[OPE-L:4961] Re: ideal vs real value

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Fri, 9 May 1997 12:32:29 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

This discussion is very useful, and is helping me to clarify some important
conceptual issues. I am particularly grateful for Chai-on's careful
responses to my arguments.

RE: Chai-on's post:
> Mike:
> > 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.
> Chai-on:
> The production and exchange do refer to the use-value, not the value
> itself.

This is a bit of a puzzle for me:
1. As I understand Marx, (commodity) production has the dual aspects of
both value-production and use-value production.
2. Exchange then verifies use-value, and constitutes the specific labour
expended in production as the substance of value - abstract, etc. labour.

> Value as a social substance is not a thing to be exchanged.

I agree. Commodities are systemically exchanged for Money, so constituting
the labour that produced them as a certain quantity of abstract etc.

> When a
> commodity is exchanged for another, the value is still in the same hands,

This is a bit unclear. I give you my packet of potato chips in ('equal')
exchange for your chocolate bar. The use-values have certainly changed
hands. But these use-values are inseparable moments of the commodities,
that have thus also changed hands. And each of these commodities was
created by specific labours, that, by the act of systemic exchange, have
been constituted as value, manifest in the equal exchange values (expressed
as prices) of each commodity.

> use-values are exchanged, and values convert its form from a commodity
> into another commodity form.

Commodities are in fact exchanged for Money.

> The unity of production and exchange is called
> Re-production.

OK - if you like.

>Value thus can be CREATED only in production, of course its
> quantity may change in exchanges. In exchange, however, it cannot
> but only can decrease or be destroyed.

I do not see any justification for the 'thus' here. As to the question of
the 'change' of value in the act of systemic exchange, you do indeed state
the consensus view (between, eg, you and Jerry). I agree that no new labour
is incorporated in either commodity by the act of exchange. But I still
maintain that it is only in the act of systemic exchange (that necessarily
refers to REproduction) that value is quantitatively determined. The basic
ground for this argument is that specific labours as such are
incommensurable: they are differentiated in terms of their 'skill' both
with respect to the kinds of use-values they produce (or contribute to the
production of) and in terms of their productivity. The 'reduction' of
skilled to 'simple' labour - and so the constitution of abstract labour, is
repeatedly achieved (and modified) by the systemic commensuration of the
commodities that these labours produce, grounded in the more or less
ubiquitous system of input and output markets.

> Mike:
> >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
> >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.
> Chai-on:
> Container is not the form of its content, of course.
> The form of a value is the other container that is exchanged for the
> container.

I may have misread your analogy here. But I am still not happy with
use-value as a 'container' of value. The commodity - the necessary
contradictory unity of value and use value - is rather the *bearer* of

> Yet, the content of a value is homogeneous human labor (Not abstract
> IMO, for the creator of value is not to be identical with the content of
> value just as the creator of a computer is not identical with the content
> of the computer, but this issue should be left aside for the moment in
> discussion).

OK, let's come back to this. But for now I would suggest that the
distinction between the content and producer of value is that between
abstract labour and specific labour (since value can only be produced as
the value of a commodity). Does this get us back into the discussion of a
pre-exchange measurement of value with a stop-watch?

> In your discussion, the form of value is seen to be identical with value.

My ontological commitment is to value as a form, not a substance. This form
can exist as the exchange value of a commodity, or it has a near-autonomous
existence as Money (in that the content of the Money object is systemically
contingent). Something has value to the extent that it is valued, Labour
under capitalism is socially valued in accordance with the social valuation
of the commodity it produces, grounded in market price
> This seems wrong IMHO. The form of Marx's Capital is a book. Its content
> its message. The message can take any other form than the book. It can
> various forms. In like manner, value can take its form in various ways,
> the form of various containers that can exchange with its given
> So, it should be silly to say the form of value is value.

It would. But what I say is that value is form. The dominance of form (the
circulation of value) over content (the allocation of labour to the
production of socially useful objects) is paradoxical. But the point is
that it is a systemic paradox of capitalism. Marx's arguments can appear in
other forms than as a book. But, in the bourgeois epoch, useful objects can
appear (except marginally and accidently) in no other form than the
value-form. We cannot chose to abolish commodity fetishism and alienation
without abolishing the dominance of the value-form. That is, without
abolishing capitalism.

> Mike:
> >Use-value is not the form of
> >value, Commodity (the contradictory unity of value and use-value) is;
> >its only (in principle) autonomous form is Money. It is only at a
> >stage of the conceptual development (and indeed of the historical
> >development of exchange relations) that the value of one product finds
> >quantitative expression in the quantity of another use-vale (in its
> >units).
> >
> Chai-on:
> Of course, use-value is not the form of value. Neither is the commodity
> the unity of value and use-value.

why is Commodity not a form of value?

> As said in the above, the form of value
> is another use-value that is exchanged for the use-value that contains
> value.

I would rather say (see above) that since use-value can only exist as a
moment of Commodity, it is commodities that are exchanged.

>An autonomous existence of value (that relies little upon use-value)
> is money. Money is a good form of value, of course, as you said, in the
> later stage of the development of value-form.

Agreed. So that in fact the poles of a typical exchange under capitalism
are Commodity and Money.

> Mike:
> >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)
> >French regulationists, on the other, were getting at with the notion
> >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
> >determined in this unity - and the necessary characteristic of Value is
> >indeed that it is quantitative.
> >
> Chai-on:
> If it is in the unity of Pd and Ex, why do you insist on the segregation
> between the Pd and the Ex?

I fear I do not make myself clear. I do not insist on a separation between
production and exchange. On the contrary, I insist on the constitutive
circulation of value through production and exchange.

> The segregation is noticed only in the context of use-values (not
> The so-called market-coordinated ubiquitous Commodity circulation is
> only in discussing use-values, the containers of value.

It would help me if you could explain why you seem to insist on a
separation between the two poles of Commodity, value and use-value? What
circulates (through production and exchange) are Commodities. Under
capitalism use-ful objects appear (in principle) only as commodities. Their
usefulness reappears only in the alienated form of use-value, in necessary
contradictory unity with value in a commodity.

> Value is created in
> production, by the expenditure of labor. Abstract labor is actualized in
> the commodity circulation? No, it is actualized in commodity production,
> not in the commodity circulation.

It seems clear to me, from the arguments indicated in this post, that
abstract labour as the substance of value is constituted only in the unity
of production and exchange.

> If the abstract labor is not to be purely
> conceptual as you imagined, the abstract labor must be actualized in the
> process of production.

So this does not, IMO, follow
> The human labor should be developed into the
> abstract labor form as versatile and flexible (cf. Grundrisse).

This. IMO, takes us onto a further set of issues, concerned with
de-skilling, homogenisation of labour, and flexibility of labour. I would
conceptualise these issues by reference to effects of the tendential
imposition of the value-form on the labour-process.

>If you
> insist the abstract labor is actualized in the form of money, then the
> of value would come to be the creator of value.

I do not see how the consequent follows from the antecedent. Perhaps you
could elaborate a little? My position is that the creator of value can only
be human labour, exercised in a labour process embedded in capitalist
relations of production and exchange.

> Mike:
> >> If it is useful, the value becomes a real
> >> value. If not socially useful, the already produced value simply
> >disappears
> >> 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
> >have been consistently arguing.
> Chai-on:
> The difference is severe. While value is in the unity of P and E,
> asserts itself in the segregation between P and E. Use-value is not
> realized prior to the E. So, the value to be contained in the use-value
> cannot be realized, too before the E. But, from the standpoint of the
> capitalists, it was still a real value even before the exchange which was
> spent for the production of the commodity.

I think I have dealt with this several times before (perhaps, of course,
not to your satisfaction) by reference to the notion of

>From the social point of view,
> however, it is simply a potential value. If the potential value is not an
> actual value as you argued, it should not be destroyed or lost when the
> use-value becomes unsalable, for only actual value can be destroyed or
> lost. Because the potential value is also an actual value even before the
> exchange, it can be described as being destroyed or lost. But, in your
> case, it cannot be done so.

Please see the attempted clarification of my position above. Whilst I have
tried to accommodate the potential/actual, ideal/real terminology into my
account, in order to make it commensurable with what others are saying, it
may have mislead here. Capital can only actualise the potential value
created ('value potentially created') in its labour process by successfully
selling the resultant commodity for money. The social is grounded in the
actions of individual agents (capitalists, workers etc), but at the same
time those actions are socially determined. Here, this social determination
consists of the tendential imposition of the value-form grounded in
ubiquitous market mechanisms.
> Mike:
> >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
> >form-dominated.
> Chai-on:
> The form of value, the content of value, the creator of value and value
> itself are to be distinguished. Otherwise, your FORM-analysis would be in
> an empty form.

the value-form is indeed tendentially an 'empty form'. This is the
conceptualisation of the alienated and fetishised nature of the
specifically capitalist mode of allocation of creative human powers to the
production and distribution of useful objects. There exists, IMO, no
'Archimedean point' external to the bourgeois epoch from which we can grasp
its nature.
> Mike:
> >2. The value-form approach provides a conceptual legitimation for the
> >of monetary magnitudes for empirical work, since, according to it, these
> >are the only actual quantitative manifestations of Value magnitudes.
> Chai-on:
> Please explain why, according to my interpretation, monetary magnitudes
> cannot be the actual quantitative manifestations of Value magnitudes.

Where else are we to find empirical quantitative expressions of values?

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

Department of Economics Home:
School of Social Sciences 26 Glenwood Avenue
De Montfort University Southampton
Hammerwood Gate SO16 3QA
Kents Hill
Milton Keynes
tel:+1908 834876 tel/fax: +1703 768641
fax:+1908 834979
email: mwilliam@torres.mk.dmu.ac.uk mwilliam@compuserve.com