[OPE-L:5046] Re: ideal vs real value

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Fri, 16 May 1997 11:14:26 -0700 (PDT)

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I return to the latter part of your long post, to the first part of which I
responded some time ago. Since in the meantime we have had further
exchanges on the same topic, I hope this will not prove confusing!

> Mike:
> >But, in the bourgeois epoch, useful objects can
> >appear (except marginally and accidently) in no other form than the
> >value-form.
> Chai-on:
> Why not? The value form can takes, however, a chocolate form, a book
> a paper form, money form, etc. various value forms.

Your comment does not refute mine.

> Mike:
> >why is Commodity not a form of value?
> Chai-on:
> Yes, it is. But a form of value is the commodity that is exchanged with
> value in question. Not the bearer of the value is the value-form.

I think our differences emerge again here: in a single exchange the bearer
of the value of commodity A is indeed commodity B, and its quantitative
expression is the quantity of commodity B for which it exchanges, in the
'natural' units of commodity B's use-value. But by the Capital letter, I
intend to denote the fully developed category, Commodity, which presumes
that Commodity circulation is ubiquitous and on-going, and that all
exchanges are mediated by Money. Then any Commodity is in itself a Value
form, as is Money. There is no reference to the form of value of any
particular commodity being expressed outside itself in some single other
particular Commodity. It *could be* so expressed, but there is now no
point. One 1997 Ford Mondeo automobile may be worth 30, 000 packets of
ready salted potato chips. But this is derived from the ratio of the Money
expression of Value of each - their prices.
> Mike:
> >I would rather say (see above) that since use-value can only exist as a
> >moment of Commodity, it is commodities that are exchanged.
> Chai-on:
> No. I do not think so. Use-value exists not as a moment but as the
> property of commodity. Yes. it is commodities that are exchanged. But is
> not values that are exchanged.

I do not understand your distinction between 'moment' ( a conceptually
distinguishable aspect of an entity that cannot in fact exist so separated)
and a physical property (that is, IMO just one kind of moment). I agree,
however, that Values are not exchanged, Commodities are. If I intimated
otherwise before, I withdraw that intimation.
> >I fear I do not make myself clear. I do not insist on a separation
> >production and exchange. On the contrary, I insist on the constitutive
> >circulation of value through production and exchange.
> >
> Chai-on:
> Value does not circulate because it is a social Substance. Money can
> circulate, commodities can circulate. But value is attached to a social
> relation and increases and decreases on the same spot.

I do not disagree with this. My formulation above is misleading. I want to
say value is constituted in Commodity circulation (meaning here the
contradictory unity of production and exchange).
> Mike:
> >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?
> I insists the separation between value and use-value because the value
> change its form though exchanging the use-values. Thus, they separate
> each other in the exchange. In the exchange, value does not change
> So, I insists on the separation between the two if we are discussing the
> exchange process.

I wonder if we are not getting into unnecessary trouble by seeming to talk
of Value as a thing, instead of as a social dimension. My Commodity has a
Value, expressed as a Money price. I sell it to you for Money. You now have
what was my Commodity, and it still has the same price, and so is still
worth the same Value. I buy a different Commodity off you, that happens to
have the same Money price as my original Commodity. The upshot is as if we
had bartered our commodities. Each has the same Value (expressed in price)
that it had before. I am not sure what is gained by saying that some*thing*
called value has stayed 'in the same spot', and transmuted twice into a
different 'form'.

> >Mike
> >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
> >of production and exchange.
> >
> Chai-on:
> Yes, of course. When we say, "commodity production", the commodity
> production is already premised on the unity of production and exchange by
> the very definition of the commodity. So, I can say, the value is
> and is determined in the process of commodity production.

Aha! If you are saying 'Commodity Production' denotes the unity of
Commodity production and exchange, then I do not disagree with you.

> >>If you
> >> insist the abstract labor is actualized in the form of money, then the
> >form
> >> 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
> >be human labour, exercised in a labour process embedded in capitalist
> >relations of production and exchange.
> >
> Chai-on:
> Value is not present prior to exchange according to you. It is actualized
> in the exchange. So, I presumed the money in the exchange created the
> form. If human labor created the value, why is it not determined in the
> production? Moreover, in your position, it is impossible to distinguish
> between productive and unproductive labors.

Value is constituted in the unity of production and exchange. It is created
*in a capitalist, Commodity-producing Labour process*, but not
quantitatively determined except in as much as it successfully enters
Commodity circulation. Your presumption is not mine. It is ultimately
one-sided, though to emphasise creation of Value in the labour process,
without equally emphasising that labour process is necessarily an element
of a capitalist, generalised commodity producing and exchanging system.
I can see no more obstacles to distinguishing productive and unproductive
labour under the value-form that under any other interpretation. The
value-form system (+plus having 'lived through' the 1970's debate on the
issue, particularly wrt domestic labour) does, however, give me pause as to
the validity of the distinction. Unproductive labour is supposed to be
unproductive of surplus Value, and its main exemplars are various kinds of
labour involved in the circulation of commodities. However, given that the
use-value of a Commodity typically has spacial and temporal dimensions, and
that the labours that endow these take place in capitalist labour
processes, I wonder how the distinction can be sustained. Confusingly, it
is often confused with some kind of transhistorical distinction in terms of
'real' human need. But the only actual real needs are those that appear in
the capitalist alienated from of use-value. This is is perhaps a matter for
a new string?

> >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
> >production and distribution of useful objects. There exists, IMO, no
> >'Archimedean point' external to the bourgeois epoch from which we can
> >its nature.

> Chai-on
> I wonder how could the empty form is created by "human labor". You said
> the other para above that the creator of value is human labor and now you
> say the value form is empty. I cannot see no consistency here.

Human labour *takes on* the value form in capitalist labour processes. To
say the value-form is empty is an exaggeration: it is in fact an alienated
form of human social creativity. Its content should be use-value, but the
value-form driven capitalist society is all but indifferent to this form.
This is the cruel paradox of capitalist rationality.

> Mike
> >Where else are we to find empirical quantitative expressions of values?
> >
> Chai-on:
> The answer is from the value form. The problem is you do not admit the
> existence of value but the form of value. If you say the value form is
> empty, why bother with the expression of value? Why bother with the
> expression of nothing?

See above. We agree, I guess, that the apparently severe rationality of
market capitalism (I revert to everyday language for this final comment) is
in fact, in terms of transhistorical human need a travesty, a cruel joke, a
foul paradox (It is true , from capital's perspective, after 18 years of
neo-liberal government, the British economy is booming; it is also true,
from humanity's perspective, that one in three British children is growing
up in a family in poverty). The 'promise of the commodity' (Haug) is a
horribly empty one. Conceptually, this 'emptiness' is captured in the
notion of (tendential) form-domination, or, more specifically the dominance
of the allocation of social labour by the value-form imperatives of
valorisation and capital accumulation.

Comradely greetings
Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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