[OPE-L:4874] ideal vs real value

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Fri, 25 Apr 1997 15:01:23 -0700 (PDT)

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In message Thu, 24 Apr 1997 06:29:31 -0700 (PDT),
"andrew kliman" <Andrew_Kliman@msn.com> writes:

> A reply to Michael Lebowitz's ope-l 4855:
> Well, I jumped thru the quotation-reconciling hoop, Mike, now it's your
> turn.
> Since this is Passover, 4 questions:
> (a) What, then, *is* the difference between x commodity A = y commodity
> B and x use-value A = y use-value B?
> (b) How do you reconcile your interpretation with the passage (Capital
> I, p. 166 of the Vintage ed.) that reads
> "This division of the product of labour into a useful thing and a thing
> possessing value appears in practive only when exchange has already
> acquired a sufficient extention and importance to allow useful things to
> be produced for the purpose of being exchanged, so that THEIR CHARACTER
> [emphasis added].
> (c) A two-parter. If, according to Marx, exchange turns products of
> labor into values, then why does he write that
> (i) the "consumption [of labor-power] is therefore itself an
> objectification of labour, hence a creation of value"? (p. 270)
> (ii) "what happens there [in circulation] is only an introduction to the
> valorization process, which is ENTIRELY CONFINED TO THE SPHERE OF
> PRODUCTION"? (p. 302, emphases added)
> (d) Finally, since you indicate your agreement with Jerry, where is the
> textual evidence that Marx distinguished C' as "potential" value from M'
> as "actual" value?

That's 5 questions, Andrew. I'm sorry for not responding on the first
night, but the patriarchs have had thousands of years to prepare their
answers. I'm quite happy that you did pursue this further because I wasn't
satisfied with my answer to you before. Since you broke tradition by asking
5 questions, let me do so as well by not answering in order and by letting
one answer stand for several questions.

> (d) Finally, since you indicate your agreement with Jerry, where is the
> textual evidence that Marx distinguished C' as "potential" value from M'
> as "actual" value?
Textual evidence can be actual words (for which we may be dependent upon
the vagaries of translators) or the sense of the content. Naturally, it is
serendipitous to find the actual words, but I can't recall the term
"potential" used; nevertheless, I think that the distinction between
potential and real value is indeed the sense of what Marx means in stating
that commodities "must stand the test as use-values before they can be
realized as values" (Vintage,179). Perhaps the resistance is to the term,
"potential". So, let me substitute the word "ideal" because we do certainly
know that throughout the Grundrisse Marx does set up the tension between
ideal and real. Ie., just as money is ideally the mediator between
commodities as measure of value and really the mediator as means of exchange
and just as money is the ideal material representative of wealth as money
removed from circulation and real wealth as it returns to circulation to
command commodities and just as surplus value is generated within the sphere
of production (and only there) but is as yet only ideal until it is made
real by the sale of commodities, so also we can say that the value of the
commodity is ideal until the successful sale of the commodity proves it to
be real.
Here's some textual evidence of this ideal/real distinction from the
Grundrisse (vintage, 193): "If exchange values are *ideally* transformed
into money by means of prices, then, in the act of exchange, in purchase and
sale, they are *really* transformed into money, exchanged for money."
[Emphasis in the original.] I have another quote which makes my point about
value not being real until the successful sale even more strongly but I
will save it to the end (for a boffo finish!).

> (a) What, then, *is* the difference between x commodity A = y commodity
> B and x use-value A = y use-value B?

The difference is indicated on the following page (182). In the direct
exchange of products (x use-value A...), the only character of those
products is as use-values for each of the exchangers and thus "the articles
exchanged do not acquire a value-form independent of their own
use-value, or of the individual needs of the exchangers." In contrast, in
the case of the simple form of value (x Commodity A = y Commodity B), the
commodities have already been equated ideally as equivalents; they *do* have
a value-form which is independent of use-value. They have been "*ideally*
transformed" (or, as Mike W would say, ideally commensurated).
I think you can see what my answer to the rest of your questions-- it is
to insist on this distinction between ideal and real. I agree completely for
example with Mike W.'s response to your (b): producers take the character of
commodities as values into consideration by "precommensuration"; their
character as values is as values not yet real.
Finally, my closing quote (which I was happy to find in the Grundrisse
while browsing last night) and which I think gives strong support to the
position that Mike W., Jerry and I have been advancing.
Suppose, Marx posits, that the capitalist's attempt to sell his
commodities (pregnant with ideal surplus-value) breaks down. "(T)hen the
capitalist's money has been transformed into a worthless product, and has
not only not gained a new value, but also lost its original value. But
whether this is so or not, in any case devaluation forms one moment of the
realization process; which is already simply implied in the fact that the
product of the process in its immediate form is not *value*, but first has
to enter anew into circulation in order to be realized as such. Therefore,
while capital is reproduced as value and new value in the production
process, it is at the same time posited as *not-value*, as something which
first has to be *realized as value by means of exchange*."(Vintage, 403. All
emphasis is in the original---- although I did have to restrain myself from
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 872-0494; Home fax: (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca