[OPE-L:1895] value-form theories

Subject: [OPE-L:1895] value-form theories
From: C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Date: Sat Dec 11 1999 - 19:28:08 EST

Dear Andy,
Reply to your [1785] questioning my [1757]

>"1) Regarding your own view: You hold that ‘the value substance is money’
>and, more tentatively, that ‘reified abstract labour *is* the value
>substance’. Is this the ‘radical difference’ within the identity relation
>you refer >to? Ie. the difference between money and reified abstract
>labour? If so, then *how* can money and reified abstract labour can be
>identical, even asymptotically (and as identity-in-difference)? Either I
>have misunderstood your position or I am in need of some assistance in
>comprehending the identity you pose. It would be very helpful if you could
Oh dear - this is all so complicated. I shuld have said 'value as substance
is money', just as 'value as subject is capital', and 'value as quality is
commodity'. This *whole* value form is what is grounded in production for
exchange. So the identity of identity-and-difference is indeed between
value and abstract labour. When I said 'abstract labour is the substance of
value' I meant to make that general connection but it was confusing of me
to use the same term, viz 'substance' twice. On the second occasion I meant
it more in the sense of your 'stuff'; more exactly in the sense hegel uses
it in the Phenomenology of Spirit where substance is what cognition takes
itself to be addressing before finding that it is indirectly addressing
itself insofar as substance is revealed as itself subject. So in hegel's
view absolute knowledge comprehends itself but in the guise of something
apparently different from itself. In our case it seems the value form
imposes itself on some given material different from it and grants it
social significance. But when this presupposed material is grasped as
capital's own product, and thelabour producing it is form-determined by
capital, then it is ideally incorporated within value's own system of
self-reference, value posits its presuppositoins.
Returning to the value form - *money* plays a central role because it is
moneythat brings the universal side of value to the fore, so this is why
Marx tends to say things like (C1,227) 'Money is the sole form of value, or
the only adequate existence of exchange value'. (No doubt R&W rely on these
Our problem is that on the assumption of equivalenet exchange value cannot
valorise itself without some external source of difference i.e. of sv. This
is why in the extremely important passages in Gr 266ff (alsoin 1859 Urtext)
Marx stressed labour is not-value, not-capital. Given this a hard-headed
materialist will say labour is the cause value the effect; *but* because of
the relation of inversion form has its own determininacy, to the extent
that Marx often argues that labour is nothing but capital's own use-value,
that its productive power becomes that of capital having been incorporated
into it. So labour is *immediately* opposite value but then we see that the
hegemony of capitral reduces labour to a moment of itself. Of course, as
concrete, labour produces the surplus product, but it only does so at the
behest of capital. So labour is the 'stuff' of value but given shape and
direction by value.

">2) Regarding your critique of Marx’s notion of >substance of value. Your
critique by way of analogy with mercury and atmospheric pressure does not
seem to me to hit home. The height of mercury is the ‘external measure’ of
atmospheric pressure and thus is roughly analogous to price as the external
measure of value for Marx (though the analogy is not as clear-cut as is
that with weight). The immanent measure of value is abstract labour time
(Elson 1979). Marx does not call abstract labour the substance of *price*.
Rather, abstract labour is the substance of *value*. This is
straightforward if one holds that value is congealed abstract labour."
>"3) If by ‘dependent’ and ‘independent’ ‘variables’ you mean entities that
>exist entirely independently of one another (are externally related) then
>I concur with your rejection of the view that Marx sees value and price as
>dependent and independent variables. Accordingly, I think the notion of
>value as a ‘ghostly objectivity’ must be treated slightly more subtly than
>Fred, to the extent that Fred is arguing that value has an ‘objective’
>existence which is *entirely* independent of price. If Marx’s view of the
>substance of value is to be defended against your value-form theory, I
>must articulate this subtle conception and must also deal with your point
>on multiple interpretations of the concept of substance. Here goes..."
>"Whereas concrete labour is embodied in the commodity as a use value, the
>substance of which is natural / material, abstract labour is, on the other
>hand, utterly non-sensuous (utterly devoid of specificity) and,
>*therefore*, cannot be ‘contained in’ any material. There is, in other
>words, nothing natural (no natural substance) into which abstract labour
>can be embodied. Instead, abstract labour is, itself, a substance. A
>peculiar, social substance. Value is an ‘embodiment’ or ‘congelation’ of
>abstract labour, pure and simple. In contradictory fashion, there is no
>material body into which such ‘embodiment’ has taken place: value has a
>ghostly objectivity. On this view, it is not abstract labour that is
>peculiar to capitalism, but, precisely, the fact that abstract labour has
>become a social substance, one which, as Marx shows, dominates concrete
">To focus on the meaning of ‘substance’: the term refers to what we would
normally understand by the term ‘substance’ as in the ‘stuff’ out of which
a thing is formed (an ‘everyday’ understanding will suffice, in other
words, to grasp Marx’s argument). I think it can be used interchangeably
with the term ‘matter’ or ‘materiality’. But value is quite clearly not any
old substance. Rather, it is a very peculiar (perverse) social substance.
This notion of a *peculiar* and *social* substance is a notion that Marx
was the first to articulate."

You cannot say both AL is 'stuff' of value and value is itself a 'stuff (of
what?) Either 1) you must decide which is to be substance 2) you must
change the sense of substance so as to allow value to be a substance inone
sense but not in another.

>"The relation of abstract labour to the labour process is straightforward:
>in the labour process concrete labour is undertaken; abstract labour is
>what is common to all these different concrete labours. Abstract labour is
>a mere aspect of concrete labour (I differ from Elson here). In the
>capitalist labour process commodities are produced which means that the
>abstract labour common to all concrete labour is transformed into value,
>into pure congealed abstract labour. In this process abstract labour is
>normalised, synchronised and homogenised as per Saad-Filho (1997, in
>ROPE). Unlike Alfredo (and other critics of the value-form school) I
>wouldn’t say that wage labour *is* abstract labour. Rather abstract labour
>is an aspect of concrete labour which, perversely, gains independent
>social substance and form and dominates concrete labour in the CMP".
>"The relation of value to price is as follows: it is a peculiarity of
>value (as opposed to weight, for instance) that it can only exist in so
>far as it is measured. Price is its measure. Without money, therefore,
>value could not exist. Insofar as Fred suggests that value exists
>independently of price I disagree. However, this does not invalidate the
>basic point that value is crystallised abstract labour, whose form of
>appearance is money. This form is necessary to value but not identical
>with value. Here is one case where form is essential to essence. Now, this
>view of form and essence is that put forward by Murray. One question is
>why *must* essence gain form? Murray himself admits he has ‘no closing
>arguments’ for this view of necessity. He does ask rhetorically, ‘how else
>would we have gotten to know the essence?’ But the basic answer is surely
>that value can only have an effect if it gains form. Value dominates
>through price. Murray goes as far as to say that value exists only as the
>tethering of price. The logic of my argument is to modify Murray’s
>statement considerably: value *gains existence* only *through* its
>tethering of price."
Yes I like this last.

Chris A

P. S. Please note that I have a new Email address,
but the old one will also run until next summer. (To be doubly sure load both!)

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