Form and Content - Politics | PoFo

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By Wellsy
What is the significance of form and content in regards to labour/value in Marx's work?

It's started to come up to my mind in some of my readings and I'm trying to be more conscious of the significance of the concept, especially as it follows from Hegel on how the content of a thing may exist in an old form before shedding it to it allow it's true form.
Marxist Glossary Summary of Form and Content:
One cannot forget that on the question of the relation between content and form, Marx took the standpoint of Hegel and not of Kant. Kant treated form as something external in relation to the content, and as something which adheres to the content from the outside. From the standpoint of Hegel’s philosophy, the content is not in itself something to which form adheres from the outside. Rather, through its development, the content itself gives birth to the form which is already latent in the content. Form necessarily grows from the content itself. (Rubin, 1972, p. 117)

So for example, the conception of some things was still held in terms of how they were under feudalism until capitalism became a dominant mode of production in some degree.
Only at a determined level of development, after frequent repetition, do the production relations among people leave some kind of sediment in the form of certain social characteristics which are fixed to the products of labor. If the given type of production relations have not yet spread widely enough in the society, they cannot yet give to things an adequate social form. When the ruling type of production was crafts production, where the goal was the "maintenance" of the craftsman, the craftsman still considered himself a "master craftsman" and he considered his income the source of his "maintenance" even when he expanded his enterprise and had, in essence, already become a capitalist who lived from the wage labor of his workers. He did not yet consider his income as the "profit" of capital, nor his means of production as "capital." In the same way, due to the influence of dominant agriculture on precapitalist social relations, interest was not viewed as a new form of income, but was for a long time considered a modified form of rent. The renowned economist Petty tried to derive interest from rent in this manner. [3] With this approach, all economic forms are "subsumed" under the form which is dominant in the given mode of production (C., III, p. 876). This explains why a more or less extended period of development has to take place before the new type of production relations are "reified" or "crystallized" in the social forms which correspond to the products of labor.

The same occurs in the sciences where old concepts are used to try and explain new data until a new abstract concept is discovered and the beginning of a new science is born.
Volume 2 of the Logic is the science of the Concept (Begriff). The subject matter and starting point of this science is the Abstract Concept, or Subjectivity. All that has gone before is the prehistory of the concept. Only with this abstract, undeveloped, simple concept, does the concept itself come into being, and go on to become a mature concept, a real part of a whole way of life. This general idea underpins Hegel’s whole approach to science, so it can be illustrated in a number of very different contexts, and we can also illustrate the idea as presented by several different writers within the same genealogy which we are following here.

But what all views have in common is that this moment represents a cognitive leap: a complete break from what has gone before, which only prepared the groundwork for the leap. The leap is marked by the appearance of a new abstract concept, which cannot be deduced or predicted from the conditions out of which it arose. It relies only on what has gone before, but it is a creative leap, an ‘Ah-ha moment’.
As Engels remarks, Priestley and Scheele ‘had produced oxygen without knowing what they had laid their hands on’ (Preface to II). They remained prisoners of the conventional categories of chemistry. It fell to Lavoisier (to whom Priestley had communicated his findings) to analyse the entire phlogistic chemistry in the light of this discovery. It was Lavoisier who came to the conclusion that this new kind of air was a new chemical element and that combustion was not the result of this mysterious phlogiston leaving a burning body, but of this new element combining with that body. Priestley and Scheele, although they had produced oxygen prior to Lavoisier, because they remained trapped in the old concepts, were unable to grasp what they had done. Thus although Lavoisier ‘did not produce oxygen simultaneously and independently of the other two, as he claimed later on, he nevertheless is the real discoverer of oxygen vis-a-vis the others, who had only produced it without knowing what they had produced’ (Preface to Capital II).
Concepts always arise from some kind of predicament, sometimes indicated by the problem (e.g. sexism) and sometimes by the solution (e.g. freeway). A concept arises along with a word coined for it, at some cultural and historical conjuncture, within some social practice, in which the problem suddenly becomes the focus of action. Men have behaved for millennia in a way we now characterise with the concept of ‘sexism’, but it was only in 1968, in the wake of the civil rights struggle, under conditions when the paternalistic institutions which had justified this behaviour were becoming unviable, that the problem was named, and became a focus for the women’s liberation movement. ‘Freeway’ originated in the US in the 1930s, together with the promotion of the automobile, the growth of the dormitory suburbs they serviced and the cheap labour provided by the Depression.
‘Predicaments’ give rise to concepts because they are contradictions and demand an innovation in the relevant system of social practice. This innovation is manifested in the introduction of a new word, or the investment of new meaning in an old word and a modification in the normative practices of that institution. In that sense the institution is ‘composed of’ concepts. If there is no relevant system of social practice, no institution or social movement for which such a problem could arise and express itself, then no contradiction arises. Without a modern women’s movement and the social and technical conditions which made that possible, there could be no problem to be named ‘sexism’. In a country with no urban planning authority and automobile industry, there could be no project to build ‘freeways’.
When a situation or predicament arises historically, and a word is coined for the situation, very often the response to the predicament also entails the creation of an artefact as well as a related system of practice in order to resolve the situation. In the case of “freeway,” we not only created the concept of “freeway,” we built material freeways from concrete and bitumen, and we also instituted laws and regulations to entrench the practice. Once the word “sexism” was created a whole literature on the topic was created and a range of anti-discrimination laws put into legislation, as well as instituting a range of social practices to oppose it. The creation of artefacts realising a concept, including technology, images, regulations, laws and literature, secures the place of a concept in our lives. This way, a concept will never be completely forgotten or misconstrued, and some stability is given to the meaning of the concept. The continued use of material realisations of a concept in social practices, institutionalises the concept and consolidates it.

Why this seems pivotal beyond just a science is how Marx's critique of the political economy emphasizes such nuances of labor being the content of value (it determines it within markets, it isn't value itself) and political economists like Ricardo neglected the forms of things.

It also particularly interests me in regards to the change in relations that realize the foundation of communism where Marx says in his Critique of the Gotha Programme:
What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

Hence, equal right here is still in principle – bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.

Which makes me see appeal in this assessment of displacing the socially necessary labor time that has a minimum value for social labor and instead becomes a society in which one is fully compensated for their labour and labour remains measures through abstract means.
Marx lays out, briefly, a way to make labor directly social, breaking with capitalist value production, in his Critique of the Gotha program. In Marx’s concept of directly social labor he advocates a system which breaks with the disciplining of production by socially necessary labor time. Producers in this post-capitalist society will not be compensated according to the social average but instead compensated directly for the actual amount of labor time they expend in production. If I spend 2 hours making a widget I get a labor-certificate entitling me to purchase consumption goods equal to two hours of labor. If you spend 3 hours making the same widget you get a certificate entitling you to 3 hours of consumption goods. Regardless of productivity our labors are directly social because they are compensated in full, considered part of the total labor of society, no matter what.11

Careful readers may ask how such a society would determine the labor-content of consumption goods (the ‘prices’ at which workers ‘buy’ them with their labor-certificates) in the absence of socially necessary labor time. This calculation would be based on the average social labor-time that it took to make a commodity. The calculation could be done simply by adding up all of the concrete labor times that go into making widgets and dividing this by the number of widgets. Such a calculation would allow society to continue to make production plans and to ‘price’ commodities. But the compensation of laborers would not be done through such a process of averaging. So such a system would not eliminate the role of average labor time as an accounting unit. What it would eliminate is the role of average time in the compensation of workers.12

Here we again see a point of labor content and in Isaak Rubin's summary of Marx's capital, there is much emphasis on the forms of things, distinguishing technical material production relations from social relations which become entwined in them and become the basis of commodity fetishism in which the relations between people become hidden by what seems to be relations between things such that the capitalist becomes the personification of capital due to the things which he owns and the relations he establishes through those means.

So overall just a rushed brain fart throwing out there for any feedback and help on untangling and exploring this.

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