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

From: Paul Bullock (paulbullock@EBMS-LTD.CO.UK)
Date: Fri Apr 02 2004 - 17:09:08 EST


This is exactly my own understanding of the matter  ( also with regard to
the Penguin translation). Well put. The importance of the historical
development of the social form cannot be understated, the very 'categories'
are themselves maturing socially the more widely spread is exchange, until
the whole matter takes on a new significance when commodities become
capitalistically produced. The  'cell form'  is necessary for the existence
of capitalism, but in the form of a  product it is not itself  sufficient to
transform into capital, what is necessary for this is that labour power
itself  be  forced to take on the commodity form as well.

Paul Bullock.

----- Original Message -----
From: "OPE-L Administrator" <ope-admin@RICARDO.ECN.WFU.EDU>
Sent: Friday, April 02, 2004 1:24 PM
Subject: [OPE-L] (OPE-L) the economic cell-form and form-analysis

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Hans G. Ehrbar" <>
> 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
> conclusion:
> > 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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