Recently, the YouTube creator Viki1999 published a video called “Why (I think) the labour theory of value is dead!” and exposing her arguments, which you can check by watching the video. I have written a criticism in the comments of her video, and I will adapt them here to publish here.

Viki1999’s main argument is that the so-called labor theory of value (LTV) may not be useful to agitate workers towards revolution. In the middle of her arguments, she distances herself from her point to bash the LTV altogether, in what sounds like a liberal deviation from Marxism. I argue that she is blinded by imperialism.

She claims:

“Most Western nations have service economies. Huge part of the economy are people who serve people in diners. Quantifying the value of a service job is close to impossible. The same is true for haircuts. The value of a haircut is very hard to quantify.”

First of all, this argument ignores that capitalism is a world-market, a service economy (or consumer market) can only function if there is production elsewhere. This argument is from a viewpoint of someone living in the imperialist core, ignoring the reality of the productive sphere of the world-market, mainly restricted to the periphery countries where all the cheap labor is available to be exploited. For a service economy to exist, there needs to be hundreds of millions of workers in poverty producing the goods for the consumers in the “service economy”.

Still, there is a measure to “quantify” the labor related to service sector: time. Serving people in diners and cutting hair both have this measure. The work someone does needs to earn them enough value so that the worker can reproduce their lives, especially by eating and resting. If a work does not earn them enough value, i.e., if they cannot sustain themselves with their work, they cannot continue working otherwise.

The question then becomes, how come big employers have enough value to maintain thousands of service workers? The answer: imperialism. The value extracted from the proletariat in the periphery countries of the Global South is what maintains the the wages of service workers and the international labor aristocracy. By being a worker living in an imperialist country, you are certainly exploited, but not by the degree of exploitation which workers in the South face. Exploitation for a labor aristocrat is much less apparent, to the point some of them deny it altogether, like Viki1999.

“Raising children is not compensated by the economy at all”

It’s true. But does that mean raising children is not work? Or, rather, that it does not create value? Raising children creates workers, which create value. It’s reproductive work that makes productive work exist in the first place. It follows that we should fight for it to be compensated fairly. Mostly women are exploited by this circumstance, and the LTV actually helps understand this condition so that the inherent exploitation becomes apparent.

Later in the video, she gives the old liberal example of “bucket of water in a desert” which supposedly would determine a high price for water based on its need, and that value is therefore subjective, a common liberal argument. But then she contradicts herself mentioning the example of unskilled workers, how the average working time and skill affects the value of the work and the commodities produced by work. The same goes for a bucket of water in a desert. A bucket of water in a desert can be overpriced by someone selling to another in great need, but this would be only an isolated exchange not at all representative of the value of extracting and transporting water, and of water as a commodity.

Exploitation exists in the Western imperialist countries including in the productive sphere, especially in the United States where it’s more apparent (even on the skin color). One common example is Amazon and the exploitation of workers inside its factories. Another example is the production line of the packaging of many food industries, which harshly exploits cheap and even uncompensated prison labor (quick reminder that slavery in the US is constitutionally permitted in the case of punishment for crimes).

And later in the video, Viki1999 even claims “there are plenty of reasons to get rid of capitalists even if they don’t take surplus-value,” insinuating that capitalists do not exploit surplus-value from workers. This outrageous claim ignores the obvious reality that billionaires continue to enrich themselves while the mass of the workers in the whole world continue to live in poverty conditions more and more extreme (search for the Oxfam studies on global inequality). This enriching of capitalists and impoverishment of workers CANNOT be attributed to anything else except exploitation of workers on a global scale. For a handful of capitalists to be criminally rich, there needs to be hundreds of millions of workers criminally poor.

Conclusion: While I respect Viki1999’s work, I have noticed that the content of her videos has been tending towards a liberal perspective and sometimes even anti-communist and opportunist tone. The fact that she thinks the LTV is not a good argument to use for workers living in imperialist countries such as herself does not mean that the LTV is false or incorrect. The fact that the LTV, up to this day, still correctly predicts certain phenomena of capitalism means it shouldn’t be discarded, only updated to our material conditions, such as explaining how a service economy can maintain itself (e.g.: through imperialism).

At some points in the video she even considers that “value is subjective” using a common liberal argument and she even claims that capitalists “don’t take surplus-value.” One thing is to argue that exploitation is not a good argument to convince workers to organize a revolution in the imperialist core, the other thing is to argue that exploitation does not exist, which is an anti-Marxist, anti-worker claim, coming from someone living in the imperial core.

Either her understanding of Marxism is lacking in its theoretical basis, or she is purposefully deceiving her viewers to discard some nonnegotiable principles of Marxism and adopting a liberal worldview. I rather think that it is her lack of study, not an arrogant attempt at falsifying the only theoretical concise explanation for exploitation from the point of view of the working class.

ksynwa
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Any idea if the creator lives in the “international community”? This sounds like a whole lot like a coping mechanism against dissonance that comes with living in the imperial core while being a communist.

Jup, she lives in Austria, if i remember correctly.

ksynwa
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Your comment is at the top without being pinned. Good work man.

Camarada Forte
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Thanks, comrade. I think most of her followers are from the radical left, so I thought I’d leave some critical notes on her video so that others are not deceived by her ideological deviations

liberal example of “bucket of water in a desert”

aka their beloved supply and demand in action, which does not contradict Marx, because value is different from price.

I’m new to economics but Hakim has a great video about this very topic you should definitely check it out, youre gonna like it

Camarada Forte
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I’m new to economics but Hakim has a great video about this very topic you should definitely check it out, youre gonna like it

I’ve seen it comrade, and Hakim’s work is much more coherent and scientific than Viki1999’s, which is almost purely liberal ideology

Good work. I don’t know too much about her, does she usually use Marxist jargon or is she dipping her toe in the red sea. If she is starting to use more and more she just may be developing Marxist thought, and while the title is an outrageous claim she does say “(I think)” so it could be her not fully grasping the LTV and pumping it out for the algorithm. It is very Imperial Core tho. I mean I’ve grown into a toddler ML so at least I understand the basic concept of LTV. Also to say such a secure economic analysis is dead, you’d think she would go into more detail or at least more than 17 minutes, lol.

No she has been making communist youtube content for a long time, a lot of pro-USSR stuff. This is not someone who is new to Marxism but someone who should know better. This is a very serious backslide into ideological idealism. It is straight up anti-Marxist. Sounds like she has been exposed to too much liberal ideology without having had a solid enough grasp of Marxist theory and has started to believe the liberal bunk economics again. It is very disappointing to see from a content creator i used to respect. The effects of living in the imperial core i guess.

Ah man, that’s really sad to hear. Started slipping since the Ukraine SMO, or just over time? I’m in the Core but still pretty new to Marxism so novelty hasnt worn off yet and I’m deliberately trying to purge any liberalism in me.

JucheBot1988
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I need to look at my copy of Das Kapital again, but:

  1. Doesn’t labor measure commodities, and isn’t it an average taking into account all labor in society – not just the value of this particular productive act, i.e., cutting hair? I seem to remember that labor is necessary as a standard of value because without it, the various commodities are essentially incommensurable, making comparison (and thus exchange) impossible. That is, if I exchange x amount of grain for y amount of coal, I am presuming that there exists some third medium to which they can both be compared. This cannot be demand solely, because “keeps me warm in the winter” and “keeps me fed” are themselves incommensurable categories; how much “fed” is a “warm” worth?

  2. Marx does consider demand, in the form of social use-value. Something cannot be a commodity if does not have social use-value; that is, a commodity is a complex of labor value and social use-value. For instance, I can spend five hours making the most beautiful mud pie you have ever seen, but it will not be a commodity, because mud pies have no social use-value. As a consequence, the labor spent making it will not produce value.

  3. The water-in-the-desert example relates to productivity, which describes the the amount of labor which must be expended to extract or produce a commodity. Since water is hard to get in the desert – one must either dig deep for it, or have tankers bring it in – the bucket of water has a high labor-value. Note, again, that its labor-value has to do with comparison to other commodities within the total structure of an economy, and is not the sole creator of value in the bucket of water; if there were no economy, the water would still have use-value, because humans need water to live. Labor-value is thus more abstract than use-value, and is to some extent added over and above it.

  4. Converse to #2, above; something can have use-value and yet not be a commodity. The example Marx uses is food grown to support oneself. The work involved in raising a family falls under a similar head, because a family is not a commodity; it belongs in the purely human sphere, which predates and exists outside of commodities. A parent’s labor only becomes measurable as labor-value when the family itself becomes commodified, made abstract rather than concrete. For Marx, the way in which purely human things – love, sex, family, etc., – are commodified and made abstract is a prime example of the inherent anti-human nature of capital.

Camarada Forte
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Doesn’t labor measure commodities, and isn’t it an average taking into account all labor in society – not just the value of this particular productive act, i.e., cutting hair?

Yes, the value of commodities is the average social labor expended to produce it and the price tend towards the value. Marx mentions both the amount of labor as well as the time it takes to produce anything:

What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production. The individual commodity counts here only as an average sample of its kind. Commodities which contain equal quantities of labour, or which can be produced in the same time, have therefore the same value. The value of a commodity is related to the value of any other commodity as the labour-time necessary for the production of the one is related to the labour-time necessary for the production of the other. ‘As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time,’

Notice how Marx uses the “labour-time” category. Individual labor is essentially time expended by a worker to accomplish a certain task. In the case of production of commodities, the value of those commodities tend towards the socially necessary labor-time to produce it. In the perspective of the bourgeoisie, the worker wages are merely costs of production, and the competition between other companies pressure towards producing commodities close to their cost of production. In fact, it has been proven that prices really do tend towards the cost of production or the socially average labor necessary to produce anything.

Now what about the worker wages, which is the variable capital? In the case of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie always try their best to cut the costs of their companies to increase their profits, they have the necessity to cut on worker wages, because there’s always a limit to how you can cut from constant capital. However, the bourgeois cannot cut wages for long. Because if the wages are low enough, a worker cannot sustain themselves, either by debt, hunger, homelessness, health issues or quitting to find something that can sustain them. Even in modern slavery, when workers are in captivity, there exists the costs of maintaining the slaves enough to continue working.

So the cost of getting a haircut, while not related to the productive sphere of capital, is still bound by the fact that this job should earn a worker enough so they can continue living.

The water-in-the-desert example relates to productivity, which describes the the amount of labor which must be expended to extract or produce a commodity. Since water is hard to get in the desert – one must either dig deep for it, or have tankers bring it in – the bucket of water has a high labor-value.

This is another perspective to this question, and you are correct as well.

To the other parts of your comment, I don’t immediately understand what was your point, but I agree with your views nonetheless.

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