[OPE-L:2269] value form theories [part 1]

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

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'Draft' On Abstract Labor [LONG POST]

Several times in this thread this topic has come up: Nicky, Andrew and Mike
W have debated ontological aspects (substance); Fred is interested in its
'independence' of price as a determinant of it; Geert says its only measure
is money; Riccardo wants to stress its basis in production. The following
is a generic response trying to situate abstract labour in the context of
my VFT.
My starting point is that the real practical abstraction in exchange sets
up the potential for an ontological inversion in which a realm of ideality
emerges as a force in its own right over against its material basis. Thus
my VFT develops V initially as pure form from commodities through money to
the general formula of capital, and it is part of my research program that
the development of pure form towards concretion, being homogeneous with the
same idea in Hegel, should map the fundamental ontological categories,
which I assume Hegel got roughly right in his Logic.
 In my attempt to do this I have said value gains real substantiality for
the first time in money (in my forthcoming 'From the critique of
Hegel...'). In view of the possible confusion this might occasion with
Marx's 'abstract labor is the substance of value' I think it would have
been better to say that value gains actuality in the money form (although
one could still interpret M as substance and Cs as accidents). Hegel uses
the term 'substance' mainly in its SPinozistic sense; this is quite
different from the sense Marx uses when he says the substance of value is
labour; here I agree with Andrew something like 'stuff' is meant; what V is
'made of', its material, what gives it body. I'll be coming to AL later but
note these terms suit my purposes because 'substance' in this sense carries
a passive connotation; so I can retain the view that form is what is
determining about value. It is indeed self-determining in its form. At all
events when in future I use 'substance' I mean it in the Aris/Spin/Heg
sense as something that actively maintains itself as what it is through its
metamorphoses. I shall treat the Q of abstract labor as one pertaining to
the 'matter' or 'body' of value. Note also in passing that R&W's fear of
'naturalism' if 'substance' is given a place falls if the substance is an
ideal one socially constituted. The same goes for my use of 'matter' also.
(So I will be consistent with Marx's point that 'not an atom of matter'
enters the objectivity of value C1,138)
To return to the dialectic of the value form: let us consider the question
of measure. Once it is accepted that the categorial development has posited
value as actual then this can be taken as the ideality behind commodities
and money. As an ideality it is not however visible; it subsists only as it
is posited through the relations of its use value shells. From the point of
view of capital there has been a transubstantiation of bread and wine into
value substances. From our point of view there is a consubstantiality
(Meikle in the Cambridge Companion) of value and use value. But since value
is hidden from us we can track it only in its effects; in the case of
measure only therefore in the ratios of exchange of Cs against Money. This
therefore is rightly called by Marx an 'external measure'. We are not
measuring value directly but through the mediation of its material bearers.
It is obvious that 2 ounces of gold cannot be a direct measure of value for
that would mean value is weight, which is absurd. We are measuring it
indirectly on the assumption there is a linear function such that twice the
amount of gold "represents" twice the value. But it is inherent in such a
phenomenal representation of an ideality that misrepresentation is
possible. But, nb, only if it make sense to suppose that value has its own
'immanent' measure. Does it?
In my VFT, although I postpone the introduction of labor until after having
developed the general formula of capital, I argue that value cannot in
truth subsist as pure form so the dialectic must ground value in the
process of production. (NB this is different from Hegel who presents the
going over of Logic to reality as a 'free release' of the Idea.) However,
since it is specified as capitalist production it is from the outset form
determined: the labour process is at the same time a valorisation; the
activity of labour while concretely various, counts for capital only as an
abstraction of itself, as pure activity; but production is only socially
validated when potential value is realised in exchange. Under what measure
is it brought to be socially validated?
Above I explained what is meant by 'external measure' and I suggested that
this very characterisation implies another measure, immanent to the
production of the commodity and which could help explain the external
measure. Marx says this immanent measure is time. I agree with that
(although I do not think Marx gives a full justification). It is the only
way in which the link can be made between production and circulation in
determinate fashion. However, on the face of it it is an inappropriate
measure because time pertains to duration, at best then a measure of an
activity (I worked for an hour) not of its outcome. Let us look at the
matter more closely, assuming (with Marx but with extra argument needed)
the relevant time is that of labor.
Recall that in the chapter on the labor process Marx has something on labor
as form-giving fire and he says: 'What on the side of the worker appeared
in the form of unrest now appears in the form of being, as repose [ruhende
Eigenschaft - interestingly ruhende is used to characterise inactive/unused
capital]. The worker has spun and the result is a spinning.' ("Spinning" is
a technical term for the product. Moore and Aveling replace this sentence
with 'The blacksmith forges and the result is a forging.') What is the
measure of this last? We could say '8 hours worth'. But since we are
concerned here with a use value there is a better measure, the length of
thread spun. Now consider the same case as a valorisation process, hence
negating all such use value considerations: the worker has laboured and the
result is "a labouring". From the form of activity labour has taken the
shape of objectivity, but since we have stripped away its material
integument the result is a 'ghostly objectivity'. If labour itself is
measured by time how is 'a labouring' measured? Labour takes time and 'a
labouring' is time expended. Since it is nothing but reified activity
(crystallised time, a jelly of labour) it can have no other measure than as
a sum of time expended. Taken as 'a labouring' it provides the 'matter' of
value, gives it 'body'. And therewith an immanent measure. Conversely,
*labour is represented in value not just as abstract but as reified*.
I agree big ontological problems are posed by talk of activity becoming
objectivity. Is this just metaphorical? No. I believe it is possible to
argue that the ontological inversion that constituted value as an ideal
substance at the same time permitted value to itself have the power to form
determine the use value sphere, e.g. really subsume the production process
under the rule of capital; because of this, capital (not just the mental
precommensuration of managers) objectively constitutes the labours it
employs as abstract. Then, just as value in process fixes itself in the
commodity produced so does it posit ideally abstract labour as its 'body',
reified as an objectivity (ghostly to be sure) with the virtual dimension:
expended social labour. Abstract labour is both activity and objectivity.
It has systematic process/product ambiguity.

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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