[OPE-L:7570] RE: Re: Re: Chris A on VF theory

From: Nicola Taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Thu Aug 29 2002 - 18:22:45 EDT

Thanks to Chris and Riccardo for a stimulating and thought provoking
discussion.  I will take up only one point: Riccardo's invitation to
discuss 'internal' contrasts of vf theories (taken as a general body of
theories with a common thread, in Chris's sense):

>in your [CHRIS'S]definition of VFT,  I am happy to feel part of the
>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

I am not sure of what the 80-90% disagreements with R&W exactly consist
(or whether the disagreements are the same for Riccardo as for Chris).
In any case Geert can answer for himself.  Below, I restrict to stating
only what I see to be some important points of disagreement and some
important points of agreement with Chris.  

1.  A common point in vft theories is the importance attributed to the
starting point as an abstract universal concept for the domain under
investigation.  Did Marx begin with the commodity as a concept or did he
begin with perceptions?  Chris (1997, after Banaji, 1979) defends Marx's
analysis of the commodity as an 'analytic' category with 'value' the
true synthetic abstract universal starting point.  I begin more like
Geert with: dissociated labour.   What is meant by this term
dissociated?  In my view three things.  First, the form of macroeconomic
organization: allocation of labor, production, distribution and
consumption are separate processes.  Second, the form of microeconomic
organization: labor power and the means of production are separated
prior to production and must be reunited in a production process that
takes place in privately organized independent units.  Third, the aim of
production is external to the useful objects produced, motivated instead
by a drive for monetary profit.  Given that ultimately we want to arrive
at a fully determined concept of capital as value form, dissociation in
these THREE senses seems an appropriate starting point [NOTE: This view
is consistent with Reuten and Williams, 1989, but not with Eldred et
al,1982/85, who have a much simpler idea of dissociation than this.  For
the Sydney-Konstanz writers 'dissociation' is only dissociation of
production and consumption and they begin like Marx with the commodity].

The key question that comes out of this is hardly original (it goes back
to Adam Smith): how does such a dissociated system manage to exist?  I
would set out to answer the question by asking what are the NECESSARY
conditions for the existence of dissociation (in the 3 senses above).
First condition of existence: a means of association - lets call it
'exchange'.  Exchange aligns production and consumption, and is also the
pre-requisite for labour to be aligned with means of production; hence
exchange constitutes the social interdependent of independent producers.
Given the 3rd point of dissociation (above) - i.e. that a quantitative
(rather than a qualitative) divergence of inputs and outputs is the
driving force of social production - the exchange relation must
necessarily be one where the exchange ratios have a non-arbitrary
unitary form of expression (otherwise rational capitalists might as well
gamble in a casino).  Value is the social expression of this unitary
form - in opposition to the heterogeneous particularity of useful
objects.   So, like Chris, I believe that we are dealing with a
VALUE-FORM of the exchange relation: the value form gives historically
specific social functions to THINGS as mediators of production relations
(as Chris said in his mail).  Let's now call the social form of things
under the value form of exchange: commodities.  The commodity is a value
form determined product - as such it is an entity of double character
(use-value and value).

2.  The meaning of value form: I am not sure if the emphasis on
form-determination has quite the same meanings in vf theories.  It is my
reading (please correct this if wrong Chris) that Chris takes
dialectical relations as possible only because Capitalism really IS an
inverted reality in Hegel's sense.  I have some problems with this.
Does Neuton's law exist before our formulation of it, does length exist
before a concept of length becomes socially necessary and so on).  Chris
says 'yes' to the existence question (as I understand, Chris?), I say
'no' (I believe Geert also says no, Geert?).  For me the social world
may be mathematically tractable or may be tractable in a Hegelian sense
- i.e. WE give to it these meanings; they are social constructions that
are more or less effective depending on the particular problem at hand.

For me the concept of form-determination works well in the explication
of HOW the value form determines the doubling of all entities and
processes in capitalism into (material form) and social (value form).
>From the initial doubling of the commodity, I would go (like Chris) to
increasingly complex form-determinations with functions corresponding to
increasingly complex production relations: commodity, money, capital,
profit, etc.  In this system of form-determinations, money has a
function central to the existence of value, that of measure.  In
commodity markets, the products of labour are validated as socially
necessary only in so far as they exchange for a price (the monetary unit
of measure); likewise labor power – the capacity to perform
physiological labor – is verified as potentially useful only on labor
markets when labor power itself takes on a value form, wages.  BUT HERE
IS THE REALLY IMPORTANT POINT: In addition to abstraction from the
useful characteristics of labor-power and its products, MONETARY
PRODUCTION.  Labor time is socially necessary only in terms of its
proven ability to create value in the form of money. Thus, in its
determinate value-form, the labour expended in production itself takes
on a double character as concrete particular labour and as socially
necessary abstract labour, (it is the SAME labour, but with a value form
aspect expressing the transformation of labour time into money in
addition to its concrete form).

3.  The Double Character of Labour: If products, human capacities AND
LABOR TIME are commensurate only in exchange, and if exchange is not
accidental but systemic, then the price of a commodity may be
anticipated in advance of production; i.e. private producers
pre-commensurate by assigning an ‘ideal’ or anticipated ‘value’ to
commodities (straight out of, R&W). Of course the average labour time
socially required to produce a particular product may change over the
course of a production process since it is only the process of actual
exchanges that constrain production units (compare Chris's response,
which refers instead to the 'long run').  For me, only the concept of
pre-commensuration gives definite sense to the idea that the link
between labour and value is determined by the form of exchange.
Crucially, if production is orientated to value and surplus-value, then
the material character of production is subsumed by this goal; hence
wage labor expended in a production process also takes on a double
aspect: it is AT ONCE concrete particular labor and abstract universal
labor.  Does this mean that labour in production can be measured in
labour time: NO.  

Rather: production must be considered as a means for potential money
expansion, as valorization (money – production – more money, M-C-M’,
with M’>M).  The commodities produced 'ideally' represent an amount of
money, ideal money, and the activity of labor 'ideally' takes on the
form of abstract labor.  I do not know yet if this view is consistent
with Napoleoni's treatment of living labour as activity and result (or
how it is different from Riccardo's engagement with this view).  A
possible difference may be the *sense* in which production is considered
to be form determined: for me, form (value) dominates content
(use-value) subordinating production to valorisation imperatives, hence
the value form is the 'prime determinant' of production (to borrow from
Chris). Without the actualization of the valorization requirement,
transformations of the 'ideal' into the 'actual' do not happen, the
dissociated system of production collapses.  

BUT: Although form dominates content it is nevertheless true that the
creation of useful products is a NECESSARY moment in the capitalist
valorization process: form cannot exist without content.  No difference
with Chris (I hope!) on this last statement.  The difference is that I
do not see a metamorphosis of value from 'property' to 'non-material'
substance as a necessary part of a systematic dialectical presentation.
This is because I do not agree with him as to the commodity money
starting point.  So we are back at square one.

4.  Labour as the source of value.  Chris's most important and decisive
disagreement with R&W, in my view, is his rejection of their
conceptualisation of 'nature' as 'freely' available to capital.  I think
that this criticism of Chris is correct.  The crux of the R&W argument
in chapter 1, section 9 (pp.68-73) is that labour power and nature are
not commodities (they are not produced within capitalist relations of
production.  Crucially, there is no relation between cost of production
of labour power and the wage, labour power has a price but no value, it
also does not have use-value - only labour has use value, and there is
no NECESSARY association between the price of labour power and the use
value that capitalists actually extract - it depends on class struggle,
state imposed sanctions, etc).  The important point is that, unlike
means of production (which exchange among capitals) labour power
represents a purchase external to capital.  If nature is freely
available, it follows that the labour power, converted into a use-value
for capital (i.e. labour in production) is the source of value.  What is
wrong with this argument - and I believe that Chris is right about this
- is that nature is excluded by assumption, at any rate without adequate
argument.  HOWEVER: I consider that the R&W insight need not be
abandoned.  What is needed, in my view, is an extension of the argument,
such that the capital-labour exchange relation is seen to be
macroeconomic in character while the capital-capital exchange relation
is microeconomic.  This way the purchase of labour power can be
rethought (without losing anything of the R&W insights) as an 'external'
purchase made by capitalists while the purchase of means of production
AND land is conceptualised as an 'internal' purchases, or exchange among
capitalists.  This *tentative* idea of further determining the exchange
relation comes originally from Graziani (1986), although he does not use
it for this purpose. I want, in other words, to develop the NECESSARY
consequences of the second 'dissociation' in R&W (i.e. separation of
workers from means of production).  This is for me a 'work in progress'
and I would be very interested to know if there are any strong
objections to this (Geert? Chris? Riccardo?).   

5. Interpretation versus reconstruction.  My way - and I want to
emphasise this strongly ONCE AND FOR ALL - is NOT Marx's way.  To recap:
the commodity is the wrong starting point (according to me). I prefer
the R&W 'dissociation' because it allows me to conclude that 'real
abstraction' is ALSO an abstraction FROM labour time in production.  I
am coming even closer to Eldred here: I agree with him, that there is no
sense in retaining labour time as causal in price determination (he
concedes, according to Chris's latest OPE-L that it can be so, ceteris
paribus - so what?).  For me the 'determining' element [I don't like
causal] is value form and the only quantitative theory possible IS a
monetary one. This is because I do not need, as Marx does, to make a
long (classical) preliminary inquiry into what enables commodities to
exchange; therefore, I do not need commodity money. 

6.  'Formalism' and 'Substantivism': I do not know what these words

7.  Forms of exchange as 'prime determinant'.  I agree with Chris.  The
only reason that we are in production with dynamics affecting living
labour and labour forced to struggle with capital is because the whole
thing - level and structure of employment, duration and intensity of
working day, distribution, composition of output etc - is all determined
by value-form imperatives!  Once we understand production as a
form-determined process, then a study of dynamics becomes interesting.
AT this point, I am happy to introduce Schumpeter's dynamic competition
and the struggle of firms for extra profits.  But I do not begin here.
I begin by showing HOW this process is determined by value form
imperatives.  And I do not end here by concluding that production is
fundamental, I end by concluding that this whole struggle in production
is NECESSARY to the existence of capital as value form.  MORE THAN THAT,
it shows up a FUNDAMENTAL CONTRADICTION in capital as 'value form' -
that capital is NOT really and can NEVER be the autonomous 'subject'
that form determination in the Hegelian sense seems to demand (the
theory of the capitalist system cannot close with the resolution of
contradictions as Hegel's does).  On this last point in parentheses I
believe value form theories are in general agreement (whatever our
disagreements about how this system is to be theorised).

8. On Finance.  My inclination is to agree with Riccardo; but FOR ME in
the sense that the NECESSARY capitalist money is ultimately shown (in
fully developed value form) as bank finance to production.  But, on this
I have much work to do, and cannot comment further. 

Thanks again Chris and Riccardo for an interesting discussion.
In solidarity

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