[OPE-L:4984] Re: ideal vs real value

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 13 May 1997 04:23:49 -0700 (PDT)

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Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:4981]:

> Is value not expressed as exchange value real or ideal?
> -------------------------------------------------------
> I am using the term real in the opposite sense to that which
> Jerry does when he talks about the realisation of surplus value.
> I am using it in the sense of philosophical realism, in the sense
> that it is the fact that value really exists, that social labour
> really has to be devoted to producing something, that is the
> precondition for this value being measured in exchange.

I agree that the allocation of social labour for [capitalist] production
is a *precondition* for value. Yet, I view it as a necessary but not
sufficient condition for value.

> This value, this necessity for society to give up some of its
> time to make something, this cost to society, is real not ideal.

I agree that labour-time is real rather than ideal. Labour-time, though,
must be *socially-necessary* for it to have the capacity to become real
_as value_.

> People selling commodities may have estimates of what they will
> sell for, these estimates may justly be called ideal, but such
> estimates are distinct both from the value of the commodity and
> what it actually sells for.

But, it is not only the estimates by capitalists which are "ideal." For a
commodity to have "real value", it must _actually_ have use-value and
exchange-value. This validation only takes place via the act of

> Realisation of surplus value
> ----------------------------
> When one talks of this, one is to some extent taking the subjective
> viewpoint of the capitalist to whom surplus value is unreal unless
> it actually appears as credit in his bank account, i.e., as monetary
> profit.

This distinction, from my perspective, doesn't concern the subjective
perceptions or accounting of individual capitalists. Rather, for
surplus-labor-time to fully become surplus value it must be converted
into money. Indeed, this conversion of surplus-labor-time into money is a
precondition, when looked at from the standpoint of a circuit of capital,
for the transformation of surplus-value into capital and the reproduction
of social capital.

> 1. Profit only makes up a portion of surplus value, rent, unproductive
> expenditures and some government expenditures also constitute part
> of surplus value.

Well ... we haven't been discussing the relationship between
surplus-value and profit in this thread yet. However, I would say that
the above largely concerns the *distribution* of surplus-value (I say
"largely" since government expenditures are financed not only from the
transfer of surplus-value from capitalists via taxation but also through
taxation of wage-earners and other social classes).

> 2. The immediate determinants of the level of profit are quite distinct
> from the determinants of surplus value. Profit is an accounting category
> and the aggregate level of profit in the economy is determined as a
> balancing item by the sum of <snip>

Well ... I don't think Marx viewed profit as only an "accounting

> 3. The effect of variations in these immediate determinants of profits is
> to allow profits to rise independently of surplus value - for instance
> the short run effect of an increase in investment is to raise producer
> goods prices above their values. Then a rise in profits is not
> immediately associated with a rise in the amount of surplus labour
> performed.

I think that variations in the mass of profits and surplus-value are
"independent" *and* _interdependent_.

Returning to the meaning of "realization": what does the meaning of
"real" in "realization" imply for the meaning of "value" prior to
realization? This question can be posed in an even sharper way if we
accept Riccardo's preferred translation that "realization" is more
accurately rendered into English as "actualization." Thus, if
surplus-value becomes "actual" via exchange, what was it before

In solidarity, Jerry