[OPE-L:5871] Re: RE: : Reply to fred - A & B -> The Value-Form

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Fri Jun 29 2001 - 05:02:58 EDT

Thanks Fred for your comments and thanks also Michael. I apologize,
Michael, for the delay in response and apologize also for the length of the
reply.  Put some of the blame on the RE: RE: Re: RE:, etc. style of

By way of preface, Michael, I am "productivist" in the sense of the
Grundrisse Introduction:

"But (1) there is no exchange without division of labour, whether this is
naturally evolved or is itself already the result of an historical process;
(2) private exchange presupposes private production; (3) the intensity of
exchange, its extent and nature, are determined by the development and
structure of production.  E.g. exchange between town and country, exchange
in the countryside, in the towns, etc. Thus exchange in all its moments
appears either to be directly comprised in production, or else determined
by it.

"The result at which we arrive is, not that production, distribution,
exchange and consumption are identical, but that they are all elements of a
totality, differences within a unity.  Production is the dominant moment,
both with regard to itself in the contradictory determination of production
and with regard to other moments.  The process always starts afresh with
production.  That exchange and  consumption cannot be the dominant moments
is self-evident, and the same applies to distribution as the distribution
of productions.  As distribution of the agents of production, however, it
is itself a moment of production."

Productivist, then, in the sense that production is the dominant moment of
the unity, exchange can't be, and that the process starts afresh with
production.  Also, the decisive question with respect to the form of
production is the distribution of the agents of production with respect to
the means of production and each other.  This is the determination of form
that undergirds the process.  That is, in terms of method, wherever one
starts in the process one wants to take it back to this question of form.

>> 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." [The Spectral Ontology of Value]
>imo, It is crucial to note that the 'content' is transhistorical (as Howard
>makes clear below), from which it follows immediately that an account of the
>specifically CAPITALIST economy will indeed focus on capitalist social

The concept of "transhistorical" here can be misleading and in particular
does not give a free pass to circle the playing board to arrive at exchange
without stopping at production.  "Bread" is transhistorical as an object of
nourishment.  Bread produced autonomously by someone who doesn't grow wheat
or produce anything else to feed clothe or shelter him or herself is not.
That is, content always occurs in historically specific forms of the
distribution of the agents of production with respect to the means of
production.  This form in turn determines exchange.  Marx refers to
exchange value subjecting production to itself, but this is exchange value
determined by production determining production.  I'm concerned that
emphasis on the consequent stage of determinations does not forget, ignore
or deny its roots in the first stage.

>> 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.
>The Value-form position is that under capitalism production is determined by
>the fact that it is generalised Commodity production: that is, capitalist
>production is driven by the imperative to produce products with a view to
>exchanging them for a price that covers their costs and generates profit
>> I think the question of form determination is first of all a question of
>> the forms of production, not the form of exchange.
>Yes - production is determined to be necessarily in the form of Commodity
>production - that is to enter into generalised exchange. Howard here is
>implying an unhelpful dichotomy between production and exchange.

First the question of form, then the question of production/exchange.

A.  I don't really know what you mean by form.  Capital is the unity of
production and exchange, that is one of its form determinations, but it is
the third one in the Grundrisse's presentation, not the only one, and not
the simplest one.  What is the simplest form determination of capital?

I think differences in what we expect of form account for some of our
reciprocal confusions.  I have in mind form in the sense of the structure
of an atom or a molecule, an "inner connection," in Marx's terms.  It is
form in the Aristotelian sense of an organizing principle, a developmental
power, a force for the causal generation and reproduction of an organic
whole.  Marx uses form in various ways.  He speaks of "mere form," as in
"formal" or as in a form derivative of a content, and he speaks of "form of
appearance."  But in the sense of "form determination," I think we are
looking for form as content, the thing that allows us to explain what a
thing is and how it behaves.  When Marx says in the Method of Political
Economy that he wants to abstract to ever 'thinner' abstractions until he
arrives at the "simplest determinations," and that he will begin his
reconstruction of the conrete in thought from there, my guess is what he is
looking for is a form determination.  The "simplest determinations" are
forms.  What is value as a form in this sense?  What is capital?  I think
we ought to be able to give a pretty clear answer the way we can describe
the structure of an atom or molecule and, overall, I think Marx does offer
those descriptions.

B.  On the question of production/exchange.  The problem consists in any
tendency, if there is one, to (precisely) dichotomize production and
exchange so that it is impossible to derive the form of exchange from the
form of production.  For example, Eldred and Hanlon seem to treat
dissociation as a phenomenon of production and consumption and argue that
dissociated labor assumes social forml, association, only in exchange.  But
my point is that autonomous production of use values for others is a form
of social production before exchange; it is as production a form of sociation.

In other words, just take the bare basics:  (i) autonomous production
repeated as an ongoing form of production, (ii) the production of use
values useless to producers.  So far I have spoken only of a form of
production and have said nothing of exchange.  But from this form of the
distribution of the agents of production to the means of production,
exchange is necessarily derived.  Production can be seen as the dominant
moment and the process can start (and start analytically) afresh with
production -- "private exchange presupposes private production," and the
division of labor.

I am not confident characterizing VF&S's presentation of this.  On the one
hand any form of human productive activity is presupposed as sociate
activity.  But then in bourgeois production this is negated and production
is posited as dissociated labor.  Dissociation requires association and so
objects must be recognized as socially useful objects.  "This necessity is
accomplished through the exchange relation, which aligns production in
consumption and constitutes, the private, fragmented, units of production
as interdependent.  The exchange relation establishes that the dissociated
activity of particular labor -- producing particular useful objects --
becomes associated.  The exchange relation thuis provides the first
condition of existence of dissociation." (59)

I would explain bourgeois production as from the beginning a form of social
production.  Labor is individual, independent, autonomous, separate, but
because it is a form of production, not just a one shot deal, it is social
production.  The contradiction between social dependence and private
autonomy is present in the form of production itself.  It seems to me it
would be better to say exchange actualizes production's social form rather
than constitutes or establishes it.  Notice that in the infamous seciton 3
of chapter 1 of Capital, Marx has not yet introduced exchange.  Exchange is
presupposed, of course, but we still only search the form of production for
what exchange must become.  And we find that "the labour of private
individuals takes the form of its opposite, labour directly social in
form."  This follows from the fact that the labor of private individuals
produces use values useless to them.  There can be no ongoing production of
this form unless exchange is generated.  But exchange is generated from a
form of production.  A dissociated/sociated form.

>> 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.
>There has been any number of logical abominations perpetuated by casual use
>of the phrases such as 'value (or capital, or whatever) IS a social
>relation'. These expressions conceal a complex web of interconnected
>determinations. **In everyday discourse value is not a social relation, it is
>a predicate of a commodity and of entities more generally. It is the task of
>critical political economy to critically construct the social
>interconnections that determine the meaning of this predicate under
>capitalism; ***to capture the details that determine that under capitalism
>richness of everyday 'value' is tendentially reduced to the one-dimensional
>economic category of Value, expressed in Money. The value-form systematic
>presentation claims to have shown that this arid capitalist 'mode of
>valuation' is constituted in part by the allocation of social resources
>under capitalism being indifferent to the (social usefulness of the)
>content. ****It is a caricature for Howard to render this as 'exchange ...
>brings about value as a form without any given content'.

** Value in everyday discourse (ie of political economy, not e.g. morality)
I do think carries the meaning of value as a social relation.  If I say a
thing is worth x I am relating and comparing activities of laboring
occurring under a historically specific social form of labor.  Even in
everyday discourse, this is the predicate's reference, though of course I
may not realize this.  People refered to water, and did so accurately, for
millennia before they knew it was H2O.

*** I don't know what it means for value to be one dimensional.

**** In part we are talking about different things.  I make a distinction
between value and capital.  Perhaps you find that distinction impermissible
and see caricature where the discussion is restricted to value rather than
exchange value developed as capital.  For the rest I am trying to
understand the concept of value as pure form.  The concept does not seem to
me easy -- the concept of pure form full stop operative in a world I try to
understand as a materialist does not seem to me easy.  Chris seemed to
present the idea relatively clearly as pure exchangeability and I thought I
had a sense of it.  If I have misread Chris, correct me.  If your meaning
is different from Chris, by all means explain.

>> It is the fact of being exchanged that unites
>> things exchanged generically, not anything specific to what they are.
>More precisely, **it is the fact of being produced as Commodity - that is,
>WITH A VIEW to being systemically exchanged - that determines 'what they
>are' in terms of their systemic location within capitalism: ***a potato is
>in the first instance a source of sustenance, but a link in the valorisation
>chain. (Of course, to be a successful Commodity it must have a use-value for
>someone, presumably derived from its sustaining usefulness. But if it is
>threatened with failure as a Commodity, its usefulness will be ignored - as
>when crops are ploughed in during a glut, even in the face of local
>under-nourishment.) ****What a commodity specifically is for capital is
** But this is an element of the form of production, not the form of exchange.

***This also has its source in the form determination of production.

****I wonder if we don't need a distinction between value and exchange
value here.  It is exchange value that attains to objectified independence
and becomes the subject of the process of capital and subjects production
to the imperatives of its multiplication.

>> 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
>As a useful object, the product of labour (more precisely of humankind's
>collective interaction with nature best called 'work') is here conceived
>> and a bearer
>> of exchange value;
>This reports the grasping of useful products by the value-form - that is the
>specifically capitalist mode of allocation of labour

Here my caricature is more complicated, perhaps, than you think.  There are
two senses in which we can speak of grasping useful products by the value
form.  We can speak of useful products being produced for others.  But this
just is what the value form is, ie, as a determined form of production
value is the autonomous production of useful products for others.  Properly
speaking to refer to the grasping of useful products by exchange value we
require another form deterination altogether and not the one Marx is
referring to here, ie the separation of the workers from the means of

>> (3) he finds that exchange value is only a *form* for
>> the appearance of value;
>I submit that Marx has 'found' this by a process consisting of the following
>steps: unmediated (more realistically partially mediated) empirical
>investigation (primary and secondary), abstraction, and systematic
>conceptual development that precisely enables him to grasp the empirical as
>the concrete. That is, these things are not empirical givens; they have had
>to be discovered by dialectical investigation. **(btw, I doubt that Marx
>anywhere uses seriously a phrase like 'ONLY a form' in this context. And if
>he does, it is an error.)

**Why do you doubt and why would it be error?  Anyway, here's the quote:

"Further analysis of the latter shows me that exchange value is only a
'form of appearance,' the autonomous mode of presentation of value
contained in the commodity, and then I move on to the analysis of the
latter."  (Carver, Texts on Method, 198)

Another well known example of Marx using an "only a form" kind of reference
occurs in Capital III, 339:  "The justice of transactions between agents of
production rests on the fact that these arise as natural consequences out
of production relationships.  The juristic forms in which these economic
transactions appear as the willful acts of the parties concerned, as
expressions of their common will and as contracts that may be enforced  by
law against some individual party, cannot, being mere forms, determine this

>> (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.
>Similar comments apply: it is only concretely, and thence only after the
>identification and articulation of abstract determinants that we can
>recognise Value as the historically specific social form of labour. **And
>is entirely of a piece with the VF insight that the Value form is, under
>capitalism, systemically imposed upon labour to reproduce it as social.

** Why is this a VF insight?  Does this go back to the idea that exchange
overcomes dissociation?  Anyway, Marx shows that capital is a form where
exchange value as independent makes its own reproduction the goal of

>> 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.
>No it does not. I have explained in an earlier response to Howard that the
>concept of Value as pure form captures not the physical non-existence of
>content, but **the social indifference of capitalism to the content. The
>specifically capitalist social character of labour is the focus on its
>abstract moment (the motor of valorisation) at the expense of its specific
>character as the producer of useful products

**Perhaps the idea of the value form as the social indifference of
capitalism to the content is a way of getting at the idea I'm after.  I
would want to ask whether this can be rooted in and derived from a simpler
determination?  Value producing labor produces use values for others
autonomously.  This means (1) because producers are autonomous they are
indifferent to one another, that is indifferent to the others they produce
for. It's not like helping a neighbor fix a roof.  thus (2) they are
indifferent to what they produce.  It is not for their own use.


>> 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.
>OK - but Value becomes fully developed only when Commodity production has
>become Capitalist Commodity production

No.  Value is fully developed as money (First Preface to Capital).
Exchange value becomes independent, fully developed, and the subject of a
process of reproduction in capital.  
>> 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.
>Just so - **production is determined by the form it is socially impelled to
>take: viz capitalist commodity production, so that production is driven by
>the imperatives of Commodity production - the requirement to produce
>products as successful commodities (see above). Marx sees this determining
>form as being the Commodity form. (For various reasons, the Reuten &
>Williams version of the VF sees the essential character of the capitalist
>system as being best captured by taking the Value-form as the abstract
>starting point. But this need not detain us now: Howard's insistence on
>dichotomising production and exchange and insisting on a one-sided
>productivist, linearly causal interpretation of Marx can be as well
>countered by reference to the Commodity form.)
**There is production and production.  I am speaking here of value as a
"simplest determination' in the sense of the MPE.  You are speaking of
exchange value attained to a form of capital, a later stage of
determination.  Production determines exchange determines production.  What
you object to as my linearly causal method is an insistence on starting
with the simplest determination given by production.  These are form
determinations.  From that more complicated forms emerge, such as exchange
value, impelling production to devote itself to its, exchange value's,


>> 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.
>Yup - and what we are discussing is how best to conceptualise this
>form-determination. **(Incidentally, it is an indication of a lack of
>understanding of the problems of subjectivity and structure that to choose
>to emphasise a dichotomy between 'causation' and 'conceptualisation' here:
>people make things happen, but in conditions not of their own choosing (to
>which I would add that how they interact with the conditions they find
>themselves in so as to reproduce and transform them is determined by how
>they systematically conceptualise those conditions - which is in turn
>conditioned by their (more or less theoretically informed) practice.)
** You miss my meaning completely here so of course you perceive a failure
to understand.  I am not discussing subjectivity and structure, although I
agree this would be relevant.  I wanted to suggest the point made by Marx
in Notes on Wagner that one cannot just take the notionof use value and the
notion of exchange value and then spin our logical consquences
conceptually.  Instead, since we are doing social science, there must be
causal explanation.  (I realize my intended meaning was impossibly
elliptical.)  Anyway, the causality here is straightforward -- if I produce
nothing useful for myself I am causally driven to obtain useful things from
others.  If there is a structure/subjectivity challenge to this account,
I'm interested in it.

>> 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 thing with another
>> and exchange on that basis.
>This yo-yo's up and down between levels of abstraction. Real live humans do
>not systematically equate anything with anything else. Rather they hire out
>their labour for as much money as they can get (abstracting here from
>conditions of work etc) and use the money so obtained to buy the products
>they want and need. Even this basic description is already
>conceptually-laden. Your formulation assumes some kind of sophisticated
>intuitive understanding of the social conditions that enable production and
>exchange to reproduce themselves, and so allow all this buying and selling
>to work as a coherent system. It is the inadequacy of such everyday
>understanding by the agents that for Marx motivates the need for a
>scientific critical political economy that would otherwise be otiose.

I'm simply trying to suggest here in telescopic form that Marx offers a
coherent narrative moving from production to exchange to the reproduction
once again of the form of production.  I am not arguing the point; it is
reference for recall.

>Well - once the Value-form capitalist system is up and running, it grasps
>things that are not the products of labour. **But more importantly it is, I
>think, widely accepted that Marx's argument by reduction in Chapter 1 (if
>that is what it is) does not validly lead to the conclusion that labour is
>the sole source of valorisation. So either this is just assumed (as it was
>in one form or another by virtually all political economists of the time);
>or it is only established much later in the development of Marx's
>presentation (as, inter alia, Chris Arthur has argued).

** For Marx, as I understand him, the problem is not posed as a question of
source; value just is a form of social labor -- it is a way of speaking of
an aggregate pot of labors added together and how we distribute them.  So I
am in the narrows here.

>> Much more careful analysis shows that one
>> thing can be used as a form of appearance 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.
>Value as a determining form is not merely a form OF APPEARANCE.

Since value never appears, it cannot be the form of appearance of anything.
 Exchange value is a form of appearance of value, but becomes a subject of
circulation in its own right. Smoke is a sign of fire, but can of itself
kill.  (Incidentally, Chris, this is why referring to exchange value as a
form of appearance or sign does not lead to a numeraire theory of money.)

>I have already explained - again - the import of Value as 'contentless'
>form. Money is the sole actualisation of Value autonomous from use-value.
>**But there is nothing 'simple' about its socially imputed power. Rather
it is
>the micro-dynamics of generalised capitalist commodity production and
>exchange that reproduces power over the social allocation of labour. Money,
>of course, is an important link in this dynamic, especially in terms of
>locating the subject/structure interaction that is key to it.
**I'm interested in this and will pursue it further.

>Overall, the general problem I have with the thrust of Howard's argument
>against VF is that it relies on a number of dichotomies: production and
>exchange, underlying reality and forms of appearance, theory and practice,
>being and consciousness, cause and concept, and so on. In that sense, it
>loses the richness of a more dialectical account. Since the VF approach(es))
>claims to re-instate the significance of the post-Hegelian dialectic in
>interpretations of Marx, then its neglect by Howard in criticising the VF
>approach tends inevitably to one-sided caricature.
As to Hegel, this also is something I pursue.  My suspicion is that the
significance of Hegel for Marx cannot be situated independent of an
understanding of Aristotle's enormous influence on Marx, particularly, of
course, with respect to questions of form.  This is an important question
for any appraisal of form determination in Marx.

As for caricature, forgive me, but I think the burden is still on VF theory
since it corrects Marx at decisive points where it is not at all clear that
Marx needs correction.  In other words, might not the future say "most of
what VFT said was compatible with Marxist social science, though where it
was not, it confronted only caricatures of his arguments"?



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