[OPE] Value form theory 101

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Dec 21 2008 - 09:28:49 EST

Geert Reuten argues:

"Marx in his systematic work (especially the parts of Capital so devised by him) presented the apparently Ricardian labour embodied notions as simple concepts, to be transcended by more complex ones. However, if one misses the conceptual layered development of Marx's categories, one can get stuck in the apparent Ricardianism of Marx's start."

This is probably true, I have thought same for 25 years, and I would not disagree with that, in other words the Ricardian notion of "embodied labour" Marx initially uses and occasionally repeats as a short-hand is primarily a didactic, intuitively sensible argumentation device, as a prologue to the Cap. Vol. 1 analysis of how capital is valorized in the production process (the forming new products through labour which adds value to production capital and thus becomes the source of the accumulation of capital), abstracting from the value-price deviations, which, as Ian Wright correctly emphasizes, are crucial to the workings of the law of value connecting the "economy of labour-time" with the "economy of trade".

But really what Geert and Phil imply, is that the "measure of value" is simply money, not social labour-time, although they claim labour remains the source of value. However, the latter theorem is actually redundant in this theory, because labour is simply "the source of money", and money is value, such that the forms of value are just the forms of money. Labour cannot be the source of value, if value manifests itself only in exchange as Jerry also argues. At most you could say tritely that "money values labour" or that "there are different monetary valuations of labour".

This is neither Marx's own argument (then you might as well throw out his books) nor is it even true, if value-form theory is accepted, since value is always objectively measurable in at least three ways: by labour-time; by trading ratios of products (x amount of commodity y=p amount of commodity q), and by money-prices of various kinds. When Marx talks about the "value form" he is talking about different expressions of exchange-value, and not in contrast to exchange-value as value-form theorists claim.

It is, in part, precisely the possibilty of dissynchrony of those different measures or valuations, that explains the "dynamic" of capitalist development, and also helps explain why capitalism regulary lurches into crisis. The trading process yields the overall result, not just that certain assets are undervalued and others overvalued, but also that certain assets a devalued and revalued, which can be very profitable in some cases, but disastrous in others.

Value-form theory as I said is vacuous, unless we can clearly specify what the forms are representations of - you cannot specify the form of value without the content of value. Otherwise, we are just left with representations of representations, reflected in a postmodernist hall of mirrors. Since value-form theorists cannot meet the requirements of a coherent theory of value, value-form theory is in fact vacuous.

Logically, Geert really implies that "something which is a quality cannot at the same time be a quantity". But even in mathematics that isn't true - a number such as "8" is both a quantity and an element of a set of numbers which defines and identifies that number.

However much we may twist and turn, value is "simultaneously" both quantitatively and qualitatively defined, and hence, when we are faced with a unit of something, we are always faced not just with the question of "magnitude", but also "what it is a unit of".

Moreover, a separate unit can exist as a quantitative determination, irrespective of our ability to measure it, just as a qualitative determination can exist, without us being able to allocate it to any known set.

In logic or language, it is quite possible to talk about value independently of its particular quantitative and qualitative determinations, but in practical experience this isn't possible, we necessarily must refer to quantitative and qualitative expressions of value, hence the "form" and "content" of value.

J.D. Bernal for example discovers that: "We are learning more and more that specific qualitative properties of bodies depend on the number of certain of their internal components. If an atom can only link with one other atom, the result is a gas. If it can link with two or three, the result will be a solid of fibrous or platy character. If with four, a hard crystalline solid like diamond. If with more than four, a metal" (The Freedom of Necessity. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1949. pp. 353-354).

But this does not cause him to abandon the notion of an atom at all, on the ground that there are different atoms. If we carried on like that, any scientific theory would be impossible.

Kozo Uno has proved that we can restate the whole argument without Marx's humorous Hegelian rococo about the "reified life of commodities" in a logically acceptable manner, so that we do not assume the content of value as Marx does, but demonstrate its content (as I have argued before, you could logically just as well argue that that "common factor" commensurating commodities is the fact that a price can be attributed to them). In his urge to have a stab at the trite philosophical pontifications of doctrinaire professors about "value", Marx shot himself in the foot with his own argument.

You might as well ask, why does Marx bother with the concept of value at all, if - as value-form theory implies - he could just make the same argument talking about quantities of labour-time and money-prices only?

Well, leaving aside that, as I showed in previous mails, the logical analysis of the price-form demonstrates that all price computations are predicated on value assumptions, fact is when a product is created by social labour, it gains a value which has an objectified social existence "independent" from the labour that produced it, and indeed independent of its measurability - but moreover this value also exists quite independently of any particular trading relations. That is precisely what "vulgar Marxism" denies (although Stalin, aiming to get beter cost-economies from workers' labour, decreed that the law of value disciplined the economy of the USSR).

In Geert's theory and the theory of the ultraleftists, people are oppressed by the "value form". In my theory, as far as it goes, it is more that the propertied classes can be oppressed by the forms of value (since misrepresentations of value in trading activity mean you lose money) while the working classes are oppressed much more by the content of value, since their appropriation of the means of life is directly conditional on work effort, and mishaps in the trading process have direct effects for their working lives (autonomists with their "Me and Bobby McGee" stories probably have little inkling of that).

The problem which the New Marxist Exploiting Class, lacking much capital, always has, is: how can I get other people to work for me for nothing? It searches out those elements in society who will currently be swayed by their ideology, but it only rarely conquers real power. Typically, it only does so, when the trading process itself is collapsing. NMEC theory is essentially a taxation theory of the allocation of resources; there's a social duty to pay the tax, regardless of whether you get anything back for it. If you do not pay the tax, you are anti-social and ostracized from society.


For Willi Semmler's books and papers, see http://www.newschool.edu/nssr/cem/index.html I referred to his earlier (more distinctively "Marxian") works.

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Received on Sun Dec 21 09:30:49 2008

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