[OPE-L:4842] Re: Four-cornered triangle

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Wed, 23 Apr 1997 03:17:44 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to Michael Lebowitz's ope-l 4644.

He asked: "How do those who accept the argument that the value of commodities
is given before sale reconcile their
position with Marx's clear statement in Vol. I, Ch. 2 that coomodities "must
stand the test as use-values before they can be realized as values. For the
labour expended upon them only counts in so far as it is expended in a form
which is useful for others. However, only the act of exchange can prove
whether that labour is useful for others, and its product consequently capable
of satisfying the needs of others.""

Two complementary answers.

First, the commodity is produced, say, today. Other commodities of the same
time are proving that they are use-values today by being sold. Hence, this
commodity is a use-value today. If, later, things of this sort are not
saleable, they have LOST their use-value and thus LOST the value they once
had. In capitalism, we ask questions such as "what is silver worth today?,"
not "what would my piece of silver have been worth had it been one of the
pieces traded today?" They all have the same worth, whether or not they get

Second, the quote above expresses one-half of a contradiction. As I'm sure
Mike knows, the *immediately preceding* sentence reads "Hence commodities must
be realized as values before they can be realized as use-values." Capital I,
Vintage, p. 179.

Then Marx develops a second aspect of this contradiction, exchange as an
individual vs. social process. (p. 180)

Then he solves the contradiction he has posed (pp. 180-81). More precisely,
he says that the existence of money solves it. The articles are already
values before they exchange, because they are already, and always, related to
the equivalent. Otherwise they could not exchange as commodities: there
would be nothing to equate them as values and allow the magnitude of their
values to be compared.

Marx thus distinguishes (p. 181) between "the simple expression of value", x
commodity A = y commodity B, and barter ("direct exchange of products"), x
use-value A = y use-value B. In the latter case, he writes, "articles A and B
IN THIS CASE are not yet commodities, but become so only through the act of
exchange" [my emphasis]. The implication, clearly, is that this is not so in
the former case (because A is already equivalent to B, the socially recognized
form of value.)

Andrew Kliman