Re: [OPE-L] Ricardo and Marx on embodiment

From: Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM
Date: Thu Oct 06 2005 - 07:44:42 EDT

> To respond briefly to Jerry's direct question to me. In previous posts I
> have stressed that value abstracts from use value - and this is to
> abstract from the natural materiality, the corporeality, of the
> commodity. Marx was long aware of this (it is in the quote from TSV that
> started this thread). That's why talk of 'embodiment' is absurd -- there
> is no *body* of the commodity left. If we have embodiment (Ricardo) then
> it is embodiment without a body !! .... [to my knowledge Patrick Murray
> was first to put the contradiction in such a precise way]
> All there is left, then, in value, is labour stripped of all
> determinations except duration. Yet it is thing-like. It is 'out there',
> a reality, one side of the two sided commodity.

Hi Andy,

Welcome back to the discussion.

Thanks for the clarification.  I think I understand your position better
now, but (surprise) I don't agree with it.

The starting point for Marx and us should not be value but should
be the commodity.  Use-value, Exchange-Value, and Value (and
abstract labour and SNLT and Money)  are all unpacked from an
examination of the commodity.    All of these are social forms
necessarily associated  with the commodity.  For that reason, I think it
is misleading to say that value "abstracts from use-value".  It does not!

If there is an abstraction here it is that value abstracts from a _specific_
use-value (similarly value abstracts from specific, concrete labour).

Because value is linked to the commodity and has no meaning
independent of the context of the commodity,  it is highly
misleading to think that in value there is an abstraction from
use-value.  One can see why if there is the _non-presence_ of
use-value.  Suppose a product has been produced with the
intention of sale by a capitalist productively employing wage-labour.
The product is a consequence of  that labor (and expresses for
you, "congealed labour").  If it is then determined that the product
has no use-value, then it can not be a commodity.  If it has no
use-value, it can have no value.  Thus, use-value and value (and
exchange-value and hence money) are constituent forms of
the commodity: it makes no sense to refer to value if one is
referring to products without the presence of use-value.

Furthermore, it is misleading to conceive of use-value as the
"natural materiality" and "corporeality" of the commodity.
Rather, use-value _itself_ is social.   _Whatever_ the material
form of the commodity,  the stamp of approval that says
a product is useful is _socially_ made and not given merely by
reference to its physical/material characteristics (although, that
can determine in some instances whether an individual product is
truly  a commodity: e.g. if grain is stored and then deteriorates to
the point that it no longer has use-value, then it is no longer
a commodity and also has neither value or exchange-value).

What I object to, then, even more than your conception of
value as expressing "congealed labour" is how within that
formulation use-value itself vanishes as a major explanatory
category and thus has an eerie, ghostly presence in your
conception.  Use-value, just like value, is 'out there': both
are realities, they are both made realities through the reality
of the commodity.

As for your objection to "embodied", I think it is misleading.
You say that in value "there is no *body* of the commodity
left."    Put within the context of my explanation above,  there
*is* a "body" to value:  the "body" is the commodity.  Value --
to repeat myself -- has no meaning without reference to the
commodity, it is the body and value expresses a social
relationship (although not the only social relationship -- see
comments above on use-value) of that "body".

> This
> 'pure' labour, this 'ghostly substance' is all that can constitute
> value, there is nothing else left.

Yep, that's what happens when you start with value.  When you
start with the commodity, one sees that there is indeed something
else left -- the commodity itself! -- and its not ghostly.  I don't
have it in front of me now, but I think that some of Marx's comments
in the _Marginal Notes on Wagner_ are relevant to this point.

In solidarity, Jerry

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