[OPE-L:5825] Re: form and content re value-form and abstract labour

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Jun 07 2001 - 13:56:15 EDT

Hi Fred,

It may look like splitting hairs, but, as Marx says, this is the cell 
form, so a few comments below
> But Essence exists, doesn't it, even though non-sensuous?

I'm afraid the term 'exist' has to be unpacked.

For a materialist, what exists are forms of matter. Matter is 
*universal*. *Individual* things instantiate *particular* forms of this 
*universal* matter. What can't happen is for 'matter' to 'exist' 
externally to, outside of, any particular form.

Now 'Essence' is, in our case, value. In turn, value is congealed 
abstract labour. Does congealed abstract labour exist, even though 
non-sensuous? Well, yes it does, but only in a very banal sense. 
Abstract labour as such is transhistorical. It exists in all epochs. 
Just as production and distribution do. But abstract labour does 
not, in these cases, count as 'essence'. It exists only as a mere 
aspect of concrete labour. Analogously, 'Law' is a mere aspect of 
German Law and Greek Law. Or again, 'being an animal' is a mere 
aspect of lions and tigers. 

[a disanalogy is that 'labour' is a rather different, and more 
important, sort of universal to 'law' and 'animals' (it is more akin to 

Because of this fact that, where abstract labour is a mere aspect of 
concrete labour, abstract labour does not count as essence, I'd 
say the answer to your question above is 'no'.

> I would say abstract labor becomes observable through money, rather that
> "gains existence" through money.  

It is true that the magnitude of abstract labour, and its universal 
character, become observable through money (however 
imperfectly). But this isn't the interesting point. The interesting 
point is that, due to the ubiquity and dominance of money, we have 
come to refer to the 'value' of commodities, where value is thing-
like, object-like, not a mere aspect of a thing, of commodities, but 
a thing in its own right, giving commodities their 'two-fold' character. 
But, despite engendering this notion of 'value', money is not the 
'thing' to which we refer when we say 'value'. Value is the 
congealed abstract labour contained in commodities. To grasp 
value, we have to grasp that this labour has gained quasi separate 
existence through this 'reflection' of itself in money. This is highly 
peculiar given the materialist principle articulated above.

This is indeed 'systematic causation' since value and its 
appearance form (money) develop simultaneously. But such 
simultaneity is perfectly compatible with the *synchronic* priority of 
congealed abstract labour over money.

All this is made even more difficult to grasp by the fact that, as 
money develops, it *appears* to become free of abstract labour. Ie. 
price magnitudes appear to become free of the law of value. 
Money, it appears, confers value on anything; the law of value is 
then apparently a nonsense. But this is the most abstract reason 
for crises. In a crisis, the law of value reasserts itself. A crisis 
reasserts the hold of abstract labour on its own sensuous form of 
> > But the important point upon which we are in full 
> > agreement, I hope, is that abstract labour time tethers price 
> > magnitude; the immediate opposition opens up this crucial 
> > distinction between the two magnitudes, the mediate identity 
> > confirms their connection.
> This requires that specific quantities of abstract labor exist in some way
> independently of prices, does it not?

I think that it is crucial to achieve a greater degree of precision than 
your sentence above. This is what I have tried to do.   

What a nightmare value is!!!



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