[OPE-L:5868] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Reply to fred - A & B

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Tue Jun 26 2001 - 03:34:35 EDT

Re Fred's 5867:

I have been tearing my hair at my inability to keep pace with this debate
as it has unfolded.  Jerry said a good some time ago he hoped I was
enjoying OPEL and I can say for sure that I would enjoy it a lot more if
life did not interfere!

Broadly I have supported Fred's positions in this exchange, particularly
his defense of Chapter One and his insistence on labor as the substance of
value.  But I think also attention to form is enormously important and
needs all the attention it can get.  The main thing is I cannot get
comfortable with the way the value form school handles the question of
form.  This can be difficult to disentangle, but Chris sent me earlier an
article appearing in the May June issue of Radical Philosophy of this year
called "The Spectral Ontology of Value."  It contains a clear presentation
of some critical points and one particular quote captures my difficulty.
Chris argues that for value form theory "It is the form of exchange that is
seen as the prime determinant of the capitalist economy rather than the
content regulated by it."

This has long been a basic question for Marxist social science and one that
has appeared in many forms -- do we start with social relations of
production or social relations of exchange.

I think the question of form determination is first of all a question of
the forms of production, not the form of exchange.

The question can be approached this way:  what is value as a social
relation?  What is value as a social relation of *production*?  I take it
for Chris (and for value form theory generally?) the question is
nonsensical because it is exchange that brings about value as a form
without any given content.  It is the fact of being exchanged that unites
things exchanged generically, not anything specific to what they are.  So
the problem Fred has with understanding Chris's use of Rubin is that for
Fred there is a content, labor, given form, whereas for Chris there is a
form which imposes itself upon things by virtue of their being subject to
exchange.  There is content, and it can be characterized as abstract labor,
but it is determined in the end by mere exchangeability, a form without

If I have misunderstood, I welcome corrections!

In Notes on Wagner Marx presents his method as one that proceeds with
constant attention to form:  (1) he starts not with a concept of value, but
with the labor product in the *form* in which it appears in the historical
present; (2) he finds it to be in the *form* of a useful thing and a bearer
of exchange value; (3) he finds that exchange value is only a *form* for
the appearance of value; (4) he finds that value is a particular
historically given *form* of the social character of labor, a form which
may be compared with the historically determined forms in which labor
appeared in other historical periods.  He writes:  "Hence he [Rodbertus]
would have found that the 'value' of a commodity only expresses in a
historically developed form, what exists in all other historical forms of
society as well, even if *in another form, namely, the social character of
labour,* so far as it exists as the *expenditure of 'social'labour power*."
(Carver, Texts, p. 207). I take it value form theory rejects this because
it is incompatible with the notion of value as pure form.

What is the form of social labor that takes the value form?  What is value
as a social relation?  This is explained in the first dozen pages of
Capital, in the Contribution to the Critique, in the Grundrisse, in Notes
on Wagner, the letter to Kugelmann, etc.:  wenever production takes place
separately (privately, autonomously) and produces use values useless to the
producers, then the value form of production emerges.  This is value as a
social relation:  value is the form social labor takes when it is produced
by producers who produce independently, but for others, not for themselves.
 This is form determination as a form of production rather than exchange.
This is a form of the distribution of working persons (remember human
beings?) to nature and to each other.  The form determination that Marx
uses in the first Chapter of Capital is that which he describes in Pre
Capitalist Economic Formations:  he studies the historically specific forms
of working persons in relation to nature and to each other.  If producers
are related to one another in this form of (reciprocally dependent)
autonomy, then they are causally (not conceptually!) driven by the nature
of their relationship with one another to market.  Once there they have to
figure out how to exchange the products of their labor.  They find (in
practice, not theoretically) that they can equate one tihng with another
and exchange on that basis.  Analysis notices that if two things are equal
it must be in terms of some thing common to them.  What is common is that
they are products of labor.  Much more careful analysis shows that one
thing can be used as a form of apearance of the existence of another as a
product of labor and in fact give expression to the other's "density" as a
product of labor.  ETc.  Value is the historically specific form in which
the social character of labor appears when production takes a particularly
determined form.

If value is taken as pure form, and money is simply a socially imputed
power, then, as far as I can tell, we are back to the Aristotle of Chap. 1,
sec. 3.  This was essentially how he explained the exchange of beds and

One consequence of this argument, Fred, if it is correct, is that you
cannot without a good deal of qualifying explanation easily identify money,
price and exchange value as the form of value.  I think you can defend that
usage, but it invites the idea that value is a phenomenon of exchange and
that exchange is decisive from the point of view of form determination.
But it is a particular form of social labor which is value and so it is
possible also to think of that form as a crucially important value form --
in other words the value form can refer to value as a historically
determined form of labor, and in fact that usage is common.  This emphasis
on a determined form of laboring producers can be preserved with less
confusion by referring to money, price and exchange value, plainly
phenomena of exchange, as forms of appearance of something which is not
exclusively a phenomenon of exchange.  That is, we insist that these, which
belong to exchange, refer to something beyond exchange to which they give



This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Jul 15 2001 - 10:56:30 EDT