Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Facets of Value, 3

The English translation of vol 1 of Capital that most of us have is not based on the the first edition of Capital, but on the 4th German edition.

If we look at a translation from that first German edition [the Marxist Internet Archive has one of Chapter 1, The Commodity, by Albert Dragstedt], Marx's language, analysis, and demonstration of the relative, equivalent, and value forms of the commodity are clear examples of Marx's extraction of the rational kernel from Hegel's dialectic.

Marx in this first chapter is explaining the most critical facet of his investigation into capital [which is why it is the first chapter] and his materialist dialectic- the interpenetration of form and substance, of identity and opposition are clear.

He writes:


The expression of the value of linen in the coat impresses a new form upon the coat itself. After all, what is the meaning of the value-form of linen? Evidently that the coat is exchangeable for it. Whatever else may happen to it, in its mundane reality it possesses in its natural form [coat] now the form of immediate exchangeability with another commodity, the form of an exchangeable use-value. or Equivalent. The specification of the Equivalent contains not only the fact that a commodity is value at all, but the fact that it in its corporeal shape [its use-value]counts as value for another commodity and consequently is immediately at hand as exchange-value for the other commodity..

Marx continues:

But commodities are objects. They have to be what they are in an object-like way or else reveal it in their own object-like relationships. In the production of linen, a particular quantum of human labour exists in having been expended. The linen's value is the merely objective reflection of the labour so expended, but it is not reflected in the body of the linen. It reveals itself [i.e., acquires a sensual expression] by its value relationship it to the coat. By the linen's equating the coat to itself as value-- while at the same time distinguishing itself from the coast as object of use-- what happens is that the coat becomes the form of appearance of line-value as opposed to linen-body: its value-form as distinguished from its natural form.
"..what happens is that the coat becomes the form of appearance of linen-value as opposed to linen-body"

The emphasis is in the original, as supplied by Marx.

Where does this get Marx? Where it always gets us-- back to the specific social organization of labor:

The use value coat only becomes the form of appearance of linen-value because linen relates itself to the material of the coat as to an immediate materialization of abstract human labour, and thus to labour which is of the same kind as that which is objectified within the linen itself. The object, coat, counts for it as a sensually palpable objectification of human labour of the same kind, and consequently as value in its natural form. Since it is, as value, of the same essence as the coat,the natural form coat thereby becomes the form of appearance of its own value. But the labour represented in the use-value, coat, is not simply human labour, but is rather a particular useful labour: tailoring.Simple human labour [expenditure of human labour-power] is capable of receiving each and every determination, it is true, but is undetermined just in and for itself. It can only realize and objectify itself as soon as human labor-power is expended in a determined form, as determined and specified labour; because it is only determined and specified labour which can be confronted by some natural entity-- an external material in which labour objectifies itself. It is only the 'concept' in Hegel's sense that manages to objectify itself without external material.
Here we have Marx's material extraction of the rational kernel from Hegel's dialectic. Human labor is capable of receiving every determination, and remaining human labor. But the labor can only realize itself as labour power embedded in the specific commodity. the labor can only realize itself as labour power, as an abstract quality-less expression when expressed in specific, determined material.

So the determination is two-fold-- as the concrete specific object of production, in all articles of production as value. It is the social determination, transforming labor into raw undifferentiated labor power, that contains the antagonism, the conflict, in Marx's word, the "contradiction" where labor power becomes opposite to and the negation of the power of labor.

S. Artesian November 23, 2010


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facets of Value, 2

In the exchange of commodities Marx examines the different rotations, appearances, of the commodity in its relative and equivalent forms of the expression of value. For exchange to expand, to dominate, to determine production, an equivalent for all commodities must be established. Just as human labor in general, in abstract, in its distilled, estranged existence as labor time is projected into the commodity as value, value is projected out of the commodity into the abstract, general, featureless, existence of money. Estrangement is now complete. Accumulation begins.

From here, Marx takes us to his essay on the fetishism of commodities in which Marx explores how and why it is the form of labor, the organization of production in capitalism that expresses human relations as the relations between things, and endows those relations between things with power over the relations of human beings. Direct production for direct need has disappeared. Production and need are associated only indirectly, mediated by the market, by exchanged. Value appears as an independent force, even a rational one, commanding equivalence, ensuring equity with a wave of its invisible hand.

As concise as Marx’s essay is, the essay itself is condensed in one sentence in the second footnote Marx provides: “When, therefore, Galiani says: Value is a relation between persons—‘La Ricchezza e una ragione tra due persone,’—he ought to have added: a relation between persons expressed as a relation between things.”

Having established the relative and equivalent forms of value from the exchange of commodities; the money form from the relative and equivalent forms of value in the process, the circuits of exchange; fetishism, form supreme, from the value expressed as money over human beings, Marx now returns to examine exchange— not simply to reiterate the different forms, or moments of the commodity as value, but rather as expressing historical moments, measures and manifestations of commerce. The transformation of exchange from barter or simple trade into commerce is the “record” of the transformation of a useful surplus article into a commodity.

The commodity as a specific product, a useful article, and organized as value, then manifests the conditions of its production, i.e. labor as a specifically useful article that is organized as value.

S. Artesian November 21, 2010

address all comments to: sartesian@earthlink.net

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Facets of Value

1. In his preface to the first edition of Capital, Volume 1, Marx writes that this work is the continuation of his work in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, published 1859. Marx states:
The substance of that earlier work is summarised in the first three chapters of this volume. This is done not merely for the sake of connexion and completeness. The presentation of the subject matter is improved. As far as circumstances in any way permit, many points only hinted at in the earlier book are here worked out more fully, whilst, conversely, points worked out fully there are only touched upon in this volume.

Of course, it is these three chapters on commodities, exchange, and money that constitute not the core, but the entry, the vector to the core of Marx's critique which is that capital is a historical relation of production, of property to labor; that value is the expropriation of the powers of labor.

Marx advises the reader that the exploration of value will present the greatest challenge, and then Marx proceeds to give the reader the key to meeting that challenge. He identifies the commodity as the commodity form of the product of labor. The value form of the commodity is labor in commodity form.

Marx assumes that the reader will be willing to struggle through the discussion of the value forms in order to learn something new. In this, Marx was displaying uncharacteristic optimism.

"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ―an immense accumulation of commodities,..."

The above, the opening sentence of chapter 1, might just be an understatement. It, the wealth of the capitalist mode of production is more than an immense accumulation of commodities. It is a universe of commodities. It is the commodity as the universe. Both product and its means of production are at one and the same time expressions of each other, each other's relation to labor, and the expression of each other's relations to all commodities. Both, all can be exchanged for the other, for an other, for all others. Exchange mediates the expression, the materialization, the realization, the accumulation, and the pocketing of value. Exchange then becomes the purpose of production.

Capital begins where value commands the labor of others. The commodity begins where its production is of no use, satisfies no direct need of the producer, but rather is produced for exchange. Capital begins where labor itself is not for the use of the laborer, satisfies no direct need of the producer, has no value for the laborer save its value in exchange for the means of its own sustenance or an equivalent thereof. Capital expands its reproduction, accumulates, as value commanding the labor of others.

Capitalist production, capitalist organization, ownership of the means of production is measured by its products, is the measure of the products. Production is, of, by, for value.

Social living labor, and the labor objectified, materialized in the private ownership, in the property of the means of production are each reproduced in the existence of the other. The value form of the means of production is the existence of labor as a commodity. This mutual reproduction is based on the historical separation, the opposition of the means of production which are simply the conditions of labor to labor itself. Without that separation, that opposition, there is no organization of labor in commodity form. Value is itself the composed identity of this opposition, where the opposites are mediated.

The commodity in its specific form, as a shirt, a gallon of milk, a locomotive, is useless to the producer. It exists as a sink, a mule, a vehicle for carrying value to market. The capitalist purchaes the use-value of labor, its ability to produce commodities, paying a wage which is calculated and distributed by the time of production. With this purchase, the capitalist obtains the power of labor to reproduce its social organization, its wage, its equivalent of subsistence [and even improvement] in less time than working time required by the capitalist. It is this power of labor to sustain more than its own existence, "more" than just its individual existence and "more" than just the immediate needs of both its individual and collective existence, in less than the total time of its existence, that is purchased by the capitalist. It is this power of labor when purchased that becomes the property of the capitalist, that becomes the basis of accumulation, that is converted into greater masses of the commodities that now command it to labor for the creation of greater masses of commodities that command it. It is this power that is inverted into value.

II. Marx continues his exploration of the commodity with an analysis of "The two poles of the expression of value: Relative form and Equivalent form." Here Marx states, "The whole mystery of the form of value lies hidden in this elementary form. Its analysis, therefore, is our real difficulty."

Using the well-worn example of the line and the coat, Marx begins his critique through the representation of the relation of equivalence, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat. The linen, for Marx, expresses its value in the coat. The linen has value relative to the coat. The coat represents value in the equivalent form.

Marx continues:

The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes – i.e., poles of the same expression. They are allotted respectively to the two different commodities brought into relation by that expression. It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen. 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value. On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen are nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use value linen. The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively – i.e., in some other commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen presupposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity – here the coat – under the form of an equivalent. On the other hand, the commodity that figures as the equivalent cannot at the same time assume the relative form. That second commodity is not the one whose value is expressed. Its function is merely to serve as the material in which the value of the first commodity is expressed.

Here is where we get some head scratching-- expressions of the value form that are inseparable, mutually dependent, and mutually exclusive? How can any things be mutually dependent, inseparable, and at the same time mutually exclusive? No things can exist simultaneously that are inseparable and mutually exclusive. But Marx is not discussion the physical quantities of being. He is exploring the expressions, the manifestations, the commerce of and in social relations. In that commerce value has forms, moments of expression in commodities that, while dependent upon the existence of the commodity itself as a value, excludes the expression of that other moment in that particular commodity.

Is it really, can it really be, that simple? Yes, and as Marx explicitly remarks, the very simplicity is the source of such difficulty.

If we look back at a previous iteration of these value expressions in Marx's notebooks, we find what is in my opinion, a much cleaner expression, and resolution, of this apparent antagonism:

Let us consider exchange between linen-producer A and coat-producer B. Before they come to terms,

A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 2 coats (20 yards of linen = 2 coats),

But B responds: 1 coat is worth 22 yards of linen (1 coat = 22 yards of linen).

Finally, after they have haggled for a long time they agree:

A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat,
and B says: 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen.

Here both, linen and coat, are at the same time in relative value-form and in equivalent form. But, nota bene, for two different persons and in two different expressions of value, which simply occur (ins Leben treten) at the same time. For A his linen is in relative value-form – because for him the initiative proceeds from his commodity – and the commodity of the other person, the coat, is in equivalent form. Conversely from the standpoint of B. Thus one and the same commodity never possess, even in this case, the two forms at the same time in the same expression of value.

(c) Relative value and equivalent are only forms of values.

Relative value and equivalent are both only forms of commodity-value. Now whether a commodity is in one form or in the polar opposite depends exclusively on its position in the expression of value. This comes out strikingly in the simple value-form which we are here considering to begin with. As regards the content, the two expressions:

1. 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat,
2. 1 coat = 20 yards of linen or 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen

are not at all different. As regards the form, they are not only different but opposed. In expression 1 the value of the linen is expressed relatively. Hence it is in the relative value-form whilst at the same time the value of the coat is expressed as equivalent. Hence it is in the equivalent form. Now if I turn the expression 1 round I obtain expression 2. The commodities change positions and right away the coat is in the relative value-form, the linen in equivalent form. Because they have changed their respective positions in the same expression of value, they have changed value-form (die Wertform gewechselt).

The forms are the moments of expression of the different facets composing the value relation. Marx makes it clear that regarding the content of the value relation itself, the expressions are not at all different. Regarding the forms, they exist only opposite to each other. A single commodity can never exist in the two forms at the same time. The forms are moments.

So.... so if it's that simple, can it really be that important? Again, the answer is "yes." In exploring the forms of expression of value, Marx is essentially rotating the commodity through the value relationship. Through this rotation, Marx establishes that the value in exchange of the commodity is not produced in the markets. Value is not a result of the relation of the commodity to all other commodities. Value is not the product of all commodities in relation to each other. Value is not the product of any or all commodities relative to the single commodity that exists as equivalent to all commodities but is itself no commodity, money.

The forms of the expression of value are important in the process of exchange in that these forms are moments in the calculus of the realization of the value aggrandized in production.

Further, because all commodities can be expressed in both relative and equivalent forms, all labors are equivalent, all labors are relative. All labors, no matter the advanced or rudimentary level of technique, can be expressed in any other labor. All labors can be expressed in relative and equivalent forms. All labors are equivalent, because they can be expressed, compared, quantified by and in a single measure, a single dimension, a single proportion. Labor is the source of value because labor itself has been transformed, clarified, reduced to a common social substrate, time. Time really is of the essence.

Marx puts it this way in The Poverty of Philosophy: 'Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at most time's carcass.' And he puts it this way in the Grundrisse: 'Economy of time - to this all economy ultimately reduces itself.' He wasn't kidding.

III. Because value has the relative and equivalent forms of expression, because all commodities are values, and because no commodity can simultaneously express its relative and equivalent forms, some representation of value which mediates these forms is required for exchange to proceed. The mediations of value require the services of an inter-mediation. The inter-mediation must embody the disembodied value from the commodity.

What is embedded in the commodity, value, exists in latency, as potential. The commodity's actual existence as both useful article and a value, given the social relations of production that give it life, the social relations that give the commodity the power over the human being, the social relations that give the commodity its existence as private property, is threatened by these exact relations, by its existence as private and not social production.

The commodity may not be useful, and the value goes unrealized. The commodity may be useful, but the market may discount its value based on the average time required for the reproduction of all such commodities. The value aggrandized in production is comes to the market on a wing and a prayer, as wing and a prayer, and money is the answer to all the prayers. It is the ascension of the commodity, its transubstantiation.

Without the inter-mediation, commerce cannot proceed. Accumulation cannot occur. Reproduction ceases. The individual commodities remain individual commodities, oscillating in value forms, but not realizing the value relationship. Barter can continue. Trade can grow. Capital, however, as the expanding universe of commodity production, as the accumulation of value as value is impossible.

And this is where Marx is taking us in this first chapter of volume, to the role of money as the mediator of the value forms; to money as the disembodied embodiment of all the substance of all commodities; toward the conflict between accumulation of value and the growth of the means of production.


November 14, 2010

address all comments to: sartesian@earthlink.net

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Pledge to [Bank of] America

Those wonderful wacky, populist, regular guy, small town, main street, non-elitist, backslapping, teabagging, Republicans are on the upswing again, boosted into power as only a Democrat can boost a Republican, as only the Democrats can boost Republicans, as only a lackey can boost a bigger, better, more belligerent, lackey.

First order of business? Rescue our brave bankers from the Abu Ghraib, the Guantanamo of the
Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Law, and stop their waterboarding at the hands of the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

According to the Financial Times of 4 November, Spencer Bachus, a candidate to succeed Barney Frank as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee has warned the black ops members of the FSOC against harming US banks by curbing their adventures in proprietary trading.

You know what proprietary trading is. That's where the banks use some of your money to leverage foolish, ridiculous, insupportable, debt instruments into a "new economy" of foolish, ridiculous, insupportable, debt instruments that will consume the rest of your money.

Bachus says that the ban on proprietary trading-- known as the Volcker Rule in honor of Paul Volcker who never flinched when turning millions out of factory and home when employed as Ronald Reagan's Fed but found religion when confronted with his own offspring-- will "impose substantial costs on the American economy and market participants" [read bankers] while yielding "doubtful" benefits.

Spence worries aloud that implementing the law might spark a mass exodus of clients from US banks to banks abroad, an event which certainly would outrank Katrina, Rita, the earthquake in Haiti [especially the earthquake in Haiti] as a disaster of massive proportions.

And you know why that is too. Goddamit, most of these clients are white. We can't afford to lose them with the Mexicans, and the Guatemalans, and the Ecuadoreans streaming across the border in the millions!

Mr. Bachus, not to be confused with Bacchus, has expressed his concern that the flight of the capitalists might hurt the common people of this country-- the common men and common women of Greenwich, Connecticut; of Kenilworth, Illinois, of Mt. Kisco, New York, of West Palm Beach, Florida who are shareholders of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.

I'd wish I could think that the American electorate is made up of suckers and saps, but sometimes I think the electorate is more like the audience at a worldwide wrestling smackdown-- so juiced by the sight of the two juiced goons breaking chairs over each other's head that they start breaking the chairs over their own heads, not realizing until it's way too late that the goons are using fake chairs; that the goons have fake heads.

S. Artesian
November 4, 2010