[OPE-L:1672] Re: value-form theories and the Uno-school?

Subject: [OPE-L:1672] Re: value-form theories and the Uno-school?
From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Sun Nov 14 1999 - 11:13:57 EST

At 07:32 12/11/99 -0500, you wrote:
>What do you see as the relationship between value-form theories (e.g.
>Reuten-Williams) and those "value-form" perspectives associated with
>Japanese political economy (Uno?; [Makoto] Itoh?; other?). In other words,
>what do you see as the commonalities and differences in perspective of
>these two (or more) theories? And, why do you refer to the perspectives
>from [some] Marxists in Japan as being "value-form perspectives"?
>In solidarity, Jerry

Hi Jerry,
In general, I identify Uno, Itoh, Sekine and Lapavitsas as writers holding
'value-form perspectives' associated with Japanese political economy.
These writers share with Mike Williams, Chris Arthur, Geert Reuten and Tony
Smith a view of abstract labour not as the *substance* of value, but as the
*form* that social labour takes under capitalism; i.e. abstract labour is
seen within 'value-form' theories as coming about through a process of real
abstraction that takes place in capitalist commodity exchange.

To elaborate slightly, the question posed by 'value-form' thoerists is
really one about the ontology of abstract labour, as different people
understand it. Once again generalising, value-form theorists take their
point of departure from the first chapter of 'Capital', where Marx
describes value as the 'social substance' of commensurate, privately
produced commodities. Also value arises only as the result of a specific,
historically contingent process of abstracting from different types of
labour through commodity exchange. As the characteristic form that social
labour takes in capitalist society, value has a 'ghostly objectivity': it
is a reflection of an undifferentiated expenditure of labour power from
which all 'sensuous qualities are extinguished'. This is at odds with all
of the Ricardian 'labour embodied' interpretations of value as a substance
that is somehow inherent in single commodities (rather than something that
comes about only when commodities are exchanged).

At the heart of 'value-form' criticisms of *Capital* is the argument that
Marx did not sufficiently distance himself from the Ricardian view (of
value as something physical, or natural). Itoh sees the first section of
chapter 1 as being incompatible with the third, and seeks to reconcile
paired categories of value and value-form, without reference to the
substance of value. Williams makes a similar argument - that the coherence
of Marx's value theory (post Sraffa) can be maintained, only by jettisoning
abstract labour as the substance of value.

Williams (Reuten, Arthur, Smith) try to *reconstruct* Marx's categories to
accord with Hegel's doctrine of *Being*. In this dialectic, essence and
appearance are not considered to be at polar opposites, but are
interrelated parts of a whole. So, *Being* is like the brushstroke
outlines of a portrait (when the painter begins to conceptualise her
subject) and its opposite - *nothingness* - is not the lack of outline but
the lack of features that further specify the particularity of the subject.
 The empirical features are potentially present in the painters initial
strokes, but at the same time are not present, in the sense that they are
yet to become (this elaboration happens, of course, in the process of

Value form perspectives that bring Hegel's doctrine of Being to the study
of value and money emphasise a logical 'systematic' reconstruction of
Marx's categories of concrete/physical and abstract/social, so as to
demonstrate how they are dialectically inter-related in a system that moves
from simple to complex concepts. (in Japan, Sekine does something very
similar). For some writers (eg Chris Arthur) the whole movement of
'capital' through particular moments (circulation, production, exchange)
can be understood in terms akin to Hegel's *concrete universal*.

With regards to the crucial abstract labour issue, these differences in
approach boil down to this. Japanese value-form theorists retain a
distinction between the *substance of value* as labour embodied in the
capitalist labour process (of production), and the *form of value* as
something that arises independently of the substance of value (and is not
specific to capitalism). Contrast this with the approach associated with
Reuten, Williams and Chris Arthur where the labour process is seen as
itself *form determined* because 'the sole existence of value is money'.

All of these writers have, of course, been accused of neglecting the
quantitative issues in Marx's value theory. A big question is whether a
theory of profit is possible without a quantitative measure of the
'substance of value'; this is a crucial point to answer for Marxists who
are interested in exploitation.

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