[OPE-L:7549] Re: Chris A on VF theory

From: Riccardo Bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Date: Mon Aug 26 2002 - 15:44:31 EDT


	may I ask you a  couple of questions?

First: are we allowed to speak of THE value form theory?

Second: What do you mean for "prime determinant" in the quote below, 
referring to the forms of exchange?

>In value form theory it
>is the development of the forms of exchange  that is seen as the prime
>determinant of the capitalist economy rather than the content regulated by
>it; thus some theorists postpone consideration of the labour theory of
>value until the value form itself has been fully developed.

	btw: as you know, I completely agree that properly speaking 
(whatever Marx could have thought about that) a 'labour theory of 
value' cannot be adequately grounded until  the same labour process 
is value-form determined (real subsumption of labour to capital).

	But once there I would maintain (as, I think, Marx) that in 
capitalism as a totality the revolutions within the capitalist labour 
process (coming from the capital/labour class relation, and also from 
the intracapitalist dynamic competition: both themes clearly there in 
Capital vol I) are the true 'prime determinant' of the capitalist 
economy. This looks to me much clearer that your compressed 
formulation 'the development of the forms of exchange': and may be 
also less ambiguous (unless you read it in the Rubin sense, then once 
again we agree 100%).

	Indeed, I don't think that what I'm saying contradicts very 
much your train of thought (at least as I understand it). But I think 
that it goes against the value form theorists who insists in reducing 
value to form, or deny that the capital relation is more fundamental 
than exchange in constituting abstract labour, or deny the role of 
time as immanent measure. I think that we should avoid falling in the 
trap of 'formalism'' as well than in the trap of 'substantialism'. (a 
book by Salama in French five or six years ago was good on this)

	A stress on the value form is quite compatible with a rather 
strong stress on the living labour of the wage workers as the origin 
of the substance of value, whose immanet measure is time and which 
may only manifests itself in monetary terms (cf. our papers in the 
RPE on Napoleoni). A quote from you, p. 146, with * as my italics, 
not yours, except the first:

"My own view is that the constitution of labour as abstract in the 
capital relation is in truth *more* fundamental than its constitution 
as abstract in exchange. Napoleoni is content to assert the two views 
do not contradict one another especially when account is taken of the 
fact that generalised commodity circulation exists only on the basis 
of capitalist production. But, for this same reason, value becomes 
determinate only with capitalistically produced commodities. Likewise 
so does its 'substance' abstract labour for industrial capital treats 
all labour as identical because it has an equal interest in 
exploiting it regardless of its concrete specificity. Thus the 
problem of summing heterogeneous labours is solved in practice 
insofar as capital imposes this abstraction in its forming of such 
labours as *embodiments* of its own valorisation process. So the 
qualitative identity of labours posited in the equation of their 
products *is underpinned by a process that forms them *as abstract in 
production itself* and at the same time *constitutes time as the 
relevant quantifiable determinant.*

	Since as you know this is a position I have hold since many, 
many years , I was happy to see in Bergamo 1998 such a complete 
agreement among us. I would like to know how this phrase of the RPE 
paper fit into your story.


ps: below a few comments on specific point about the history of value 
form theory

At 21:32 +0100 24-08-2002, Christopher Arthur wrote:

>The most important single influence on the value form approach to Capital
>was the rediscovery of the masterly exegesis of Marx's value theory by I.
>I. Rubin, namely his Essays on Marx's Theory of Value (1923/28).# Rubin
>stresses that all the material and technical economic processes are
>accomplished within definite historically specific social forms. Things,
>such as commodities, are assigned a social role as mediators of production
>relations. This is how a category such as value must be understood. The
>value form is the characteristic social form of commodity capitalist
>relations. He shows that the category of form-determination is often used
>by Marx  to refer to the way things acquire definite social functions. Marx
>develops increasingly complex form-determinations corresponding to
>increasingly complex production relations.

true. and as the paper published in C&C shows perfectly, he also 
stressed that abstract labour is 'latent' in production for exchange. 
and avoided to separate form and substance. (of course, if you say 
this in a moment when substantialism is the peril (e.g., Lippi), you 
risk to be labelled a formalist, what happened to me in the 80s; if 
you say that when the mood is towards formalism, you risk to be 
labelled as a substantialist, what happened to me in the 90s).

>Closer to the present is a seminal figure in current value form theory
>namely H.-G. Backhaus. (Unfortunately not much of his work is in English.)
>The interesting thing about Backhaus is that he came out of Frankfurt
>school critical theory. So for him the relevance of Marx for empirical
>research takes second place to the systematic demystification of the
>objective irrationality of the value form. For him the theory of value is
>not about deriving prices - a waste of time - but criticising this value
>form as an inverted crazy apparatus of alienation and fetishism. Much of
>this book develops such insights.

I think that here a relevant figure may be Reichelt. it may be 
interesting that Colletti and Napoleoni sent a pupil of them in the 
early 70s to study exactly with the two. btw, I would be interested 
in having a list of the papers by Backhays available in English. do 
you think no  publisher will print his book where his papers are put 

>To come right up to date, what is striking about current value form theory
>is the enormous importance assigned to money. This is especially evident in
>the work of Reuten and Williams. This is the value form par excellence for
>them. Because they see it as 'pure transcendental form' as they put it,
>which is imposed on the material side of the economy, they argue that money
>need have no material bearer, electronic dots will do; they argue that
>money is the only measure of value, albeit that they continue to regard
>labour as its source.

right, but ...

>Both neo-Sraffian theory, and neo-classical theory, fail to grasp the fact
>that capitalist social relations appear as monetary relations in the first
>place. It is an essentially monetary system; hence this form must be
>central to any adequate theory of capital.

right, but the resurgence of money and the value form is a more 
general feature of the 70s-80s. as Geert showed in a very good paper 
in 88, it was also central in French papers, and (may I add?) Italian 
papers of the time.

the problem then is 'how' money, value and labour have to be linked. 
the fact that money is crucial to Marx's story I think is not denied 
by any Marxian scholar today, either vft or not. (as you'll see 
below, and as you know, I rather would criticise vft for not having 
enough stress on money, as long as they do not accept the centrality 
of finance in this story: may be this is the only big potential 
disagreement btw us).

>Now as to my own work presented here. One thing which I see as consequent
>on value form theory is that, if it is predicated on analysis of exchange
>forms in the first place, it should not be in too much of a hurry to
>address the content.

agree completely

>  It is notorious that Marx dives down from the
>phenomena of exchange value to labour as the substance of value in the
>first three pages of Capital and people rightly complain they do not find
>any proof there.

here, again, I completely agree

>So I argue in several places here that we must first study
>the development of the value form and only address the labour content when
>the dialectic of the forms itself requires us to do so (e.g. chapter 5).

99% of agreement. I don't see much problems in accepting Marx 
deduction PROVIDED one takes it as preliminary at this stage. but of 
course one has to be careful of the enormous risks. I reread a couple 
of weeks ago the first chapter looking also, line by line, at the 
German original (even the English student edition you edited is a 
scandal, as long as the translation goes). To me it is incredible 
how: (i) Marx tries there to find a way FROM content TO form, again 
and again; (ii) how, at that point of the argument, he is always at 
the risk of collapsing into a purely physiological-energetical, or 
anyhow a-historical, view about the content (very often is more than 
a risk). BUT I would stress that: (i) once you have reached your 
conclusion above (the one you find in your quote from RPE); (ii) and 
once you have shown how (bank-money) finance to industrial capital 
ante-validates the expenditure of living labour as value-form 
determined in production, the way is open to maintaining the Marxian 
direction (FROM production for the market TO 'final' exchange on the 
commodity market).

>Finally, let us pre-empt some more or less misplaced criticisms that may be
>addressed to value form theory.
>(i) The claim that if value is constituted in exchange,  and measured in
>money, then it cannot be distinguished from price is a common criticism.
>(These critics do not grasp value as mediator between labour and price, so,
>when they notice value form theory distances value from labour, they of
>course jump to the conclusion value is intended to be identical with price.)

I can accept this, as long as it does not cancel what is in your 
quote from RPE 1999. I find the verb 'distances' quite ambiguous 
here. it is no distance at all. the value form is rather exactly how 
labour is, and cannot but be, 'represented' , or if you wish become 
'objective', in capitalism. it is what ground the reference of value 
to labour. you call this distance? if you mean, value form theory 
distances value from labour as ahistorical content, as pure 
consumption of energy embodied in commodities, again this is wrong, 
because it is too kind: almost no link between this labour and value.

>(ii) Moreover, similar complaints are also made with respect to abstract
>labour. If this is predicated on the exchange abstraction then how can it
>be a category of production?

the answer is in your 1999 RPE paper.

>(iii) Finally, since the theory necessarily pays most attention to forms,
>then it is a qualitative analysis. So the complaint is that it cannot
>handle the problems associated with determining the magnitude of value.
>Our response to these  criticisms is as follows.
>First of all, when it is said that value is predicated on exchange, it is
>important to distinguish two sense which might be meant. This is the way
>Rubin tackles the issue. He points out that in some places Marx seems to
>assume value and abstract labour must already be given to exchange; and in
>other places Marx says they presuppose exchange. In resolving this
>conundrum he says: 'We must distinguish exchange as a social form of the
>process of reproduction from exchange  as a particular phase of this
>process ... alternating with the phase of direct production.' So what Rubin
>emphasises is that, if production is production for exchange, this 'leaves
>its imprint on the course of the process of production itself'.#


>This is
>why value and abstract labour are forms arising from a process of
>production oriented to exchange;


>but if exchange is taken narrowly, in
>opposition to production, they may be posited as prior to it.

what are 'they', the forms? here the situation is a bit tricky, I can 
accept it if one reminds Rubin's strictures that for him this ex-ante 
'priority' is ONLY latent or ideal.

>This is at
>one level very obvious. If value and labour are commensurated in exchange,
>then anyone organising production for exchange is forced to
>'precommensurate' (to borrow a term from Reuten), assigning an 'ideal
>value' to be tested against actuality in exchange and competition. Of
>course the producer may not be aware that socially necessary labour time
>has just changed, but in the long run exchange mediates supposedly
>autonomous production units so as to constrain them accordingly.

this, btw, is the 'regulative' role of what? production or exchange? 
that 'in the lonng run' is very tricky. but we may leave that aside, 

>In Chapter 3 I argue for a new concept of abstract labour that gives a more
>definite sense to this idea that production for exchange is form-determined
>by exchange.  I argue that, if production is orientated to value and
>surplus-value, then the material character of production, and the various
>concrete labours, are teleologically subsumed by this goal; hence capital
>counts as an abstract totality, not as the heterogeneous mass of use values
>in which it happens to embody itself  at any given moment, and labours too
>count as abstract insofar as capital exploits all indifferently. So
>abstract labour is constituted in the capital relation as well as in
>commodity exchange.

this 'as well' is a bit less strong than your 1999 assertion ('more 
fundamental'). however the disagreement here for me is that Geert as 
well as Rubin does not seem to stress adequately that to avoid the 
dual slip in formalism and substantialism one has to recognize the 
role of money as finance as ante-validation of living labour. if not, 
there is no reason why one should take as socially 'homogeneous' 
labours in production, which then are only concrete, no 'latent' 
abstract labour, and then abstract labour not only comes into being 
in exchange, it is actually created only in exchange. value form 
theorists could avoid this trap, as long as they take your route 
(which is mine) in RPE 1999. otherwise, willy-nilly, they end up as 
De Vroey. if not, it is a coherent position (for me). but actually 
some of them went that way (Eldred). again, is really there ONE value 
form theory? I see in your position a risk: that again, as in vft as 
usual, the stress is on the 'teleological' situation, that is on the 
ex-post validation. on the contrary, I think that the stress should 
go as well on finance, that is on ex-ante validation. if we do not 
have both (and Marx on this was ambiguous, we do not have a proper 
theory of capitalism as a monetary production economy.

>The next accusation is that, simply because the theory stresses that value
>is actual only under the money-form,

granted. the accusation is unfounded.

>therefore no distinction can be drawn
>between value and empirically given prices. This does not hold water at
>all. Rubin and the other form theorists insist, not only on the importance
>of the social form of production generally, but on a careful accounting of
>the specifically different social forms that interlock in the bourgeois
>economy, the need to sort them out, and to present them in a definite
>order. In this approach there is no difficulty in principle  in assigning
>the value category to the most fundamental of these social forms, the
>capital relation, while allowing that relations between capitals, and with
>landed property etc., come on the scene subsequently in the chain of
>relations that are finally embodied in price. Price is a hugely
>over-determined phenomenon. That should go without saying.

I agree. 100%. again.

but there is the problem I stressed above: some of value form 
theorists ended up as the criticis say (Eldred etc). others do not, 
but it is not clear how. some of them even do not say, as you RIGHTLY 
do, that "value is actual only under the money-form", they rather say 
that value IS money, which is as silly (or as correct) as saying that 
value IS labour.

>Finally, since form is a qualitative notion, is it going to occlude the
>quantitative problem of assigning magnitudes and the tendencies of these
>magnitudes to change? It must be admitted that the 'Konstanz-Sydney' group
>of value form theorists (e.g. M. Eldred, M. Hanlon, L. Klieber, M. Roth)
>did end up being very skeptical of 'economic science' if this was supposed
>to be quantitative.

here we are: the Konstanz-Sydney group.

>These people  cheerfully accept the value form is
>purely qualitative, because it analyses pure forms, and furthermore just
>because these forms are pure, any old conjunctural contents are capable of
>being inscribed within them. So there may be skepticism that any
>quantitative correlations are feasible. But it can be argued that, while
>the forms impose themselves  on the content, they in turn necessarily have
>to reflect in their quantitative dimension changes in the content.


>argued as follows: 'The social equality of labour expenditures  in the form
>of abstract labour is established through the process of exchange.  But
>this does not prevent us from ascertaining a series of quantitative
>properties, which distinguish labour in terms of its material-technical and
>its physiological aspects, and which causally influence the quantitative
>determination of abstract labour before the act of exchange and independent
>of it.'

I agree completely again.

indeed, in RRPE 1989, criticising Gleicher and Eldred as polar 
opposites, I distinguished Rubin from the Rubin school. I fully see 
that you are on the track of Rubin. But I still doubt that the value 
form theorists at large are out of the Rubin school as you depict 

I still have to read Alfredo (the 'price' dimension is blocking me 
now to fully appreciate the value of it, and the library still has to 
buy it). bbut thanks to you and to Alfredo for what I see as a 
promising debate



Riccardo Bellofiore
Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche
Via dei Caniana 2
I-24127 Bergamo, Italy
e-mail:   bellofio@unibg.it, bellofio@cisi.unito.it
direct	  +39-035-2052545
secretary +39-035 2052501
fax:	  +39 035 2052549
homepage: http://www.unibg.it/dse/homebellofiore.htm

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