Notes for Know-how (eighth session): The Value of Value

11th December 2014

Present: Mike and Wendy

Wendy is studying Marx’s labour theory of value and brought to the session some of the writings of I I Rubin (1886 – 1937), a Soviet  economic theorist and historian who contributed greatly to our understanding of Marx’s critical political economy.

The significance of Rubin’s exposition of Marx is his insistence that Marx was not an economist concerned with the allocation of resources or technical inefficiencies of production; but, rather, why the social relations of production take on the peculiar social forms in capitalism as labour, capital, commodities and money;  and how, based on this arrangement, the working activity of people is regulated in capitalist society. Following Marx he sought to provide a sociological and historical explanation for processes that have become so longstanding that they appear to be naturalised and, therefore, incapable of transformation. Rubin, following Marx, refers to this particular ontological project of capitalism as commodity fetishism.

For an appreciative account of Rubin see Samuel Perlman’s introduction to Rubin’s expostion of commodity fetishism, written in 1968 ((

For a more critical account nof Rubin read Moishe Postone’s Time Labour and Social Domination 1993 145-148 and 186 – 188. This more critical account suggests that even Rubin did not grasp the full significance of Marx’s labour theory of value. Postone points out that Rubin saw the fundamental problem of capitalism as the lack of rational decision making in the allocation of resources, a deficiency that could be eradicated by popular planning and new rules of public ownership, rather than problematising the real nature of value as the essential characteristic of capitalist life.

Wendy is going to apply her own understanding of the labour theory of value to research into cooperative schools.