[Classics] Anti-Dühring

5. Theory of Value

It is now about a hundred years since the publication in Leipzig of a book which by the beginning of the nineteenth century had run through over thirty editions; it was circulated and distributed in town and country by the authorities, by preachers and philanthropists of all kinds, and was generally prescribed as a reader for use in the elementary schools. This book was Rochow’s Kinderfreund. Its purpose was to teach the youthful offspring of the peasants and artisans their vocation in life and their duties to their superiors in society and in the state, and likewise to inspire in them a beneficent contentment with their lot on earth, with black bread and potatoes, serf labour, low wages, paternal thrashings and other delectations of this sort, and all that by means of the system of enlightenment which was then in vogue. With this aim in view the youth of the towns and of the countryside was admonished how wisely nature had ordained that man must win his livelihood and his pleasures by labour, and how happy therefore the peasant or artisan should feel that it was granted to him to season his meal with bitter labour, instead of, like the rich glutton, suffering the pangs of indigestion or constipation, and having to gulp down the choicest tit-bits with repugnance. These same platitudes that old Rochow thought good enough for the peasant boys and girls of the electorate of Saxony of his time, are served up to us by Herr Dühring on page 14 and the following pages of his Cursus as the "absolutely fundamental" {D. Ph. 150} basis of the most up-to-date political economy

“Human wants as such have their natural laws, and their expansion is confined within limits which can be transgressed only by unnatural acts and only for a time, until these acts result in nausea, weariness of life, decrepitude, social mutilation and finally salutary annihilation... A game of life consisting purely of pleasures without any further serious aim soon makes one blasé, or, what amounts to the same thing exhausts all capacity to feel. Real labour, in some form or other, is therefore the natural social law of healthy beings... If instincts and wants were not provided with counterbalances they could hardly bring us even infantile existence, let alone a historically intensified development of life. If they could find satisfaction without limit and without effort they would soon exhaust themselves, leaving an empty existence in the form of boring intervals lasting until the wants were felt again... In every respect, therefore, the fact that the satisfaction of the instincts and passions depends on the surmounting of economic obstacles is a salutary basic law of both the external arrangement of nature and the inner constitution of man” {D. C. 14, 15, 16}—and so on, and so forth.

It can be seen that the commonest commonplaces of the worthy Rochow are celebrating their centenary in Herr Dühring, and do so, moreover, as the “deeper foundation” {11} of the one and only really critical and scientific “socialitarian system” {IV}.

With the foundations thus laid, Herr Dühring can proceed to build. Applying the mathematical method, he first gives us, following the ancient Euclid's example, a series of definitions. This is all the more convenient because it enables him at once to contrive his definitions in such a way that what is to be proved with their help is already partially contained in them. And so we learn at the outset that

the governing concept in all prior political economy has been wealth and that wealth, as it really has been understood hitherto and as it has developed its sway in world history, is “economic power over men and things” {16-17}.

This is doubly wrong. In the first place the wealth of the ancient tribal and village communities was in no sense a domination over men. And secondly, even in societies moving in class antagonisms, wealth, in so far as it includes domination over men, is mainly and almost exclusively a domination over men exercised by virtue of, and through the agency of, the domination over things. From the very early period when the capture of slaves and the exploitation of slaves became separate branches of business, the exploiters of slave-labour had to buy the slaves, acquiring control over men only through their prior control of things, of the purchase price of the slave and of his means of subsistence and instruments of labour. Throughout the Middle Ages large landed property was the prerequisite by means of which the feudal nobility came to have quit-rent peasants and corvée peasants. And nowadays even a six-year-old child sees that wealth dominates men exclusively by means of the things which it has at its disposal.

But what is it that makes Herr Dühring concoct this false definition of wealth, and why has he to sever the actual connection which existed in all former class societies? In order to drag wealth from the domain of economics over into that of morals. Domination over things is quite all right, but domination over men is an evil thing; and as Herr Dühring has forbidden himself to explain domination over men by domination over things, he can once again do an audacious trick and explain domination over men offhand by his beloved force. Wealth, as domination over men, is “robbery” {17}—and with this we are back again at a corrupted version of Proudhon's ancient formula: “Property is theft.”

And so we have now safely brought wealth under two essential aspects, production and distribution: wealth as domination over things—production wealth, the good side; wealth as domination over men—distribution wealth up to the present day, bad side away with it! Applied to the conditions of today, this means: The capitalist mode of production is quite good and may remain, but the capitalist mode of distribution is no good and must be abolished. Such is the nonsense which comes of writing on economics without even having grasped the connection between production and distribution.

After wealth, value is defined as follows:

“Value is the worth which economic things and services have in commerce.” This worth corresponds to “the price or any other equivalent name, for example wages” {D. C. 19}.

In other words, value is the price. Or rather, in order not to do Herr Dühring an injustice and give the absurdity of his definition as far as possible in his own words: value are the prices. For he says on page 19:

"value, and the prices expressing it in money"

— thus himself stating that the same value has very different prices and consequently also just as many different values. If Hegel had not died long ago, he would hang himself, with all his theologies he could not have thought up this value which has as many different values as it has prices. It requires once more someone with the positive assurance of Herr Dühring to inaugurate a new and deeper foundation for economics with the declaration that there is no difference between price and value except that one is expressed in money and the other is not.

But all this still does not tell us what value is, and still less by what it is determined. Herr Dühring has therefore to come across with further explanations.

“Speaking absolutely in general, the basic law of comparison and evaluation, on which value and the prices expressing it in money depend, belongs in the first place to the sphere of pure production, apart from distribution, which introduces only a second element into the concept of value. The greater or lesser obstacles which the variety of natural conditions places in the way of efforts directed toward the procurement of things, and owing to which it necessitates a greater or lesser expenditure of economic energy, determine also ... the greater or lesser value”, {19-20} and this is appraised according to “the resistance offered by nature and circumstances to the procuring of things {20} ... The extent to which we invest our own energy into them” (things) “is the immediate determining cause of the existence of value in general and of a particular magnitude of it” {21}. :

In so far as there is a meaning in this, it is: The value of a product of labour is determined by the labour-time necessary for its production; and we knew that long ago, even without Herr Dühring. Instead of stating the fact simply, he has to twist it into an oracular saying. It is simply wrong to say that the dimensions in which anyone invests his energies in anything (to keep to the bombastic style) is the immediate determining cause of value and of the magnitude of value. In the first place, it depends on what thing the energy is put into, and secondly, how the energy is put into it. If someone makes a thing which has no use-value for other people, his whole energy does not produce an atom of value; and if he is stiff-necked enough to produce by hand an object which a machine produces twenty times cheaper, nineteen-twentieths of the energy he put into it produces neither value in general nor any particular magnitude of value.

Moreover it is an absolute distortion to transform productive labour, which creates positive products, into a merely negative overcoming of a resistance. In order to come by a shirt we should then have to set about it somewhat as follows: Firstly we overcome the resistance of the cotton-seed to being sown and to growing, then the resistance of the ripe cotton to being picked and packed and transported, then its resistance to being unpacked and carded and spun, further the resistance of the yarn to being woven, then the resistance of the cloth to being bleached and sewn, and finally the resistance of the completed shirt to being put on.

Why all this childish perversion and perversity? In order, by means of the “resistance”, to pass from the “production value”, the true but hitherto only ideal value, to the “distribution value”, the value, falsified by force, which alone was acknowledged in past history:

“In addition to the resistance offered by nature ... there is yet another, a purely social obstacle... An obstructive power steps in between man and nature, and this power is once again man. Man, conceived as alone and isolated, faces nature as a free being... The situation is different as soon as we think of a second man who, sword in hand, holds the approaches to nature and its resources and demands a price, whatever form it may take, for allowing access. This second man..., so to speak, puts a tax on the other and is thus the reason why the value of the object striven for turns out greater than it might have been but for this political and social obstacle to the procuring or production of the object... The particular forms of this artificially enhanced worth of things are extremely manifold. and it naturally has its concomitant counterpart in a corresponding forcing down of the worth of labour {23} ... It is therefore an illusion to attempt to regard value in advance as an equivalent in the proper sense of this term, that is, as something which is of equal worth, or as a relation of exchange arising from the principle that service and counter-service are equal... On the contrary, the criterion of a correct theory of value will be that the most general cause of evaluation conceived in the theory does not coincide with the special form of worth which rests on compulsory distribution. This form varies with the social system, while economic value proper can only be a production value measured in relation to nature and in consequence of this will only change with changes in the obstacles to production of a purely natural and technical kind” [D. C. 24-25].

The value which a thing has in practice, according to Herr Dühring, therefore consists of two parts: first, the labour contained in it, and, secondly, the tax surcharge imposed “sword in hand”. In other words, value in practice today is a monopoly price. Now if, in accordance with this theory of value, all commodities have such a monopoly price, only two alternatives are possible. Either each individual loses again as a buyer what he gained as a seller; the prices have changed nominally but in reality—in their mutual relationship—have remained the same; everything remains as before, and the far-famed distribution value is a mere illusion. — Or, on the other hand, the alleged tax surcharges represent a real sum of values, namely, that produced by the labouring, value-producing class but appropriated by the monopolist class, and then this sum of values consists merely of unpaid labour; in this event, in spite of the man with the sword in his hand, in spite of the alleged tax surcharges and the asserted distribution value, we arrive once again at the Marxian theory of surplus-value.

But let us look at some examples of the famous “distribution value”. On page 135 and the following pages we find:

“The shaping of prices as a result of individual competition must also be regarded as a form of economic distribution and of the mutual imposition of tribute... If the stock of any necessary commodity is suddenly reduced to a considerable extent, this gives the sellers a disproportionate power of exploitation [135-36] ... what a colossal increase in prices this may produce is shown particularly by those abnormal situations in which the supply of necessary articles is cut off for any length of time” [137] and so on. Moreover, even in the normal course of things virtual monopolies exist which make possible arbitrary price increases, as for example the railway companies, the companies supplying towns with water and gas [see 153, 154], etc.

It has long been known that such opportunities for monopolistic exploitation occur. But that the monopoly prices these produce are not to rank as exceptions and special cases, but precisely as classical examples of the determination of values in operation today—this is new. How are the prices of the necessaries of life determined? Herr Dühring replies: Go into a beleaguered city from which supplies have been cut off, and find out! What effect has competition on the determination of market prices? Ask the monopolists — they will tell you all about it!

For that matter, even in the case of these monopolies, the man with the sword in his hand who is supposed to stand behind them is not discoverable. On the contrary: in cities under siege, if the man with the sword, the commandant, does his duty, he, as a rule, very soon puts an end to the monopoly and requisitions the monopolised stocks for the purpose of equal distribution. And for the rest the men with the sword, when they have tried to fabricate a "distribution value", have reaped nothing but bad business and financial loss. With their monopolisation of the East Indian trade, the Dutch brought both their monopoly and their trade to ruin. The two strongest governments which ever existed, the North American revolutionary government and the French National Convention, ventured to fix maximum prices, and they failed miserably.[86] For some years now, the Russian government has been trying to raise the exchange rate of Russian paper money—which it is lowering in Russia by the continuous emission of irredeemable banknotes—by the equally continuous buying up in London of bills of exchange on Russia. It has had to pay for this pleasure in the last few years almost sixty million rubles, and the ruble now stands at under two marks instead of over three. If the sword has the magic economic powers ascribed to it by Herr Dühring, why is it that no government has succeeded in permanently compelling bad money to have the “distribution value” of good money, or assignats to have the “distribution value” of gold? And where is the sword which is in command of the world market?

There is also another principal form in which the distribution value facilitates the appropriation of other people's services without counter-services: this is possession-rent, that is to say, rent of land and the profit on capital. For the moment we merely record this, to enable us to. state that this is all that we learn of this famous “distribution value”.—All? No, not quite. Listen to this:

“In spite of the twofold standpoint which manifests itself in the recognition of a production value and a distribution value, there is nevertheless always underlying these something in commonthe thing of which all values consist and by which they are therefore measured. The immediate, natural measure is the expenditure of energy, and the simplest unit is human energy in the crudest sense of the term. This latter can be reduced to the existence time whose self-maintenance in turn represents the overcoming of a certain sum of difficulties in nutrition and life. Distribution, or appropriation, value is present in pure and exclusive form only where the power to dispose of unproduced things, or, to use a commoner expression, where these things themselves are exchanged for services or things of real production value. The homogeneous element, which is indicated and represented in every expression of value and therefore also in the component parts of value which are appropriated through distribution without counter-service consists in the expenditure of human energy, which... finds embodiment... in each commodity”

Now what should we say to this? If all commodity values are measured by the expenditure of human energy embodied in the commodities, what becomes of the distribution value, the price surcharge, the tax? True, Herr Dühring tells us that even unproduced things—things which consequently cannot have a real value—can be given a distribution value and exchanged against things which have been produced and possess value. But at the same time he tells us that all values—consequently also purely and exclusively distributive values—consist in the expenditure of energy embodied in them. Unfortunately we are not told how an expenditure of energy can find embodiment in an unproduced thing. In any case one point seems to emerge clearly from all this medley of values: that distribution value the price surcharge on commodities extorted as a result of social position, and the tax levied by virtue of the sword all once more amount to nothing. The values of commodities are determined solely by the expenditure of human energy, vulgo labour, which finds embodiment in them. So, apart from the rent of land and the few monopoly prices, Herr Dühring says the same, though in more slovenly and confused terms, as the much-decried Ricardo-Marxian theory of value said long ago in clearer and more precise form.

He says it, and in the same breath he says the opposite. Marx taking Ricardo's investigations as his starting-point, says, the value of commodities is determined by the socially necessary general human labour embodied in them, and this in turn is measured by its duration. Labour is the measure of all values, but labour itself has no value. Herr Dühring, after likewise putting forward, in his clumsy way, labour as the measure of value, continues:

this “can be reduced to the existence time whose self-maintenance in turn represents the overcoming of a certain sum of difficulties in nutrition and life.” {D. C. 27}.

Let us ignore the confusion, due purely to his desire to be original, of labour-time, which is the only thing that matters here, with existence time, which has never yet created or measured values. Let us also ignore the false “socialitarian” presence which the “self-maintenance” of this existence time is intended to introduce; so long as the world has existed and so long as it continues to exist every individual must maintain himself in the sense that he himself consumes his means of subsistence. Let us assume that Herr Dühring expressed himself in precise economic terms; then the sentence quoted either means nothing at all or means the following: The value of a commodity is determined by the labour-time embodied in it, and the value of this labour-time by the means of subsistence required for the maintenance of the labourer for this time. And, in its application to present-day society, this means: the value of a commodity is determined by the wages contained in it.

And this brings us at last to what Herr Dühring is really trying to say. The value of a commodity is determined, in the phraseology of vulgar economics, by the production outlays;

Carey, on the contrary, “brought out the truth that it is not the costs of production, but the costs of reproduction that determine value” (Kritische Geschichte, p. 401).

We shall see later what there is to these production or reproduction costs; at the moment we only note that, as is well known, they consist of wages and profit on capital. Wages represent the “expenditure of energy” embodied in commodities, the production value. Profit represents the tax or price surcharge extorted by the capitalist by virtue of his monopoly, the sword in his hand—the distribution value. And so the whole contradictory confusion of the Dühringian theory of value is ultimately resolved into the most beautiful and harmonious clarity.

The determination of the value of commodities by wages, which in Adam Smith still frequently appeared side by side with its determination by labour-time, has been banned from scientific political economy since Ricardo, and nowadays survives only in vulgar economics. It is precisely the shallowest sycophants of the existing capitalist order of society who preach the determination of value by wages, and along with this, describe the profit of the capitalist likewise as a higher sort of wages, as the wages of abstinence (reward to the capitalist for not playing ducks and drakes with his capital), as the premium on risk, as the wages of management, etc. Herr Dühring differs from them only in declaring that profit is robbery. In other words, Herr Dühring bases his socialism directly on the doctrines of the worst kind of vulgar economics. And his socialism is worth just as much as this vulgar economics. They stand and fall together.

After all, it is clear that what a labourer produces and what he costs are just as much different things as what a machine produces and what it costs. The value created by a labourer in a twelve-hour working-day has nothing in common with the value of the means of subsistence which he consumes in this working-day and the period of rest that goes with it. In these means of subsistence there may be embodied three, four or seven hours of labour-time varying with the stage of development reached in the productivity of labour. If we assume that seven hours of labour were necessary for their production, then the theory of value of vulgar economics which Herr Dühring has accepted implies that the product of twelve hours of labour has the value of the product of seven hours of labour, that twelve hours of labour are equal to seven hours of labour, or that 12=7. To put it even more plainly: A labourer working on the land, no matter under what social relationships produces in a year a certain quantity of grain, say sixty bushels of wheat. During this time he consumes a sum of values amounting of forty-five bushels of wheat. Then the sixty bushels of wheat have the same value as the forty-five bushels, and that in the same market and with other conditions remaining absolutely identical; in other words, sixty=forty-five. And this styles itself political economy!

The whole development of human society beyond the stage of brute savagery begins on the day when the labour of the family created more products than were necessary for its maintenance on the day when a portion of labour could be devoted to the production no longer of the mere means of subsistence, but of means of production. A surplus of the product of labour over and above the costs of maintenance of the labour, and the formation and enlargement, out of this surplus, of a social production and reserve fund, was and is the basis of all social, political and intellectual progress. In history, up to the present, this fund has been the possession of a privileged class, on which also devolved along with this possession, political domination and intellectual leadership. The impending social revolution will for the first time make this social production and reserve fund—that is, the total mass of raw materials, instruments of production and means of subsistence — a really social fund, by depriving that privileged class of the disposal of it and transferring it to the whole of society as its common property.

Of two alternative courses, one. Either the value of commodities is determined by the costs of maintenance of the labour necessary for their production—that is, in present-day society, by the wages. In that case each labourer receives in his wages the value of the product of his labour; and then the exploitation of the wage-earning class by the capitalist class is an impossibility. Let us assume that the costs of maintenance of a labourer in a given society can be expressed by the sum of three marks. Then the product of a day's labour, according to the above-cited theory of the vulgar economists, has the value of three marks. Let us assume that the capitalist who employs this labourer, adds a profit to this product, a tribute of one mark, and sells it for four marks. The other capitalists do the same. But from that moment the labourer can no longer cover his daily needs with three marks, but also requires four marks for this purpose. As all other conditions are assumed to have remained unchanged, the wages expressed in means of subsistence must remain the same, while the wages expressed in money must rise, namely, from three marks to four marks a day. What the capitalists take from the working class in the form of profit, they must give back to it in the form of wages. We are just where we were at the beginning: if wages determine value, no exploitation of the worker by the capitalist is possible. But the formation of a surplus of products is also impossible, for, on the basis of the assumption from which we started, the labourers consume just as much value as they produce. And as the capitalists produce no value, it is impossible to see how they expect to live. And if such a surplus of production over consumption, such a production and reserve fund, nevertheless exists, and exists in the hands of the capitalists, no other possible explanation remains but that the workers consume for their self-maintenance merely the value of the commodities and have handed over the commodities themselves to the capitalist for further use.

Or, on the other hand, if this production and reserve fund does in fact exist in the hands of the capitalist class, if it has actually arisen through the accumulation of profit (for the moment we leave the land rent out of account), then it necessarily consists of the accumulated surplus of the product of labour handed over to the capitalist class by the working class, over and above the sum of wages paid to the working class by the capitalist class. In this case, however, it is not wages that determine value, but the quantity of labour; in this case the working class hands over to the capitalist class in the product of labour a greater quantity of value than it receives from it in the shape of wages; and then the profit on capital, like all other forms of appropriation without payment of the labour product of others, is explained as a simple component part of this surplus-value discovered by Marx.

Incidentally, in Dühring's whole Cursus of political economy there is no mention of that great and epoch-making discovery with which Ricardo opens his most important work:

“The value of a commodity ... depends on the quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not on the greater or lesser compensation which is paid for that labour.“

In the Kritische Geschichte it is dismissed with the oracular phrase:

“It is not considered” (by Ricardo) “that the greater or lesser proportion in which wages can be an allotment of the necessaries of life” (!) “must also involve ... different forms of the value relationships!” {D. K. G. 215.}

A phrase into which the reader can read what he pleases, and is on safest ground if he reads into it nothing at all.

And now let the reader select for himself, from the five sorts of value served up to us by Herr Dühring, the one that he likes best: the production value, which comes from nature; or the distribution value, which man’s wickedness has created and which is distinguished by the fact that it is measured by the expenditure of energy, which is not contained in it; or thirdly, the value which is measured by labour-time; or fourthly, the value which is measured by the costs of reproduction; or lastly, the value which is measured by wages. The selection is wide, the confusion complete, and the only thing left for us to do is to exclaim with Herr Dühring:

“The theory of value is the touchstone of the worth of economic systems!” {499}


[86] The reference is to the laws on maximum prices adopted by the revolutionary government during the War of Independence in North America and the National Convention during the French Revolution.

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