[OPE-L:4979] Re: ideal vs real value

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 12 May 1997 11:08:17 -0700 (PDT)

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Re: Paul C's [4976; 4978] and Allin's [4977], Fred's [4971], Chai-on's
[4970] & [4975], and assorted posts by others:

A) This is getting confusing!

B) I think while part of the "confusion" concerns substantive differences
re our understanding of value, another source of the "confusion" is more
terminological. I tend, for instance, to agree with Mike W, in responding
recently to Chai-on, that some of the differences in interpretation may
not be as sharp as might have been originally imagined.

C) The different interpretations, IMHO, revolve around the questions:

1) what is a commodity and, therefore, when can or does a product
become a commodity?

2) what is value? Can, for example, value exist independently of the

3) what does the conservation of value principle state and do we accept
that principle?

4) how do we interpret the meaning of the expression "realization" of
surplus value?

Different answers to 4), 3) and 2), it seems to me, are a consequence of
different answers to 1).

D). What is a commodity? A commodity, according to my interpretation of
Marx, must have use-value and value, and a necessary form of appearance
of value must be as exchange-value.

Commodity values are "created" in production by labor, it is argued. What
does this, then, mean in terms of the "value" of the "products" created by
labor? Paul C's position, as expressed in [4976], would suggest that the
aggregate value of these products is determined in production. Thus, when
he says that "value exists independently of being measured" he is, in
effect, saying that a product is a commodity and can have value
independently of whether that "value" comes to be expressed as
exchange-value. Yet, how can one break the link between value and the
value-form in this way? From my perspective, the product which has "value"
but not exchange-value is not a commodity and, therefore, the "value" of
those products that are not commodities is *not* value, but rather
*not-value* or "ideal value" (see Mike L's recent quote from the

Chai-on said, in response to Fred in [4975], that the question under
discussion does not concern the "realization" of value and surplus value.
I disagree. I think that is part and parcel of this discussion -- since it
is in the act of exchange that products fully *become* commodities. This
does not imply that the magnitude of "value" can be increased via exchange.
What it means, rather, is that the *metamorphosis* of a product into a
commodity is made *real* or *actual* via exchange. I.e. the "value" of
those products that are not exchanged, because they have neither a
use-value and an exchange-value, are "lost" or "destroyed" precisely
because the products were *not* commodities even though they may have been
*offered* for sale. In that sense, what has been "lost" is "ideal value"
rather than "real value". Perhaps another way to express this is as the
"abortion of value."

E). Chai-on suggested in [4971] that value-form interpretations hold that
the magnitude of value can be increased via the act of exchange. I think,
rather, that the value-form interpretation holds that value is
*constituted* (or becomes value) once commodities have a value-form and
this only happens at the "intersection of production and exchange." I.e.
what has been "pre-comensurated* must come to *be* comensurated in
exchange. In that sense, I see the value-form position as very similar to
what Mike L and I have been saying about the distinction between "ideal"
and "real" value. I am unclear where what Chai-on is saying is
substantively different from what Mike W has been saying re this question.

F). Fred in [4971] agrees that value can be "destroyed" after production,
but can only be "created" in production. A preliminary question: is it
"value" or "ideal value" which has been destroyed in the sphere of
circulation? I.e. if a quantum of products do not have use-value or the
value-form, can we really say that those products were commodities and had

Fred goes on to note the "general assumption" in _Capital_ that all value
and surplus value is realized. Although I have some questions about how
general this assumption was in _Capital_, I agree that it is legitimate to
*assume* that commodity values will be realized -- providing one
explicitly states that assumption and goes on to explain what happens when
this assumption is relaxed.

I think that the question of a "realization crisis", though is a somewhat
different discussion from our discussion of what "realization" means
(perhaps Chai-on was trying to make this point). I.e. there is a separate
question related to crisis theory that relates to the realization of
surplus-value as a *cause* of crisis, yet even within an interpretation of
crisis theory which stresses the overproduction of capital rather than the
overproduction of commodities, there is still the recognition that the
crisis can be most visibly *manifested* as a overproduction of
commodities. The issue we have been discussing, though, concerns a more
abstract question: when does "value" become fully constituted as value?

In solidarity, Jerry