Re: [OPE-L] Fw: [OPE-L] Marx's Form of Analysis

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Thu Feb 17 2005 - 21:03:43 EST

Michael Eldred has presented very clearly the essential motivating idea used
by early value form theory.  I think, however, this rests on
misunderstanding not only what Marx was about, but how he used Aristotle.

Michael says that the originators of value form analysis pointed out the
ambiguities and unsureness in Marx's treatment of the value form.  The
source of that he argues rests in "attributing a so-called value substance
to labour-content."  This argument has its source in the original article
appearing in English from Backhaus.  I've quoted a significant excerpt

What is missing from Michael's report and from Backhaus's original
presentation is the Aristotelian distinction between substance insofar as it
refers to the objects of the world like a horse or a bed or Socrates and
substance as primary substance.  The horse is a substance to which
properties can be attributed -- the horse is white.  But primary substance,
the nature or essence of a horse, is that which constitutes the horse as the
kind of thing it is.  It is the organizing principle that accounts for the
development and peristence and functioning of the thing.  Aristotle arrived
at the distinction here very much by asking the question which Marx seems to
have appropriated from him (not the only one) -- 'why does this content
assume that form.'

When Michael says, therefore, that

"Marx tries to have it both ways by on the one hand emphasizing the forms
(the being!) of value that arise through exchange, and on the other hand
asserting that this exchange value is reducible (lit. can be led back to) an
inherent value substance residing in labour content (a causal explanation of
the magnitude of value)"

the distinction Marx took over from Aristotle is missed.  Michael continues,
"there is no inherent value substance."  This is like saying we can
understand Socrates without making precise what it is for Socrates to be

Today's critical scientific realism would present the question as an effort
to specify the real definition of a natural kind.  We can ask what the
generative structures are that characterize a thing and cause its
persistence as the kind of thing it is.

Marx refers to value as substance in the first sections of Capital in order
to uncover its nature or essence -- the primary substance of it.  This is
its constitutive form.  Then in Section 3 he takes up the necessary forms of
its manifestation, the actual forms under which it appears.

Implicitly Michael seems to be treating value as if it were an attribute of
a thing, something that makes goods valuable in the sense of a property they
have.  But this is not Marx's problematic.  Marx is not concerned with the
properties goods have but with the forms labor takes.  He is concerned to
specify the form of labor that constitutes the product of labor as a

Thus the decisive social metabolism with which Marx was concerned is not the
metabolism of exchange -- the limits of Aristotle's investigation -- but a
metabolism of the forms of labor.   The tendency to miss this difference has
been an abiding problem of value form theory in spite of the rigor and value
of so much of its work.

It follows that for Marx 'people's abilities' always occur within a specific
social form and it is the potency and power of that form which Marx looks to

Here is an important excerpt from Backhaus's original article.  After
quoting Marx's decisive question, 'why this content assumes that form,'
Backhaus writes:

"The defective mediation of substance and form of value is already expressed
in the fact that in the development of value a gap can be shown.  The
transition from the second to the third section of the first chapter is no
longer sensible as a necessary transition.  What strikes the reader,
therefore, is the apparently easily understood theory of value-substance and
the double character of labour, which is unfolded in the first two sections.
The third section, however, the theory of the value-form, is mostly
understood only as an additional proof or as a 'dialectical' ornament of
what was plainly already derived in the first sections. . . . Marx's
analysis of the commodity, then, presents itself as an unmediated jump from
the simple to the complicated, from the substance to the form of appearance.
The essence is defined, in contrast to the form of appearance, in a formal,
logical way, as the universal, typical and principal.  The mediation of
essence and form of appearance can only be construed as a pseudo-dialectical
movement of pseudo-dialectical contradiciton. . . . "


----- Original Message -----
From: <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>
Sent: Tuesday, February 15, 2005 4:36 PM
Subject: [OPE-L] Fw: [OPE-L] Marx's Form of Analysis

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Michael Eldred" <>
> To: <>
> Cc: "Roth, Mike" <>
> Sent: Tuesday, February 15, 2005 12:01 PM
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Marx's Form of Analysis
>  Cologne 15-Feb-2005
>  Hi Jerry,
>  The term "Formanalyse" can most probably be found in Marx's writings
> themselves. I don't have the leisure at the moment to do a search.
>  Hans-Georg Backhaus was the one to draw attention again to the analysis
> of the Wertform in his seminal "Dialektik der Wertform", a paper he
> first presented in Adorno's seminar in Frankfurt in the 1960's. Volkbert
> M. (Mike) Roth (cc: to him) gave the title "Zum wiissenschaftlichen
> Anspruch der Wertformanalyse" to his 1976 Habilitationsschrift for the
> University of Constance.
>  "Form" is well-established as the translation of both Plato's _idea_ and
> Aristotle's _morphae_, but also as a rendering of _eidos_ (also rendered
> as 'kind'). The seminal point of origin is Aristotle's distinction
> between _morphae_ and _hylae_, 'form' and 'matter', 'form' and
> 'content', today still a standard, although thoughtlessly applied
> distinction.
>  _Hylae_ is 'matter', but in everyday Greek usage it is simply the wood
> from the forest used to make various things like houses, tables and
> bedsteads (Aristotle's favourite examples).
>  _Morphae_ is the form given to the material to make it into what it is.
>  Aristotle develops the distinction between _morphae_ and _hylae_ to
> think through _kinaesis_, i.e. movement, and above all the movement
> through which a being arises and comes to be what it is, i.e. in
> progeneration (_genesis_). The problem of movement is the great problem
> of Greek philosophy: Being is thought by the Greeks as 'standing
> presence', i.e. as a presence standing in its boundaries or outline,
> thus presenting an appearance, a face, a look which is the being of the
> being in question.
>  Thus, for example, a bedstead that has been made has attained its final
> being in a completed presence (_entelecheia_ = having-in-final-end)
> shows its 'face' (_eidos_, _morphae_) _as_ this bedstead.
> Both _idea_ and _eidos_, as terms for the being of beings, are derived
> from the Greek verb 'eidon', 'to see'. Thus both _idea_ and _eidos_ are
> the faces or looks that beings present of themselves to human
> understanding.
>  So Marx is recurring to the beginnings of philosophy when he poses the
> question once again "warum dieser Inhalt jene Form annimmt" ("why this
> content assumes that form"; MEW23:95, Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 1, Section
> 4).  It is an ontological question concerning the _being_ of commodity
> goods as such.
>  The Wertformanalyse re-initiated by thinkers such as Backhaus and Roth
> points out the ambiguities and unsureness in Marx's treatment of the
> value-form. Boehm-Bawerk was very close to the mark in his critique of
> Marx's value theory, although he skipped the crucial point and ended up
> pursuing the red herring of the so-called transformation problem. The
> problem with Marx's value theory lies prior to any quantitatively
> conceived transformation problem. It lies with attributing a so-called
> value substance to labour-content.
>  One has to reconsider what the being of commodity goods is. Their being
> resides in their value. But what is value? Goods are valuable because
> they are good for something; they are good for one use or another in one
> application or other. This is the primary sense of the value-being of
> goods. But, on the basis of this primary value-being, goods also have a
> secondary value in being exchangeable for other values. This is their
> exchange value. The distinction between this primary and secondary sense
> of value is very clearly formulated already by Aristotle (Pol. I iii
> 1257a7-15).
>  Exchange value is nothing other than abstracted, generalized use-value
> that has become abstract and general through the social practice of
> generalized exchange. Cf. Aristotle Eth. Nic. Book V Ch. v.
> Marx tries to have it both ways by on the one hand emphasizing the forms
> (the being!) of value that arise through exchange, and on the other
> asserting that this exchange value is reducible to (lit. can be led back
> to) an inherent value substance residing in labour content (a causal
> explanation of the magnitude of value).
>  But there is no inherent value substance. All there is is the
> valuableness in use of goods (a relation of goods to their uses) and
> their _relations_ to each other in the practice of exchange. (Thus, both
> use value and exchange value are _relative_.) It is the practice of
> exchange itself that shows what the various goods are worth and thus
> what the labour that went into making them is worth, not vice versa.
>  This is the kernel of truth in the so-called labour theory of value: the
> social practice of market exchange is a "process of recognition" (Hegel
> PhdG) in which produced goods are reciprocally recognized as valuable
> and, indirectly, all the various kinds of labour that went into making
> these goods available, are reciprocally recognized as valuable. Viewed
> in this way, the exchange process is basically a process of reciprocal
> recognition of services in which they are mutually recognized as
> valuable (or not -- through a refusal of recognition).
>  Market exchange is an ongoing social process of reciprocal recognition
> of services, which in turn are the exercise of people's abilities.
> People's abilities are their powers to perform some useful act or bring
> forth some useful and therefore valuable thing. These useful acts and
> useful things are esteemed and estimated by others. Thus their exchange
> value. To understand the being of 'powers', one has to return once again
> to Aristotle's ontological analysis of _dynamis_ (power, potential,
> ability,...) which is at the very heart of his Metaphysics (Book Theta).
>  _Dynamis_, _energeia_ (the being-at-work of a power) and _entelecheia_
> are the three ontological concepts that constitute the heart of
> Aristotle's thinking, which is concerned with understanding the being of
> movement, _kinaesis_. These three concepts can help us today to
> understand the being of the social movement of market exchange, which
> has now become global market exchange, the metabolism (_metabolae_ =
> change, interchange).
>  I have a metaphysics of exchange at the artefact web site:
>  and also as yet unpublished extended critiques of the notion of
> labour-value.
> <snip, JL>
> > Michael
> > _-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
> > _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
> > _-_-_-_- _-_
> > _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-
> > _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
> >
> >
> > schrieb Mon, 14 Feb 2005 18:05:54 -0500:
> >
> > > ----- Original Message -----
> > > From: <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>
> > > Sent: Monday, February 14, 2005 5:51 PM
> > > Subject: [OPE-L] Marx's Form of Analysis
> > >
> > >
> > > > Hi again Phil:
> > > >
> > > > > I am not sure I understand this. You say and I query in brackets:
> > > > > the value-form [exchange-value?]
> > > > * Yes.
> > > > >  is a necessary form of appearance of value and the money-form
> > > [?money]
> > > > * Yes.
> > > > > is a necessary form of appearance of the value-form [exchange
> > > value?];
> > > > * Yes.
> > > > > hence value, use-value [how did use-value get in, as the necessary
> > > form
> > > > > of appearance of money/money-form?],
> > > > *  Use-value is a category required for the existence of value, it
> > > is
> > > >     a 'constituent' of value.
> > > >     ||| no use-value => no value;  no use-value => no exchange value
> > > |||
> > > >
> > > > > exchange-value, and
> > > > > money are all "intrinsic" to the commodity-form).
> > > >
> > > > > [PD] I think what is needed here is a lengthy study of the various
> > > senses
> > > > > in which Marx used thr term form.
> > > >
> > > > Yes, I think that would be an excellent topic to discuss.
> > > >
> > > > I believe that Marx used the term value-form in more than one sense:
> > > > one is the sense you referred to, the other was meant to mean
> > > > exchange-value.  Value-form theory (VFT), which utilizes form
> > > > _analysis_, refers to the former.
> > > >
> > > > Perhaps a way of discussing that topic would be to consider the
> > > various
> > > > senses in which form was used _prior to_ Marx (e.g. in Hegel) and
> > > then
> > > > to consider how Marx's usage was similar to and different from prior
> > > > usage.
> > > >
> > > > You know something about Aristotle, I recall.  What were the various
> > > > senses in which Aristotle used the term form? (I'll cc Michael E
> > > because
> > > > that's a topic that he should know about as well and  I don't know
> > > how
> > > > often he reads posts).
> > > >
> > > > Who first developed the expression "form analysis"?
> > > >
> > > > > As to use-value, someone once said that for Marx value was King
> > > > > but use-value was Lord High Everything Else.  Does anyone recall
> > > who
> > > > > sais that?
> > > >
> > > > The Marx associated with the expression "Lord High Everything
> > > > Else" was none other than  -- you bet your life -- Graucho.  So,
> > > > whoever said the above was playfully mixing Marxs.
> > > >
> > > > In solidarity, Jerry

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