[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value

Christian Fuchs christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Mon Oct 26 13:59:46 UTC 2009

Thank you for brining up the issue of the labour theory of value, Adam, 
and thanks to Mark for following up on this issue. I think this topic is 
important for the discussions about digital labour, but of course it is 
a difficult issue, which in my opinion requires to discuss what Marx 
actually wrote about value, surplus value, class, exploitation, etc. I 
agree with most of Mark's reply on this issue and I disagree with much 
of what Adam has written in his posting.

Let me add my own views.

The exchange value of a commodity is the quantitative relationship in 
which it is exchanged with other commodities: x commodity A = y 
commodity B, further developed by marx in capital, vol. 1, in the 
wertformanalyse (analysis of value form). Exchange value is not the same 
as value. In exchange, the values of two commodities are equivalized, 
but the value of each single commodity is determined in the labour 
process. Labour is the substance of value.

Therefore for such a discussion, we need to start with the question. 
What is the law of value? So let's go to Marx, Capital, Volume 1:

Marx says that when speaking of the value of a commodity, labour "counts 
only quantitatively", it is a matter of "the 'how much', of the temporal 
duration of labour". "the maginitude of the value of a commodity 
represents nothing but the quantity of labour embodied in it"

"A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because 
abstract human labour is objectified (vergegenständlicht) or 
materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be 
measured? By means of the quantity of the 'value-forming substance', the 
labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its 
duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale 
of hours, days etc".

"In general, the greater the productivity of labour, the less the 
labour-time required to produce an article, the less the mass of labour 
crystallized in that article, and the less its value. Inversely, the 
less the productivity of labour, the greater the labour-time necessary 
to produce an article, the greater its value".

Can the law of value be applied to Facebook? Yes:

The capitalist exchanges access to user data and to his Internet 
platform with money in the form x commodity A = y commodity B. The value 
of the Internet platform as commodity is determined by the amount of 
labour objectified in it that is created by the substance of value - 
labour, i.e. by the users. The more Facebook users there are, the more 
playlabour time is objectified in the Facebook platform, the higher the 
value of Facebook, the higher advertising rates (at the price level) can 
be set, the more profit can be made.

When we talk about labour value, we always talk about labour time, which 
is different from the price level, which we can observe and calculate 
because existing economic statistics are not based on labour values, but 
on prices. It is generally speaking not possible to calculate prices 
directly from labour values, there is not a simple mystical formula for 
solving the transformation problem because this is a much more complex 
problem. But there is a causal relationship between values and prices: 
Marx: "When the labour-time required for their production falls, proces 
fall; and where it rises, prices rise, as long as other circumstances 
remain equal".

Marx's category of the rate of surplus value or rate of exploitation 
measures the relationship of surplus labour to necessary labour, e = s / 
v. At the value level, this means the relation of the hours a labourer 
produces surplus value to the number of hours s/he works to reproduce 
his/her wage. At the price level, this is the relation of profit to wages.

In the case of Facebook produsers: e = s /v, v => 0, s=>total number of 
working hours, therefore: e => infinity. Which means: The rate of 
exploitation of Internet produsers converges towards infinity, they are 
enormously exploited because no wages are paid to them. By outsourcing 
production from wage labour to unpaid labour, web 2.0 capitalists can 
accumulate ever more capital. The value produced (i.e. the objectified 
labour time) by  Internet produsers is divided in such a relation  that 
all of their labour time is surplus labour time.

It is a wage labour fetishism to say that only labour that receives a 
wage can be exploited, produces value, etc. This would mean that a slave 
is not exploited. But if the slave is not exploited, why would one want 
to start a revolution in order to break the chains of slavery? Wage 
labour fetishism not only affirms slavery, it also establish a dangerous 
dualism that considers all those who do not work for a wage (the 
unemployed, etc) as parasites. This terroristic labour ethic is typical 
for contemporary capitalism, but was also an element of Nazism and 
Stalinism. A fetisthistic labour theory of value is one that does not 
see human activity as the source of value, but wage labour.

At the gates of hell of most of the Nazi death camps, there were signs 
saying: "Arbeit macht frei" (Labour makes you free, see for example the 
gate to the extermination camp Auschwitz here: 
). All those, whom the Nazis considered as "unproductive labourers" or 
as "unproductive capitalists", were either vaporized or killed by the 
hardest compulsory labour (that benefited the  German war machine and 
certain German industrialists).  Saying that labour only creates value 
if it is commodified, brings us dangerously close  to arguing that 
non-wage labour is unproductive, which always is the first logical step 
for the concept or praxis of the annihilation of so-called "unproductive 
labour" that is seen as parasitic and can easily be connted as Jewish, 
foreign, black, unemployed, homeless, etc.

Adam referred to the "Maschinenfragment" in the "Grundrisse", 
specifically to the passage, where Marx says that the emergence of 
General Intellect anticipates a communist society, in which "the measure 
of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather 
disposable time". Communism is for Marx a highly productive, automated 
society, in which goods are produced automatically without any or hardly 
any human labour/work necessary. As a result, all time becomes 
disposable time and humans  can for the first time be real humans 
because they are emancipated from  hard work.  General Intellect  
becomes an immediate force of production when there is a very high 
degree of productivity, because the technologization of production 
increases the informatization of production. Marx says that if this 
situation is given within capitalist relations of production, then the 
law of value does not vanish within capitalism (it only vanishes in a 
fully automated communist society), but a contradiction in the character 
of value production emerges/is intesified that Marx also formulated in 
the Maschinenfragment: "Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in 
that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits 
labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth". 
Contemporary technology anticipates communism, but is embedded into 
capitalist relations of production, where labor time is the source of 
wealth and the law of value applies, so that the contradiction between 
the productive forces and the relations of production is intensified. 
Concerning the productive forces, we are objectively close to communism, 
but concerning the relations of production, this results within 
contemporary capitalism in an expansion and intensification of 
exploitation, i.e. a situation of convergence towards infinite 
exploitation, in which no wages are paid, but there is maximum 

Negri and other Autonomist Marxists have in my opinion incorrectly 
interpreted the Maschinenfragment by assuming that the situation, where 
disposable time is the source of wealth, exists in contemporary 
informational capitalism. They observe the existence of General 
Intellect and assume that this means the end of labour time as the 
source of wealth. But Marx refers to communism in the specific passage. 
The contemporary situation is described by the contradiction between 
labour time and disposable time that Marx mentions and that I just 
cited. Disposable time only becomes the governing principle of the 
economy in a true communist society, not in capitalism.

Toni Negri wrote in "Marx beyond Marx" that Marx's "Capital" is much 
inferior to the "Grundrisse", which implies one should stop reading 
Capital and instead focus on the Grundrisse. But the Grundrisse is in 
many respects only a fragment that contains interesting passages, but 
there are reasons why Marx published Capital, Vol. 1, as his main work, 
and saw the Grundrisse only as a preliminary study. I think it is a 
problem that there is a tendency in Autonomist Marxism to ignore or not 
to read Capital.

Cheers, Christian

- - -
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
Associate Professor
Unified Theory of Information Research Group
ICT&S Center
University of Salzburg
Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
5020 Salzburg
christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Phone +43 662 8044 4823
Personal Website: http://fuchs.uti.at
Research Group: http;//www.uti.at
Editor of tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access 
Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society
Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the 
Information Age. New York: Routledge. http://fuchs.uti.at/?page_id=40

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