This article proposes a reading of value theory firmly entrenched in the historicist framework of political Marxism; one which gives precedence to social relations and historical development over abstract logic and formal models. It argues that Marx's theory of value can be read as elucidating how social norms are being unwittingly created under capitalism by contrast with precapitalist societies. The article is divided into two sections. The first examines the two main ways in which value is considered within Marxism and highlights the problems that can emerge when taking into account the issue of the specificity of capitalism. The second section offers an alternative formulation of value theory grounded in the notion of alienation. This leads to the conclusion that the idea that value is shaped by labour refers to a political fact about decisions concerning the organisation of the labour process, rather than an economic fact about the expenditure of labour in the process of production. Value reflects the class struggles over the labour process and the norms that govern social life, rather than an embodied quantity of socially necessary labour-time expended within the labour process.