[OPE-L:6915] Re: value-form

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Fri Apr 05 2002 - 14:49:57 EST

Geert 6891
>It occured to me that behind Andy's 6867 is an implicit question (about
>Marx's account in Cap I) concerning the relation of value and value-form.
>The point is that when Marx writes about "value" in general, he does mean
>the "value-form". Value is the historical concept. It is the form of
>"things" under capitalist relations.
>(Note Marx's self-correction in Cap I, ch. 1, sect 2 (off head quote): "I
>should have said commodities have a value and a use-value (instead if an
>exchange-value and a use-value.)"
>Having indicated that value is a social form (the value-form) Marx next
>sets out forms of this form. At least in English this may be confusing. (In
>a 1993 paper, in Moseley ed., I pointed this out and I tried to distinguish
>this by hyphening the first, the general social form, value-form;
>non-hyphening forms of form (value form). Chris Arthur pointed out to me
>that this difference will not be noticed in English.)
>Note also that -- throughout Capital -- there may be some confusion in the
>English translation. Marx uses the German term "Form" (to be translated as
>"form") but also "Gestalt" (to be translated as "shape" perhaps, but which
>mostley gets translated again as form). To add to the confusion, Marx also
>uses the verb "bilden" (in many contexts something like "constitute", which
>most of the time also gets translated as "forms").
>(Even if you dont speak German, it is not too difficult to check these.)
>Geert Reuten
Below extract from workinprogress
Chris A

Two senses of 'Wertform'
Our difficulties in comprehending the focus of Marx's investigation start
in the Preface where he gives two apparently different characterisations of
'the economic cell-form' (90), namely 'the commodity-form of the product of
labour, or the value-form of the commodity' (90). The 'or' here is clearly
not an 'or' of alterity but an 'or' of identity. Yet it is not obvious that
there is an identity, since the term 'commodity' has changed sides (90). On
one account the topic is the product of labour and the interesting thing
about it here is that it takes the social form of a commodity (in addition
to its natural form). On the other account the topic is the commodity and
the interesting thing about it is its value form 'whose fully-developed
shape is the money-form'. Marx connects these two topics in the first
edition Appendix where he says that what makes a product a commodity is its
value form; thus to develop the nature of the commodity is to develop the
dialectic of the value form. (Mohun p.24 6; Compare also Fowkes p. 154
where there is a mistranslation; lines 4-5: for 'form of value' read
'commodity form'; cf. MEW 23 p. 76.)
 Nonetheless I would say that there is a definite ambiguity in Marx's term
'Wertform'. Sometimes this is used as a specification of form, this occurs
wherever the value form of a commodity is contrasted with its natural form.
But sometimes it is used as a specification of value; this occurs in two
contexts, when value form is contrasted with plain value, or value
substance, or value magnitude, and, most interestingly for the present
discussion, when it is plural: the forms of value developed in section 3
such as the simple form of value, the expanded form of value, and so on and
so forth.
It is characteristic of a dialectically organised totality that what may be
treated as form at one level may, at a higher level of abstraction, be
content (for example, in Hegel's Logic, logical form as such is the content
evolved by thought). So, here, it is appropriate to distinguish value as
form, here the form taken by the product of labour in the context of
capitalist commodity production, and the value form as content, when the
dialectic of the forms of value is addressed in section 3 of Chapter 1.
Moreover the two relations require very different contexts of analysis.
(1) First there is that between the ahistorical 'matter' (as I would prefer
to put it at this level) and its historically specific 'social form',
namely value. So the focus here is on the value form of the product; it is
on social forms imposed on material reality;
(2) Second there is that between value considered as a content and the
forms of value listed (on 174) as commodity, money, capital, and including
the transitions of sec. 3. These have entirely different dynamics.
Firstly, the value form is entirely alien to the product and valorisation
is entirely alien to production. The main problem for us is to theorise
this almost impossible combination. Because it is a combination it is
logically possible to examine each separately, and their relations will be
ones of interaction such that the language of 'cause' is not too far off:
the  value form 'causes' the development of industry, this development in
turn 'causes' changes in socially necessary labour times, which in turn
'causes' the magnitude of value to vary.  It is because of the relative
autonomy of the value form that two things are possible, namely the
self-development of value, regardless of the matter regulated, and the
force which it exerts on production which underpins quantitative changes in
the magnitude of value.
Secondly, the other relation, that between value and its forms is where
fully dialectical relations such as form and content, essence and
appearance, have their place. It is literally senseless to separate value
from money because value only exists in a money economy. Occasionally Marx
sees this (but I concede he often fails to) e.g.: "[without money] they
definitely do not confront each other as commodities but as products or use
values only." (180). The relation between these sides will be internal.

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