[OPE-L:5594] Re: Ockam's Razor

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Wed May 16 2001 - 11:22:50 EDT

Re Geert's 5577

Geert argues that there are two strands in Marx's thought, one pointing to
a labor embodied theory and the other pointing to a value form theory, but
that the amiguities are unresolved in his work.  The problem I have with
this critique is that when it comes down to examples I always wonder
whether we aren't faced with what Hegel somewhere referred to as mechanical
or one-sided dialectics.  One takes a contradiction, and instead of
grasping it as a unity of opposites that interpenetrate, the two poles are
separated and held apart and treated as if they are only externally related.

Take for example the question of whether value exists before exchange or
exists only in exchange.  This becomes a line in the sand.  One is allowed
one position or the other.  Marx is read to lend support to either
position, but irreconcilably so.  So to get beyond the confusion, we have
to reconstruct Marx -- in this particular case, if I understand correctly,
by saying that although some texts point toward an analysis that value
exists only in exchange, these insights are never fully disengaged from the
persistence of embodied labor ideas of either the physiological or abstract
labor sort.

But this seems a classic example of interpenetrating opposites being
forcibly ripped apart.  Value exists meaningfully, though differently, both
before exchange and, as it is actualized, in exchange, and much is lost by
plumping for either solution without the other.  To say that value only
exists in the act of exchange seems a retreat to the economic equivalent of
the contractarian view that before two wills meet in exchange there is no
society but only the unruly chaos of the state of nature.  In fact, Marx is
quite clear that commodity production is, in the original disposition of
agents of production to the means of production and to each other, a form
of social production.  This is an essential contribution of Marxism to
social analysis still not fully exploited.

But then we must actually look at the original disposition of agents of
production to the means of production and to each other (and this, not the
product as a commodity, is the analytical starting point of Capital, as
Marx makes clear in Notes on Wagner).  Because the agents of production
produce independently use values that are useless to them, exchange is
generated necessarily , and their labor is necessarily social production.
In other words, if we deal not with historical origins but with an ongoing
system, then the structure reproduces itself and the structure of
production cannot be divorced from the structure of exchange:  production
generates necessarily exchange [the disposition of agents of production is
causally efficacious] and exchange reproduces the original disposition of
the agents of production to the means of production and to each other.  Now
how is aggregate social labor distributed to need in this form?  It is
produced as concrete labor in the form of private labor, but in fact
embodies also different aliquot portions of the aggregate labor available.
Do these expended portions of aggregate social labor constitute value?
Except for those that never make it to market at all -- in which case they
are not any proportionate part of a market society's aggregate social labor
and thus do not fit the terms of the problem -- yes.  Can we specify before
the act of exchange the *quantity* (as distinct from quality) of value?
No.  In the value form hours and minutes of labor are measured by ounces of
gold, not hands of a clock.

In general the whole idea that value exists only in exchange ignores the
distinction between what is real potential, and has the ontological status
of real, and the kind of potential we speak of when we say "anything is
possible."  It is akin to our tendency to ignore the distinctoin between
the existence of powers and their exercise.  Hydrogen burns.  If I keep
hydrogen in a test tube it has the power to burn, but it is not burning.
We don't say it is hydrogen only when its powers are being actualized.  We
say it is hydrogen because of its atomic structure whether it is burning or
not.  Similarly we say of labor that when it is the product of a particular
economic structure, it is value, whether value is actualized or not.
Labor's existence inthe value form exists as a qualitative matter prior to
exchange, a fact shown by its nominal price -- and everything has a price
-- but because the distribution of aggregate labor to need is an ever
shifting process, its quantity can be measured only in exchange.

To say that value exists only in exchange would seem to obliterate a key
acquisition of Marx's analysis -- that value is in fact a form of labor
whereby relations of producers in their reciprocal activities are
represented or become manifest as relations of objects.  Bailey's error was
to miss this.  He saw only the relation of objects and did not investigate
the social relations underlying those object connections.  Thus while
Ricardo located labor as the common element of commodities but neglected to
investigate the specific form in which labor manifested itself as that
common element, Bailey, according to Marx, made the opposite error of
emphasizing only the form in which the exchange value of the commodity
showed itself.  Marx showed the unity of the common element and its
specific form.



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