A Bataillean Response to the Sign-Value Critique of the Labor Theory of Value


[NOTE: Labor-power is not expenditure in the sense that it is unproductive consumption (see my critique of this latter idea not being the case in my essay On Marx). As for my current position on the idea of “the sign-value critique of the labor theory of value,” I suggest you go look at what I had to say about Bifo’s comments on Marx’s labor theory of value in my essay Bataillean Semiotics and a Materialist Theory of Semiocapitalism]

Around August, I read this article on Baudrillard and ‘commodity value theory’ titled Toward a Postmodern Theory of Value–The Rehabilitation of Jean Baudrillard. I made a ‘sign theory of value’ after I read that and then spread that critique around the internet. The argument that I had employed in around August against the Marxist the labor theory of value was that all commodities have a sign-value or, in other words, all commodities are signs. Thus, the labor theory of value meant nothing as commodities are just signs and therefore sign-value which is determined by the code is the commodity’s value. I haven’t held this position since sometime in 2020.

My critique of the sign-value critique of the labor theory of value is quite simple: not all commodities have/are signs. Why is this? Well, it is quite simple: labor-power does not signify. For Bataille, expenditure “remains external to representation”.[1] THERE ARE NO AESTHETICS OF LABOR-POWER! IT DOES NOT SIGNIFY! Yet it is a commodity. The issue with the only counter response to this, the counter response being that someone’s labor-power could be bought for certain reasons such as what the person looks like, is that labor-power is not just the worker’s body, but rather, the energy expended by the worker’s body. We will repeat the fact that expenditure does not signify! Expenditure is outside of representation, being the other to metaphysics and even theoretics (all of the humanities, “objective sciences”, etc. (all fields of study and discourses)).


Shaviro, Steven. Passion & Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory. Florida State University Press, 1990.


[1]: Steven Shaviro, Passion & Excess: Blanchot, Bataille, and Literary Theory (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Press, 1990), .67

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille