Subject: [OPE-L:1712] Re: value-form theories
From: Andrew Brown (A.N.Brown@uel.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Nov 22 1999 - 09:49:10 EST
Dear Nicky and all,
A reply to Nicky below - most points are germane to the general
> The essence-appearance model that Murray upholds seems to be very like that
> employed by Chris Arthur. It is a view that accepts the dialectical
> relationship between essence and appearance as logical figures in a
> complete totality (rather than dualistically related opposites). For
> Murray, however essence 'is not the logic of being', but the logic of
> reflection, 'and it pertains to the logic of reflection that something be
> given for reflection' (p.40) I interpret this to mean that essence
> (substance of value/abstract labour) is itself a reflection 'ghostly
> objectivity' of the form that social labour takes under capitalism.
> Because essence is itself a reflection, it must 'show itself in something
> that is not immediately itself'. This is, i think a different approach to
> Hegel than the approach that equates value with a doctrine of being. The
> latter does not allow for retention of the substance of value.
(1) We may have different interpretations of Murray here. I disagree
that, for Murray, essence itself is a reflection. Rather essence itself is
non-sensuous and, *therefore*, essence gains existence only through
its reflection in form. As Murray puts it for the case in hand: value
(congealed abstract labour) exists only as the tethering of price.
(2) The list discussion of value-form theories has so far not mentioned
the important analysis offered by Elson 1979. Elson stresses that, for
Marx, value is abstract labour in *congealed* or *crystallised* state.
I take value to be 'essence' and so, following Elson, I disagree with
your apparent conflation of substance with essence with abstract
labour (though I may well have mis-read your post). Rather, one has
to be extremely careful regarding their internal relation. The substance
of value is abstract labour, yes. But value as such is a particular state
of this substance, namely its congealed or crystallised state as a
(3) Do you think that the notion of substance, as in Elson, is
incompatible with Hegel's doctrine of Essence? Reuten and Williams
do seem to use Hegel's doctrine of Essence to argue that Marx's
references to the 'substance' of value are a Ricardian hangover which
should be eliminated. If R&W are correct, then, I should like to ask,
further, just what is wrong with the notion of substance. Marx's talk of
a 'ghostly objectivity' seems exactly right to me - R&W do not seem
to me to really grasp it - but maybe I do not really grasp their
(4) Murray's view that value only exists as the tethering of price does,
perhaps, suggest to critics that value arises in circulation only.
Certainly, this seems to be important for critics of value-form theories
in general, ie. the criticism is that value-form theories privilege
circulation over production, severing the link between the labour
process and the production of value. This issue seems intimately
connected with differing notions of 'abstract labour'. But I don't want
get into that in this email!
Finally, some specific responses to your reply to my previous post:
> >(3) Alfredo S-F has subjected the value-form school to critical review
> >though not at length and only in the context of putting forward an
> >alternative notion of 'abstract labour' as the substance of value.
> >(ROPE 1997). The critique itself of, say, Reuten and M. Williams'
> >value-form theory, doesn't hit home fully imo. However, the positive
> >argument for an alternative notion of abstract labour and the substance
> >of value to that of Reuten/Williams' is equally as well articulated and
> >grounded as is Reuten/Williiams' view. Moreover, it develops into a
> >distinctive theory of money and capital (was this all discussed before I
> >was on this list?) I would hesitate to spell out the theory for want of
> >more detailed knowledge of it. The point I want to make is simply that
> >Alfredo provides an interpretation of Marx is that avoids the 'value-
> >form' critique of Marx's notion of substance of value offered by
> >Reuten/Williams. At the same time, he sustains the notion of a
> >systematic progression of categories (though only, for Alfredo, at very
> >high levels of abstraction indeed). Ample scope for debate here, then.
> In the article you mention, Alfredo objects to the idea that the labour
> process is *form determined* (although he doesn't use that expression). He
> argues that the 'abstract labour' account of the determination of value
> 'does not reflect the intrinsic relationship between labours that produce
> all commodities, but the extrinsic relation between goods and the money for
> which they may or may not be exchanged'. I am not sure that this is
> entirely fair, because R-W go to great lengths to insist that what drives
> capitalism is, after all, valorisation, value-creation: it seems to me
> that value-form approaches do connect the intrinsic and extrinsic
> relationships quite well without resort to the 'substance of value'. The
> question is whether the substance of value is important to a Marxian
Well, this gets back to the points made above. As I mentioned, I don't
think Alfredo's criticisms hit home fully. But he is not alone in making
them, and they may (or may not) indicate problems with R&W's
notion of abstract labour. I mentioned Alfredo's piece more because
of its *positive* demonstration that one can undertake a form of
'systematic dialectics' without jetissoning Marx's notion of the
substance of value. Also in this connection it should be stressed that
R&W, Chris A, and now T Smith, very clearly and explicitly
*diverge* from Marx on the issue of the starting point of Capital. For,
they all believe that Marx brings labour too early into the presentation
which brings me on to the next point:
> >(4) Underlying Marx's value theory is, of course, not just an ontology
> >of 'abstract labour', but, also, and necessarily, an ontology of labour-
> >in-general i.e. labour as a transhistorical notion. (Hence, some position
> >or other on many of the traditional problems of philosophy such as the
> >thought/being relation).
> Is this a question about the relationship of 'social labour' to 'abstract
> labour'? I see social labour as a transhistorical concept in that all
> societies need to distribute jobs between people. If too many people hunt
> beaver the labour time required to catch one will increase as the beaver
> become fewer; moreover labour time may be wasted if too many beaver hit the
> market at once. There is an efficiency concept at work here, and at the
> same time there is a social need concept. But it has nothing to do with
> *value* determination, which is specific to capitalist exchange (where
> producers produce use values solely for others, but the satisfaction of
> each producers own needs depends upon a capacity to exchange the products
> of their labour).
I should like to try and avoid the abstract labour debate here. Rather,
the point I was making is that Marx does have a notion of labour-in-
general and that this notion is not minor. Rather, the notion is (must
be) tied up with an entire stance towards philosophical issues such as
the relation of thought and being. Marx himself certainly sees his
stance as, in some sense, an 'inversion' of Hegelian idealism. My own
take [my interpretation of Ilyenkov] on this inversion is that it yields a
notion of labour-in-general which is presupposed at the start of
Capital and that justifies fully Marx's quick introduction of abstract
labour as the substance of value. But it is not necessary to follow
Ilyenkov to reach this view. For example, Paul Burkett's review of the
Moseley 1993 collection similarly suggests that Marx's early
introduction of labour is supported by his materialist conception of
history (if I remember rightly - apologies to Paul, if not).
> >(5) To try to be provocative (and probably fail), I will assert that the
> >rejection by Reuten and others of Marx's notion of the 'substance' of
> >value ultimately comes down to the *idealist* philosophical
> >underpinnings provided by Hegel. This is not the notion of 'idealism'
> >that Rosenthal tries to pin on Hegel and 'new dialecticians'. Rather it
> >has to do with the precise way in which thought is understood to
> >emerge from matter. In this context, it is intresting that Alfredo is
> >influenced directly by Ilyenkov's philosophy. (Ilyenkov was an
> >important influence on Pilling, and thereby, indirectly, on many of us).
> >Ilyenkov draws on Spinoza to pin down Hegel as an idealist.
> Chris Arthur makes a transcendental argument from 'real' practices of
> commodity exchange. But i haven't the skill/knowledge to defend him.
Chris A's recent post distancing of his view from that of a
transcendental argument is important in the light of 'critical realist'
interpretations of Marx as employing transcendental arguments. As to
the point at hand, I don't think Chris's argument from the real
practices of commodity exchange addresses at least one crucial
aspect of any materialism; namely the precise specification of the mind-
body relation, of the way in which mind emerges from matter. More
generally, there is no specification of just what, exactly, human 'real'
practices consist in: how should the various aspects of human practice
such as language, the body, the mind, external objects, society, be
articulated? The crucial aspect of such an articulation must be whether
the 'mind' [or 'language'] is considered the prime moment of human
practice, or whether material objects are the prime moment. The
former view is idealism, the latter is materialism, I would suggest. [it
should be made clear that my view is a million miles from Chris A, and
perhaps other systematic dialecticians; for one thing Chris denies any
significant connection between the mind-body problem and the
problem of the relation between thought and being - many apologies
to Chris A if I have misinterpreted].
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