Value, price, method, politics

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Tue Jul 11 22:15:11 MDT 1995

Concerning the reason that makes Marx start the development of the
historical specificity of capitalist society from commodities, Steve Keen
posted a pertinent quotation from Grundrisse. Marx also presented the same
foundation in his Marginal Notes on Wagner:

"Mr. Wagner also forgets that from my point of view neither 'value' nor
'exchange value' are subjects, rather only a _commodity_ is it. ... De
prime abord, I never start from 'concepts,' nor therefore, from the
'concept of value," ... I start from the simplest social form in which the
products of labor take shape in present-day society, '_commodities_.' I
analyze it, and I do it paying attention above all to the "form under which
it presents itself_. And I discover that a 'commodity' is, on the one hand,
a material form, an _useful object_, in other words, an use-value, and, on
the other hand, the _incarnation of exchange value_, and, from this point
of view, 'exchange value' itself. I go on analyzing 'exchange value' and I
find out that it is nothing but a 'form of manifesting itself,' a specific
mode of appearing of the _value_ contained in the commodity, so I proceeded
to analyze it. ... I do not divide _value_ in use-value and exchange value
as antithetical terms in which the abstract, 'value,' has to be divided,
but what I do say is that the _concrete social form_ of the product of
labor, of the '_commodity_', is on the one hand use-value and on the other
hand 'value', not exchange value, since this is a simple _form_  that value
takes to manifest itself, but not its very _content_. ...

Nevertheless, in both cases Marx only indicates the necessity of starting
from commodities as the "simplest economic concrete" in a way external to
the development of capital itself. And as such it appears in the opening
paragraph of "Capital":

"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production
prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities,' its
unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with
the analysis of a commodity.'

It is only in "Capital" itself that Marx develops how this is not just an
ideally established starting point (an assumption, an axiom, an hypothesis)
for the concrete development of the historical specificity of capitalist
society, but that it is capital itself (present-day general social
relation) that determines this "accumulation of commodities" as its
simplest general form of appearance and, therefore, a commodity as the
necessary starting point for the reproduction of that development in

At first, Marx does not present any reason for starting the development of
the historical specificity of capitalist society from commodities, other
than the fact that he places them there, not even as a subject, but as a
mere object. But, as soon as the analysis shows that commodities are the
unity of use-value and value, the necessity inherent in the latter starts
to be followed in its development. Commodities themselves come into the
exposition as they develop their specificity as the materialized general
social relation among private independent producers, their value-form; that
is, the process in which society allocates its total labor-power among the
different concrete modalities of labor by representing the socially
necessary abstract labor embodied in the products of the concrete labors
carried out by the independent private producers, as the capacity of these
products for relating among themselves in exchange. In commodity
production, material production produces, at the same time, the general
social relation.

Now, in the development of the concrete forms taken by their values, the
exchangeability of commodities negates itself as simply such, to affirm
itself as the direct exchangeability only of the commodity that all of them
detach as their general equivalent, money. From here on, commodity
production realizes its necessity by taking the production of this general
representative of value, the production of the general social relation in
its substantive manifestation, as its general object.

Productive labor-power is not by itself a means for human life and,
therefore, it is not an use-value by itself, but a moment of the human
social metabolism process itself. Nevertheless, as substantive value itself
becomes a direct object of social production, the power to produce value
(that is, the capacity for laboring as a producer of commodities) develops
the possibility of becoming an use-value. It is about the possibility of
producing more value than the required by its own production.

Since labor-power thus becomes a commodity, money negates itself as a
specific direct object of social production to affirm itself as the subject
that opens each circuit of social production to close it once it has
valorized itself, M - C - M. The general social relation takes its concrete
shape as money that engenders money, substantive value that valorizes
itself. Money thus transcends itself into capital. Only when capital has
realized itself as such, the human labor from which its valorization
nurtures itself has produced the general social relation and, therefore,
unfolded the potencies inherent in this historical form the social
metabolism process takes.

Capitalist production is not a production of use-values regulated by the
condition of these as values. It is not even a production of use-values
which is only a means for the production of substantive value. It is a
production of value in itself that yields as its result the production of
use-values and, hence, of human beings; it produces human beings
specifically determined as capitalists and proletarians. Capital,
materialized labor and, as such, a means of human social metabolism
process, has taken possession of the generic potentialities of this
process. Capital thus presents itself as the alienated incarnation of the
generic human being. The product of social labor, a material product that
is at the same time the materialized form of the general social relation,
has transformed itself into the concrete social subject.

Now, capitals that are identically determined as pure self-valorizing value
come to differ from each other due to the specific material conditions
under which each of them exercises its capacity for valorizing itself
insofar as a capital disbursed in labor-power and means of production.
Since all qualitative determinations are reduced to the realization of a
purely quantitative difference in capital's turnover circuit as a process
of self-valorization, an equally purely quantitative base necessary imposes
itself to homogenize this differentiation.

Total social capital reaches its real determination overcoming any formal
aggregation of individual capitals, only as simple commodities are turned
into capital-commodities through the transformation of surplus-value into
average profit. From this transformation on, our materialized general
social relation takes a prices of production-form. Total social capital
becomes now the immediate subject of social production.

The circuit of valorization of total social capital develops through the
form C' ... C', capital-commodities that open and close society's
production circuit. And, consequently, the general social relation in this
autonomously regulated system of social metabolism immediately appears
under its most general form as an "accumulation of commodities." Only on
reaching this step, the reproduction in thought of the development of the
necessity inherent in commodities makes evident by itself that "a
commodity" is the necessary elemental starting point in reproducing the
historical specificity of capitalist society.

By the way, quite a different path, rather the crude opposite, follows
Sraffa and his disciples: they start from the appearances of the circuit of
commodity-capital as if it were an immediate process, thus making
commodities appear as being their opposite, the direct product of social
labor. It is this inversion that renders value apparently redundant, since
Sraffa starts by giving as solved that which the value-form of material
production has to solve: the allocation of the total laboring capacity of
society under its different concrete forms in a system of autonomous
regulation of social life.

And Marx development also is the clue towards answering Doug Henwood's:

>Every time one of these value theory/xformation problem things comes up I
>ask - what's the political point of all this controversializing (then I
>kick myself for using Keynes's word about Marxism)? I always forget the
>answer. What, really, does it matter, comrades? Oh I know ideas are
>important in themselves, but really....

To consciously personify the revolutionary potency our general social
relation carries in itself, we need to rule our action by appropriating  in
thought the determinations of the prices of production, as far as our
action becomes itself a specific form for those determinations to be
realized. Since prices of production inhere in the general form itself that
our general social relation takes, there is hardly a concrete form of
revolutionary action and, furthermore, of the proletariat's political
action in general, that is not, in itself, such realization. Just to point
out some obvious examples, these concrete actions range from the struggles
through which the value of labor-power takes concrete form as wages, or the
question of scientific priorities through which the development of the
productivity of labor takes concrete form, to the transformation of capital
into a directly collective property and, therefore, a directly collective
human alienated potency, inside a national or international ambit of
capital accumulation through a social revolution.

"Ideas" are "important" because they are the form itself taken by the
conscious regulation of our transforming action, but really ... not in
themselves. And this conscious regulation concerning the realization of the
historical specific necessity of capitalism to supersede itself into the
general conscious, therefore free, regulation of human life is what
"Capital" is about.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

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