[OPE-L:5091] RE: ideal vs real value

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 21 May 1997 15:56:10 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

In 5018, Andrew responded to my 4874, and I'm sorry for taking so long
to get back on this. Let me review what has transpired. There had been a
discussion involving several of us on the question of value only being
potential and putative until the labour contained in a (potential and
putative) commodity was validated as abstract, social labour by the act of
exchange. (The discussion on Vintage/Penguin of Vol I, pp.179 noting, eg,
that commodities "must stand the test as use-values before they can be
realized as values" has been a regular reference here.) Andrew then (4860)
issued his 4(5) Passover questions, asking (among other things), where was
the textual evidence for using the term "potential".
My answer (4874) was that I couldn't find the term, "potential", but that
Marx used the tension of "ideal" vs. "real" throughout the Grundrisse and
that his use of the term ideal there was the same as the sense conveyed by
potential and putative vs real. (Andrew has now invented the term of PIP
value for potential,ideal,putative value.) I argued that this distinction
between ideal and real was what needed to be understood in the quotations
that Andrew proposed I jump through the hoop to reconcile; and, I also
offered what I considered to be a definitive statement by Marx from the
Grundrisse on this question, where Marx argued that if the capitalist's
attempt to sell his commodity breaks down:

"(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. Emphasis in the original.

Why did I consider this definitive? Simply because I considered the
explicit statement that the product as such was not value and that it was
both value and "not-value"-- until realised as value by means of exchange--
as a confirmation of the interpretation of the Vol I passage about the
necessity that commodities stand "the test as use-values".
Andrew has several responses.

A.> 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."

What's the significance of this point? He continues:
> 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.

Although Marx's theory did develop, I don't see any reason to think
Andrew's point is relevant here. His interpretation that Marx's statement
that when the capitalist uses money to purchases use-values (raw materials,
etc) his capital "would thereby lose the *form* of value" has to do with
exchange-value rather than value looks like the result of a rushed reading.
Let me note the context a bit better. Marx is talking about the
"devaluation" or demonetization process when "capital has made the
transition from the form of money into the form of a *commodity*, of a
product, which has a certain price, which is to be *realized*. In its money
form it existed as *value*. It now *exists* as product, and only ideally as
price; but not as *value as* such." [Grundrisse, 403. Emphasis in the
original.] Marx then goes on to say that by making the transition to
use-values, the capital loses the form of value and that if he can't sell
the commodity he has lost both the new value and the original value. Again,
it is not realised as value until sale. This discussion has *nothing* to do
with exchange-value as such, and an attempt to discount the quote as less
"authoritative" doesn't stand up.

B.> 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 production.

I don't understand Andrew's point here. Marx is arguing that the product
produced is both value and not-value and is realised as value only by means
of exchange--- essentially the same point about standing the test as
use-values to be realised as values. (I hope this point about apples and
oranges isn't an attempt to distinguish between simple commodity production
and capitalist production--- ie., to suggest that the discussion of value
in the early parts of Vol. I is a discussion of simple commodity
production.) Certainly this particular passage is not a discussion of
magnitude--- either of value or of extent of valorisation; it is an attempt
to clarify concepts (which it does).

C1.>I think the key issue is quantitative.

Here is the crux of the matter. For some of us, the key issue is
*qualitative*. It is the understanding that the abstract labour which
underlies value cannot be independently measured (because it is "human
labour in general" which is in question)--- except, perhaps at the level of
the aggregate social labour in commodities--- and that it is represented
*only* in the equivalent, only in the money-form. From this perspective,
Marx's great leap beyond Ricardo (via *this* concept of abstract labour) was
to grasp what money is; it is his labour theory of money. Further, it
follows that, rejecting the identification (although accepting the
possibility of an empirical correlation) of concrete labour with abstract
labour, this perspective necessarily rejects any suggestion that Marx was
attempting to explain relative values. Ie., this perspective reads back from
the observable (money) to the unobservable (abstract social labour), from
form to substance; its focus is on quality, on understanding what we observe,
on critique. (I think this group would include--- although I'm wary both of
misrepresenting a position and also leaving someone out--- Jerry, Michael W,
Michael P, Duncan, Riccardo and Alejandro R; and they've stated the above
much better and more precisely than I have.)
In contrast, there are others on the list for whom the key issue is
quantitative, who do think it is possible to measure abstract labour
directly (the stopwatch discussion) and who, accordingly, do view Marx's
theory of value as an explanation of relative values. (Paul C. and Allin
are, I think the purest and most consistent in this group which would
include, I believe, Andrew and Alan.) Those in this latter group probably
view those in the first as abandoning key tenets of Marx's theory under
attack rather than showing how to defend them; in contrast, those in the
former group probably consider the latter as not significantly advanced
beyond Ricardo, as not grasping the significance of Marx's concept of
abstract labour.
In short, Andrew's statement that the key issue is quantitative (and my
response that it is qualitative) are representative of two quite different
interpretations of Marx's value theory that (contrary to Jerry's comment a
while back) we do not seem to be resolving.

>C2 If, on the other hand, the magnitude of a commodity's value is
>until sale, or if it only becomes a value upon sale, then I would like to
>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
>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.

I can't speak for any other defender (of Marx's text in this case). It
seems to me that these are the questions that have been answered over and
over again in this discussion. Of course, the magnitude of a commodity's
value is indeterminate until sale; of course it is the market which
determines whether too much of society's labour has been devoted to, e.g.,
linen (cf. Vintage, Vol. I, 202) and is therefore "superfluously expended
labour-time". Note that Marx proceeds and comments (203) that if the process
of sale does "take place at all, i.e., if the commodity is not impossible to
sell, a change of form must always occur, although there may be an abnormal
loss or accretion of substance--- that is, of the magnitude of value."
Apropos of earlier points re PIP value, note Marx's subsequent statement
that "the realization of a commodity's price, or of its merely ideal
value-form, is therefore at the same time, and inversely, the realization of
the merely ideal use-value of money...."). Although Andrew may view this as
terminology again, I would say (as Marx does) that price is PIP, ie is "the
merely ideal value-form" of the commodity--- which is the opposite of how he
wishes to use the terms.
OK, this got much longer than I anticipated. If I've left anything out,
I'm sure I'll be reminded or that other "defenders" can fill the gap. (I've
named names!) Let me indicate one concern I have, however. We've covered
much of this ground before, and I don't think the two (there may be more)
sides will agree. Can't we agree, however, to recognise this as unresolved
and to move beyond this to other questions? There may be a grand irony in a
group of Marxist economists coming together on a list for the explicit
purpose of "extending Marx" and finding that, ultimately, we couldn't
proceed because we couldn't agree on "value".
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 872-0494; Home fax: (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca