Re: on money

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Tue May 25 2004 - 11:33:36 EDT

[OPE-L] on moneyHi Rakesh,

I want to make this short, and any explanation will inevitably rehash familiar ground, but to sort out confusion in the account you offer for critique, there really is need to distinguish substantial form from phenomenal form.  In the first pages of Capital, Marx wants to show that as a commodity the product of labor is a composite of its natural material or physical features and of the social form that constitutes it as a commodity.  This is tricky, because the constituting social form can't be any particular kind of labor activity for the same reason that whatever it is that constitutes Socrates as human can't depend on the material particularities of Socrates, e.g. that he has a snub nose, because not every human has a snub nose.  If a form of laboring activity is to constitute the entire diversity of the products of labor in a certain way, then it can't constitute them in terms of what makes them particular and diverse.  It has to constitute them in terms of general features that are abstracted from that diversity.  There's nothing mystical about the abstraction required to grasp this.

The social form that constitutes a commodity is related, then, to the aggregate of labor activities, rather than to particular ones, and constitutes each individual act of labor as a relation to that aggregate.  Commodities are related to each other qualitatively because they are constituted by the same social form and they are related to each other quantitatively insfoar as they have each been 'enformed' by a proportionate amount of the aggregate of labor activities.  But this reciprocal quantitative relation doesn't appear by reference to any natural attribute of the product or even by the actual labor hours committed to it.  So if exchange is to distribute aggregate labor to need -- as it must if production is to continue in this form -- then there must be some way to refer to and represent the form of social labor that constitutes the product of labor as a commodity.  Phenomenal form has to represent substantial form.

Sometimes when we use one thing to refer to another the thing we use is completely arbitrary -- the sounds we use for speech are mostly like that.  Other times we use something that bears a resemblance to the thing referred to -- e.g. we draw stick figures on traffic signs to indicate a pedestrian crossing or a bike path.  Sometimes we use someone or thing actually part of the entity represented -- e.g. a building or faculty member or student or dean can represent a university.  Money, whether gold or mango, refers to and represents the social form that constitutes commodities because it is constituted by the same social form.  If mangos are money, the fruit of the mango is not mystically transformed into something that can be any fruit whatsoever.  Instead, because the mango is also constituted by social labor, it can refer to and represent a claim on any other product of social labor.  The thing it refers to in doing so is not some natural property of the other product, say its fruitiness, but the social form that constitutes it as a commodity.


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Rakesh Bhandari 
  Sent: Sunday, May 23, 2004 10:49 PM
  Subject: [OPE-L] on money

    Because the product is not produced as an immediate object of consumption for the producers, but only as a bearer of value, as a claim, so to speak, to a certain quantity of all materialised social labour, all products as values are compelled to assume a form of existence distinct from their existence as use values. And it is this development of the labour embodied in them as social labour, it is the development of their value, which determines the formation of money, the necessity for commodities to represent themselves in respect of one another as money--which means merely as independent forms of existence of exchange value--and they can only do this by setting apart one commodity from the mass of commodities, and all of them measuring their values in the use value of this excluded commodity, thereby directly transforming the labour embodied in this exclusive commodity into general, social labour.

    TSV III, p.144-145

  Since commodities are produced in order to be claims on social labor, one commodity  comes to count in the exchange relationship not in its concrete form as a use value but as an incarnation of social labor, as itself value. Marx then specifies the peculiarities of the equivalent form.

  So say on a tropical island where only fruit is exchanged and people become allergic to the fruit that they can themselves grow, then all fruit is produced for exchange. Say mangoes come to be the general equivalent. Then mangoes are valued not for their concrete characteristics but because they incarnate Fruit itself. So we are back to Marx's critique of Hegelian hypostatization as Colletti and Robert Paul Wolff see so clearly.

  Of course the three fold three-fold peculiarity of the mango then is that it is the immediate incarnation of value; the concrete labor expended in the production thereof becomes the form of appearance of abstract human, fruit producing labor; and private mango farming has turned here into its opposite, to labor in immediately social form.

   In supposing that abstract labor can be such a thing, we seem to have been led to a mistaken ontological commitment. It is indeed as if the generalization fruit existed not merely in the mental act of abstracting from bananas, papayas, coconuts, etc. but was rather incarnated in, say, mangoes.

  The central problem here seems  to be a category mistake. As if the confounded visitor who asks to be finally shown the university after having already been taken to the philosophy, physics, biology, etc. buildings could actually find what he is looking for in a visit to, say, the mining department alone; abstract labor which seems merely to be a general heading comes in fact to be incarnated in a single concrete kind of commodity (mango).

  As a real hypostatization of fruit, mangoes paradoxically lose for all practical purposes the sensuous, concrete attributes of their fruitiness, for their use value has become exchange value, pure and simple, since mangoes serve as the embodiment of fruit as such in the circulation of commodities. Mangoes just as they come off the tree seem to be forthwith the visible incarnation, the social chrysalis state, of all fruit. The abstract-universal of fruit, which ought to be a predicate-i.e. a property of concrete or the sensate-, has become in mangoes the subject, a self-subsisting entity. The concrete sensate of the mango moreover now counts merely as the phenomenal form of the abstract universal-i.e., as the predicate of its own substantialized predicate.  The sense qualities of mangoes have been reduced to the attributes or, to use Marx's Hegelian terminology, forms of appearance of fruit in the abstract.

  Routinely accepted as a means of payment, mangoes are money; however, what appears to happen is, not that the mango has become money in consequence of all other fruit commodities expressing their values in it, but, on the contrary, all other fruits express their values in mango, because it just is money.

  In effect, Marx has attempted to demonstrate how mangoes  as money are qualitatively different from fruits  as fruits ; yet mangoes are born as fruits, as a fruit (commodity) itself, and only under the pressure of the exchange of great quantities of fruit does the mango ascend from earth to the economic heaven to become not merely a measure of value and a standard of price, but in virtue of its functions of universal equivalent and exchange medium, Fruit (Value) Incarnate. 


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