A Structural-Anarchism Critique of Marxian Exchange-Value and Use-Value

(Exchange-Value as the Receptacle/Mirror of Conceptual-Perception Within the General Commodity-Form)

According to Karl Marx, the basic datum-bit of the capitalist mode of production and/or capitalist society in general, is the commodity, in the sense that “the individual commodity appears as its elementary form”. ((Karl Marx, Capital (Volume One), Trans. Ben Fowkes (London Eng.: Penguin, 1990) p. 125.))   And due to this nucleus of the capitalist mode of production, Marx begins his analysis of Capital (Volume One) by specifically analyzing the commodity in its most elementary form as “an object with a dual character, possessing both use-value and exchange-value” ((Ibid, p. 131.)), inherent in its structure. Foremost, Marx states that “the usefulness of a thing makes it a use-value” ((Ibid, p. 126.)), the utility of things are multi-varied and plural, there are many uses for things, regardless of shape and/or form, “every useful thing is…useful in various ways” ((Ibid, p. 125.)), depending on what a person perceived as its utility. However, what makes a commodity a commodity is not its use-value, per se, but its use-value in combination with its exchange-value. For instance, Marx states, “a thing can be useful….without being a commodity. He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labor admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities.

In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others” ((Ibid, p. 131.)), namely, exchange-values, that is, things which can be consumed by others and not for oneself. Therefore, for Marx, exchange-value is the defining characteristic of what makes a commodity a commodity, and exchange-value is best described as “the exchange relation between one thing and another, between a given amount of one product and a given amount of another” ((Ibid, p. 126.)). The point of exchange-value is trade, to produce something for the purpose of exchange with something other, for the purpose that its use-value be consumed by others after an act of exchange.

For Marx, this is the basic structure of the commodity, use-value combined with exchange-value; moreover, this is the commodity-form in general.  And what is distinctive of the capitalist mode of production is the fact that this specific social mode of production is centered on the production of commodities and, generally speaking, the commodity-form; that is, exchange-values rather than strictly use-values, in the sense that this specific mode of production emphasizes exchange-values above use-values. The capitalist mode of production, contrary to all previous historical modes of production, is about the production of commodities, that is, use-values combined with exchange-values.  And, it is for this reason, why Marx begins Capital (Volume One) by declaring that “the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an immense collection of commodities” ((Ibid, p. 125.)). Commodities, and the commodity-form in general, is la raison d’être of the capitalist mode of production.

Notwithstanding, what is peculiar about commodities and the commodity-form, in general, is the fact that they embody the added element of exchange-value. Exchange-value is truly the mystical thing or mystical relation within the basic structure of the commodity in the sense that “exchange-value appears first of all as the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind” ((Ibid, p. 126.)), despite commodities being essentially and radically different from one another. What is mystical is that “a given commodity… has many exchange-values instead of one. In short, it is exchanged for other commodities in the most diverse proportions” ((Ibid, p. 127.)).

As a result, the exchange-values inherent in commodities and the general commodity-form are multi-varied and “abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties” ((Ibid, p. 163.)) as exchange-values are conceptual, and moreover envelop commodities with a certain strangeness. Via the form of exchange-value, commodities can be calibrated and connected to a diversity of other commodities; and the reason for this is that commodities, no matter how diverse they are in shape and/or form, share something identical and abstract with each other, namely, a certain identical magnitude that is present in all commodities, whatever they may be.  As Marx states:

Take two commodities, for example corn and iron. Whatever their exchange relation may be, it can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron, for instance 1 quarter of corn = x cwt of iron. What does this equation signify? It signifies that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two different things, in 1 quarter of corn and similarly in x cwt of iron. Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be reducible to this third thing. ((Ibid, p. 127.))

And this third thing is the mystical element that gives exchange-value its form, resonance and mystical nature within the commodity structure; and all exchange-values are relations fundamentally based on this third thing. In fact, this third thing is the common element shared by all exchange-values or broadly speaking commodities, by which all differing “commodities [can be] reduced to,…[and] of which they represent a greater or a lesser quantity”. ((Ibid, p. 127.)) For Marx, this singular, mystical property that gives exchange-value its form, resonance and mystical nature is labor-power, that is, abstract human labor or socially-necessary labor-time, as he states, “what exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article is… the amount of labor socially necessary, or the labor-time socially necessary for its production”. ((Ibid, p. 129.)) It is the quantity of socially necessary labor-time embodied in a commodity and in all commodities, that enables these commodities and/or this commodity to be related to another commodity and/or other commodities. As a result, commodities exist in a network of relations with each other, based on the fundamental characteristic of socially necessary labor-time, which permits these commodities to relate to each other via their individual quantities of socially necessary labor-time.

Notwithstanding, this is not necessarily the case, in the sense that, in contrast to Marx’s notion of socially necessary labor-time, this singular, mystical property that gives exchange-value its form, resonance and mystical nature may very well be conceptual-perception, that is, the particular beliefs individuals and societies hold in relation to particular commodities and/or one another, regardless of the quantity of socially necessary labor-time these commodities embody. Consequently, this third thing, by which all commodities can be reduced, besides labor-time, is conceptual-perception, namely, the equalization process of the logical apparatus embodied in the human intellect, which socially constructs particular, arbitrary value-judgments, regardless of the abstract human labor expenditures embodied in commodities. Hence, it is the equalization process of the human intellect, grounded in conceptual-perception, which constructs and applies value-judgments to commodities and socio-economic phenomena, regardless of socially necessary labor-time. Conceptual-perception determines both the use-value and the exchange-value of commodities.

According to Marx, via the component of exchange-value, use-value disappears whereupon it is abstracted to the point of non-existence, whereupon everything concerning economics and economic-value have increasingly to do with exchange-values and increasingly nothing to do with use-values. For Marx, when exchange-value becomes the focal point of the capitalist mode of production:

An object is no longer a table, a house, a piece of yarn or any other useful thing [as] all its sensuous characteristics are extinguished. Nor is it any longer the product of the labor of the joiner, the mason or the spinner, or of any other particular kind of productive labor. With the disappearance of the useful character of the products of labor, the useful character of the kinds of labor embodied in them also disappears; this in turn entails the disappearance of the different concrete forms of labor. They can no longer be distinguished, but are all together reduced to the same kind of labor, human labor in the abstract. They [become] merely congealed quantities of homogeneous human labor [namely socially necessary labor-time, devoid of particularities]. ((Ibid, p. 128.))

Therefore, for Marx, when commodities are related to one another via their exchange-values, the particularities of use-values embodied in commodities are annulled in favor of the objective characteristic of general, abstract, human labor, which is always quantifiable and based on quantity and nothing else. In fact, for Marx, it is abstract, human labor that gives commodities, specifically exchange-value, its mystical quality in the sense that:

The mysterious character of the commodity-form consists…simply in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labor as objective characteristics of the products of labor themselves, as the socio-natural properties of these things. Through this substitution the products of labor become commodities, sensuous things which are at the same time supra-sensible or social. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. ((Ibid, p. 164-165.))

As a result, according to Marx, exchange-value is nothing but the quantity of abstract, human labor embodied in a commodity and the reflection of the relations of production that humans enter into, which is materially embodied in commodities and reflected in the commodity-form, in general. For Marx, this is source for the mystical nature of commodities and the commodity-form in general, namely, quantities of abstract human labor in combination with relations of production, embodied and mirrored in the exchange-values of commodities and/or the exchange-value of the commodity-form in general.

In contrast, although these are the properties that commodities and the commodity-form, in general, appear to embody and to possess, the reality is that commodities and the commodity-form, in general, do not, in fact, embody and possess these properties in the sense that, contrary to Marx, value; i.e., socially necessary labor-time, and social relations of production exist solely in the mind, namely, the conceptual-perceptions of people. The same applies to the categories of exchange-value and use-value in the sense that these categories are conceptual constructs, that is, mental constructs of the mind, which are given weight and gravity through the production of material commodities.  Hence, contrary to Marx, exchange-values and use-values embody and mirror people’s belief systems, belief systems which are socially constructed on the premises that people unwittingly accept, concerning socio-economic phenomena, as universally valid and as indisputably real, namely, the ideational comprehensive frameworks people hold about the world and specific commodities. Likewise, these ideational comprehensive frameworks are magically reflected and embodied the exchange-values/use-values of commodities, determining and structuring their individual values and their individual prices.

Granted, Marx acknowledged, through the concept of fetishism, that people are to a certain extent bewitched and deluded into ascribing certain properties to commodities, hence the mystical nature of commodities, but Marx does not go far enough. He does not see that fetishism is intimately involved in all aspects of human labor, both abstract human labor, and concrete, variable human labor, namely, use-values and exchange-values. For Marx, “fetishism…attaches itself to the products of labor as soon as they are produced as commodities” ((Ibid, p. 165.)), that is, as soon as commodities have completed their specific assembly-line, production process. Consequently, Marx does not realize that fetishism descends right down into every part of the production process at all levels of production, influencing, informing and mystifying production and products at every stage of development.

Exchange-values and use-values are soaked in fetishism.  In contrast, Marx always leaves the production process pure and unsullied by fetishism as the material basis for a true scientific understanding of the capitalist mode of production. For Marx, the factory floor is always devoid of fetishism, in the sense that the production process is Marx’s abode for genuine scientific understanding, that is, scientific understanding based on the sanctified power of pure human labor, devoid of all mystical qualities and fetishism. Specifically, socially necessary labor-time and broadly speaking, human labor, is Marx’s underlying antidote against the delusional and corrupting powers of fetishism. For Marx, fetishism is the veil that conceals the hard-core material reality and verity of production. Fetishism, for Marx, is not intimately connected to production itself, to the production of commodities, namely, the production of exchange-value and use-value.

Therefore, according to Marx, commodities are always exchanged based on the amount of socially necessary labor-time they embody and never anything else. And as Marx states, “when commodities are in the relation of exchange, their exchange-value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use-value” ((Ibid, p. 128.)), whereupon use-value is abstracted to the point where the exchange of commodities between one another is fundamentally a matter of the “labor-time…measured on the particular scale of hours, days etc.” ((Ibid, p. 129.)) That is, the socially necessary labor-time objectified within these exchangeable commodities; socially necessary labor-time being, for Marx, “ the labor-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labor prevalent in that society”. ((Ibid, p. 129.)) For Marx, the conditions for the creation of socially necessary labor-time are:

First, labor-power must be functioning under normal conditions…[Second] labor-power itself must be of a normal effectiveness…It must possess the average skill, dexterity and speed prevalent in that [specific] trade…[Third] it, [that is, labor-power] must be expended with the average amount of exertion and the usual degree of intensity….[And fourth] all wasteful consumption of raw material or instruments of labor is strictly forbidden…because [these are] superfluous expenditure of quantities of objectified labor. ((Ibid, p. 303.))

As a result, for Marx, socially necessary labor-time is the regulatory mechanism that governs the labor-process and the parameters of exchange-value. It comprises both the necessary labor-time needed to produce the commodity as a use-value and the surplus labor-time needed to produce the commodity as exchange-value; “only socially necessary labor-time counts towards the creation of value”. ((Ibid, p. 296.)) However, Marx does not fathom that fetishism constructs, influences and mystifies what is considered as socially necessary labor-time, and moreover what the categories of exchange-value and use-value, housed with the commodity-form in general, are developed from and ultimately capable of.

For Marx, socially necessary labor-time is always the safeguard against fetishism as socially necessary labor-time is scientific and quantifiable; it is the average time-span and expenditure of labor-power necessary to produce a particular commodity within a specific economic branch, hence, it is always robust, scientifically accurate and factual. For Marx, socially necessary labor-time is an average, scientifically-based median, socially constructed by competing firms, struggling to maximize profit and their share of a specific commodity market. From the Marxist perspective, socially necessary labor-time is devoid of the religiousness and the metaphysical subtleties enveloping commodities.

As a result, Marx, fails to comprehend that human labor, or human labor-time, or for that matter, socially necessary labor-time, is already poisoned with all sorts of fetishisms, the fetishisms soaking the whole capitalist production process, from alpha to omega, from top to bottom, with the abounding metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties present in the commodity-form in general. Human labor and socially necessary labor-time are, for Marx, outside the influences and mystifications of fetishism. And, so certain of this is Marx, that he bases his whole theoretical edifice, outlined in Capital Volume One, Two and Three etc., on the universal unsullied verity of scientifically quantifiable labor-power, that is, scientifically determined, socially necessary labor-time, fully engaged in the capitalist mode of production.

For this reason, Marx misses the essential fact of the capitalist mode of production and capitalism in general, that it is the mystifying power of fetishism, specifically capitalist fetishism, emanating from the apparatus of conceptual-perception and inundating all aspects and stages of production, consumption and distribution etc., that ultimately determines prices, values and wages, including socially necessary labor-time, exchange-value and use-value etc.  As a result, contrary to Marx, it is conceptual-perception, not concrete human labor-power or abstract human labor-power, which is the source of exchange-value, use-value and, in general, the commodity-form. It is conceptual-perception in the end which determines value and price in the sense that value and price are conceptually and socially constructed and not necessarily scientifically determined, although they can be. Labor-time is still an aspect of production but it is a secondary aspect, relegated solely to the category of use-value, not exchange-value.

In contrast, exchange-value, and for that matter use-value, are fundamentally the product of conceptual-perception, or, as Marx inadvertently states, in a momentary slip of the tongue, “the value of a thing consists in its relation to our needs” ((Ibid, p. 261.)), these needs finding expression within conceptual-perception. For example, use-values are conceptually and culturally determined, different cultures produce different use-values, different individuals utilize different use-values according to diverse forms of utility etc.

As Marx states, it is the object of history to unravel all the possibilities of utility that a commodity has, “the discovery of these ways and… the manifold uses of things is the work of history”. ((Ibid, p. 126.)) The same applies for what constitutes exchange-value, or what is considered productive and unproductive labor etc. in the sense that it is a matter of how the logical apparatus of conceptual-perception defines the parameters of exchange-value, use-value and/or productive and unproductive labor etc. that permits a certain type of labor to inform and influence the exchange-value and use-value of a commodity. And the parameters of what constitutes productive and unproductive labor are a matter of the particular ideational comprehensive framework, which governs a specific socio-economic formation.  Different ideational comprehensive frameworks, governing a specific socio-economic formation, will define exchange-value and use-value, productive and unproductive labor etc. differently according to different parameters etc., and different understanding(s) of exchange-values and use-values, as ideational comprehensive frameworks organize human needs and conceptual perceptions into hierarchies, which, in turn, influentially feedback unto the various capitalist modes of production, consumption and distribution etc.

Subsequently, focusing strictly on exchange-value, exchange-value is always a matter of abstraction; i.e., abstract generalization, as conceptual-perception is the nexus of value and price, and the determining factor of value and price, not necessarily abstract human labor or labor-time, as Marx would have us believe. Marx’s whole exercise for abstracting use-value in order to show that congealed labor-time is the underlying element which all exchange-values possess, is clearly an exercise of conceptual-perception, which, for Marx, ultimately posits abstract labor-time as the determining factor of value and price, when, in fact, Marx, unwittingly reveals that the real basis of exchange-value is conceptual-perception, that is, the particular beliefs individuals and societies hold in relation to particular commodities and/or one another, regardless of the quantity of socially necessary labor-time these commodities embody. For example, for Marx, “value is determined by…labor-time” ((Ibid, p. 186.)) and “money…acts as a universal measure of value” ((Ibid, p. 188.)), it transforms value into the price-form or the money-form and:

Although invisible…this relation…exists only in [the] head, so to speak. The expression of the value of commodities in [money] is a purely ideal act,…in other words, it is an act which takes place entirely in the mind. In its function as measure of value, money…serves only in an imaginary or ideal capacity. ((Ibid, p. 190.))

Consequently, Marx understands that conceptual-perception is essential to the expression of value, specifically, in this instance, the expression of value into money-price, but he fails to notice that the expression of value itself is a matter of conceptual-perception, namely, that value is a product of conceptual-perception and not necessarily scientifically quantifiable labor-power or socially necessary labor-time. What counts as socially necessary labor-time is a social construct, a product of the specific parameters of a specific ideational comprehensive framework; i.e., ideology, which also means by association that exchange-value and use-value are products of the specific parameters of a specific ideational comprehensive framework; i.e., ideology. However, Marx always leaves concrete human labor-power and abstract human labor-power as magnitudes independent of conceptual-perception, as magnitudes outside the influence of conceptual-perception and/or thought processes.

If something has a pure universal quality and is the truth personified, for Marx, it is quantifiable labor-power; i.e., socially necessary labor-time, in the sense that, for Marx, labor is the human species raison d’être and is always universally consistent, “the same labor, performed for the same length of time always yields the same amount of value”. ((Ibid, p. 137.)) Moreover, Marx, posits the equivalent-form of the commodity within the commodity itself, that is, “the equivalent form of [the] commodity…is the form in which it is directly exchangeable with other commodities” ((Ibid, p. 147.)) and thus, Marx overlooks the fact that it is the mind, which equates, that is, posits equivalencies. Money may be the measuring mechanism of value but it is the mind which equates the two, namely, value and money, value and price etc. While comparison and equivalency are logical procedures localized in the mind, they are fundamentally logical processes of conceptual perception. As a result, any seemingly objective unity between the money-form and the value-form is, in fact, an arbitrary conceptual-perception, reinforced by subjective social conventions and subjective social constructs, which control the parameters of the money-form and the value-form, including the manner by which these forms equate with one another.

When things and/or objects lose their distinctions and all their sensuous characteristics are elevated to the realm of generalized abstract human labor-power, as Marx suggests, it is the mental process of abstraction which generalizes from the concrete individuality of specific types of labor-power expenditures. And in the imaginary realm of abstract thought, these objects and things, generalized and abstracted, are subject to the vagaries of conceptual-perceptions, the whims of the imagination, or to put this in Marxist terms, these objects and things are subject to all sorts of fetishisms, fetishisms that influence, inform and mystify specific exchange-values, use-values and the commodity-form in general.

Of course, these objects and things can be conceptually unified through the fundamental Marxist concept of socially necessary labor-time; but this is not necessarily the case in the sense that all sorts of determining factors play a role, or can play a role, in conceptually unifying objects and things to certain value-determinations and/or price-determinations, when objects and things are elevated to the level of pure abstraction. Other determining factors can be such things as aesthetic considerations, cultural considerations, gender considerations, income considerations, age considerations, time considerations, taste considerations, needs and want considerations etc., each of which can influence, manipulate and/or sway value and price, that is, value-judgments and/or exchange-values one way or another.

For example, two exactly identical products and use-values for men and/or women in a department store can have radically different exchange-values/prices, depending on the location of the products, pertaining to the predominant gender of the consumer shopping in a specific area of a store. As Marx states, “value-relations…have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this…between men [or women]” ((Ibid, p. 165.)), and due to this, the price-form, or the money-form and/or price-relations as well have no connection to the physical nature/use-value of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. They are fundamentally conceptual-relations, based on conceptual-perception and the social construction of conception-perception a socio-economic formation predominantly engages in. It is in this regard that conceptual-perception is the nexus of value and price, fundamentally determining their sums, according to a plethora of social considerations.

For Marx, what regulates the exchange of commodities, that is, exchange-value in general, is “the quantity of labor necessarily required, and commonly taken in producing them” ((Ibid, p. 168.)); thus, every commodity is taken as an average representation of a specific quantity of socially necessary labor-time, whose specific amount is arrived at via the coercive laws of competition, laws which stabilize a certain standard level of socially necessary labor-time across a specific industry. As Marx states, “the labor-time socially necessary to produce [a commodity] asserts itself as a regulative law” ((Ibid, p. 129.)) in the logical process of value and price-determinations across a particular sphere of production. As a result, for Marx, commodities, whose exchange-values are comprised of equal quantities of socially necessary labor-time, are identical in abstract terms and thus are capable of equal exchange; however, this equality is a matter of conceptual-perception.

Although Marx’s commodity analysis is logical and plausible, meaning that in certain areas and during certain time-frames such economic factors govern commodity exchanges and exchange-values, this is not the case everywhere and every single time in the sense that conceptual-perception is much more creative, multi-dimensional and multi-logical. It permits all sorts of variable value and price-determinations to exist side by side. In fact, conceptual-perception is creative-power itself. When abstracted to their most generalized form, use-values and commodities are susceptible to many types of determining factors, pertaining to the establishment of their exchange-values, because exchange-value is in the end a product and a reflection of conceptual-perception, not specifically socially necessary labor-time or for that matter abstract human labor-power, although these can be factors, here and there.

Fundamentally, exchange-values are specific expressions of the particular beliefs individuals and societies hold in relation to particular commodities and/or one another, regardless of the quantity of socially necessary labor-time these commodities may embody. Even the concept of socially necessary labor-time itself is a conceptual-perception, a Marxist precept, by which the Marxist perspective socially constructs socio-economic phenomena and a generalized world-view. The exchange-values, embodied in commodities express the conceptual-perceptions individuals and societies possess; i.e., the conceptual-value individuals and societies perceive and hold, pertaining to specific commodities and the commodity-form in general. And commodity exchanges occur when these values and prices, derived from conceptual-perception, correspond and commensurate with other conceptual-perceptions; and inversely commodity exchanges do not occur when these values and prices, derived from conceptual-perception, do not correspond and commensurate with other conceptual-perceptions etc.

In agreement with Marx’s line of thinking, “one sort of wares are as good as another, if the value be equal. There is no difference or distinction in things of equal value” ((Ibid, p. 127.)), which is perfectly true; however, contrary to Marx, equal value is not a matter of how much socially necessary labor-time is embodied and reflected in a particular commodity which makes it commensurate with another; instead, this is fundamentally a matter of conceptual-perception, that is, the conceptual-perception a person has for a particular commodity and/or set of commodities. Things, objects and/or commodities have equal-value and equal-price if the conceptual-perceptions between two entities correspond and commensurate, pertaining to value and price, devoid of the actual quantity of socially necessary labor-time embodied in them.  Commodity-exchange does not need the commensurability of labor-time between two commodities in order for exchange to transpire, which Marx agrees with. However, contrary to Marx, commodity-exchange does need the commensurability of conceptual-perception between two entities, concerning two commodities, in order for exchange to transpire. There must be always some form of ideational congruity and/or agreement if any type of commodity-exchange is to transpire.

Exchange-value is, in this regard, not the emblem of abstract human labor, but an empty receptacle/mirror of conceptual-perception, which is satiated by individual and collective conceptual-perceptions, intermingling with one another, shaping exchange-value itself. The same applies to the category of use-value.  Specifically this is the process of the social construction of value and price; i.e., exchange-value and use-value, in the sense that exchange-value drives production not use-value, as Marx correctly surmised, while conceptual-perception drives exchange-value, contrary to what Marx surmised. It is because value and price are fundamentally based on conceptual-perception that, to quote Marx, “a thing can, formally speaking, have a price without having a value” ((Ibid, p. 197.)).  If labor-time was the fundamental basis of value and price, a thing could never have a price without first and foremost having a value. Although Marx reserves this specific analysis of price without value for special cases such as conscience, honor, uncultivated land etc., which are “without value because no human labor is objectified in [them]” ((Ibid, p. 197.)), it is clear that the imaginary price-form and/or value-form for these exceptions can certainly function as the norm.

For instance, according to Marx, “if an instrument of production has no value to lose; i.e., if it is not the product of human labor, it transfers no value to the product”. ((Ibid, p. 312.)) However, this instrument and the commodities that this particular instrument produces can always have a price, representing imaginary value, due to the fact that the price-form and/or money-form are structures founded on conceptual-perception, and because these structures are based on conceptual-perception they can be applied to things and/or socio-economic phenomena at will, at any value/price-level and/or whenever. The logical apparatus of conceptual-perception can always apply this monetary/price structure to anything, which it does all the time. Consequently, based on this principle, a fully automated society and production process could function and operate, devoid of quantities of labor-power, and continue to function and operate upon the money-form and price-form, as if nothing had ever changed, regardless if any Marxist value is actually generated or not.

This places value, price and wage-determinations in flux as subjective and arbitrary estimations founded on the vagaries of conceptual-perception, while labor-time and/or socially necessary labor-time themselves are reduced to minor factors in value, price and wage-determinations, as elements relegated to the production of use-values, stripped of all scientific quantifications. Thus the thesis that modern, rational labor theories of value and surplus value have given way to post-industrial, post-modern theories of value and surplus value. Through these various examples, Marx inadvertently demonstrates that price-determinations and value-determinations are derived from ideational comprehensive frameworks, which are applied to objects and things, based on the governing conceptual-perceptions of people and society in general. These value and price-determinations do not have any substantial recourse to scientific quantities of abstract human labor-power, but are fundamentally grounded in a vast array of conceptual-perceptions, assembled and circulating within the category of exchange-value and use-value inside a commodity and/or the commodity-form in general.

As a result, price does not necessarily have to express value. It can function perfectly well where no value, in the Marxist sense, resides; and vice versa, value does not necessarily have to express price, due to the fact that both the value-form and the price-form are logical forms solely equated in the mind, based on a litany of influential conceptual-perceptions. Therefore, the mystical element that gives exchange-value its form, resonance and mystical nature within the commodity is, in essence, conceptual-perception. For Marx, it is conceptual-perception concealed within the notion and medium of labor-power, but it is conceptual-perception nonetheless in the sense that, for Marx, exchange-value always conceals social relations lumped together with socially necessary labor-time.

Yet, exchange-value is much more than Marx describes. Exchange-value embodies and reflects the sum of conceptual-perception which a society possesses within the commodity-form in general. In fact, exchange-value is a repository, reflecting conceptual-perception, driving capitalist production, consumption and distribution onwards, in the sense that the interplay of individual and societal conceptual-perceptions mirrored in exchange-values, socially construct prices, wages, and even use-values, beyond the limits of scientifically quantifiable labor-time and/or socially necessary labor-time, demonstrating that value, price and wage are purely a matter of private and public perception and the inherent conceptualities they hold and embody.

For this reason, the category of exchange-value embedded in the commodity-form is both a receptacle and mirror, which both expresses and reflects the particular matrix of beliefs individuals and societies hold in relation to particular commodities and/or one another, including what constitutes use-value. This receptacle/mirror of exchange-value is not necessarily limited solely to the expression and reflection of relations of production and socially necessary labor-time as Marx argues. As the category of exchange-value within the commodity-form, in general, is far more complex than Marx initially conceived in the sense that exchange-value is as well the expression and reflection of so much more, such as ideas, social relations, ideologies, beliefs, morals, aesthetic tastes etc. That is, all the whims and vagaries of conceptual-perception abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties, namely, the myriad of fetishisms, fantasies and fictions that influence, inform and mystify all values, prices, wages and, in the end, the sum of the capitalist mode of production.

It is the conflicts and antagonisms between all these mystical fetishisms bouncing off one another and fusing into determinant arrangements and formations that fundamentally, in the last instance, determine value, price, and wage. Even the Marxist notion that “the material relations between persons [embodied and mirrored in] the social relations between things…[is a] movement within society [that] has for [the workers] the form of a movement made by things,…[which,] far from being under their control, in fact control them” ((Ibid, p. 166.)) etc., is, in sum, a Marxist fetishism based on conceptual-perception; i.e., the logical apparatus of conceptual-perception and the Marxist ideational comprehensive framework that governs a set of conceptual-perceptions etc.

• Bibliography:  Marx, Karl. Capital (Volume One). Trans. Ben Fowkes. London Eng.: Penguin, 1990.

Michel Luc Bellemare's latest book, Techno-Capitalist-Feudalism, was published in September 2020. He is also the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism). Michel Luc is a member of the Metis Algonquin Nation of Ontario, Canada. Read other articles by Michel Luc.