Usufruct vs. use-value

Thomas Waters twaters at
Sun Aug 29 13:40:07 PDT 1999

At 12:52 PM 8/29/99 -0400, Doug wrote:

>Thomas Waters wrote:

>>At 03:44 PM 8/28/99 -0400, Doug wrote:

>> >When I saw Kovel last weekend at URPE summer camp, he said he's wants
>> >to get away from the concept of use value, which is too much like
>> >using-up, and replace it with the concept of usufruct.

>>I think this is a mistake. If use-values were not *consumed* in order to
>>satisfy needs, their circulation could never have given rise to value.

>He's not talking about capitalism, he's talking about a socialist
>rhetorical strategy. Capitalists use without regard to
>destructiveness; red-greens want to be more careful.

I know this is what he's getting at, but the trouble is that it makes it sound like commodities have nothing to do with meeting human needs, which is not so.

Usufruct is a perfectly valid concept, but it can't substitute for the concept of use-value. From what I've heard about Kovel, he is not a romantic. Yet the concept of usufruct seems to point toward a romantic rejection of the commodity and capitalism's enormous power to produce it. Marx's concept on the other hand enables us to criticize the commodity and to see the potential to meet human needs that lies in an "immense accumulation of commodities." I hate to sound so much like Jim Heartfield but there you are.

Ian Murray wrote:

>At least one class of use values can't be used up; the ideas which become
>embodied in artifacts. They actually fit into the usufruct concept very
>well. One can't use up F=MA or other such formulae which are essential for
>engineering etc. The Lockean proviso, which Jefferson embellished
>substantially when he wrote about usufruct and it's relation to ideas
>definitely fits well with attempts to reconfigure today's IP "rights". KM
>goes at this from a slightly different angle in Grundrisse [297-310 Penguin

Hmmm. I admit I'm not 100% sure whether things like the thought that F=MA should count for use-values or not. But it doesn't necessarily matter very much, since it is clear that for value to appear in association with such an intellectual use-value, the intellectual use-value must first undergo a change in form. It must be replaced by something consumable, such as a book in which the thought is printed or a legally limited right of access to the thought. (Both of these processes also add dead labor to the thought.) Otherwise it will fail to exchange and won't be able to have value. I would interpret intellectual property rights as an effort to legislate just such a transformation.


Thomas Waters twaters at Bronx, New York

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