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

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@WAITROSE.COM)
Date: Fri Apr 09 2004 - 06:37:28 EDT

>How would you (and others) answer the question posed by Hans in
>his "Annotations" to _Capital_:
>     "Why does Marx identify the 'commodity-form of the product
>        of labour' with the 'value-form of the commodity'?"
There follows the first couple of pages of my contribution to *The
Constitution of Capital* eds N. Taylor and R. Bellofiore,  Palgrave June

Money and the Form of Value
Christopher J. Arthur
In the Preface to the first edition of Capital, Marx drew attention to the
fact that the chapter on the commodity, and, more especially, the section
on the form of value, is the most difficult (pp. 89-90).#  Yet this section
is, Marx told Engels, Œdecisive¹ for the whole book.# In this chapter he
felt compelled to Œpopularize¹ the presentation of certain topics. But the
intrinsic difficulty of the section on the form of value prevented this;
not because it is complex; rather Œthe value-form, whose fully developed
shape is the money-form, is very simple and bare of content.¹ (90,
ŒInhaltlos¹, mistranslated by Fowkes as Œslight in content¹: cf. Das
Kapital: Erster Band, Karl  Marx and Friedrich Engels Werke, Band 23, 1962,
p. 12.) The trouble is that it pertains to the most abstract issues of all
in Œthe analysis of economic forms¹, including the nature of money.
        The difficulty, not merely of an adequate presentation, but of the
problem itself, is reflected in the fact that Marx wrote up this section no
less than four times. First came the version published in Contribution to a
Critique of Political Economy (1859); then the version in chapter one of
the first edition of Capital (1867) was supplemented at the last minute by
a special appendix; finally the material was rewritten again for the second
edition (1872), a rewriting that is more than a mere conflation of the
double presentation in the first.

1. Preliminaries
Before addressing the topic of chapter one, section three, some preliminary
points must be made.

Two senses of ŒWertform¹
Our difficulties in comprehending the focus of Marx¹s investigation start
in the Preface where he gives two apparently different characterizations of
Œthe economic cell-form¹, namely Œthe commodity-form of the product of
labour, or the value-form of the commodity¹ (90). The Œor¹ here is clearly
not an Œor¹ of alterity but an Œor¹ of identity. Yet it is not obvious that
there is an identity, since the term Œcommodity¹ has changed sides. On one
account the topic is the product of labour and the interesting thing about
it here is that it takes the social form of a commodity (in addition to its
natural form). On the other account the topic is the commodity and the
interesting thing about it is its value-form Œwhose fully-developed shape
is the money-form¹. Marx connects these two topics when he says that what
makes the product a commodity is its value-form; thus to develop the nature
of the commodity is to develop the value-form. (154  Marx, 1976, Capital
Volume I, has a mistranslation; p. 154 lines 4-5: for Œform of value¹ read
Œcommodity-form¹; cf. Das Kapital: Werke, Band 23 p. 76.) Nonetheless there
is a definite ambiguity in Marx¹s term ŒWertform¹. Sometimes this is used
as a specification of form; this occurs wherever the value-form of a
commodity is contrasted with its natural form. But sometimes it is used as
a specification of value; this occurs in two contexts, when value-form is
contrasted with plain value, or value substance, or value magnitude, and,
most interestingly for the present discussion, when it is plural: the forms
of value listed (on 174) as commodity, money, capital, and the transitional
forms developed in section three. It follows from the double specification
implicit in ŒWertform¹ that there are two possible errors, both committed
by classical political economy. Firstly the naturalization of bourgeois
production and hence a failure to address how the product of labour
acquires a value-form (173-74); secondly the failure to connect money to
the value-form systematically as Marx does in section three (n. 34 on p.
        It is characteristic of a dialectically organized totality that
what may be treated as form at one level may, at a higher level of
abstraction, be content (for example, in Hegel¹s Logic, logical form as
such is the content evolved by thought). So, here, it is appropriate to
distinguish Œvalue-form¹ as a reference to value as the form taken by the
product of labour in the context of capitalist commodity production, and
the Œvalue-form¹ when the content is the  dialectic of the forms of value
addressed in section three of chapter one.

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