[OPE-L:4889] Re: Four-cornered triangle

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 29 Apr 1997 03:51:59 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:4887]:

> I think this confuses two issues, one "ontological," the other
> "epistemological." I do not think that, for Marx, whether a product *is* a
> commodity or not depends on what is "shown" to us, what we "know." But
> Jerry's reasoning requires this as a premise.

I don't think so.

My reasoning, simply put, is that a product of labor must -- by
definition -- have use-value, value, and a value-form to *be* a
commodity. From that perspective, I would say that while value in an
"ideal" sense is "created" in production, for that "ideal" value to become
"real" or "actual",

-- the value of the product must come to be expressed as exchange-value
(when it is offered for sale);

-- the labour-time must be *socially-necessary*;

-- the product must have a *use-value*.

Even *after* the product is offered for sale and has a value-form, the
labor contained in that product may NOT be socially-necessary and the
product may NOT have a use-value. In that case, the product would NOT be a
commodity -- regardless of the intentions of the capitalist.

Also, note well (especially Allin), that in the following situation, a
product which *in the past* had value can cease to have value -- if
and when they *no longer* have use-value.

> I will also note that what Jerry's response is at variance with the passage
> from Capital II he quotes in ope-l 4876:
> " If they do not enter into productive or individual consumption within a
> certain amount of time, according to their particular characteristics, in
> other words if they are not sold within a definite time, then THEY GET

No, I see the two positions (Marx's and mine) as consistent. In the above
passage, Marx tells us that under certain conditions value and surplus
value can be "spoiled" or "lost" if products "are not sold within a
definite time." The "loss" of value in these cases occurs when the
product ceases to have a use-value -- because it has physically degraded
since it was not sold within "a definite time".

By my reading, the "value" that has been "lost" is "ideal value" rather
than "actual value." How else can we make sense of the above passage?
(which I note, in passing, that Andrew K and others have not attempted to
do yet).

More significantly, the above passage is very clearly at odds with the
"conservation of value" principle which holds that the magnitude of value
can not be increased _or decreased_ in circulation. i.e. that the
magnitude of value produced is "conserved" in exchange. The above passage
tells a very different story indeed. There value which has been produced
has been "lost", i.e. reduced, rather than merely "conserved." This
makes *no sense* within an interpretation of value that believes that Marx
adhered to the "conservation of value" principle. I only see two ways out
of this dilemma: (1) Marx was wrong above, i.e. the above passage is
inconsistent with his other writings on value, *or* (2) if we maintain
that Marx was correct above, then it establishes an *impossibility
condition* for the "conservation of value" principle, i.e. that it
demonstrates a situation which *can not possibly* occur under that
principle. [In the same way that reswitching and capital-reversing
established an "impossibility condition" for the marginalists' aggregate
production function].

[Perhaps, though, the "conservation principle" could be rescued if it --
in Fred's words -- is simply taken as a "GIVEN." However, if it is
"given" by assumption, then we also out to discuss when and where --
logically -- it is NOT GIVEN].

If one believes in (1), then one should be able to show some
textual evidence that Marx believed that value could not be increased *or
decreased* following production. Although one can find (perhaps) scores of
quotes where Marx maintains that value can not be created or expanded in
exchange, no one has yet offered any textual evidence that shows that he
believed that value can not be "reduced", "lost", or "spoiled" after

Moreover ... moving beyond dueling quotes ... no one has yet offered an
answer to the *logic* of this interpretation of value which insists on the
possibility that the magnitude of value may be different from, i.e. _less
than_, that created in production.

In solidarity, Jerry