[OPE-L:4881] Re: ideal vs real value

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 14:33:23 -0700 (PDT)

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I was glad to see Chai-on come in on this thread, because from past
experience on OPE-L I knew that he had things of substance to contribute. I
would like to comment briefly on his intervention.

> Chai-on:
> Value is a social substance in principle. Therefore, it could be odd to
> increase or decrease in the process of circulation, for the social
> is in the unity of production and exchange.

I agree, But by the same token, since the social relation that is value
exists only in the unity of production and exchange (which has been the
position I have always advocated on OPE-L, and have held clearly since
Reuten & Williams 1989), it is odd to insist that it can change
quantitatively only in production.
Anyway, Chai-on goes onto describe a class of cases in which the quantity
of (ideal) Value does indeed change after labour has been incorporated in
a product, ie after production.

> Nevertheless, however, Marx said value is a potential existence prior to
> exchange, and is realised after the exchange. Why? Because value cannot
> exist autonomously, it needs a container, a receptacle.

OK, but just here I would like to be a bit pedantic, for the sake of
clarity. The implied analogy between the value-form, qua form, and a
container can be misleading. Value is the unity of content (abstract
labour) and form (Value, that has existence only either as a moment of the
contradictory unity use-value in Commodity, or as its near autonomous
existence as Money). There is no necessary unity between a container (a
jug) and its contingent contents (now milk, now water, now sugar, etc).
There is between a content and its (necessary) form.

> If the receptacle=
> a use-value,

So I think that this appears to be just wrong. Use-value is not the form of
value, Commodity (the contradictory unity of value and use-value) is; and
its only (in principle) autonomous form is Money. It is only at a primitive
stage of the conceptual development (and indeed of the historical
development of exchange relations) that the value of one product finds its
quantitative expression in the quantity of another use-vale (in its natural

> is cracked, the value can decrease or lost depending on the
> situation of the use-value (the container).

Quite. And this is, of course, after production.

>Exchange can only verify if the
> use-value is socially useful.

Well, I am not so sure about this 'only' here. As I have argued several
times in recent posts, IMO, the so-called substance of Value, Abstract
Labour, is only determined in the unity of production and exchange. ( It
is, I think, what Himmelweit and Mohun, on the one hand, and (some of) the
French regulationists, on the other, were getting at with the notion that
the abstraction from specific concrete labours to abstract labour is not
purely conceptual, but actualised in market-coordinated ubiquitous
Commodity circulation. Or from another aspect, Value is only quantitatively
determined in this unity - and the necessary characteristic of Value is
indeed that it is quantitative.

> If it is useful, the value becomes a real
> value. If not socially useful, the already produced value simply
> or is lost for the capitalist.

I am really unclear how this is different from saying that the ideal
quantity of Value is only actualised in the circulation of Commodity
through production and exchange, which is the 'Value-form' position that I
have been consistently arguing since just before last, unaccountably,
seemed (I may, of course, have got this wrong) to get irritated with my
> I wonder why this is not so clear to others (especially to Mike William)?

I hope that the above helps to clarify why, although your position is clear
to me, and is the predominant interpretation of Marx, I hold a different
opinion (that is still developing, and is thus open to modification), for
which I have tried to indicate cogent conceptual argument, and for which
there is quite a lot of textual evidence in Marx's own writings, some of
which has appeared on this list at various times.
It seems to me that where I disagree with this orthodox position, put
forward by Chai-on and others, is in the emphasis on the form of value,
that Reuten and I have tried to work up into a critique of capitalism as
If we are concerned with whether it makes any difference to our formal
'marxist economics' modelling, I would say the following:
1. The problem with formal models is their interpretation so that they can
plausibly be used to contribute to our knowledge claims. Careful attention
to systematic conceptualisation is, to put it as pragmatically as possible,
a crucial key for reproducing the interpretability of any models.

2. The value-form approach provides a conceptual legitimation for the use
of monetary magnitudes for empirical work, since, according to it, these
are the only actual quantitative manifestations of Value magnitudes.

3. Again, as I have frequently said on the list, I, personally, am less
interested in a Marxist Economics, and more interested in the Hegel-Marx
inspired critique of economics, and so of the bourgeois epoch of which it
is the expression in thought.

I am really keen to hear Chai-on's response, and to carry on the dialogue.
But I hope it can be carried on in a comradely spirit that respects the
sincerity of other comrades attempts to make sense of Marxist thought.
Please. Chai-on, don't get irritated with me if I persist in disagreeing
with some aspect of the position that you espouse.

Comradely greetings.

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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