[OPE-L:7565] Re: Re: Chris A on VF theory

From: Riccardo Bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Date: Thu Aug 29 2002 - 07:28:59 EDT

At 22:05 +0100 28-08-2002, Christopher Arthur wrote:

>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.

well, once again we are in deep agreement.

my observation came simply from the fact that what you posted (may 
be, showing there some kind of 'defensive' attitude against 
criticisms to VFT) gave the impression of a more compact front than 
it actually is now.

in your definition of VFFT,  I am happy to feel part of the 'value 
form' group (definitely, I am deeply influenced by Rubin and at least 
the first Backhaus, the one I know from translation). and, as you, I 
disagree with 90% of R&W (weel, may be a bit less, let'us say 80%; 
and with 10% of you!), but I find relevant the point of contacts, and 
I learn a lot ffom them.

I think, however, there ARE open issues in those who rightly stress 
the centrality of the value form in Marxian Theory. I also I think 
that a most effective answer to criticisms is in discussing OPENLY 
these 'internal' contrasts. Sometimes, some 'outside' criticisms 
against value form people come from 'good' points which would be 
counterproductive to deny. in my opinion, of course

>  >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.

I  don't believe in 'immanent' technological development, or that 
'everything' come back to changes in LT (also the reverse is true: 
changes in LT come back to other dynamics).

I simply, and strongly, believe in what you call the 
'counterproductivity of labour' .

Let me quote at length from you, RPE 99: but as you well know, the 
following quotes are ALL expressing positions on we two held exactly 
the SAME position, line by line, since many years (I don't think this 
position, at present, has other proponents, either within or outside 

"Money is the only measure of success; it is the EXISTENT form of 
'abstract wealth' (Marx) and this means that the ACTIVITY producing 
it is itself posited as abstract, that the LIVING labour employed in 
the capitalist labour process counts only as an abstraction of 

wonderful. then you clarify that  when living labour is 'pumped out' 
by capital in  production, this happens in a social setting where 
"workers are actually or potentially RECALCITRANT to capital's effort 
to compel their labour".

therefore, you urge for a "reinstatement  of 'a labour theory of 
value' precisely on the ground of the NEW definition of exploitation 
as the subjection of a recalcitrant labour force to the power of 
capital. Capital can ONLY produce value in negating its negation, 
i.e. through winning the class struggle AT THE POINT OF PRODUCTION. 
My new way of conceptualising the labour theory is to say then that 
the MAGNITUDE of value is DETERMINED by the socially necessary 
EXPLOITATION TIME". and, of course, for us, "this exploitation TIME 
comprise the WHOLE of the working day". complete agreement.

necessary consequence: "the TIME of this exploitation is an 
APPROPRIATE MEASURE of value". it could not be said in a better way. 
this is what, according to me, Marx meant when he spoke of the 
immanent measure of 'intrinsic' or 'absolute' value (as Finelli and I 
explain in our paper, this 'absolute'  value is in fact a relation).

THIS, again, is what I mean when I speak of 'production' as the 
dominant element in capitalist totality. of course, even in you (I 
guess), if 'value' comes from 'exploitation' in your (and my) sense, 
and if this 'exploitation' has a 'time' dimension, this dimension is 
NOTHING BUT the whole working day extracted from the 
'counterproductive' working class. This IS production, not 
circulation of course. as it is evident, however,, this anaysis 
cannot move a SINGLE pass without also considering circulation, and 
the value form affecting exchange in the 'wider' Rubinian sense.

from the quotes from you it's also clear that you (as me) cannot but 
regard "the changes in the labour process as consequent upon the 
value form of production. the direction of the determination is the 

here, however, I would like to engage in some 'translation', because 
I guess some difference among us may appear.

we are in complete agreement if we take the 'capital relation' as an 
instance of the value form, exactly, as you say, 'the value form of 
production' (but not only: see what follows). then, since for me this 
'capital relation' comprise the wage form, and the advance of the 
money wage (for me, that's the essential role of 'finance' to 
industrial capital) and since the value-form determines even the 
material structure of the capitalist labour process, what you say is, 
in a sense, almost obvious. it cannot be otherwise in this 
perspective, which I ttake to be Marx's here, though not always 100% 
clear. no 'naturalist', or 'substantialist' vision is possible in 
this view.

at the same time, what is circulated on the commodity market cannot 
but be, through money, what you says, i. e. the 'exploitation TIME' 
extracted in production PROPER.

though, I would stress - again - that in this 'capital relation' an 
'exchange' moment is ESSENTIALLY there, the exchange on the labour 
market, and the (money) wage. what happens in this phase of the 
capitalist circuit (finance, wage), cannot but influence this 
production stage. I repeat because I find myself accused once to be a 
'production' guy, another a 'circulation' guy, etc.

but I don't know if we agree on the following step: I would go 
further, and I would say that, since abstract labour is labour which 
is NOT immediately social, the 'value form' implies COMPETITION, not 
only total capital vs. working class. a competition where the 
sociality of labours is not presupposed. since these 'labours' are in 
fact the collective workers organized by capital (Napoleoni), this 
competition is dynamic competition. this competition, a struggle 
among capitals to secure extra surplus value (Grossmann), it is 
clearly expressed on the commodity market, 'final' exchange and 
retroacts on production.

so, as you see, from my interpretation, both initial and final 
moments of circulation are deeply affecting production. but this 
influences, which are powerful, are effective ONLY IN SO FAR the 
counterproductivity of labour is won. this, again, is the CENTRALITY 
of production, and of class struggle, in my (our?) approach. and this 
we have only in (our?) Marx. no other social scientist ventured 
there. and this is why I became a Marxian (if I may claim this label).

btw, this, to me, is the ONLY convincing ground of referring new 
value to (living) labour as its only source, and then of saying that 
new value is the 'congealation' of this 'fluid' springing from labour 
power, crystals of objectified (dead) labour necessarily represented 
through the only external measure: money.

a ground for the (abstract) labour theory of value which is safely 
reached only when capital is FULLY constituted.

an aside: where we probably depart (more or less) is in this two 
points (I wrote this before reading the last part of your answer, 
which intervenes on my (b)):

(a) I say, relative to the beginning of Capital, that the referring 
of labour to value is not-convincing, and you say something similar. 
but, unlike you, I am ready to accept this reference as a 
preliminary, subjective argument to be posited elsewhere in Capital, 
vol I, in the further development of value form determinations. that 
is: you prefer not to speak of labour as some immaterial substance of 
'value' until you come into the immediate production process.

this difference is not very relevant to me. I mean:  can FULLY accept 
your argument without changing almost nothing in my approach. I 
simply (as in other places) I try to reconstruct Marx's argument with 
the least changes as possible (and, as you know, this notwithsanding, 
I have to change a lot!).

this is for me is an instance of the positing of the presupposition. 
BUT when what was presupposed is eventually posited, we see a BIG 
change. the 'hypothesis' of labour value in the first chapter of 
Capital was FORCED to refer to 'naturalistic', 'energetic', 
'physicalist' elements, giving some ground to Ricardian readings of 
Marx (Geert is at his best here). when the presupposition is posited, 
this qui pro qui disappears. completely.

(b)   another instance of positing the presupposition is relative to 
money. money as equivalent is deduced at the beginning of Capital 
from general commodity exchange, in the stage of the argument when 
the concept of capital has not been developed. when this develepment 
happens, as you know, I think that the element of finance becomes 
more and more central, and that this finance dispels the impression 
that the general equivalent must be money as a commodity. so, I have 
labour theory of value without money commodity.

on this, I fear, our difference may be stronger.

>>	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.


though I guess this immaterial substance (as you know, here again 
we're on similar ground: I took this point from the last page of 
Colletti's Marxism and Hegel!) is no less 'objective', socially 

and this is why Marx (rightly) uses sometimes the analogy of 
'embodiment' - which has nothing to do of course with Ricardian 
embodied-labour theories or the like.

>>	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

no, I only wanted to be sure there was a continuity, since what you 
say if one of the main reasons why I agree so completely with you. 
happy about your answer.

>>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:
>  >
>  >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.

I'm happy about that.

>The original 'ed. schmidt'
>was tr in Thesis 11 (Australia). An interesting piece is in Open Marxism
>Vol 2.

I have Open Marxism. would you be able to send me the Thesis 11 paper 
(or Nicky, since it is an Australian journal?)? I'm not able to get 
it from libraries here.

>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.

I agree on these. simply (and this is where our difference become 
relevant) I think that if we have 'my' kind of finance, borrowed from 
circuitists like Graziani, Marx's sequence is AGAIN justified: there 
is in fact something ALREADY there to be measured. finance is an 
'ante-validation' of living labour, so that we may see it as an 
'expected' potential value to be expressed in money BEFORE actual 
exchange (exactly in the narrower Rubin's sense: I guess I was 
already saying this since RRPE 1989).  btw, the expression, more or 
less, "there is something ALREADY there" is quite Rubinian ... my 
point is that to overcome Rubin's position here, we need to go 
towards a theory of money as finance  la Graziani.

let me insist: I think we must have BOTH directions (yes: without 
money, no value, only use value; but also: money only measures 
because there is something already there to measure).

and, frankly, I think that your way of analyzing the 
counterproductivity of labour is quite consistent with my way of 
putting this thing.

>  >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.


>  >>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.

where? I received more or less 10 copies of your mails, so I thought 
the one I answered was the only one. sorry. I'll search for the other 

>  >
>>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

here we are: yes, this is probably the most relevant disagreemet. I 
am uncertain of the point in the derivation where I would go back and 
posit 'finance' (bank finance, not financial markets) as the 
necessary prior to the starting of production. at present I would 
say, at a certain point in vol. III. my friend Marcello Messori would 
have probably said in the early 80s: right at the beginning of 
Capital (but as something presupposed, not to be posited). my 
uncertainty here comes from the fact that IN THIS CASE I do not see 
any susbtantial difference between choosing one way or the other, at 
least from the point of view of ECONOMIC analysis (you know, I'm not 
yet ready to follow the VFT who thinks that quantitative and 
economics etc. are all bullshit...). this is as in our first 
difference I detected: don't think that going one way or the other 
change much. and this a problem to be resolved, of course.

only one point: we both starts ex post. the problem on ex ante is the 
following: it is contingent, or more concrete, the separation between 
money capital (banks) and industrial capital (firms)? I don't think 
so. this distinction must be either considered as soon as possible or 
it must be admitted as one which chaange fundamentally the outlook 
when we are at the more concrete layer. since once there money is 
flows into the circuit only through money creation from banks ex 
nihilo. of course, one may say that historically there are examples 
of commodity-money', that banks have had the role of the intermediary 
etc. but here I follow a methodological point by Schumpeter. the 
'essence' or nature of a social phenomenon is  best known starting 
from the most developed form. so the 'essence' of money has to be 
appreciated with a developed banking system. btw, this method to be 
seem to be Marx's.

>  >>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 'Konstanz-Sydney' group of value-form
>theorists (viz. M. Eldred, M. Hanlon, L. Kleiber, M. Roth) did end up being
>very skeptical of 'economic science' 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.
>  etc"
>But it is the same position.


thanks for your reply



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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