[OPE-L] Marx's Form of Analysis

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Thu Feb 17 2005 - 09:55:06 EST


you wrote that, if love "is causally efficacious it gets
manifested."  With value it is almost the other way
around.  Value can only then be fully causally efficacious
if it gets manifested in money.

I meant the analogy with a love relationship as follows.
Love relations are invisible, and wedding rings are the
visible manifestation of love relations.  Lovers know what
to do with each other whether or not they wear wedding
rings, but one might argue that a wedding ring signals to
*others* whether a given person is engaged in an invisible
love relationship.  This gives information to those others
about how to behave, and in this way also helps preserve the
love relationship.

The wedding rings, therefore, to some extent aid in the
causal efficacy of love relationships, but they are not
absolutely central.  Now for value relations the exterior
form of appearance is much more crucial.  Value relations
cannot properly exist without money, i.e., without their
form of appearance.  This is why the development of the
commodity form parallels that of the value form, as Marx
points out both in sect 3 of chapter 1 and in chapter 2 of

For those who have time and patience to read a longer
passage, the rest of this email may help clarify some more
the relation between the causal powers of value and its form
of appearance.  What follows now is a slightly abbreviated
excerpt from the file


which is also part of the package of my Annotations


Since in principle every use-value can be exchanged against
every other (as long as the exchange proportions are
right), Marx concludes that for the purpose of these
exchange relations, each use-value is as good as any other;
the only difference is a quantitative one.  In a manuscript
published in MEGA II/6, p. 4, Marx writes:

> One commodity looks now like any other.  All that remains
> is the same ghostlike *materiality* of what?  Of
> *undifferentiated human labor*, i.e., of *expenditure of
> human labor-power*, without regard to the particular
> useful determinate form of its expenditure.  These things
> no longer represent anything at all except that in their
> production human labor-power has been expended, human
> labor has been accumulated.  As crystals of this social
> substance which they have all in common they are --
> *values*.

This value materiality is rarely mentioned by modern
commentators of Marx.  They are too embarrassed.  Even Marx
himself got in trouble for it.  The first edition of
Capital MEGA II/5, p. 30, described the quality of this
materiality with the following words:

> In order to fix linen as material expression of mere
> human labor, one must disregard everything that actually
> makes it an object.  The materiality of human labor that
> is itself abstract, lacking further quality and content,
> is, of necessity, an abstract materiality, a *thing made
> of thought*.  Thus, cloth woven from flax becomes a
> phantom spun by the brain.

This vivid and memorable passage did not make it in the
second edition, presumably because, at the GDR-editors of
MEGA surmised, it might have ``raised doubts about the
materialist character of value theory'' MEGA II/6, p. 23*.

Ironically Marx was rejected where he was most realist.
The apparatus of Critical Realism can clarify things, since
it allows us to frame Marx's ideas in a more systematic and
less metaphorical way.  This requires the following steps:

(1) If people exchange their commodities following a
consistent and predictable pattern of exchange proportions,
then they respond to, and also reproduce or transform, an
invisible network of social relations involving these
commodities, which Marx calls the ``exchange relation'' of
the commodities.  Of course, the decisions what to exchange
for what are individual decisions, but the proportions in
which these things can be exchanged are determined
socially.  Critical realists are used to the idea that
invisible social relations are real, they do not need to
resort to words like ``ghostlike'' or ``phantom spun by the
brain'' to refer to their reality.

(2) These exchange relations, which prescribe the
proportions to the individual agents in which they can
exchange their wares, can be described by a metric or a
numeraire.  One knows all there is to know about the status
of these relations if one knows how many units of a certain
fixed numeraire commodity can be exchanged for each given
commodity.  (This step is expressed by Marx with his
example of the polygons.)

(3) Besides assuming that the exchange relations themselves
are real and irreducible to the individuals, Marx also
assumes that this abstraction of the many motley pairwise
relationships down to a common denominator is a *real*
abstraction.  This gives an interesting twist to the
ontology of social relations.  Marx assumes that there is
some real substance in each commodity which is measured by
this numeraire.  This substance is the commodity's
``value.''  We know it is real because it has causal

(4) The next step is in tune with one central aspect of CR
which tends to get overlooked.  In RTS, p. 14 (1997
edition), Bhaskar says that generative mechanisms are the
ways of acting of *things*.  We have found an obviously
active generative mechanism, it is the value residing in
the commodities, which generates the exchange relations
between commodities.  But we still have to find the *thing*
whose activity drives this generative mechanism.  Marx uses
the word ``value materiality'' (Wertgegenstaendlichkeit)
for this thing.  The expectation that such a thing exists
is expressed in Marx's seemingly simple-minded utterances
such as ``So far no chemist has ever discovered
exchange-value in pearl or diamond'' in MEW 23, p. 98.

(5) The search for such a value materiality has mixed success:

o No common substance can be found in the physical bodies of
the commodities themselves.

o the production processes from which these commodities
spring have a physical, tangible commonality: all such
production processes are the expenditures of human

o But unlike the concrete labor, which is materialized in
the use-value of the product, this other aspect of the
production process is not reflected in the physical makeup
of the commodity iself.

This is why Marx concludes that this value materiality is
purely social.  One might think that we did not make any
progress, since we did not find an objective basis.  Marx
says for instance that as value, the commodity represents
nothing except that labor is materialized in it.  Although
this is a social driving force rather than one connected
with the body of the commodity, it is sufficient to explain
the causal powers of value.  Somebody has produced this
commodity, and that person will watch over it that he or
she receives reward for the labor placed in that commodity.
I.e., society remembers how much abstract labor was placed
in that commodity, even if this fact is not inscribed in
the physical body of the commodity itself.

(6) This is not yet the end of the story.  Although the
purely social value materiality suffices to provide the
causal nexus which anchors the values of the commodities
and therefore keeps their exchange-relations in place, it
is insufficient for the practical activity of the commodity
producers.  These commodity producers are in the following
dilemma: they put their labor into a product which they
cannot use, and go to the market in order to exchange their
product for something they can use.  One might say that
they try to pull the value materiality out of their product
in order to make it useful for them.  Since this value
materiality is purely social, they must hunt after it in
the social relations of commodity to commodity, see MEW 23,
p. 62.  In section three of chapter one of *Capital*, Marx
shows that the inner dialectic of the value relations will
not rest until an independent material form of existence
has been developed for this social value materiality -- in
money.  In this way, the search for a tangible value
materiality, which is separate from the use-value of the
commodities, comes to fruition.

(7) With this independent body serving as center and
reference point, the causal powers of value evolve into the
overwhelming vampire-like self-activity of capital.  Marx
describes here a process of emergence, in which the needs
of circulation unwittingly activate a powerful generative
mechanism, which previously lay disarmed for lack of a
tangible value materiality.

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