[OPE-L:1992] value-form theories

C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Thu, 30 Dec 1999 14:34:12 +0000

In reply to Fred's 1972
>What I mean by the "independent existence" of abstract labor is the
>1. abstract labor is defined independently of prices, i.e. the unit of
>measure of abstract labor is not prices.
>2. the quantity of abstract labor (socially necessary labor time) is also
>determined independently of prices. If the quantity of abstract labor
>were determined in some way by prices, then the equation P = mL would not
>be a theory of determination, or a relation of causation, but would
>instead by a tautology.
>I agree that "abstract labor is quantitatively relevant only because of
>value relations." But it is still true that, for Marx, the quantity of
>abtract labor is defined and determined independently of prices.
>Do you agree or disagree with these two points? If you agree, then that
>is what I mean by "independent existence." If you mean something else by
>"independent existence", then please tell me what and maybe I will agree.
>But the important issue for me is the above two points, not the term
>"independent existence".
(1) I think Rubin already posed and solved our problem on pp 147ff where he
distinguishes the dominance of exchnge in general from a 'narrow' concept
of exchange where it is the finishing touch of production. I would largely
accept what you say within that latter framework.
However, I am unhappy with talk of 'causal relation'. Rubin too tends to
like 'causal' talk but he is clear that "the relation between abstract
labour and value cannot be thought of like relations between physical
causes and physical effects." (153). The reason for this is that for him
abstract labour is a social determinaton imposed through the vaue-form and
hence not independently existing in the way a natural entity might be
Nonetheless by p.155 he is speaking of technical changes "which causally
influence the quantitative determination of abstract labour before
exchange and independently of it." But note that it is not abstract labour
that is independent of exchange but the technical changes.
My worry about causal talk is that usually one assumes the cause is active
and the effect passive.
Let me give an analogy. Say my portrait ispainted at Time 1 and Time 2. P2
is the same as P1 except that the representation of me is twice as tall.
Now it may well be that my doubling in height betwen T1 and T2 explains
this. But it would be rather strange to say it "caused" the image in P2 to
be twice that in P1.
The reason for this is that it is clear the proximate cause of P1 and P2 is
the rule of representation used by the portrait painter. If he always
paints to the same scale then we can infer from P1<P2 that I must have
grown. But other rule s of representation are possible. Perhaps his
canvases come in a standard size and he wants the subject always to occupy
the same part of it. Then all subjects would be given a uniform height
regardless of their real differences.
Now I think the relation we are discussing is more like that of
'representation' then 'cause'. (For one thing both portrait and prices can
'misrepresent', something not possible with cause I take it.)
The relation of representation seems interestingly different from cause in
being both more 'internal' and yet at the same time less strict.
So the value form determines through its rules of representation how to
register in abstract labour, and then in prices, what is given
independently to it. Where we agree is that there is something
independently given - the problem is to understand *how* this explains

>> But people sense that there is some closer connection than that of external
>> causality. This is probably why Marx used 'substance' talk and spoke of
>> immanent measure. Rubin reproves him for this last, pointing out that this
>> concept is unknown to science, and reading it, following Bauer, as a
>> reference to a causal relation (like fred?).
>> But it might mean value has no actuality except as it mediates itself in
>> labour and therewith is consubstantial with it.
>> Comradely
>> Chris A.
>I don't understand why you call causation an "external relation". Please
>expalin further.
(2) An external relation is one that does not affect the nature of the
things in the relation. e.g. that you are now west of me.

>I am talking about causation, not correlation, and causation that has been
>explained as necessary. According to Marx's theory, prices are determined
>by abstract labor, because in capitalism private labor is regulated
>through prices.

(3) See my criticism of 'what every child knows" in [1965]

> In what sense is this causation "external"? And please
>explain what is the "closer connection" beyond necessary causation.
>Thanks very much.

(4) I slipped into a Humean view of cause as constant conjunction. But on a
different view in which the relation is considered necessary then it would
seem a thing cannot be fully specified without reference to its effects.
The closer connection would be when we see it is "my portrait" that it *is*
me and not my brother.
Try another analogy: red light *is* light of such and such a wavelength; it
is the same thing under two description, one relevant to eyesight, one to

(5) I agree with Jerry this has been a most interesting discussion. Thanks
to Fred and everyone.
Have a good millennial year.

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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