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.
“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.
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