he distances himself from the Regulationist fallacies on commoditisation of workers’ consumption.

But then he distinguishes two definitions of the value of labour-power. The first is the classical one, as a bundle of wage-goods. Since labour-power is a commodity, sold in the market for its exchange-value, which in turn is spent on means for subsistence, then – given that prices are proportional to values – the value of the subsistence commodity bundle must be equivalent to the value of labour-power, and can therefore be taken as its measure. He rejects this view as a particular case, when prices are proportional to values. Instead, he proposes what he considers as the more general case.

First, he argues that labour-power is not a capitalistically produced commodity; it is a commodified aspect of human beings, and human beings are not produced in any valorisation process. The reproduction of people can be considered as a labour process, but the relations involved are not class ones, there is no private property in the means of (re)production from which non-possessors can be excluded, the labour involved is not wage labour, and (re)production is neither production for sale nor production for profit.

Second, since labour-power is not capitalistically produced, it does not enter the world of commodities and does not operate according to its rules (average rate of profit etc.). Since it does not enter the world of commodity equivalence and since prices are not proportional to values (as a rule), then the value of the bundle of wage-goods does not coincide with the value that the wage can purchase (command).

Against this approach, It might be argued that what is at issue is the equivalent of the value of labour-power, and that this equivalent is a set of produced commodities whose production involves different compositions of capital, having to earn in equilibrium the economy-wide rate of profit, and whose output (and input) values therefore require transformation into prices of production.

The result is that – on the basis of the rejection of the commodity nature of labour-power – wage is separated from the value of labour-power. Instead, it is determined on the aggregate level (in the division of the net product between wage and profit share) and then its quantum is established as a measure of value. This quantum (LEM or MEL) is then applied to individual capitals and labour processes. Again, here the same problem with the Regulationist version arises: what determines this distribution? Mohun (1994, p.402) gives a telling answer:

Rather than concrete labour embodied in commodities workers consume, the value of labour-power is a proportion of abstract labour performed. As the object of class struggle, it is conceded to workers in the form of wages in exchange for a unit of labour-power bought by capitalists. This division of abstract labour, or money value added, defines the rate of surplus-value for the economy as a whole, ipso facto determined by class struggle between workers and capitalists.


Then the problem of the determination of the price level appears again. Mohun (1994, p.407) recognises that “there is an infinite number of conceivable price systems compatible with this understanding of value theory, each price system being a different redistribution of labour-times, and each price a representation of abstract labour, or a form of value”.

A final point requires clarification. For the New Solution, variable capital is not revalued, during the transformation procedure. More accurately, wage (the price of labour-power) is not revalued, although the bundle of wage-goods (the actual value of the labour-power) is revalued. Since labour-power is not a capitalistically produced commodity, there is neither average rate of profit nor value and surplus-value involved and, hence, nothing to transform (Mohun (1994), p.401). This differential treatment of the value-price relation of an input hinges upon its rejection of the commodity-nature of labour-power. On the contrary, it is considered as an input whose value (the value of labour-power) and its price (the wage) are determined outside proper commodity relations and mainly through a distributional class struggle. This distributional class struggle establishes structural forms (usually in the form of institutional arrangements) which regulate the wage level.




                The LEM perspective opens an interesting field of discussion by aiming for a social paradigm and by focusing on the role of money. However, the results are less than the expectations generated.

By questioning the commodity nature of labour-power it opens the floodgates to the rejection of the whole Classical and Marxian approach on value. What ultimately determines the distribution of the social product – between the wage and the profit share – is the black box of distributional class struggle. The latter is considered almost open and beyond any determination. Additionally, it is operationalised usually through the recourse to blatant institutionalism, i.e. it is solved exogenously. Equally, by relating value (and abstract labour) to (non-commodity) money at the general level and then by changing the course of determination of the constituent parts it flirts dangerously with a Quantity Theory version. The subsequent re(in)statement of Labour Value Theory appears more as a dethronement.





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[1]           See Marx ((1981), p.100), Rosdolsky ((1977), p.25), Rubin ((1978), p.109-110)).

[2]                      Elson (1979), not only distanced herself from Rubin but she even accused him of the same technicist deviation as Sweezy, Dobb, Meek, Althusser etc.

[3]           See Marx’s (1971, p.161-3) polemic against Bailey.

[4]           See Mavroudeas (1990).

[5]           See Vatter (1967).



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