[OPE-L:7564] Re: Chris A on VF theory

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Wed Aug 28 2002 - 17:05:30 EDT

>	may I ask you a  couple of questions?
>First: are we allowed to speak of THE value form theory?
I hope I do not use the expression THE VFT but simply VFT. The former
suggests a well-defined theory whereas I hope the latter suggests a class
of similar looking theories. I agree with what yousay below about the
variety of people coming from Rubin and Backhaus. Yet there must be common
ground. I disagree with 90% of R&W but it is the 10% that is interesting,
at least as long as the great bulk of Marxists concentrate on the magnitude
issues, even though Marx warns in ch 1 that this was the problem with
classical political economy. Among VFT people I am probably the one most
concerned to preserve Marx's quantitative relations. But I had a long EMail
exchange with Eldred recently in which he insisted that the value form was
"fathomless"; but when I really got his back against the wall he admitted
that (cet par) changes in LT would impact on V.
>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%).
Certainly I read it in the Rubin sense. I would also say your 'true'
determinants are the developed value forms. This contracts with a
'substantialist' account on which everything comes back to changes in LT
consequent on some immanent technological development.

>	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)
Yes indeed. I think my value-form theory goes 'deeper' than most in that it
goes beyond saying value is a 'property' ascribed to commodities when
interpellated by money as 'the sole existence of value'; For me value
passes in the exposition from a property to a 'substance' (e.g. the
metamorphoses is the change in shape of a continuing substance) to a
'subject' (with capital). By 'substance' I mean an immaterial substance of
course, so this allows me to gain some of what 'substantialists' gain by
their labour-embodied' views.

>	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.
I still agree with all this; if my new stuff appears different this was

>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
I believe a translation is underway from Brill. The original 'ed. schmidt'
was tr in Thesis 11 (Australia). An interesting piece is in Open Marxism
Vol 2.

>>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).
Yes- see below

>>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).
I agree marx's exposition is confused. This is precisely because he is
trying to do the form analysis and the quantitative determinacy at the same
time. Thus in one place he says without money no value, only use value -
this is form analysis ; but in another place he says money measures only
because there is something already there TO measure - this presupposes that
in virtue of the value form a content has been specified that has immanent
measure ascribed to it, namely time. If we do the form analysis first and
then start again from an adequate content these apparent contradictions are
more easily sorted out.

>>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.
Yes. I had a poor formulation. I meant to note we contest the simple
'labour is value' mantra.

>>(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.

'they' are value and abstract labour. Actually I think Rubin is fuzzy
here.'imprint', 'ideal' 'latent' can be given weak or strong readings - see
my comments on Alfredo.

>>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.
Here I think is our only disagreement. I would start the exposition from ex
post, derive the teleological positing in the circuit, and then stress ex
ante. But unlike you I fail to see why this involves finance capital. At
this high level of abstraction i.e. vols 1 and 2, we have all we need in
the concept of the spiral of accumulation based on profits being retained
in the circuit. (BTW you often speak of opening a circuit - this is a
solecism, strictly speaking a circuit has no opening, that is the point; of
course expositionally one can break in anywhere as Marx explicitly showed
in giving us the three versions.) Only at a much more concrete level would
one need to discuss share issues, bank loans, etc. These are contingencies,
empirically different in different countries and at different times. For ex
ante commensuration in dynamic competition all that is required is that the
circuit include a moment when it measures itself against itself i.e. we
have M and M+m; the individual capitalists are perfectly capable of working
with this.
Of course things become more complicated in vol 3 where transfer of capital
is allowed. Here I might agree a uniform rate of profit - i.e.
commensuration not just of Cs but of Kapitals, is effected in financial

>>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.
But after consulting Eldred I deleted this in the proof and put:
"It must be admitted that the ŒKonstanz-Sydney¹ group of value-form
theorists (viz. M. Eldred, M. Hanlon, L. Kleiber, M. Roth) did end up being
very skeptical of Œeconomic science¹ if this was supposed to be
quantitative. Or rather, for them, quantitative concepts are always
monetarily determined. Hence the labour theory of value as a (causal)
theory of price determination is dispensed with.
So there may be skepticism that any quantitative correlations are feasible.


But it is the same position.

>>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
Thanks for your comments

Chris a

17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

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