June 20, 2008

I'm not dead, but my computer kind of is ....

On a personal note, I will have been in India for one week as of ten hours from now. In that short amount of time, several computer setbacks have arisen, which forces me to type this abbreviated version of an entry today. If I don't type it out now, then I can't do it by Sunday because -- no internet at home. So here are a few notes.

Generally, I found these two chapters an interesting expansion upon the theory of the commodity form that Marx lays out in the first chapter. I'm more than eager to move onto the chapter about capital, because thus far we have only paid attention to the problem of consumption and its spectral other, use-value. Nonetheless, I thought there were several extremely provocative passages, and I find Marx's logic to be sharp and clear throughout, even if I drifted off at times, unable to differentiate the points he was making regarding money, coins, exchange, etc. Here are a few thoughts:

1- chance and der staat. Several times Marx describes how the process of exchange relies upon an extremely unstable and indefinite assumption that things will be bought and sold but really without any guarantees that the value or price of the commodities will be realized. In order to ensure the market runs smoothly, the intervention of some regulatory agent - as opposed to the invisible hand - is necessary. The link between the role of the state and its complicity/shared typology with the market is hinted at throughout.

On page 178: "In order that these objects may enter into relation with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in relations to one another as persons whose will resides in those objects .... The guardians must therefore recognize each other as owners of private property."

Here is a non-deterministic connection established between the ideal, liberal subject of individual sovereign subjectivity (the law) and the ideal subject of exchange who must be considered independent but is constituted by its relation with others in social exchange.

2. The universality of the commodity form.

On page 197: "Things which in and for themselves are not commodities, things such as conscience, honour, etc. can be offered for sale by their holders and thus acquire the form of commodities through their price."

and page 229: "Since money does not reveal what has been transformed into it, everything, commodity or not, is convertible into money."

Here Marx answers a logical objection to his labor theory of value: what of price that is not tied to labor? In other words, does Marx falter at the point where people have seemingly moved beyond labor-based production (computers, intellectual property, etc.)? The condition of possibility for this shift is the establishment of a universal equivalent, which does not actually have to function universally but at least takes on the form of universality. By universality, Marx continually stresses, he simply means the disappearance of all particularity. Exchange-value is this disappearance, and hence here is the (or, a) significance to the opposition between exchange and use-value outlined in the first chapter. Labor, although concrete, is continually posed in an ideal form - "what socially necessary labor could one suppose they could get for X item?" the question is continually posed. EVEN THOUGH the item itself could spring completely from a non-labor process? Hence, it seems that when people try to disprove the labor theory of value by arguing that labor did not FIRST establish itself as a universal form, they are misunderstanding what Marx means by universality. The abstraction of money away from its concrete form is the precondition of abstracting value from specific items - once this is done, then it can potentially invade into the "pores" of everything else in a society. Consider this: if not labor, then what else do prices signify? If one simply says that price itself represents value (classical economics' response to Marx) then that is a tautology (as Marx shows).

3. The circuit.

One reason Marx emphasizes the dual nature of the commodity, it seems, is to emphasize how the representation of the market as a collection of commodities commensurate with the total amount of money in the world is a false presentation that is limited by exchange-value. We see all sorts of logical problems with this idea, such as overproduction, underconsumption, competition affecting prices, competition affecting demand, etc. In order to understand this, use-value must be taken into account, namely the instability of -
A) the realization of the commodity at the point of exchange (say, the farmer selling wheat)
B) the realization of money in exchange for new commodities (the farmer buying a bible)
As Marx shows, one person's A is always someone else's B, and so the opposition continues such that, potentially, commodities and exchanges could grow exponentially while the total amount of money remains the same. (pg. 215). As anyone who has dealt with haggling peddlers can testify to, the idea that price and value somehow magically align according to natural laws of supply and demand is quite the fantasy. Consumption and production, buyers and sellers do not speak to each other in any rational, communitarian manner -- isn't that what marketing departments in fact want to avoid? Only with some sort of regulatory force (the state) can money exchange be facilitated at all, and, paradoxically, only with more force does the idea of natural laws of exchange begin to appear reasonable.

4. Crisis.

Marx introduces crisis for the first time, and although it hints at a larger theory, he does not actually talk about crisis in detail until volume three thereabouts. As Lukacs writes in "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat":

"It has often been pointed out-in these pages and elsewhere-that the problem that forms the ultimate barrier to the economic thought of the bourgeoisie is the crisis."

As Marx writes on 209: "These forms [of exchange] therefore imply the possibility of crises, though no more than the possibility. For the development of this possibility into a reality a whole series of conditiosn is required, which do not yet even exist from the standpoint of the simple circulation of commodities."

These chapters seem to be Marx's attempt to lay out his own theory of consumption, against that of classical economics, and to show how the limits of their knowledge - which is trapped within the presentation of the commodity form - prevent them from understanding why crises occur. But Marx cannot yet explain why crises occur, because a true, positive theory will require an eye upon production and the way it acts opposite to consumption. In other words, one must understand not simply money and commodities but also capital.

And with that - Part II: "The Transformation of Money into Capital."

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