[OPE-L:2268] value form theories [part 2]

From: C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 13:16:07 EST

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My view is 'dualist' because I believe capitalist reality is made up of two
distinct but interpenetrating realms: the ideal reality of value and the
material reality of production and consumption. Neither can be reduced to a
mere self-othering of its own opposite in Hegelian style. They are real
extremes because of the violent abstraction that produced the doubling of
value and use value in the first place. Yet there must be a process of
intermediation whereby the alienated realms are related. Either some
ahistorical law of social reproduction manages to mediate itself through
money etc. or the self-determination of capital must mediate itself in the
process of material reproduction: the second has more truth.
We have the categories of pure form, value determinations, and the
categories of materiality, the technical matrices. Is it not reasonable to
suppose that certain categories will also be needed which mark precisely
the point of intersection of these realms? bridging categories? In my
opinion foremost here is *abstract labour*, constituted *out of* the given
technical conditions which the value form interprets, and counts, in the
only way open to a socially constituted systemic ideality. Both I and Mike
have quoted Rubin on this.
>From another angle V is itself the mediator between dissociated labours
insofar as it infuses association through exchange of products It therefore
is involved in two relations to materiality - 'up' and 'down' to speak
1. V as ideal is represented in the relations of commodity bodies, thus
measurable in ounces of gold (gold here serves as bridge). This
representation mediates the allocation of capital and labour to specific
sites. (More exactly the deviations from it in price.)
2. V as ideal is grounded in material production but represents the unique
factor, L, only as an abstraction, because it necessarily has to idealise L
in giving it a determinate role in the value sphere. Considered as a
representation of abstract labour, value registers class exploitation.
It is because AL is a bridging category that it is easy to specify it in
contradictory ways as Riccardo shows. But we an live with this if we can
exhibit it as a result of a double movement of VF dialectic.
Just to show we shouldn't be afraid of this contradiction let me point out
a parallel case. A crime is clearly prior to the court case that results.
Yet there is no such thing as a crime from a formal point of view unless
and until it is clearly defined as such by a legal system. What is
exogenous is that someone is hit on the head; but this is only a crime if
the courts say so; and only if it is accepted by the court as a prima facie
case will it be recognised legally as commensurable with other cases of its
class and, if validated, paid for according to the relevant tariff.
So we see here a double movement, a system exists which defines what crime
is, and then particular cases arise and are treated according to the rules
established. So the crime both does and does not preexist the court's
recognition of it.
In our case the VF sets up rules of representing cases of value creation
which measure them according to an abstract standard; 'abstract labour' is
therefore internally related to the VF system, its 'posit', just as crime
is posited by the legal system. But just as the legal system does not cause
someone to hit another on the head but rather reacts according to its
preestablished rules of representation of it, so the value form does not
itself constitute the manifold of concrete labours required to produce a
good but takes this input under its rule of representation so as to
commensurate it with others.
It is systematic determination that recognises labour as abstract in the
VF; and the characteristics of a specific production process that are prior
to this social validation. So Abstract labour both does and does not
preexist its validation in money form.
Quantification: without prejudice to Geert and Fred's discussion, assume
for the sake of argument VFT numbers and fred's are the same; the issue
still remains one of different conceptualisations of what the numbers stand
for. To put it more sharply Fred does not see any significant conceptual
problem. But VFT thinks it very odd that labours can be added, compared,
counted and discounted. VFT is aimed at explaining that what seems
illegitimate or metaphysical here is in reality an effect objectively
constituted by the VF itself.
Andrew raised the important issue of where in the system does power reside,
to what substance can it be attributed?
I agree with Mike in the first instance that at bottom it is the entire
system that it is determinant and to which we must refer as the source of
its specific effects. But I disagree when Mike limits the system's posits
to the constitution of value as a property of commodities. I think the
system also posits value as the 'substance' of commodities and money, and
posits value as 'subject' in the capital form. (On these latter points I
am pleased to record agreement with Marx: C1 (P) 255-56.)
Once these forms are posited by the system they act with the powers their
place in it grants them. These powers include the regulation of material
production. When the VF sinks into production two things happen: 1.
production becomes form determined, governed by the requirements of
capital accumulation; 2. value gains exogenous determinants of its
magnitude insofar as what it gives the shape of a commodity to is not mere
malleable stuff but has a definite structure of material potentials and
limits. As Marx says, in capitalist production use value has a specific
form of economic determinacy.
Now, how about 'abstract labour'? At this point I part company with Marx
and Andrew. I do not think labour, or abstract labour [which?] creates
value; I do not think abstract labour is a power. I think value is created
by value. - Out of L to be sure, but the *active* element is
self-valorising value.
Let us appeal to an analogy. Human beings cannot live without food and
there are no doubt functions relating the mass of nutrients to the rate of
growth. But it would be strange to say food creates human beings. Rather
the teleological positing inherent in human beings leads us to speak of
them reproducing themselves, both in the sense of maintenance and
multiplication. We actively seek food, modify it, and absorb its matter
according to our metabolic constitution.
Value likewise, as a subject/substance, appropriates labour in its own
metabolism. This means V and AL are not on the same ontological level.
Value becomes a real power whereas abstract labour is that which is shaped
by value as its 'body' when it grounds itself in production. Indeed I think
there is a real question here as to whether or not abstract labour may be
just a 'shadow form' cast by value accounting of labour, rather than a
constituted being of some sort. (On shadow see P. Murray CC 1998) But I
think it is a category representing that moment of valorisation in which it
reifies labour, as argued above.
To conclude, my VFT sees form as determinant; but what it determines also
has its specific effectivity, especially in determining the magnitude of
value. But the overriding moment is the self-activity of value, which pays
a price for tangling with recalcitrant workers and the resistant raw
material, but which emerges triumphant by producing a commodity 'pregnant
with surplus value' (to cite another Marx metaphor!).

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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