A quick down and dirty take on this article on the value-form: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm
When describing the role of exchange between linen and coat he describes it from the particular position of someone engaging in trade as opposed to exchange in the abstract.
This seems to be why he posits the linen as relative value-form and the coat as the equivalent value-form which are a unity within commodity exchange.
One is seeking to establish the value of his linen and to do so rather than a tautological (A = A) he compares it with another commodity.
The value he seeks to affirm is done so by finding it’s equivalent value and thus in taking the position of the owner trading their linen for a coat, they can’t adopt both positions on the commodity as they’re at a specific side of the exchange.
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.
So the coat in itself doesn’t express the value of linen but is a means of expressing the relative value of the linen itself, the coat is a mirror for the linen’s own value.
It has to have value in order to be exchanged and you can’t directly see the value by examining this exchange, because as will see later on, it’s exchange value can be posited against an infinite amount of commodities with their own value.
And part of presupposing there exists an actual value of the commodity which is to be inferred is an inference that the item has a stable value in relation to all other commodities rather than an arbitrary one. Part of defending such a stability of value eventually flows into Marx’s assertion of an equality of average social labor (not an equality of physiological effort expanded in labor)
This opponent was [Samuel] Bailey, who held that the concept of value is thoroughly unnecessary in political economy, that one must restrict oneself to the observation and analysis of individual proportions in which various goods are exchanged. Bailey, who was more successful in his superficiality than in his witty critique of Ricardo, tried to undermine the foundations of the labor theory of value. He maintained that it is wrong to speak of the value of a table. We can only say that the table is exchanged once for three chairs, another time for two pounds of coffee, etc.; the magnitude of the value is something thoroughly relative, and it varies in different instances. From this Bailey drew conclusions which led to the negation of the concept of value as a concept which differs from the relative value of a given product in a given act of exchange. Let us imagine the following case: the value of a table equals three chairs. A year later, the table is exchanged for six chairs. We think we are right if we say that even though the exchange value of the table has changed, its value has remained unchanged. Only the value of the chairs fell, to half their former value. Bailey finds this statement meaningless. Since the relation of exchange between the table and the chairs changed, the relation of the chairs to the table changed also, and the value of the table consists only of this.
In order to disprove Bailey's theory, Marx considered it necessary to develop (in Capital) the conception that exchange value cannot be grasped if it is not reduced to some common factor, namely to value. The first section of Chapter 1 of Capital is devoted to giving a foundation to this idea of the transition from exchange value to value and from value to the common basis under both, namely labor.
And assuming they have value and we don’t yet know what that value is derived from, it’s enough at this point to make the point that the relative/equivalent value-forms are exactly that, only forms of appearances of value but not value itself.
And the value-form is entirely independent of the physical properties of the linen which is the basis of its use-value.
Because it’s about the relationship to the other commodity rather than the use which for the seller is a point of indifference, its use-value matters little compared to the exchange value it has, perhaps to acquire a use-value he subjectively desires.
But his desire for a particular use-value doesn’t dictate the exchange value as the exchange value is an ideal property of the commodity not based on its physicality. Something can have use-value without exchange value, such a thing is not a commodity but merely a product of labor, something which can exist outside of markets where one has a means of their own production and thus the basis for their own communal consumption.
This has a particular ontological nature which might explore later in Ilyenkov’s work on ideality in which it is the social relations and activity which imbue a thing with ideal properties which aren’t found in it as a physical object isolated from those real world relationships.
Especially as these physical objects come to represent other physical objects, a certain quantity of a commodity is representative of a certain quantity of an infinite array of commodities.
There is also a point about abstract labor not elaborated upon but implicit in this work about how the basis of comparison between different objects with different use value presupposes but a comparison of a singule point of abstraction which exists in reality because it is an actuality in which people act towards objects rather than simply a instinct of their psychological outlook, the abstract way in which they view objects is a reflection of real qualities.
How do I compare the use value of reading a book to driving a car, utility from utilitarianism is but a reflection of exchange value which abstracts the particularity of things to the most abstract form.
If someone suggests to us, in the spirit of Bentham and Mill. that we should guide our own choices by the prospects of our own future pleasure or happiness, the appropriate retort is to enquire: 'But which pleasure, which happiness ought to guide me?' For there are too many different kinds of enjoyable activity, too many different modes in which happiness is achieved. And pleasure or happiness are not states of mind for the production of which these activities and modes are merely alternative means. The pleasure-of-drinking-Guinness is not the pleasure-of-swimming-at-Crane's-Beach, and the swimming and the drinking are not two different means for providing the same end-state. The happiness which belongs peculiarly to the way of life of the cloister is not the same happiness as that which belongs peculiarly to the military life. For different pleasures and different happinesses are to a large degree incommensurable: there are no scales of quality or quantity on which to weigh them. Consequently appeal to the criteria of pleasure will not tell me whether to drink or swim and appeal to those of happiness cannot decide for me between the life of a monk and that of a soldier.
The apparent absurdity of merging all the manifold relationships of people in the one relation of usefulness, this apparently metaphysical abstraction arises from the fact that in modern bourgeois society all relations are subordinated in practice to the one abstract monetary-commercial relation.
So this is just to properly affirm that this value is most certainly not a comparison of use-values because it is simply incommensurable, the valuing of one use value over an another is based in one’s social relations just as the capacity to even conceive of thins in a utilitarian fashion is based within very definite relations ie capitalist relations, where market and money dominate human relationships rather than are subordinate to other kinds.
In the equivalent value-form we see that the material form of the commodity immediately appears as exchangeable, it doesn’t have to be represented by something in order to appear able to be exchanged and it is also exchangeable in a definite quantity/magnitude.
It’s not Linen = Coat but X amount of Linen = Y amount of Coat/s and this definite quantity must be a quantity of something in order to be comparable, there must be a unit of comparison.
There is also a very interesting section on the peculiarities of the equivalent value-form:
1. Is a very interesting analogy of how the material form (use-value) is the appearance of it’s opposite, exchange value. And a very powerful anaology he uses is how iron which weights say 1lbs becomes the appearance of weight as measure against other objects.
So because both objects have weight, one can abstract the qualities and focus on the quantity of weight/heaviness between objects. And similarily, one can’t establish value tautologically of an object to its own use-value, it must always be in relation to another object/commodity.
This way the other object/commodity is the basis for which there can be the appearance of value in the same way one uses the 1lbs of iron to make the appearance of weight between things.
2. Concrete labor appears as abstract labor is the next peculiarity. There is an indifference to the actual use-value of the commodities in the exchange ratio between them, because they can’t be valued quantitatively on the basis of use value.
This is also clearly seen in how so many commodities are comparable to one another, it doesn’t matter what object is in consideration, it can be exchanged with the right conditions/relations. And here he makes an interesting point of how the abstract dominates the concrete.
“This inversion (Verkehrung) by which the sensibly-concrete counts only as the form of appearance of the abstractly general and not, on the contrary, the abstractly general as property of the concrete, characterises the expression of value. At the same time, it makes understanding it difficult. If I say: Roman Law and German Law are both laws, that is obvious. But if I say: Law (Das Recht), this abstraction (Abstraktum) realises itself in Roman Law and in German Law, in these concrete laws, the interconnection becoming mystical.”
In primitive language they have endless proper nouns for object as they don’t yet have such an abstract existence to label things in the abstract. So they have names for particular types of trees but they don’t have the concept of tree in general. Similarly here labor has become abstract as human labor in general rather than any particular labor and this I suspect is on the basis of labour-power as a commodity. People are no longer attached to a particular kind of labour but deprived of their own means of production and thus consumption must enter in exchange of their labour power for money in order to survive they will labor in any way possible to get the means for their survival. The pursuit of value over use-value means that the abstract dominates the concrete but it is a real illusion in which we relate to things in this abstract way.
3. Then is a piece on private labor becoming social labor, this is interesting in that I wonder of the origins/development of private labor and separation from the social. As the original communal life of man and division of labor made his labor directly social and part of the whole. It must’ve taken some time for property to develop to the point for labor to be properly private and this seems to reach its epitome in capitalism where the ideology of liberalism no matter it variation is always essentially based on a public/private divide which hadn’t existed in much of human history. But it makes sense in that when society is dominated by market exchange, things only count to the extent they realize their value on the market and hence the basis of human relations taking the appearance of things relating to things, as this is fundamentally how our society relates to one another. One’s means of interaction is in one’s pocket on their card or even phone. One is indifferent to strangers the world around them except as a means of instrumental and mutual exchange and hence a liberal sense of freedom is the freedom from interference from others (asocial). I can pursue my desires and freely enter into exchange as one sees fit and you can’t impose on me any further. Hence when taken to an extreme the sort of selfishness of many as they do not relate to people as persons but as means of satisfaction, reduced to means of their own pleasure
He goes onto summarize how Aristotle examines value but only gets as far as wondering how seemingly incomparable things can be compared in value/exchangeable and suggests the reason he couldn’t posit the basis of labor as value is because labor was not a commodity which prevailed through society, labor was unequal in a slave based economy.
4. Then is a summary that the equivalent form of commodities suggests different types of labor count as the same ie human labor, such labor is quantified, and that this presupposes definite social relations of production (Marx shows the social side of what is assumed natural technical production).
He emphasizes how the social relations which give the commodity it’s very appearance of having value is a kind of fetishism which perceives power in objects which is actually a product of human activity and relations. This inversion is noticed in how people see the market as an overwhelming force in itself which they as an individual have no control but it is necessarily the product of human activity as objects do nothing themselves. He notes the relative-value form is more striking in its fetishism than the equivalent value-form.
In the relative value form the value of the object consists only in its comparison to another object and as such the social relation is hidden where as the equivalent value-form has the appearance of direct social value, that it is valuable with in itself and not as a result of social relations of production. The example he gives is gold in which it is immediately exchangeable with all other commodities. He is basically saying the powerful sense which money has that drives people to wish to amass large amounts of it because it has the power to be exchanged with almost anything the more expanse the market it and thus it appears money is valuable in itself. But of course some upon reflection tend to speak of money having only imaginary value and in a sense they are right, they notice that there is no use-value in money, one can’t see its value in the object itself but whence it does have its very real world value as witness and acted upon every day is of course the mystery.
Then is the point that the commodity within simple commodity exchange is a unity of use-value and exchange value, it is both a useful thing that meets social needs but something which can be immediately exchanged. It is a unity of opposites, this is pivotal to Marx’s method based on Goethe’s romantic science where one mixes concreteness and abstraction, such that one can penetrate the essence through an archetypal phenomena. A commodity which has no use-value cannot be of course used nor exchanged and whilst an object can be a product and thus have a use-value, to be a commodity it must of course have exchange value.
He makes the point then that the development of the value-form is identical with the development of the commodity, hence the importance of analyzing it in detail to reveal the basis of value.
He shows a point of how the exchange ratio between commodities can be equivalent to the exchange of a commodity with a commodity as money from “20 yards of linen = 1 coat” to “20 yards of linen = 2 pounds sterling” and as such the value-form is the basis of money but in a more developed form which is merely a more developed commodity-form.
Thus sets the stage for examining how the commodity form develops into the money form.
So he started with a simple value form with the exchange ratio of one commodity for another, then moves onto the expanded value form which is but a series of commodities in equality of value to one another.
X amount of item 1 = Y amount of item 2 = Z amount of item 3 and so on in an infinite series where ever conditions give rise to markets. It is the expansion of human labor as the determinant of value in that all sorts of labor are indifferent in exchange except as quantity.
But this is but an expanded series of particular exchanges and thus haven’t quite unified themselves. Thus the next development is from the expanded value form to the general value-form where a series of commodities all establish their equal value in relation to a single commodity.
This is the early hint at the origins of the money form where on commodity is beginning to take on the quality of being the universal commodity in which all others find their measure.
Here all commodities are unified around the single commodity. So this general commodity of exchange, it’s body becomes the general measure of social value, it represents all human labor in general/universally.
This general commodity becomes excluded because it is now becoming money instead of a particular commodity among many
“Finally, the world of commodities gives itself a unified, general, relative value-form, by excluding from itself one single type of commodity in which all other commodities express their value in common. Thereby the excluded commodity becomes general equivalent or the equivalent-form becomes the general equivalent-form.”
The distinction between relative and equivalent value form now hardens further in it’s polarity.
In the simple value form of one commodity for another, the relationship is reversible, one can switch positions between commodities depending on what they’re selling.
Then a particular commodity expands it relative value form relative to all other commodities which are regarded as its equivalent value-form.
Then the next stage when there is a unified or general value form, all other commodities are excluded from equivalent value form or immediate exchangeability, commodities aren’t traded they are mediated by the general commodity. This general commodity has no relative-value form because it is related to the world of commodities totally.
“Thus the expanded relative value-form or form II now appears as the specific relative value-form of the commodity which plays the role of the general equivalent.”
Now comes the transition from the general value form to the money form. In phase 2 with the expanded value form, it is a kind of subjective process in which one seeks to determine the value of their own commodity but in phase 3 the general value form, the commodity which excludes all others from equivalent value-form to become the general is obtained in an objective process that has excluded it. Then this commodity which is excluded plays the role of money and historically Gold has played such a role due to it’s physical properties/nature but only in order to perform the social role of exchange more smoothly rather than it’s value being based in those properties. The money form as distinct from the merely general value form is that the general value settles on a particular object because of it’s natural properties ie gold simply replaces the general commodity. By the nature of trade and it’s social monopoly, it solidifies itself as money. Then the money form transitions into the price-form, gold gives rise to a specific price/quantity such as 2 pounds sterling.
It seems behind all this are a lot of presuppositions as to how these transitions don’t occur as some abstract scheme but in the actual logical necessity of history. To which how something exists but isn’t a dominant form but moves onto being a real universal as it takes a dominant place in society seems important to understanding how while money has existed its particular social functions and its existence as a form of capital means follow the qualitative relationships of such things historically such that it was once an accidental or marginal thing up until it wasn’t.
The real case-history of economic (market) relations testifies, however, in favor of Marx who shows that the “form of value in general” has not at all times been the universal form of the organization of production. Historically, and for a rather long time, it remained a particular relation of people and things in production although occurring haphazardly. It was not until capitalism and the “free enterprise society” came into being that value (i.e., the market form of the product) became the general form of inter-relationships among the component parts of production.
Similar transitions, of the “individual and accidental” into the universal is not a rarity, but rather a rule in history. In history – yet not exclusively the history of humanity with its culture – it always so happens that a phenomenon which later becomes universal, is at first emergent precisely as a solitary exception “from the rule,” as an anomaly, as something particular and partial. Otherwise, hardly anything could ever be expected to turn up. History would have a rather mystical appearance, if all that is new in it emerged at once, as something “common” to all without exception, as an abruptly embodied “idea.”
It is in this light that one should approach the reconsideration by Marx and Lenin of the Hegelian dialectical conception of the universal. While highly esteeming the dialectical tendencies in Hegel’s thought, Marxism furthers his conception in depth and in breadth, and thus, turns the category of the “universal” into the foremost category of the logic governing the investigation of concrete and historically evolving phenomena.
In the context of the materialistic conception of the dialectics of history and of thinking, the Hegelian formulas have different significance than in the language of their originator, being shorn of the slightest sign of mystical coloring. The “universal” comprises and embodies in itself “the entire treasure of particulars” not as an “Idea,” but as a totally real, special phenomenon which tends to become universal and which develops “out of itself,” by force of its intrinsic contradictions new but no less real, phenomena, other “particular” forms of actual progress. Hence, the “genuine universal” is not any particular form found in each and every member of a class but the particular which is driven on to emerge by its very “particularity,” and precisely by this “particularity” to become the “genuine universal.”
Marx’s ideas of money are interesting in particular because he doesn’t assert a single dominant characteristic of money but does note the many different functions of money.
If the transfer of goods from the seller to the buyer and the inverse transfer of money are carried out simultaneously, then money assumes the function, or has the form of a "medium of circulation." If the transfer of goods precedes the transfer of money, and the relation between the seller and the buyer is transformed into a relation between debtor and creditor, then money has to assume the function of a "means of payment." If the seller keeps the money which he received from his sale, postponing the moment when he enters a new production relation of purchase, the money acquires the function or form of a "hoard." Every social function or form of money expresses a different character or type of production relation among the participants in exchange.
Marx often spoke of the functions of things, functions which correspond to the different production relations among people. In the expression of value one commodity "serves as an equivalent" (C., I, p. 48 and p. 70). "The function of money" represents a series of different functions: "Function as a measure of value" (Ibid., p. 117), "function as a medium of circulation" or "function as coin" (Ibid., p. 117 and p. 126), "function as means of payment" (Ibid., pp. 127, 136, 139), "function of hoards" (p. 144) and "the function of money of the world" (p.144). The different production relations between buyers and sellers correspond to different functions of money.
- Andy Blunden