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

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Sun Feb 20 2005 - 08:43:48 EST

---------------------------- Original Message ------------
Subject: Marx's Form of Analysis
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Date:    Sun, February 20, 2005 6:18 am

In reply to John Milios, I am not a biblical-fundamentalist Marxist, but a
 socialist who thinks about what he reads, and is happy to admit in
particular cases that Karl Marx is wrong or being sloppy in his argument.
But actually in this case none of the quotes you cite contradict my case.

It is true, that Marx argues that for the abstract development of the
economic concept of "value", monetized exchange is necessary. But
monetised  exchange only makes manifest more precisely a developing
reality which  already existed before. Even before money existed, people
obviously knew  quite well, that the products they made had value. And
they also knew quite  well, that these products could be traded for other

It is also true, that Marx argues people only begin to think abstractly
about value and about labour-time, and behave accordingly, once money
exists. This is part of his materialist conception of history: the ideas
in  the heads of human beings reflect or accompany that what, objectively
speaking, they have practically achieved at a given stage of history.

But, the historical facts as we know them are, that commodity exchange and
 trade have existed for thousands of years prior to the emergence of
industrial capitalism. This is a problem for Marx's exposition in his
book,  because, basically, he is concerned NOT with "the whole historical
evolution  of commodity trade", but rather with trade in CAPITALISTICALLY
produced  commodities. The accumulation of capital on any large scale, of
course, DOES  assume monetised exchange.

The successive steps in trade, which Marx summarises in his value-form
analysis using straightforward equations like "20 yards of linen=one
coat",  are just an idealisation, a logical summary, of a real process
which begins  with barter and ends with monetary speculation.

Commodities ("Waren", literally, "wares") are defined as objects having a
"use-value" and an "exchange-value". This does NOT however mean that
commodities must by definition necessarily have a money-price, NOR that
they  must necessarily be CAPITALISTICALLY produced commodities (i.e.
commodities  produced basically only by means of other commodities).

But it DOES mean that trade, markets and the commodity form DEVELOP
through  an historical process, from the "elementary form" (where X amount
of  commodity A is worth Y amount of commodity B)  to the money form
(where X  amount of commodity A is worth Y amount of money).

As a corollary, what regulates commodity values also changes in the
process  of the development of trade and of the expansion of markets; the
law of  value begins to assert itself in a different way.

Some people cannot think historically, and they like "fixed' definitions
which are good for all time. But in the real world, things are in motion
and  develop, and sometimes they develop unevenly, so that archaic forms
combine  with modern forms. The non-existence of money or a money-price
for goods,  for example, has never stopped people from exchanging those
goods, if it was  in their interest to do so.

There are still also ultraleftist Marxists who think they are being very
radical in arguing that value and commodities can exist "only within
capitalist society", or that "there never existed any society in which
simple commodity producers predominated".

But these people not only do not study real economic history, in order to
distinguish appropriately between the existence of "capital", "capitalism"
 and "industrial capitalism"; they also are completely unable to explain
how,  in a socialist economy, goods and services can be allocated, if
commodity  trade is abolished. In other words, these people can neither
explain how the  capitalist mode of production (or markets for that
matter) historically  originated, nor what happens when capitalism and
capitalist markets  disappear.

To summarise:

(1) A commodity can exchange for another commodity, without using or
assuming money, even if Marxists say it is impossible.
(2) A commodity can have an exchange value, without having a money-price,
which is expressed in a trading ratio, even if economists say this does
not  conform to their textbook definitions.
(3) Value and exchange-value are not the same thing. The existence of
value  does not presuppose exchange, even if the abstract thinking about
value  emerges only in the context of more sophisticated trade.
(4) There is a difference between a commodity produced in precapitalist
conditions, capitalist conditions and postcapitalist conditions, which
strongly affects how their economic value and exchange-value are
regulated,  even if leftists discourse about "commodification as a general
process". (5) Economic value begins to rule the allocation of labor
increasingly as  capitalist relations develop.


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