[OPE-L:5018] RE: ideal vs real value

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Wed, 14 May 1997 13:22:20 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to some aspects of Mike Lebowitz's ope-l 4874. (I recently wrote to
Mike indicating that I didn't have much definitive to say, but I then decided
that maybe a couple of people may find something in what follows.)

Mike: "I can't recall the term "potential" used; nevertheless, I think that
the distinction between potential and real value is indeed the sense of what
Marx means in stating that commodities "must stand the test as use-values
before they can be realized as values" (Vintage,179). Perhaps the resistance
is to the term, "potential". So, let me substitute the word "ideal" because we
do certainly know that throughout the Grundrisse Marx does set up the tension
between ideal and real."

Potential, ideal, putative, vs. real. It is unclear to me what, if anything,
this distinction (in any of its forms) denotes that is different from what is
denoted in the distinction Marx does make throughout _Capital_, that value is
created (or produced) in the immediate production process and (usually)
realized (usually) in exchange. (Usually realized, and usually realized in
exchange if realized. In both cases there are exceptions.) I think I know
why those who change the terms do so; it does seem to connote something
different; but I'm asking about denotation.

I think the key issue is quantitative. If the process (or as Jerry might put
it, "act") of exchange does not alter the magnitude of value in existence
(call this existence PIP [potential, ideal, putative] or whatever, it makes no
difference), then it seems to me that the denotation is the same. The change
in terminology is then merely unfortunate, since it contains a misleading
connotation, and especially since, in contrast to Marx's terminology, it
"flattens" out the different moments of the valorization process, failing to
identify where and how the quantitative alteration in value takes place.

If, on the other hand, the magnitude of a commodity's value is indeterminate
until sale, or if it only becomes a value upon sale, then I would like to know
how defenders of this interpretation account for the determination of value.
Where and how does the quantitative alternation in value take place? Also, is
there any difference between magnitude of value and price? I note in advance
that the following answer -- price may differ from the PIP value, but is
identical to the magnitude of real value -- just rechristens differences
between value and price as differences between PIP and real value but changes
nothing of substance. The quantitative problems that Marx's value theory
addresses remain, and one needs to take a stand with respect to them. The
change in terminology solves no problem.

Also on the idenitifcation of "realization" and "real" value: in German there
are two different words for what in English is called "realization"; the
philosophic meaning and the commercial meaning. Before accepting the
suggestion that, although accountants, etc. mean obtaining the money
equivalent of an already-existing value when they speak of "realization" of
value through sale, Marx uses it to mean the actualization of value, I think
it would be helpful to examine the German texts, and perhaps also for
comparison, the French.

Mike: "Here's some textual evidence of this ideal/real distinction from the
Grundrisse (vintage, 193): "If exchange values are *ideally* transformed into
money by means of prices, then, in the act of exchange, in purchase and sale,
they are *really* transformed into money, exchanged for money."

This is not a distinction between PIP and real value, but between PIP and real
form of value or exchange-value.

Mike: "In the direct exchange of products (x use-value A...), the only
character of those products is as use-values for each of the exchangers and
thus "the articles exchanged do not acquire a value-form independent of their
own use-value, or of the individual needs of the exchangers." In contrast, in
the case of the simple form of value (x Commodity A = y Commodity B), the
commodities have already been equated ideally as equivalents; they *do* have a
value-form which is independent of use-value. They have been "*ideally*
transformed" (or, as Mike W would say, ideally commensurated)."

This seems plausible at first, but in the commodity exchange relation, the
commodities *haven't* "already been equated ideally as equivalents"; it is by
virtue of this relation itself that they are equivalent. Commodity A obtains
a form of expression of its own value only in this relation to commodity B,
which is that form of expression. The question is then, how are they able to
"stand" in this relation? What makes this tenable, whereas x Kantian
antinomies = y quarks is not? Marx's answer is that they are already
commensurable as *values*, prior to and apart from this relation (which is not
to say that it isn't neccessary; essences need appearances).

Mike: "Suppose, Marx posits, that the capitalist's attempt to sell his
commodities (pregnant with ideal surplus-value) breaks down."

Marx doesn't say "pregnant with ideal surplus-value," any more than people say
a woman is pregnant with an ideal child.

Mike, quoting: "(T)hen the capitalist's money has been transformed into a
worthless product, and has not only not gained a new value, but also lost its
original value. But whether this is so or not, in any case devaluation forms
one moment of the
realization process; which is already simply implied in the fact that the
product of the process in its immediate form is not *value*, but first has to
enter anew into circulation in order to be realized as such. Therefore, while
capital is reproduced as value and new value in the production process, it is
at the same time posited as *not-value*, as something which first has to be
*realized as value by means of exchange*."([Grundrisse,] Vintage, 403. All
emphasis is in the original ....)

It seems to me from the context, which is about the possibility that the
capitalist may not get back the money advanced to production, that when Marx
writes that "the product of the process in its immediate form is not *value*,"
"posited as *not-value*," "value" means "exchange-value," not value in the
strict sense. This seems to be the case, because he writes that when the
money is advanced for use-values, the capital "lose[s] the *form* of value."

If so, it is consonant with my interpretation, though it expresses the
contradiction in a very abstract, indeterminate fashion -- value/not-value --
as is often the case in the Grundrisse. Later, Marx would say that although
an equivalent to the value advanced has been produced, as well as more, that
sum of value has not been realized. It should be kept in mind that both the
Grundrisse and the CCPE were written before Marx had distinguished value from
exchange-value in any clear fashion. He did so only beginning with his
critique of Bailey, that is, specifically to respond to the contention that
value is a relation of exchange, established in the process of exchange.

Thus, on this issue among others, the later texts are more "authoritative,"
i.e., expressive of Marx's theory, not only because they come later, and not
only because _Capital_ I was published and revised and revised again, but also
because the theory underwent significant development over time.

However, to some extent we are comparing apples and oranges here. Marx is NOT
dealing here with the determination of the magnitude of value of a
*commodity*, but with the valorization of *capital*. There is a sense in which
it is possible to say that the sum of capital has not increased if the
capitalist fails to get more money back than was advanced, even while
maintaining that the magnitude of a commodity's value is determined in

Andrew Kliman