[OPE-L:5623] Re: Howards [5578] Peculiarities of the equivalent form

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Fri May 18 2001 - 12:51:49 EDT

Thank you for this very valuable post (5578) - comments at end:
>Re Chris's 5562
>Chris, thanks very much for your note on the problems of translation with
>regard to the "third peculiarity" and your reference to previous attacks on
>the problem.  As I understand your comments in the excerpt
>1) you not that the german "wird" should be translated as '"becomes" the
>form' rather than '"takes" the form';
>2) you argue that Cyril Smith, having discovered the mistranslation, says
>use value appears in the shape of value, concrete labor appears in the
>shape of abstract labor, and social labor appears in the shape of private
>labor; but,
>3) you argue instead that Marx says use value becomes the form of value,
>concrete labor becomes the form of abstract labor, and private labor
>becomes the form of immediately social labor.
>Correct me if I have the argument of your excerpt wrong.
>Actually I don't think this account of mistranslation explains the
>peculiarity of the third peculiarity.  It does not get at the peculiarity
>of the German original, or, for that matter, of the French either, which
>Marx insisted had independent scientific value.  The problem lies in
>attempting to impose symmetry where in fact there is a distinction that
>needs attention.  Instinctively we read, and want to read, for symmetry.
>But there is a difference between "Erscheinungsform" and "Form"  in German
>that is reflected in both the French and English translations:
>1st peculiarity
>German:  Gebrauchswert wird zur Erscheinungsform seines Gegenteils, des
>French:  la valeur d'usage devient la forme de manifestation de son
>contraire, la valeur.
>English:  use value becomes the form of manifestation, the phenomenal form,
>of its opposite, value.
>2d peculiarity
>German: dass konkrete Arbeit zur Erscheinungsform ihres Gegenteils,
>abstrakt menschlicher Arbeit wird.
>French:  la travail concret devient la forme de manifestation de son
>contraire, le travail humain abstrait.
>English:  concrete labor becomes the form under which its opposite,
>abstract labor, manifests itself.
>3rd peculiarity
>German:  dass Privatarbeit zur Form ihres Gegenteils wird, zu Arbeit in
>unmittelbar gesellschaftlicher Form.
>French:  le travail concret . . . devient ainsi, quoique travail prive . .
>. travail sous forme sociale immediate.
>English:  the labour of private individuals taks the form of its opposite,
>labour directly social in form.
>The distinction is this:  use value is a form of appearance of value -- use
>value is the sign and value the referent -- and concrete labor is a form of
>appearance of abstract labor -- concrete labor is the sign and abstract
>labor is the referent; but private labor becomes the form of its opposite,
>immediately social labor.  In other words, private labor, because it is
>directly exchangeable, actually *is* a form of immediately social labor.
>Private labor isn't a sign of social labor;  in the commodity form it
>actually becomes a form of social labor by being exchanged.  (Smoke is a
>sign of fire; it is not itself fire.)
>By contrast, it is not possible to say, as you do in the excerpt quoted,
>that use value becomes the form of value or that concrete labor becomes the
>form of abstract labor -- use value and concrete labor become *forms of
>appearance* of value and abstract labor respectively. If we said that use
>value became a form of value, then we would say that the natural properties
>of a coat, or of gold, were actually a form of uniform, homogeneous human
>labor.  But this is an absurdity.  The coat is a form of appearance, a
>sign, of the linen's value; gold is a form of appearance of the value of
>all other commodities.  Similarly, if we said concrete labor became a form
>of abstract labor we would be saying that tailoring as such, or gold
>producing, actually were kinds of undifferentiated human labor activity in
>the abstract.  But this too is absurd.  Tailoring is tailoring.  Instead,
>tailoring is a form of appearance, a sign, of the abstract labor expended
>in making linen [no typo], and gold producing is a form of appearance of
>the abstract labor expended in producing other commodities.
>By contrast private labor, by being directly exchangeable, actually does
>become a form of social labor and in this shows that commodity production,
>insofar as it presupposes exchange, is from its inception a form of social
>production.  Because it becomes the equivalent form for all other
>commodities, gold producing labor is not only directly social, because it
>can exchange for other commodities, but also general, because it can
>exchange for anything.
>Once the peculiarity of the third peculiarity is located, I'm not so sure I
>would characterize the English as a mistranslation:  "takes the form of x"
>usually will come across as a more natural English idiom than "becomes the
>form of x."

a) I agree there must be a difference between 'form of manifestation' and
b) As you hint what makes the difference is that 'value' and 'abstract
labour' arise as it were behind our backs and simply to have any reality
must manifest themselves under a visible form. 'immediately social labour'
is however historically and potentially a reality.
c) nevertheless I want to argue that inversion is still present in the
third peculiarity.
d) First let us go back and ask why there is a problem. It is that
capitalism is manifestly a form of social production yet production is
carried on in separate autonomous enterprises. The solution is  universal
exchange. Does this make production immediately social? Yes and No.
Certainly it allows goods to be distributed but only via a form of
*abstract* sociality in which labours are not immediately social but become
socially recognised only under the form of abstract labour, and that
indirently under the shape of the value prodduced. So just as with the
other peculiarities there is the problem of how this abstract sociality is
to be represented, and it is in the private labour that produced the
equivalent: 'immediate exchangeability' is itself a most peculiar social
form quite different from the concrete specific connections between
production and consumption is a peasant household.
e) Your account of the first two [peculiarities is ingenious but I reject
it: in the case of use value I believe it is 'the form' taken by value. The
locution is used by Marx for example on 143 'the form of the coat counts as
the form of value' and 'he value of one is expressed by the use value of
the other'.
In the section on the simple form Mx uses all kinds of terms as synonyms:
natural form, physical form, use value, or sup=impy the coat. What is meant
by use value is not, as you assume, the properties of the coat but simply
the coat. This coat is not a sign of the linen's value, it *is* the linen's
value, what it is worth, just because of its bearing the position of
equivalent in the value expression. So I would read manifestation of value'
more concretely than 'sign'. The coat does not refer to the linen's value
it is that value. Your line would surely lead to a theory of money as a
numéraire rather than as a condition of existence of value.


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