[OPE-L:2060] Re: Socially necessary labour-time

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sat Jan 08 2000 - 11:49:37 EST

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Re Jurriaan's [OPE-L:2059]:

> You argue that an object (or
> service !) is a commodity only when it is actually sold. I take a wider
> definition, i.e. all that is necessary is that it is capable of being sold,
> or offered for sale, and treated accordingly.

But, one only knows that an object is "capable of being sold" when an
object *is* sold. One might, though, *assume* that a product which has
been sold *in the past* and has passed the test of being a commodity will
continue to pass that test and should therefore be treated as "commodity"
even before exchange (I think that Mike W has referred to this as
"pre-commensurization of value"). This, however, presents several

1) it (at least largely) vacates the characteristics of risk and
   uncertainty from the commodity-form.

2) it is an example of the fallacy that what has happened in the past
   can be assumed to continue into the future.

3) It creates the theoretical possibility of a "commodity" without
   use-value, exchange-value, and value.

4) it constitutes an epistemological problem since a "commodity" is said
   to exist in reality/actuality prior to value and surplus-value
   existing in reality/actuality. Yet "value" is a necessary aspect of the

I think I already understand your arguments to the contrary. Perhaps you
will understand my position better as well.
> This wider definition takes
> care of such things as inventory stocks, partly finished goods which could
> be sold, futures contracts, prostitution etc.

What does prostitution have in common with inventory stocks, partly
finished goods, and futures contracts?
> I think it's more complicated than that. For example, a crate of bananas
> may not sell at the predicted price, and be priced down, selling at a lower
> price. The bananas are a commodity throughout, up to the point where they
> are so rotten they are thrown out (even then they may have a value for
> recycling, and be sold as a commodity by the recycler). The exchange-value
> realised for the bananas then does not reflect the socially necessary
> labour time to produce them originally for display in the shop, but does
> reflect some of it.

The bananas might be sold to the recycler and and that point would become
a commodity even if it is not the same commodity as it was designed to be.
Yet, there are also fruits which spoil and can *not be sold at any price*.
Indeed, one can even envision scenarios in which the banana capitalist
might have to pay another firm to dispose of the rotting fruit as garbage.
If that happens, how can we speak of that fruit as commodities --
especially since it would have *negative exchange value*?

btw, I just saw something like this happen near Union Square: A farmer
from Upstate New York disposed of rotten apples in New York City garbage
cans. They were not, therefore, sold to a recycler or used by the farmer
as compost. In so doing, the farmer shifted the cost of disposal to the
*state* (in this case, the City of New York) since the state will often
dispose of objects for "free" that would otherwise cost an individual or
firm some amount of money to dispose of. Of course, it is only "free" to
the individual or firm that disposes of it as garbage (and, increasingly,
this is no longer the case since the state refuses to accept many objects
as garbage and firms are then forced to pay another firm to dispose of
their waste). I.e. the state has to pay for the garbage disposal
out of its revenues. Thus, some proportion of surplus-value which is
transferred to the state via taxation from other classes pays for this
activity. One could even argue that to the extent that the working-class
burden of taxation goes up, then the working-class will have to share a
larger burden of the cost for disposing of the waste generated by
capitalist firms.

In the case of packaging of consumer goods sold to the working-class, the
working-class pays in several ways. To begin with, their "choices" are
influenced by advertising and packaging. Then, the cost of advertising
and packaging is passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Then, the state has to pay the cost of disposing of the packaging, etc.
and this is financed, partially, out of taxation on working-class
> Of course, for me most
> of the talk about "class struggle" is hot air. People using this term
> usually mean class conflict, but class conflict doesn't automatically mean
> class struggle. Class struggle means that a class struggles as a class.
> Class conflict may produce struggles, but they aren't necessarily class
> struggles. Whether they become class struggles is a political matter.

What is the source for this particular understanding of the distinction
between class struggle and class conflict? Also: if class struggle means
that a class struggles as a class, why doesn't class conflict mean that
a class conflicts as a class?

In solidarity, Jerry

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