(OPE-L) the economic cell-form and form-analysis

From: OPE-L Administrator (ope-admin@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 02 2004 - 07:24:54 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Hans G. Ehrbar" <ehrbar@lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2004 2:35 AM
Subject: (OPE-L) the economic cell-form and form-analysis

Gerald, thank you for picking up on one of the questions
in my Annotations,

> "Why does Marx identify the 'commodity-form of the product
> of labour' with the 'value-form of the commodity'?"

I would have been curious to hear how others on OPE-L would
have answered this question.  Derek Sayer, in Marx's Method,
p. 19/20 of the first edition, gives the following answer:

> Commodity form and value-form are in fact not
> synonymous, though Marx frequently elides the two terms.
> The value-form is, strictly speaking, only one aspect of
> the commodity form, the other being use-value.  But the
> elision is quite comprehensible because the problem of
> explaining the commodity form ultimately resolves itself
> into one of explaining the value form.  Use-value, as an
> attribute of the product of labor under all conditions,
> cannot be used to explain that which differentiates the
> commodity form, whereas exchange-value expresses exactly
> this *differentia specifica*.

My own answer is different than both Gerald's and Derek's.
Before going to the remark with the cell form in the
preface, it may be useful to look at the following passage
in section 3 of chapter 1, MECW 35, p. 72.  The Fowkes
translation is a little botched up here, I recommend
the Moore-Aveling translation from MECW, which reads:

> Every product of labour is, in all states of society, a
> use-value; but it is only at a definite historical epoch
> in a society's development that such a product becomes a
> commodity, viz., at the epoch when the labour spent on the
> production of a useful article becomes expressed as one of
> the objective qualities of that article.

In this long sentence, Marx says (without putting sufficient
emphasis on it) that the historical conversion of the
product of labor into a commodity is driven by the exchange.
First, people exchange their goods, and then they modify
their production relations in order to produce for the
exchange.  I.e., those relations on the surface, which the
whole section 3 has identified as the form of value,
historically precede and stimulate the creation of that of
which they are the form.  From this follows Marx's next

> It therefore follows that the elementary value form is
> also the primitive form under which a product of labour
> appears historically as a commodity, and that the gradual
> transformation of such products into commodities proceeds
> pari passu with the development of the value form.

In other words, history did not proceed in such a way that
the products of labor first developed into commodities
and then, after some time lag, the form of value of these
commodities went through its own development, but
the evolution of the product of labor into a commodity
and the development of the form of value of that commodity
went hand in hand.  This is why Marx so often "elides" these
two developments.

Going back to the preface, these two forms share the honour
of being called the economic "cell form" of capitalist
society.  I.e., this cell form is not only that every
product of labor is produced as a commodity, but also that
the agents on the surface of the economy consider the labor
in these commodities as objective properties of these
commodities.  The following passage from the commodity
fetishism section comes to mind here (MECW 35, pp. 84/5, but
I am using here my own translation from the Annotations)

> People do not therefore bring the products of their labor
> in relation to each other as *values* because they regard
> these objects as *the mere material shells* of homogeneous
> human labor.  They proceed in the reverse order: by
> equating, in the exchange, the different *products to each
> other as values*, they equate their own different labors
> as human labor.  They do this without knowing it.

H. E.

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