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

From: Andrew Brown (A.Brown@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Thu Oct 06 2005 - 08:12:18 EDT

Thanks Jerry,

A very useful response for me. Alas, I really must try and avoid getting
into a discussion, so I must apologise for unfair brevity.

You write: "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."

I reply:

You continue:

"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
use-value (similarly value abstracts from specific, concrete labour)."

I reply:
The sense in which use-value *is* abstracted from is as what I call a
'determinate' abstraction (adapting terminology I take from the
philosophy discipline). As a 'determinable' you are right that use value
is *not* abstracted from. It is a vital part of the commodity and one
must start with the commodity not with value as you rightly stress. The
determinate / determinable distinction also covers your absolutely
correct point that without use-value there is no value.

Further down you write:

"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)."

I reply:
You are correct of course that use-value is social. The (materialist)
argument does not deny this, indeed stresses it, but simply points out
that social uses are constrained by the material properties of the use
value. Both materiality and social mediation are entailed in the notion
of a use-value.

You write:
"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."

Use value does not vanish at all, it remains very important both because
of the use value side of production and because value must be expressed
in use-value. The determinate / determinable distinction is the key

In fact all the rest of your post is answered by reference to this
distinction. The Notes on Wagner are very consonant with my view so far
as I can tell.

Many thanks,


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