July 15, 2008

Damn you, money and exchange! (aka, Ch. 2 and 3)

Chapter Two and Three (“Process of Exchange” and “Money, or the Circulation of Commodities”)

It’s easy to see how so many have assumed that, both historically and logically, Marx’s capitalism=market exchange, since these first few chapters remain within the process of circulation/exchange. Yet Marx, operating within a classical mode of analysis, is trying to "penetrate appearances” for the actual ‘essence’, or ‘substance,’ of value and the process wherein it ‘appears’ that value is adding value to itself. As with Chapter One, his analysis is thus posing two answers at two different levels of analysis simultaneously: how is it that, at the level of the social, it appears that money begets more money within exchange (social actuality reproduced through ideology or epistemological forms), and, at the same time, how exchange is merely expressing a value that is/was already presupposed in production itself – and thus bringing us back to production (getting us to Chapter Four where surplus-value is finally introduced).

More interestingly (and problematic) is what Andy also pointed to in his recap – these momentary digressions where Marx attempts to point to history as the ‘stage’ in which various necessary developments take place that engender capitalism as a social formation. This may be making too much of something that isn’t actually necessary for Marx to connect the various levels of his analysis – but it does pose problems for us historians. Here are a few points that Marx makes in relation to history, development and the emergence of the value-form that I want to try to work through (for my own sanity) – staying within these two chapters……

In relation to the abstraction of the money-form from extended exchange:
“Money necessarily crystallizes out of the process of exchange, in which different products of labour are in fact equated with each other, and thus converted into commodities. The historical broadening and deepening of the phenomenon of exchange develops the opposition between use-value and value which is latent in the nature of the commodity. The need to give an external expression to this opposition for the purposes of commercial intercourse produces the drive towards an independent form of value, which finds neither rest nor peace until an independent form has been achieved by the differentiation of commodities into commodities and money. (181)”
(Note how the drive for money to become abstracted – in order for it to serve a function within the opposition between use-value and value – is based on ‘broadening and deepening’ of exchange)

In relation to the space[s] of exchange:
“The exchange of commodities begins where communities have their boundaries, at their points of contact with other communities, or with members of the latter. However, as soon as products have become commodities in the external relations of a community, they also, by reaction, become commodities in the internal life of the community…The constant repetition of exchange makes it a normal social process. In the course of time, therefore, at least some part of the products must be produced intentionally for the purpose of exchange. (182)”
(This is basically the entire Dobb-Sweezy, and later, the Hilton, transition debates, posed in a few sentences)

The combination of the two operations quoted above:
“In the same proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds [the space of original and direct exchange], and the value of commodities accordingly expands more and more into the material embodiment of human labor as such, in that proportion does the money-form become transferred to commodities which are by nature fitted to perform the social function of a universal equivalent. (183)”

So at this point Marx moves into a more theoretical discussion of money (gold, or its symbolic representation) and the money-form (its own logic and function within circulation – expressing a commodities value in some material magnitude – but this magnitude (price) is not ‘value’ itself). But what is interesting to note is – and I may be going on a tangent here, so please ignore if this seems inane – that there seems to be an underlying ‘pressure’ operating in Marx’s argument here: the pressure of expanded exchange, which then becomes spatialized. In the first, this seems to be a pressure related to the diversity of use-values (i.e., the division of labour), and in the latter, the desire of an externally produced use-value which then engenders exchange across ‘borders’ and a corresponding transformation in production internal to those ‘borders’. And to leap forward into Chapter Three, this is a process wherein a new level of abstraction emerges – both a social abstraction (expressed in socially necessary labour time) and the modern individual, isolated modern subject – both of which cofigure the other:

“The owners of commodities therefore find out that the same division of labour which turns them into independent private producers also makes the social process of production and the relations of the individual producers to each other within that process independent of the producers themselves; they also find out that the independence of the individuals from each other has as its counterpart and supplement a system of all-round material dependence. (p. 202-203)”

Fast-forward to the end of Chapter Three and this becomes global – in that the conditions in which one can speak of the ‘global’ is qua the abstraction of ‘world money’:
“It is in the world market that money first functions to its full extent as the commodity whose natural form is also the directly social form of realization of human labour in the abstract. Its mode of existence becomes adequate to its concept. (241)”

But back to my inanity – while I think it would be incorrect to force some type of primary historical or singular logic to Marx’s multiple levels of analysis, I do want to read some type of ‘primary mover’ into the argument that Marx has developed thus far. And this, it seems, comes down to the intensification of the division of labour and its spatial expansion (i.e., does the emergence of value as the quantitative equivalence of abstract labour emerge from a qualitative problem of diversity and numbers? ). This then brings us back to questions of historical development at the level of social production – i.e., historical materialism.

Why am I harking on this point? – Well, I am trying to bridge the two directions that I have (probably incorrectly) read into Marx’s theorization: is it some temporary moment within the development of expanded and individuated production that social-labour time becomes abstracted – only to then fold back on itself to determine that very process, or is it abstract value that originally engendered the process whereby value determines labour ‘behind the backs’ of individual producers? What is the temporal logic of this process (not necessarily a historical sequence, but a historicity contained within capitalism’s own logic)?

1 comment:

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