[OPE-L:1014] Reply to Simon

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Thu, 8 Feb 1996 16:57:27 -0800

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Dear Simon

Thanks very much for the diligent research. It is very much
appreciated that you have gone back to the text in such

I am aware that this debate is taking up a lot of space and
this is frustrating list members and blocking other debates,
so I want to steer a course between replying to absolutely
everything, which would expand indefinitely, and neglecting
what others have said.

I agree with Andrew that it is quite impolite to fail to
reply to someone without indicating the reasons. What I will
try to do is this:

(1) real soon now respond to Gil's general points: at
present each of us is responding to what the other one said
the week before (rather like the way price and value are
determined) and so I promise to read up to date before
responding again

(2) when that's done, basically stop.

(3) catch up by rereading all the points that have been made
more systematically

(4) respond offlist in detail to individuals

(5) eventually post a general response to the debate.

So as regards Simon's points instead of a line-by-line
response, excuse me for attempting to address one point only
which, however, is quite central and may illustrate the
argument. Simon cites Marx:

p.141: "for it is only as value that it can be related to
the coat as being equal in value to it, or exchangeable with

and then writes:

"My interpretation of the last clause is that it is
synonymous with 'being equal in value to it'; presumably
Alan has to argue that the last clause generalises 'being
equal in value to it', so that the latter becomes a special

This citation follows the section on the relative and
equivalent form of value.

Why does Marx distinguish the equivalent form of value? This
is rather important, for out of it comes the derivation of

Let us suppose that the linen's value is 8 hours, and that
it exchanges for the coat whose value is 4 hours.

Marx writes (p141):

"Linen = coat is the basis of the equation.

"But these two qualitatively equated commodities do not play
the same part. It is only the value of the linen that is
expressed. And how? By being related to the coat as its
'equivalent', or the 'thing exchangeable' with it. In this
relation the coat counts as the form of existence of value,
as the material embodiment of value, for only as such is it
the same as the linen. On the other hand, the linen's own
existence as value comes into view or receives and
independent expression"

He then goes on to say

"If we say that, as values, commodities are simply congealed
quantities of human labour, our analysis reduces them, it is
true, to the level of abstract value, but does not give them
a form of value distinct from their natural forms. It is
otherwise in the value relation of one commodity to another.
The first commodity's value character emerges here through
its own relation to the second commodity."

What is the point which is here being made?

It is not just an obscure Hegelian distinction between the
lefthand and the righthand side of an equation.

The labour embodied in the coat is 4 hours. But in exchange
with the coat it represents 8 hours. The commodity faces
both ways; backwards to production and forwards to exchange,
and as such, two different magnitudes attach to it, namely
the amount of labour in it, and the amount of labour it
exchanges for. The equivalent form is the amount of use-value,
but also the amount of labour, which it exchanges for.

Otherwise, there could not possibly be a distinction between
value and price. We would simply have no theoretical basis
for talking about price. We would not know what price 'is'.
Or rather, we would consider price only as a quantity of use-
value, not recognising its most important property, namely
that price is the disguised form of a quantity of labour-time.

The form of value is not just a qualitatively different
expression of the same number. It is a different number.

I think the difficulty that Simon has, in interpreting this
text, is that in common with many readers of Marx he
believes there is only such one number under discussion. In
this case, of course this number must both be the number of
hours in the coat, and the number of hours for which it
exchanges, and these two numbers cannot differ (since they
are the same number).

But once we understand that there are two numbers under
discussion, the entire difficulty vanishes.

Now, this is very interesting because of its implications
for the value of money.

The peculiar thing is, that Simon is quite happy in this one
case, the commodity money, to throw away everything he has
said in his polemic with me, and provide this commodity with
an expression for its value which is not defined as the
labour in it, but as a quantity of labour for which it
exchanges. Everything that he has levelled against the idea
that a commodity may exchange in Marx for something other
than the amount of value in it, destroys his definition of
the value of money.

The obvious question is: why only money? There is a
continuous development in Marx from the relative to the
equivalent to the expanded to the general form of value. At
what point is the miraculous salto mortale accomplished,
whereby money, and only money, is allowed an expression for
the equivalent form of value distinct from that of any other

Marx explains money as the *universal* equivalent. The term
arises directly out of the 'equivalent form'. In order for a
commodity's value to become a social relation, which means
this value is comparable with the value of every other
commodity, it must express this value in one particular
equivalent, the same equivalent in which all other
commodities express their value. This universal equivalent
is money. But it is still an equivalent: 20 linen = 1 pound
is only a more developed form of 20 linen = 1 coat.

Therefore, what is good for money, is also good for the

The tremendous advance which was made when the New Solution
identified and singled out this fact about the value of
money - that it is inverted with respect to the 'normal' or
relative form of value so that the value of money is
expressed in the value of all the things for which it
exchanges, is it seems to me sacrificed if it is made into a
magical property of money instead of a logical development
of the equivalent form.