Friday, January 29, 2016

Engels’ Understanding of the “Law of Value” in the Anti-Dühring

In Friedrich Engels’ Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1894; first published in 1878), he describes the “law of value” in two passages:
“The feudal middle ages also developed in its womb the class which was destined in the future course of its evolution to be the standard-bearer of the modern demand for equality: the bourgeoisie. Itself in its origin one of the ‘estates’ of the feudal order, the bourgeoisie developed the predominantly handicraft industry and the exchange of products within feudal society to a relatively high level, when at the end of the fifteenth century the great maritime discoveries opened to it a new and more far-reaching career. Trade beyond the confines of Europe, which had previously been carried on only between Italy and the Levant, was now extended to America and India, and soon surpassed in importance both the mutual exchange between the various European countries and the internal trade within each separate country. American gold and silver flooded Europe and forced its way like a disintegrating element into every fissure, hole and pore of feudal society. Handicraft industry could no longer satisfy the rising demand; in the leading industries of the most advanced countries it was replaced by manufacture.

But this mighty revolution in the economic conditions of society was not followed by any immediate corresponding change in its political structure. The state order remained feudal, while society became more and more bourgeois. Trade on a large scale, that is to say, international and, even more, world trade, requires free owners of commodities who are unrestricted in their movements and have equal rights as traders to exchange their commodities on the basis of laws that are equal for them all, at least in each separate place. The transition from handicraft to manufacture presupposes the existence of a number of free workers—free on the one hand from the fetters of the guild and on the other from the means whereby they could themselves utilise their labour power: workers who can contract with their employers for the hire of their labour power, and as parties to the contract have rights equal with his. And finally the equality and equal status of all human labour, because and in so far as it is human labour, found its unconscious but clearest expression in the law of value of modern bourgeois economy, according to which the value of a commodity is measured by the socially necessary labour embodied in it.” (Engels [1894]: 120–121).

“The ‘exchange of labour against labour on the principle of equal value,’ in so far as it has any meaning, that is to say, the exchangeability against each other of products of equal social labour, that is to say, the law of value, is precisely the fundamental law of commodity production, hence also of its highest form, capitalist production. It manifests itself in existing society in the only way in which economic laws can manifest themselves in a society of individual producers: as a law of Nature inherent in things and in external conditions, independent of the will or intentions of the producers, working blindly.” (Engels [1894]: 349).
It is very clear that Engels is thinking here of modern capitalism of the 19th century: capitalism culminates in the “law of value,” where commodities exchange at their labour values. But by the time of Engels’ “Supplement and Addendum” to Volume 3 of Capital in 1895 he had changed his tune: now the “law of value” in this sense only applied to the premodern world of commodity exchange (see here).

Marx in volume 3 of Capital would describe this law of value as follows:
“The assumption that the commodities of the various spheres of production are sold at their value implies, of course, only that their value is the center of gravity around which prices fluctuate, and around which their rise and fall tends to an equilibrium.” (Marx 1909: 208–210).
Engels in the Anti-Dühring (first published in 1878) thought that the law of value in this sense applied to 19th century capitalism, just as Marx had said in volume 1 of Capital.

But after Marx’s death in 1883 as the transformation problem became a serious issue and he edited the draft of volume 3 of Capital, Engels was forced to recognise that Marx had used a different theory of price determination in volume 3 and that Marx even suggested the strict law of value in volume 1 only applied to the pre-modern world, a solution which Engels himself adopted by 1895 in his defence of Marx’s law of value in volume 1 as still an empirical theory in some sense.

This is further evidence of how misguided and ignorant are many modern Marxists in their inability to understand the deep incoherence of Marx’s thinking on the labour theory of value.

Engels, Friedrich. [1894]. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (trans. Emile Burns from 1894 edn.). International Publishers, New York.

Engels, F. 1991 [1895]. “Supplement and Addendum” to Volume 3 of Capital,” in Karl Marx, Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume Three (trans. David Fernbach). Penguin Books, London.

Marx, Karl. 1909. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 3; trans. Ernst Untermann from 1st German edn.). Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago.


  1. This is basically a regurgitation of arguments you've posted before. They were wrong then -- as I've taken care to illustrate each time -- just as they are now. Give it up.

    Quit stalling and get back to your chapter summaries of Capital vol 1, at least those introduced a bit of variety into your tirades.

    1. Yes, Hedlund, you must be getting very angry that there is so much evidence against your cult-like views.

      So where in the Anti-Dühring does Engels say:

      (1) the law of value (as Marx describes it above) is only completely abstract and never meant to explain price determination in any stage of capitalism, or

      (2) only meant to apply to premodern commodity exchange ( as he later argued).

      Got any evidence?

    2. You're like a first-year troll. "U mad?" Good one. Next I suppose you'll ask me if I have stairs in my house.

      If there's "so much" evidence against my interpretation, one would think you'd have demonstrated at least a little of it by now. Instead we see time and again that the only thing a red-baiting pseudo-left propagandist like yourself can do is misread and misrepresent.

      Case in point: There's no reason why Engels would argue either of those points in any source, because it's not the theory he and Marx were defending. And I include Marx because he was very much still alive as of Anti-Duhring's publication, and even contributed a chapter to it.

      I've explained how this works many times in the past. I don't think it'll stick if I do so again, but nevertheless I shall in case any other possible entrant into the discussion is unsure of what I mean.

      Marx and Engels synthesized a mature realist ontology by combining Hegel's dialectical idealism with Feuerbach's materialism. This is the lens one must adopt in order to understand their theories, because said theories were firmly embedded in this framework. You can read about it here or here; I don't have the room to detail the whole thing.

      Point is, just because an event is not observed does not mean it did not occur, and just because a mechanism is not triggered does not mean it's not real. Realism requires the dual distinction between "real" and "actual," and between "actual" and "empirical."

      Within this framework, the law of value is a structural tendency inherent to commodity exchange, which is always active where commodity exchange occurs: both before and during capitalism. Though in the latter case, it is not a surface-level phenomenon (due to the imposition of other factors), it is still very much operative, and still determinant in the last instance.

      LK, you can't make sense of this because you believe a mechanism can only be real if it is empirical. That is irrealist. You should definitely check out the first document I linked above, though. It's very popular among Post Keynesians.

      I have a sneaking suspicion you'll spurn it, though, since I was the one who recommended it. I guess we'll know based on whether this comment even sees the light of day! :)

    3. Translation: you have **no evidence**, only the pathetic defence that no evidence constitutes proof of your own prior cult-like ideological beliefs.

      As for critical realism: that is no defence, since we have overwhelming evidence that both Marx and Engels applied to law of value -- that commodities tend to exchange as labour values -- in the years after Capital was published, no matter

      (1) the blatantly absurd contradictory footnotes in footnote 24 in Chapter 5 and footnote 9 in Chapter 9 in vol. 1,

      (2) his contradictory musings on prices of production in a totally **private** letter to Engels in 1862.