[OPE-L:5672] Response to Fred - 4

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Sun May 27 2001 - 01:23:03 EDT

4) VFT reconstructions

For an insight into the differences between Marx's method of abstraction in
the first chapter and VFT abstractions, compare early VFT attempts to
reconstruct Marx's starting point (eg Eldred and associates, various
1981-1985).  Here the value-form is posited, at the outset, as the
money-form derived by Marx as universal equivalent.  Further elaboration
then establishes the money-form as dominant over the social allocation of
labour and it is this dominance over the labour process that 'signifies the
transition of the value-form from the sphere of exchange to its domination
of bourgeois production' (Eldred and Hanlon, 1981, p.27).  The essence of
the value-form as the 'mode of association' is that it enables industrial
commodities to be produced by concrete dissociated labour.  The
*contradictory* character of the industrial (capitalist) commodity is
thereby established as the universal-particular opposition of abstract
associated and concrete dissociated labour:

'To emphasise the value character of the commodity, we refer to it as a
product of abstract associated labour, as a universal, as a member of the
universe of the industrial commodity-products of labour.  By contrast, the
commodity as a product of dissociated concrete labour will be referred to
as a particularity' (Eldred and Hanlon, 1981, p.29).

In place of Marx's reductive derivation, we now have the internal doubling
of a concept into 'particularity' and 'universality' referred to by Reuten
and Williams (1989) as 'the basic form of internal opposition or
contradiction' in dialectical thinking.  In a system of private independent
production, the basic form of contradiction is 'that dissociated labouring
activities only become associated in the exchange of their result,
objectified labour, represents the kernel of the contradiction between
production and exchange' (Eldred and Hanlon, 1981, p.31).  Note that the
contradiction inherent in the concept of dissociated labour is not resolved
by its negation in exchange; on the contrary, association is a necessary
condition enabling the very existence and perpetuation of dissociated
activity, given the microeconomic organisation of production and consumption.
The necessity of money in this conception seems to be demanded by the
value-form (the need for an association of dissociated products and
labours) rather than the exchange relation (the need for exchange ratios
between commodities).  Nevertheless, Eldred, Hanlon Kleiber and Roth (1982)
retain the commodity - albeit reconstituted as a duality of money and
use-value - as their starting point.  Is the commodity sufficiently
determinate to act as an all-embracing concept for a specifically
capitalist form of wealth?  On one reading, the 'commodity' is a
preparatory (rather than a universal) notion belonging to the moment of
phenomenological inquiry, preceding the presentation proper (Banaji, 1979).
 Taking Marx's comment on the commodity as an appearance - 'a reflected
sphere of the total process of capital' - Banaji argues that the commodity
as a concept has 'still to be posited' in its particular-universal doubling
of use-value/value (p.30).  Note here that Arthur (1997) 'gratefully
accepts' this reading, which implies that Capital has a double starting
point: (1) the 'commodity' as an analytic category in a preliminary process
of inquiry, and  (2) 'value' as the synthetic abstract universal starting
point for a dialectical presentation.  In a comment written shortly before
his death, Marx (1879) appears to confirm these readings of the commodity
as a preparatory notion and value as the universal capitalist concept: 

'In the first place I do not start out from 'concepts', hence I do not
start out from 'the concept of value'…What I start out from is that
simplest social form in which the labour-product is presented in
contemporary society, and this is the 'commodity'.  I analyse it, and right
from the beginning, in the form in which it appears' (Marx, 1879, p.198).

It seems plausible, then, that the first two sections of Capital have to do
with empirical/theoretical perceptions and with the process of working
these up into concepts.  On this reading, the systematic dialectical moment
of presentation does not commence until the reconstitution of the commodity
as an entity of double (material-social) form, in the third section of the
first chapter of Capital.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that the
ambiguities in Marx's development of the value-form as money-form (a
general theory of money?) mitigates against the commodity as an abstract
universal for capitalism.  But this email is already *far too long* for me
to develop the argument for 'dissociated labour' as the most abstract
universal concept for the capitalist mode of production (cf. Reuten and
Williams, 1989).  A one line summary will have to suffice.  

As a requirement for social cohesion in a system based on the dissociation
of labour - and the separation of production and consumption - the
interplay of the value-form and the exchange relation constitutes the first
moment in which abstract-labour and value are determined as actual.  In a
nutshell, that is the meaning of form-determination in a systematic
dialectical form of logic.

Finally.  Although I have criticised Marx for the 'failures' of systematic
dialectical logic, and praised VFT theories for setting them to rights,
this 'critique' should not be taken to imply that I agree with you that the
logic of Capital is reductive/analytic/axiomatic.  A good case can be made
that Capital TAKEN AS A WHOLE is a systematic dialectical work
(irrespective of the problems of Chapter 7 or Chapter 1).  If one accepts
that this is so, then VFT must be seen as a contemporary development as a
logic implicit throughout capital, but not always well handled by Marx.

Refs to Marx;
1867a, Capital 1, Penguin 1976;
1867b, 'The Value Form' - Appendix to first German edn of Capital 1,
reproduced C&C, 1978 (4), 130-150
1857, Grundrisse, Penguin, 1973
1879, Notes on Adolph Wagner, in Carver, 1975.

Appologies, for the length of this post

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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