[OPE-L:8281] _dynamis_ and _energeia_ substance and ground

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Sun Jan 05 2003 - 14:42:09 EST

>Re: [OPE-L:8225]
Michael's main claim is that 'capitalism is groundless, fathomless, or
abysmal' (8042) This is closely related to the claim that value is
constituted by exchange and has no ground outside it (e.g. SNLT) and that
there is no difference betweeen value and price (8071). Since the VF is
merely 'relational' it is 'substanceless' (8129) In sum "value is not a
substance which only expresses itself as a certain magnitude in the
exchange relation" (8167).
I contest these claims. As marx says in ch 4 value is a "self-moving
substance" i.e. a 'subject'.
I think your major problem is that you focus on simple exchange in which
context V does indeed appear as relation. But this is only the most
superficial ABSTRACT appearance of value, which as such is the appropriate
starting point for exposition, and to which abstraction value continually
reduces itself such that its origin in self-valorising value is obscured.
In my work I have argued that value exists, and must exist to be what it
is, at various levels, that its dialectical exposition is a passage through
its forms in which it is demonstrated that in its concept value is a
complex totality of production circulation and distribution. Not merely ch
1 but the whole 3 volumes are needed to say what value is. It is much more
that the exchange value of sec 1. As early as the price form value is
determined as substance because the value of commodity A + commodity B is
given as a single measure. If it is argued that this notion of additivity
is too static then certainly by ch 3 we have the metamorphoses of value,
the way the same substance changes shape, now C, now M, now C again etc.
With the teleological structure MCM, V has a fair claim to be a
In your exposition I think you give substance a somewhat Heideggerian twist
stressing its 'presence' but in Aristotle/Hegel version it is what
maintains itself on its own account and it is contrasted with 'accidents'
which cannot stand apart from a substance and may merely contingently
characterise it. Thus i am a substance but my suntan is accidental.
As early as sec 1 marx is thinking that iron and corn are accidents of the
value substance. In other words an inversion has occured whereby use value
substances predictated in exchange as bearers of value relations become the
shell of value; a kind of objective metonymy. IMO Marx is right but cannot
prove this so early: this presupposition must be posited in the subsequent
The discussion in C is unfortunately confused by the fact Marx uses the
term 'substance' in ch 1 in a sense different from that in ch 4. In ch 4
value IS substance but in ch 1 he asks what is the substance OF value. IMHO
this last usage is somewhat akin to Aristotelean 'matter'; Marx contrasts
it with Form whhereas I think I am right that in Aris Substance comprehends
both form and matter.
Matter could of course suggest Use Value with its origin in concrete labour
and at this early stage this externality of form and matter is pure
difference but later value form determines use value and recognises labour
only as abstract (I will write on labour later).
Then, Michael, in your 8225 you appear to do a Uturn.
>The concept of money is developed by considering the phenomenon of the
>exchange of commodity products of labour. Value is first of all a
>relational concept which conceives the abstract social relation between
>commodity products and their exchangers.
>But this social relation precipitates its own substance and magnitude.
>How? In that it becomes mediated by a customary thing, money. Money is
>the social, customary thing that substantiates the abstract exchange
>relation of value. ...As this customary mediator, money
>also provides the measure for the exchange of commodity products, and as
>a thing it becomes the measure of the magnitude of value itself, i.e.
>the quantitative measure of a social relation.
>The order of thinking in relation to the phenomenon and concept of value
>is thus relation, substance, quantity.
>As the embodiment of value, i.e. its precipitation, money as a
>substantial thing is a reified social relation (from Latin 'res' for
>thing), that is, a social relation that has become a thing. This thing
>can take on a life of its own beyond the mediation of the exchange of
>commodities in becoming a movement from money to more money, i.e. the
>movement of capital M -- C -- M'. In this movement, money is able to
>purchase labour-power (_dynamis_) in order to set it to work
>(_energeia_) in a production process. As capital, money no longer merely
>mediates exchange, but subsumes also the very production of the
>commodity products of labour. The production process remains
>dissociated, but mediated by the social thing, money-capital. The
>production process has to prove itself as a social production process
>through the commodity products being sold on the market, realizing the
>return of the advanced money-capital. If a surplus-value is made (i.e.
>advanced money-capital is augmented), the movement of capital has been
>successful and the labour performed in the production process has proven
>itself post factum to be a successful portion of social labour as a
All this seems conformable with my line above and in my papers and does not
square with your earlier mails. If money is 'value-for-itself' as I put it,
or 'value-as-substance' as you seem to say, then value does not remain as
it first appears in the exchange ratio but has a subsequent set of
form-determinations, and reduces relation to a moment of its
fully-developed concept. MCM as a play of form requires grounding in
production which it subsumes with MCPCM as you admit above.
So surely we have the possibility of LTV, not as a ground from which
capitalism develops but as the mediation whereby capital grounds itself and
determines its measure.
The problem for us is this: price appears as groundless because it seems
capable of assimilating any old content and is subject to contingency in
its magnitude. But I distinguish between the emptiness which characterises
most such forms and those cases, commodities produced by competitive
capitals, which touch ground in the labour process. (of course Marx's
presentation in ch 1 is highly defective when he first uses the commonality
argument only to calmly reject non-products as value without adequate
explanation.) So while it remains true that the VF in its immediacy gives
rise to a mass of groundlessness there is yet a 'core' that cet par
exhibits the necessity springing from the form of valorisation in
Value is thus distinct from price both in the sense that some price forms
are empty and in  the sense that even values are subject to contingencies
of the marketplace in their realisation as price.
We have in effect given value a 'real definition' similar to saying water
IS H2O or pneumonia IS the disease caused by the Pneu bacillus. G. A. Cohen
(in Value by Stedman et al) says this is cheating because orignally the
problem was to explain price but now  many prices are said to be not
expressive of value. But this is a standard move in science. When the
legionaires presented with 'pneumonia' and the bacillus was not present
they were reclassified, something that looked like water but was not H2O
would not be said to be another kind of water but not water at all
(variation within H2O is allowed e.g. 'heavy' water). SO when Ricardo said
value was caused by two things, scarcity and labour time , it was not
unreasonable for Marx to stipulate only labour.
It all depends on the theoretical utility of the definition.
If we study the form of industrial capital and see that it has a certain
drive to subsume production to the purpose of valorisation, that the major
social relation in production is that with labourers and that some capitals
can make do with less labour than others then stipulating a defintion of
value that relates the visible exchange value to the unerlying labour is
justified because it is the only law-like phenomena in the otherwise mass
of contingency.
(I will come back to the measure problem and time separately.)
fraternally Chris.

17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

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