[OPE-L] James Furner's paper in Historical Materialism

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Wed Mar 02 2005 - 00:18:18 EST

Someone asked me whether I have seen James Furner's paper
"Marx's Critique of Samuel Bailey," Historical Materialism
(12:2).  Yes I have, and I think it is good that someone
draws attention to Marx's comments on Bailey.  But when I
tried to follow James's argument I realized that James's
reading of Marx is so different from my own that I would not
be able to use much of his thinking in my work, therefore I
gave up.  In my next two emails I will pick out two short
passages from James's article and show why I strongly
disagree with them.

On p. 92 of his paper, James quotes Marx as saying:

> Hence exchange-value appears to be something accidental
> and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value,
> i.e., an exchange-value that is inseparably connected
> with the commodity, inherent in it, seems a contradiction
> in terms.

James's comment on this passage by Marx is:

> Given that exchange-value is a relative expression
> subject to constant change, the suggestion that
> commodities have an 'intrinsic value' seems odd.
> Nevertheless, this is what Marx intends to establish.

This is the passage I want to comment on in my present
email.  First of all, James is the victim of a terribly
misleading translation here.  Marx writes:

> Der Tauschwert scheint daher etwas Zufaelliges und rein
> Relatives, ein der Ware innerlicher, immanenter Tauschwert
> (valeur intrinseque) also eine contradictio in adjecto.

One could translate this as follows:

> Hence exchange-value seems to be something accidental and
> purely relative.  A ``valeur intrinseque,'' i.e., an
> exchange-value that resides in and is inherent to
> commodities, seems therefore a contradiction in terms.

Nowhere does Marx talk here about an intrinsic value.  He is
talking about an intrinsic exchange-value, and the French
quote "valeur intrinseque" is somebody else's term (it is
not clear whose) for what Marx himself would call "intrinsic
exchange-value".  Marx has not yet introduced the concept of
value at this point.

Ok, with the hindsight of a correct translation, let's
change "intrinsic value" in James's commentary about Marx's
text into "intrinsic exchange-value".  Then it reads:

> Given that exchange-value is a relative expression
> subject to constant change, the suggestion that
> commodities have an 'intrinsic exchange-value' seems odd.
> Nevertheless, this is what Marx intends to establish.

This is still not right.  It is also no longer something
James ever said.  Nevertheless it might be an instructive
exercise to see where I disagree with the above hypothetical

Marx does not say that an 'intrinsic exchange-value' seems
odd, but that it seems a contradiction.  Contradictions, to
Marx, are not odd, but they are part of everyday life.

Furthermore, Marx does not intend to establish that
exchange-values are intrinsic.  On the contrary, he started
out with introducing exchange-value as something intrinsic
to the commodities, when he said that

> In the form of society we are about to consider, they
> (Marx is referring her to use-values) are, in addition,
> the material carriers of -- exchange-value.

By exchange-value Marx means here that inherent social
quality of the commodities which allows them to be
exchanged.  I.e., Marx is saying here: on the one hand,
commodities are use-values, and on the other, they have in
addition this quality that allows me to take them to the
market and exchange them for other commodities.

But then, after introducing exchange-values as something
inherent to the commodities, Marx says: If I look at these
exchanges, I notice that the exchange proportions are
wildly changing in time and place.  How can something which
is inherent in the commodities manifest itself in such a
relative way?

This is the contradiction Marx has to explain.  How does he
explain it?  After a few subtle steps which I tried to make
explicit in my Annotations, Marx comes to the conclusion:
exchange-values have this contradictory manifestation
because they are the relative form of appearance of
something that is intrinsic in the commodities, i.e., value.
In this way, the "relative" and "intrinsic" are (for now)

In this argument, which is too long to repeat here, Marx's
sentence: "Let us consider the matter more closely" plays an
important signaling role.  James, in his rendering of Marx's
text, omits that sentence altogether.

My Annotations to Marx's Capital can be downloaded from


but my recommendation is that you should download


because then you get a whole collection of interlinked
Annotations and papers.

Hans G. Ehrbar.

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