[OPE-L:1938] Re: value-form theories

Andrew Brown (A.N.Brown@uel.ac.uk)
Fri, 17 Dec 1999 14:45:29 GMT0BST

Concerning the various posts of Chris, Fred, Nicky and


Many thanks for the illuminating clarification. It is heartening
to see that your view is not so far from mine except in respect
of the notion of substance of value. You spotted a crucial
error in my defense of this notion. I Should like to correct the
error. The upshot will be - hopefully - that the critique you put
forward of the notion of substance of value (and R&Ws 'value-
form' critique of the notion, eg. as a 'Ricardian hangover')
does not apply. Given this, and your own clarification, then we
could explore and develop where our true differences lie. (For
example, the notion of 'pure transcendental form' without
substance is absent from my view because it seems
nonesensical to me).

You quoted me:

'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'.

And then you pointed out:

'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 in one sense but not in

Whoops! I should have said that *abstract labour* is a
peculiar social substance but in fact said, at this point, that
*value* is a peculiar social substance. This was a mistake.
Sorry. Value is not a substance. Rather, *abstract labour* is
a (peculiar and social) substance; the substance of value.
Value is *congealed* abstract labour. An analogy: H2O is the
substance of ice (ice is crystallised H2O); analogously,
abstract labour is the substance of value (value is crystallised
abstract labour).

My mistake arose, I think, because of the peculiarity of value
and its substance. On my view, abstract labour does not exist
in its fluid state except as an aspect of concrete labour. This
is unlike H2O, whose fluid state is water. This is my
difference with Elson 1979 which I do not have time to
discuss now, except to say that I am influenced by your work
on labour as a concrete universal. (Your article dated 1979 if
my memory is not faulty). So it is only in its *congealed* state -
 as value - that abstract labour asserts itself as a peculiar

When replying to Fred you argued that the fact that money is
the 'form' of value would indicate that value is itself a
substance. Not so, I argue. Rather, the fact that the substance
of value is abstract labour (so 'ghostly') means that value
requires an appearance form, which turns out to be money.
Value must express itself in its own opposite, viz., use value.


I'm not clear how abstract labour can be an entity *entirely*
separate from money if, as we agree, it is necessarily related
to money. I do not see that your quantitative formular requires
such complete separation.

As for the question as to why value must appear as price then
(1) Why should a general philosophical imperative and an
economic necessity be mutually exclusive? In this case I
would like to argue that they are different ways of looking at
the same necessity....but this all needs more thought. To
repeat a point (all too general / vague) I made earlier:
philosophy, as the study transhistorical issues, lies at the
bottom of value theory since a crucial aspect of that theory is
the theory of social labour or labour as a transhistorical
notion. In the light of Ilyenkov's philosophy, culminating, as it
does, in the notion of Labour, I find Marx's assertion
regarding what 'every child knows' about social labour
entirely convincing - indeed quite obvious - as a justification
of Marx's presentation of the law of value.

Many thanks to all concerned for the fascinating discussion.


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