Marx, Hegel and the Value-Form

Marx, Hegel and the Value-Form

Christopher J. Arthur


It is generally recognised that of all the chapters of Marx’s Capital it is the first chapter of Volume I in which the subterranean influence of Hegel’s Science of Logic, and of its categories, is easily detectable. However, this observation has not been much supported by detailed accounts of just which categories are relevant. The present chapter reconstructs the dialectic of the value-form in order to show how Hegel’s categories illuminate it. After an initial analysis of the commodity, using Hegel’s categories of ‘Being’ (quality, quantity and measure), the remaining categories deployed are drawn from Hegel’s Doctrine of Essence, because the oppositions characteristic of its structure are suited to a study of the doubling of the commodity into commodities and money. These comprise: essence and appearance; reflection and the determinations of reflection (namely: identity, difference, contradiction and ground); posit- ing the presupposition; the inverted world; force and expression; actuality, together with its modal categories; and substance.

This present discussion of Marx’s first chapter is part of a broader project of mine to provide a systematic-dialectical reconstruction of the categories of his Capital.1 Systematic dialectic is a method of exhibiting the inner articulation of a given whole. Science, in treating such a totality, must elucidate a set of categories, capturing the forms and relations constitutive of the totality, in an ordered presentation. There is a significant homology between the movement of exchange, generating a system of pure forms of value, abstracted from the natural specificity of commodities, and the movement of thought, generating Hegel’s system of logical categories, abstracted from the real material world. Moreover the form of value as such, which springs from exchange as a process of ‘abstraction’, may be analysed regardless of any labour-content. Indeed theo- retical priority must be accorded to ‘form-analysis’ because it is the practice of exchange that establishes this necessary form of social synthesis in the first place, before labours expended are commensurated in it. Here, then, I analyse the value-form as such, ‘bracketing’ the origin of the objects of exchange.

1 See Arthur 2002 for more on this; chapter 1 has a review of relevant literature.

Whereas Hegel abstracts from everything through the power of thought, exchange abstracts only from what is presented to it, a delimited sphere of use- values. So the dialectic of capital is less general than Hegel’s in scope, but within its own terms equally absolute, in so far as it is founded on all-round abstrac- tion to leave quasi-logical forms of being of commodities. But the value-form of the commodity is not an axiom, or an empirical given, upon which all else depends; the originating form gains actuality and truth only when grounded in the totality to which it gives rise through a dialectical logic.

However, I go further than just drawing attention to methodological lessons from Hegel’s systematic ordering of categories, as do others. I draw also on his ontology. Hegel shows how an ideality builds itself up, moment by moment, into a self-actualising totality, an ‘Absolute’. If then, as I believe, capital has in part an ideal reality, then if it can be shown to incarnate Hegel’s blueprint it may be self-sustaining in the same way. Hegel’s logic can be drawn on in such a study because capital is a very peculiar object, grounded in a process of practi- cal abstraction in exchange in much the same way as Hegel’s dissolution and reconstruction of reality is predicated on the abstractive power of thought. Abstraction is ‘out there’. Conversely I interpret Hegel’s self-actualising ‘Idea’ as the ontologic specific to capital, because it has relevance only to a system of self-moving abstractions. In general I have no problem with a system of catego- ries such as Aristotle and Kant articulated. But I believe Hegel’s view of system is peculiar in that he claims ‘the Concept’ is the self-acting author of its own forms. I say the same of capital. Just as Hegel holds that ‘thinking itself, devoid of personality, [is] the productive subject’,2 so I take capital as a ‘productive subject devoid of personality’. It is as if Hegel, in his philosophy, absolutised the specific dialectic of capital, although his factual knowledge of fully func- tioning capital was gained second-hand, in his readings of classical political economy and the English newspapers. However, in a short chapter such as this I cannot do more than demonstrate that Hegel’s logic illuminates the catego- ries of Marx’s first chapter.3

What is the starting point of Capital? Does its movement follow the method of rising from abstract determinations to the concrete whole, as outlined in Marx’s unpublished 1857 ‘Introduction’? The concrete as the unity of diverse

  1. Hegel 1985 [1833], p. 9.
  2. I covered some of this ground in Arthur 2004. That treatment used an apparatus taken from Russell’s theory of relations. The dialectical exposition presented here is better. For the development of the systematic dialectic beyond that of this chapter see Arthur 2009, which takes the argument to the General Formula for Capital on the basis of Hegel’s Doctrine of the Concept.

determinations is then the result, not the starting point. Or did Marx reject this in beginning Capital with a concretum (as he says in his ‘Notes on Adolph Wagner’), namely the commodity, because wealth presents itself to us immedi- ately as ‘a heap of commodities’? Confusion on this point is resolved by taking account of two different meanings of ‘abstract and concrete’.

Marx speaks in his Preface to Capital of the power of abstraction by analogy with the microscope because it yields ‘the economic cell-form’, the commodity. Here the ‘abstract’ means that which is taken apart from the whole that sup- ports it, and within which it gains its meaning; it is separated off from it. But, especially if the commodity is not understood as mediated in the whole, it may be taken in immediate experience as ‘concrete’ in the sense of tangible.

However, a more usual sense of the ‘abstract’ is that which results from the most general way of thinking about anything, achieved by leaving aside all its specific characteristics so as to generate a simple immediacy for thought, namely a pure category not susceptible to analysis (as is the concrete, of course).

If this distinction is accepted then we observe that Capital has two begin- nings: the analytic, and the synthetic (or systematic).4 Capital is the object, but this is analysable into the movement of money, and money mediates commodity-exchange. Thus Capital begins from the commodity, and further analyses it into two aspects: its usefulness and its exchangeableness. While use- fulness remains a standing condition of commodity-exchange, exchangeable- ness cannot be reduced to it, but is a social determination that follows its own law. The value-form is the abstract starting point for a systematic-dialectical development of the concrete whole of capitalist production articulated in terms of the totalising concept of ‘value’. Although our analytical starting point, namely ‘the commodity produced by capital’, appears as a concrete one, the practical abstraction imposed in exchange from every given feature of it leads to a systematic dialectic of ‘pure form’ homologous with the ‘pure thoughts’ of Hegel’s logic.

The Forms of Value (I): The Commodity

This first section thematises what it is to be a commodity. This is value in the shape of being [Sein] – the first domain of Hegel’s Logic – and its determinations

4 In this interpretation I follow Banaji 1979, p. 40. Note also that Hegel says his Logic has ‘equally both a synthetic and an analytical beginning’ (Hegel 1991 [1817], §238).

here also follow those in the Logic, namely ‘quality, quantity, and measure’,5 to which correspond in our case, it will be seen, ‘exchangeableness’, ‘magnitude’ and ‘exchange-value’.

The foundation of the systematic presentation of the categories of capital is that the value-form is a pure form imposed on ‘products’ without expressing any material content given in them. All the bodily characteristics of the com- modity are abstracted from in exchange. This leaves the ‘being of exchange’ void of any determinacy whatsoever, yet there is something-there (Dasein is Hegel’s term). For, if it is the movement of exchange which makes this being present, then that being does after all have a determination, namely the bare quality of ‘exchangeableness’, which anything appearing in exchange must have. (I distinguish this from ‘exchangeability’, which is value in a measurable sense – see below.)

How does something prove that it has exchangeableness? This requires the commodity to have others against which it may exchange. It is only in so far as a commodity is translated into a second commodity that its exchangeableness is demonstrated. But that this exchangeableness has yet been retained, and not dissipated in its realisation, is shown if the second commodity in turn proves itself ‘of worth’ through being exchanged against a third commodity, and so on. An ever-changing series of commodities passes through our hands endlessly, a spurious infinity. But a genuine infinity is posited when the other commodi- ties are grasped only as complementary forms of the first in a closed system in which all commodities refer back to each other. The commodity returns to itself having been presented in its other, but it is one and the same in both cases. When the exchangeableness of a commodity is brought back to it, the commodities gain ‘being-for-self ’. Every commodity is now characterised as in itself an ‘exchangeable’.

However, in Hegel’s logic the ‘being-for-self ’ thus developed is problematic. It is ‘one’ which excludes other ones, the many, yet is not distinguishable from them; in their mutual definition they are all one and the same, having no inner specificity. Hegel argues that their separateness is sustained therefore only by their continual ‘repulsion’ of one another, ‘a process of reciprocal excluding’.6 The ‘one’ determines its being through the negative relation to other such ones,

  1.  Here I leave aside the subtleties of being and nothing. For that see chapter 8 of Arthur 2002: there I show that, considering the commodity, although what is not ‘value’ is of course ‘use- value’, it is wrong to identify ‘nothing’ and ‘use-value’ (see footnote 13, p. 173); rather, being and nothing are moments of value; defining itself negatively, value simply is the absence of use-value, which becomes its own positive presence, so to speak.
  2. Hegel 1991 [1817], §§96–7.

the ‘many’, yet its identity with its others necessarily connects it indissolubly to its others; this relation is a force of ‘attraction’, Hegel says.

In our case what do ‘repulsion’ and ‘attraction’ mean? An exchangeable commodity is valid only through another (attraction), but for them to be dis- tinct exchangeables the requirement of numerical difference7 must be sus- tained (repulsion); it is so here by the distinct material bearers of commodities. Moreover, while the exchange-relation identifies the sides as substitutable, its polarity preserves the moment of repulsion at the same time.

So here the dialectic of repulsion and attraction realises one commodity in another very abstractly, not another of different quality (except in use-value, of course) but simply an other identical to the first. As exchangeables, com- modities are all of exactly the same quality and, although many are present, this merely numerical difference does not form the kind of limit that marks off two qualitatively different things. This will be important later. We have now established the commodity as ‘one’ among ‘many’. But the many as a whole, determined as ‘one One’, so to speak,8 raises the question: how many make it up? But it does not matter! The quality of exchangeableness does not change into another quality no matter how many commodities are in play in this net- work. This means quantity is a determination ‘external’ (Hegel) to quality.

The articulation of the substructure of the category of quantity I use here broadly follows Hegel in that the main divisions are a conflation of those he gives in his Science of Logic and his Encyclopaedia: ‘pure quantity’, ‘quantum’ and ‘ratio’. The vindication of my category of ‘value as pure quantity’ follows from the fact that the quantity of exchangeables has no inherent limit. Every exchangeable relates to putatively infinite others. Equally, the many, consid- ered as determinate, consists of discrete ‘ones’. Every ‘one’ has to be determined as an exchangeable item if exchange is to be possible. It is not enough for the commodities to be specified as having properties that make them exchange- able in a general indeterminate sense; a determination is required that allows for discrete exchangeables to be presented for exchange. In other words a com- modity must be specifiable as an item for sale. It has to specify itself in discrete units, each of which – the quantum – announces itself as an instantiation in delimited form of the good concerned. A baker does not sell ‘bread’ but a loaf of such and such a weight. Only thus does sale become determinate.

The value-category of ‘quantum’ must be modelled in its bearers, which must be countable items. A baker has to specify such a unit as ‘a one-pound

  1.  If two things are identical in all respects they may be said to be the same thing. However, if they are nonetheless countable as two, they are said to be ‘numerically different’.
  2. ‘Das eine Eins’, Hegel 2010 [1812–16], p. 141.

loaf ’, for example. A commodity must be delimited as an exchangeable, for instance ‘a loaf ’, to be an example of a commodity, yet this limit is equally sublated since any number, for instance of ‘loaves’, may be taken as together exchangeable since, if one is, all the many identical ones taken together are too. Because it is rare for commodities to be exchangeable one for one, room has to be made for the commodities related to be numerous, in order for a number of units of one commodity to exchange against another number of units of another commodity.

Exchangeable commodities, then, take determinate shape in a delimited quantity, yielding the category of magnitude, defined as a number of units. The striking thing about this quantification is that, although each good has its own natural index of magnitude (weight or whatever) in terms of which hag- gling goes on, these commodities seem unable to refer to any common index of exchangeableness because, ex hypothesi, as naturally diverse goods, their index of amount differs absolutely (no one would exchange two pounds of gold for two pounds of iron). Here magnitude is a pure number, and yields a ratio of such numbers: ‘I’ll give you six of these for four of those’ is the quantitative form of the offer for exchange.

Brought into unity with itself in this way, as reflexive, ‘magnitude’ passes over into the ratio of quanta. Thus in our case, the number of units of one commodity, with respect to the number of units of another commodity, is the quantitative bearing on one exchangeable of another. Magnitude thus related to itself in such a ratio of quanta is the being-for-itself of quantity in that the ratio is the manner in which a quantum relates to itself having passed through the other related quantum.

Measure (that is, ‘specifying measure’) Hegel defines as qualitative quantity. I divide it into ‘rule’, ‘series of (specific) measures’ and ‘unity of measure-relations’. Quality and quantity are unified here in that the ratio implicitly reinstates quality if it remains the same while its terms alter. When there is the reiterated identity of its quotient, we have a magnitude that retains its ‘quality’, regardless of this ‘external’ variation in the quanta so related.

In our case ‘measure’ is ‘exchange-value’. This depends on the presence of a stable rate of exchange that one commodity has against another. If it is so, then a rule is operating. Pro rata exchange has a qualitative character because it remains the same regardless of the increase (or decrease) in the number of commodity-units related in it. The key point about this is that the ratio abstracts from the specific items involved. If, in this rate of exchange, two of A exchange against three of B, and four of A against six of B, then it is clear that a rule is being followed. Considered as a result, such passing over of the one side

to the other gives the commodity its specific measure, its exchange-value; what it ‘amounts to’, so to speak, is specified in something other than itself.

However, every rate of exchange taken by a commodity differs for every commodity related to the given commodity. Thus its exchange-values are so many measures, yielding a series of specific measures (of exchange-values) specifying it in different ways.

I now turn aside to discuss Hegel on ‘real measure’ [Das Reale Mass]. Hegel’s treatment of ‘measure’ in his Science of Logic is too long and confused, but in the Encyclopaedia it is too short! My treatment of measure in this section is closer to the abbreviated account in Hegel’s Encyclopaedia than it is to the longer discussion in his Science of Logic in which he distinguishes ‘real mea- sure’ from ‘specifying measure’. At this point, then, it is necessary to discrimi- nate between them and to discuss precisely what is covered by the category of measure here. In the Science of Logic, Hegel develops the category of specify- ing measure, in which something is measured by something else (in our case the exchange-value of one commodity is given in terms of another), in order to derive ‘real measure’. Now I think Hegel’s argument very dubious, although I have no space here to show this. It seems to me that ‘real measure’ is not a ‘surface’ category characteristic of ‘being’ but a category of ‘essence’, for it measures a supposed immanent magnitude. Here, then, I am concerned only with ‘specifying measure’. (Yet we still have available to us the category of ‘real measure’ to deploy further on, precisely when we reach the category of ‘value as essence’ presented in money).

To resume: the members of this indefinite series of measures cannot here be measuring different qualities of the commodity, because exchangeableness is a unitary determination; thus if a ‘measurable’ is present it must exist in a form that is indifferent to all the specific exchange-values, which are all equivalents of one another as its measures. All these specific measures being valid, they are substitutable. So we reach the notion that there must be some unity to them, that, although they are all different exchange-values of a commodity, they must represent the same ‘measurable’.

In my argument ‘the series of specific measures’ plays a rôle superficially similar to that of Hegel’s ‘nodal line of measures’, in generating the transition to ‘essence’, so it is worth explaining our different strategies here. Hegel devel- ops the category of the ‘nodal line’ from his consideration of the way in which quantitative changes in a thing eventually give rise to a qualitative change. Every new quality will have its own proper measure, of course, hence such changes in succession generate a nodal line of measures. He argues that these chang- ing qualities nevertheless have the same permanent substratum indifferent

to them and their measures. This is ‘measureless’, in Hegel’s peculiar terminology. In this ‘indifference’ to measure he sees ‘the becoming of essence’. In our case a single quality, namely exchangeableness, remains the same however large or small the number of commodities related as exchangeable. But when a commodity is considered quantitatively, namely in terms of its ‘exchange- ability’, it has many measures, as its exchange-value is specifiable in terms of many other commodities. My argument then is that we can suppose that there is some common element in this series of measures, appearing phenomenally in various ‘external’ exchange-values: exchange-value as such. In fine, I replace Hegel’s diachronic line with a synchronic series in order to get to my own final term of measure.

This is: the unity of measure-relations (replacing Hegel’s ‘the measureless’). The series of specific measures, exchange-values, taken in this unity as sub- stitutable ways of giving the measure, leads us from the exchange-values of a commodity to a unitary measurable, the notion of the immanent exchange- ability of a commodity. Of course this always must be specified in some sort of measure but is itself indifferent to each and every available specific measure. ‘Immanent exchangeability’ I will term ‘value’ once we have made the transi- tion to the category of ‘essence’ so that we can speak of value as the essence of the commodity.

Before that, it is relevant to examine a false transition in Marx. Our argument goes from the series of exchange-values of a commodity to the supposition that there is an immanent value, taken as the essence of commodity-relations. This valid argument is very like the one Marx advances when he first says exchange- value appears purely as a relation but then considers what is implied if one commodity has many exchange-values equivalent to each other. These are mutually replaceable and hence exchange-value must be the mode of expres- sion [Erscheinungsform] of a ‘content’ distinguishable from it. However, Marx proceeds immediately to a quite different argument, the notorious ‘third thing’ argument. Taking now two commodities, he sets them as ‘equal’ to each other, hence of ‘identical magnitude’, and hence equal to some ‘third thing’ to which they are reducible. (Notice the claim the two commodities are equal is very dif- ferent from the argument that all exchange-values of a commodity are ‘equiva- lent’ to each other). Marx’s reasoning here is defective because it has not yet been shown that the two commodities are ‘of identical magnitude’, only that they stand in a relation of exchange; such a presupposed third thing is not yet posited at such an elementary level. (It is money that provides the necessary community of commodities and which makes possible comparison of their magnitude in a ‘third thing’). By contrast, here we simply say that if a commod- ity has many measures then these measures might all be doing the same thing

in different ways, that is, giving a measure of value as such, regardless of any specific measure.

To sum up the ‘being’ of value: ‘exchangeableness’ is a category of quality; quantity and measure add to it to yield a category of ‘immanent exchangeability’, designating the power of exchange intrinsic to a commodity; value is its ‘essence’.

The Forms of Value (II): Money

Let us review how we determine value as ‘essence’. We take the ‘abstract equivalence’ of the measures to result in an ‘indifferentness’ to all categories of being. We say that if there is a genuine unity to exchange-value then this points to value as such as the essence of the commodity. But such an assumption has to be vindicated in the further development of the exposition.

If the commodity has something essential to it, then it has value in itself distinct from the relativity of exchange-value. The relation between the two is illuminated by Hegel’s category of reflection (important in the development of ‘reflection’ is the dialectic of ‘presupposition and posit’).9 Initially the distance between essence and appearance appears unbridgeable, because we said the immanent unity of measure is indifferent to the contingent specifying mea- sures; although they are analytically presupposed, value is to be taken apart from them. So it seems value is essential and exchange-value is inessential, a mere semblance [Schein] of value, subject to extraneous influences, whereas value as such is the truth abiding within the shell of the commodity. Value pos- its itself against exchange-value, as it were. But exchange-value is the immediately given presupposition of value in the first place. Whence this value? If it arises simply from our external reflection on the set of exchange-values, which yields value as our abstraction from it, this reduction means value-as-essence is not grasped as self-specifying in its appearance [Erscheinung]; exchange-value

9 Although the phrase ‘positing the presupposition’ is used in several places late in the Science of Logic, it is thematised in the section on reflection, but not in this exact formulation; how- ever, it is a natural gloss on the result of ‘determining reflection’, and it is used in Mure’s commentary accordingly. See Mure 1950, pp. 95–6. Within Marxism, see Bellofiore and Finelli 1997, p. 50. An obvious example is well elucidated by Jairus Banaji: ‘Circulation is posited as both presupposition and result of the Immediate Process of Production. The dialectical sta- tus of the Sphere of Circulation thus shifts from being the immediate appearance (Schein) of a process “behind it” to being the posited form of appearance (Erscheinung) of this process’ (Banaji 1979, p. 28; Banaji cites Marx’s Grundrisse (Marx 1973 [1857–8]), p. 358, but pp. 255–6 are even more relevant).

remains external to it. Conversely, if we simply take value as a given essence prior to exchange-value this lacks grounds. What is required is that value itself posits exchange-value as its presupposition and, therewith, posits itself. We require a ‘determining reflection’ (to borrow Hegel’s term).

So we now turn to the determinations of reflection. In the movement of reflection upon itself the commodity must achieve identity with itself as value. Yet value is other than its immediate being as a material body. Thus value is not after all immediately identical with the commodity but is different from it. So this requires explicitly the mediating moment of being-different-from-itself when value is made manifest only in another commodity. There results there- fore the contradiction that value is, and is not, found in the commodity. The value-form in which commodity A expresses its value in commodity B gives the contradiction a ground allowing co-existence of the moments, as we shall show.

In its very constitution value is opposed to use-value. However, in the value-form we find the value that is not use-value A is borne by use-value B. Analytically the value of the commodity and its use-value are abstract oppo- sites that fall apart. But within the value-form, which exists in the relation of commodity to commodity, instead of falling apart, the opposing determina- tions of the commodity are reflected against one another.

Let us turn to the forms of appearance of value presented by Marx in his Capital. In the ordinary way there is nothing wrong with thinking of a unitary essence manifesting itself in different appearances. So why does Marx speak of ‘defects’ or ‘deficiencies’ in the expressions of value? The problem here is that no unitary essence is yet posited, although one must be if value is to be present in the manifold commodity-relations.

(This problem does not arise if one holds that immediately social labour- time has already been given as this unitary essence; then quite naturally one reads the development of forms of value as realisations of this given identity in commodities, and there are no defects, because all forms are adequate expres- sions of value, and all that is required is to show how the money-commodity emerges as a numeraire).

At first sight it seems the simple form of value implicit in commodity- relations exhibits value adequately. This form is:

Form I The Simple Form of Expression of Value
z of commodity A expresses its value in y of commodity B.

In this elementary form of value, if value appears in accordance with its law of appearance then both related commodities take specific forms of value, such that the commodity in ‘relative form’ (A) expresses its value in its ‘equivalent’ (B).

I follow Marx in seeing the commodity in relative form as the ‘active’ pole of the expression, because that is the commodity whose value is to mani- fest itself, and the commodity in equivalent-form as the ‘passive’ pole, because it serves merely as the material shape of the value of A. Marx acutely notices that the commodity in equivalent-form appears there not as a value (because its value is not being expressed) but simply as a use-value.

Ideally value is determined in opposition to the heterogeneity of use-value. But value must appear if it is to have any actuality. Immediately a commod- ity appears as a use-value, but, because the value of a commodity is defined in opposition to its own use-value, it cannot appear therein. Paradoxically the claim that A is a value requires A to exclude this value from itself and to posit it as use-value B. Even if B is itself potentially a value, its value-expression is as it were stifled at birth so that the body of commodity B figures as the actualisation of A’s value. It is not that commodity A has a given essence simply expressed in the equivalent but that value as essence comes to be in this expression, and is figured rather at the equivalent pole as what appears in the shape of use-value B. The ‘peculiarity’ (Marx) of the commodity in equivalent-form is that its sen- suous body counts as the phenomenal shape of a supersensuous world of value. So here the world of value predicates itself on use-value in inverse fashion. In essence value is not-use-value (in A), that is, it is a supersensuous realm, but as appearance value is use-value (in B), that is, it appears as a sensuous reality.

The deficiency of the simple form is that in it a commodity is related only to one other, which means that value has not yet achieved the universal- ity of its expression implied by the presumption that, underlying the web of exchange-relations, there is some force that regulates them, that the many exchange-values which a commodity may have nevertheless exist in a unity. This ‘accidental’ expression of the value of A in B is therefore defective because it is not all-encompassing. Moreover there is nothing special about the com- modity B which would grant it a rôle as a privileged interlocutor of A. One could just as well have taken A’s relation to C, or to D, under review.

Taking these other alternatives into account gives rise to the more comprehensive ‘expanded form of value’.

Form II The Expanded Form of Expression of Value

z of commodity A expresses its value in:

y of commodity B, or x of commodity C, or w of commodity D, or so on and so forth.

At first sight it seems this expanded form presupposes that the value of A remain unaltered in magnitude, whether expressed in units of B, C, or D, or in innumerable other commodities. But this is not at all plain since all these commodity-equivalents are incommensurable. Notice also that the connector here, significantly, is ‘or’, not ‘and’ (when reversed in the general form it will be ‘and’). Why in the expansion of the simple form is it the connector ‘or’ which links the various equivalents? When expanded the simple form cannot result in a heterogeneous bundle of use-values because the parameters of the prob- lem under consideration demand that the form of essence be unitary. Hence B, C, D, and so on are alternative ‘units’ of value logically implicit in commodity- relations. These are alternative ways to express A as a value. This expression is therefore deficient because of the inability of any one commodity to exclude the others from being value as essence. The lack of a unitary essence is a defect of this form. Of course, if value as essence were already given then the defi- ciency could be interpreted only as a lack of common measure. But such a common essence is not yet constituted.

If the expanded form of value is reversed we therewith reach the general form of value, to wit, ‘The value of B, and of C, and of D, and so on, expresses itself in A’. Notice that B, C, D, and so on are here linked with an ‘and’ not an ‘or’ (as in the expanded form), because B expressing its value in A does not exclude C from so doing. It is instructive to consider the meaning of this reversal more closely. To begin with let us distinguish two things that might be meant by reversal.10

‘Reversal’ may mean that we move from the perspective of commodity A expressing its value in B to that of commodity B taking A as its equivalent, the two expressions being considered side by side, so to speak, as covering the same content but different formally in that the ‘sense’ of the expression runs in a different direction. Nothing significant is changed if a whole set of commod- ity A’s equivalents is reversed such that A is the common point of reference.

Another meaning of ‘reversal’ is that what is reversed is the original expres- sion of commodity A’s value in its equivalents such that this origin is preserved in the reversed expression, along with the positing ‘activity’ of commodity A. The two expressions are not side by side but dialectically determined as related through opposition, through developing the meaning of A’s determination as value. I adopt this second point of view.

The significance of this dialectic of reversal is rooted in the asymmetry of the poles of the value-expression. Marx’s use, in his discussion of this, of the

10 Notice that because the expression of value is not a symmetrical relation ‘reverse’ here is not the simple ‘converse’. See Arthur 2004, pp. 38–9.

terms ‘active’ and ‘passive’ is an unmistakable reference to Hegel’s dialectic of ‘force and expression’, upon which we shall draw in the following discussion.11 This dialectic is powered by the contradiction that the force is supposed to belong to the thing just as it is, yet an unexpressed force is no force at all; how- ever, to be expressed it requires its solicitation by other things. These others must themselves therefore be forces. While a force proves itself only in its expression, in its effect on something, the nature of the latter is the neces- sary complement of the force. Gravity attracts apples but not rainbows. The force requires ‘solicitation’ by that which suffers its effect. The first force and the soliciting force are therefore merely two moments of a whole relation and share a common content.

Just so, if commodity A expresses its value in a definite amount of commod- ity B, at the same time it is enabled by B to reflect on its nature as value. B solic- its A to recognise it as the means whereby value may be realised. It follows that commodity A, just in so far as it posits commodity B as its own equivalent, con- versely posits itself as the relevant referent of B’s proper expression of itself; it presupposes it is the value-equivalent of B. If all the commodities in equiva- lent-form solicit a value-expression of A in this way, this allows A to posit itself as their unitary equivalent. The dialectic moves from commodity A determin- ing use-value B as the expression of value, because it cannot be use-value A, to commodity A determining itself as containing the essence of value, when it reflects all the original alternative equivalents into itself. Abstracting out this reverse movement gives the general form of value. To remind ourselves, this is:

Form III The General Form of Expression of Value

y of commodity B, and x of commodity C , and w of commodity D, and so on and so forth

express their value in z of commodity A.

In this form the commodity A solicits all the other commodities to solicit it as their unitary form of value. Thus A, while now the universal equivalent, does not simply assume the rôle of passive equivalent, as it would do if we consid- ered an original one-sided relation of B, C and D, to A. It preserves its active

11 For Hegel’s discussion of force and expression see Science of Logic, Book II, Section 3, chapter 3; Phenomenology of Spirit, chapter 3.

rôle because it attracts the other commodities to express their value in it as a unitary form. It determines itself thus as essentially value, becomes value- for-itself, rather than having merely implicit value as in its original position. So value not only must appear, when the value of commodity A appears as what it is not, namely commodity B; if it is to be actual it must appear as what it is, exchangeableness as such, and that is what is present in the universal equivalent.

As the outcome of the dialectical (not formal) reversal A now contains in sublated form the opposition of relative form and equivalent-form within itself, actively determining itself to the position of value in autonomous form, and attracting the other commodities to it accordingly. For the opposition of active and passive poles is itself sublated in the general form. Now there is reci- procity of forces, to be concretised in the money-form, such that it is useless to ponder whether commodity-value expresses itself only in money or whether money attracts commodities to it only because it counts as value as such.

The general form is an advance on the simple form in which the positing of the equivalent as value is the result of the activity of the commodity in rela- tive form, hence not self-posited. With the general form, reached through the dialectic of force and expression, the original commodity A, now the universal equivalent, retains its active rôle in expressing itself through its relations to the other commodities, but now instead of positing them as its equivalents it posits itself as theirs; moreover just as it is, so it is value incarnate. In no way should the general form be read as a set of simples, neglecting the logic of the reversal, because in the simple form the equivalent is passive but the universal equivalent actively determines itself to the position of value in autonomous form. This is the peculiarity of the equivalent-form raised to a higher power. Now the universal equivalent is posited as value-for-itself, a locus of intrinsic value.

The general form of value is a unity of form. To begin with we have this con- trast between the sensuous appearance (body of A) of a supersensuous world of value behind the body of the commodities (such as B, C, D, and so on). This ‘kingdom of laws’ is a ‘first intelligible world’ (‘intelligible’ here can be under- stood in Kantian terms as what gives sense to the manifold of value-bodies by granting them this essential meaning). But in a second step it emerges that, as the universal equivalent, A in its sensuous immediacy is a ‘second intelligible world’ of value which contrasts with the supersensuous world of value that A originally posited behind B, and so on.12

12 For Hegel on the relation of these two worlds see Science of Logic, ‘The World of Appearance and the World-in-Itself ’ and ‘The Dissolution of Appearance’; also Phenomenology of Spirit, ‘Force and Understanding: Appearance and the Supersensible World’.

So the first world of value comprises the law-like expression of value in the body of A, and the second follows from the realisation that if value is now A, then this equivalent itself is not just the effect of the law of value as a force expressing itself in it, but is itself value in another shape, namely immediate value. Instead of (or as well as) value reflected back from the equivalent, the equivalent reflects value onto itself. Because commodity A as a sensuous real- ity is at the same time value, a second world of value is posited at the level of sensuousness, complementing the supersensuous one. These two worlds of value stand in an inverted relation to each other: in the first one value is different from use-value, whereas in the second one value is identified with a use-value-body, commodity A. The second value-world co-exists with the first in that the material body of the universal equivalent does not just reflect into a visible world the hidden original supersensuous world of value; it now, just as it is, counts as value in immediate shape.

Because the originating moment is preserved in sublated form we find the kingdom of value doubles into reflected and immediate totalities. In the uni- versal equivalent, value, originally defined in opposition to the use-value of A (hence a supersensuous reality), is now use-value A (a sensuous reality). This is outright identity of opposites (whereas, in the simple form, value, defined as not-use-value A, is given in use-value B, so it is supersensuous and sensuous at the same time, but in relation to two different commodities). The two worlds of value, the sensuous and supersensuous, are here immediately one; the very same commodity contains both worlds. They are essentially related. The com- modity is ‘a sensuous supersensuous thing’ (Marx).13

We might call Form III ‘a’ general form of value, because it is not yet deter- mined which commodity is the universal equivalent. For commodity B could follow the same route as A did, such that it ends up as the focus of a ‘general form’. Hence the universal equivalent posited in the intermediation of com- modities has not yet established its own ground to stand upon. A commodity functions as universal equivalent only if it alone successfully solicits the other commodities to recognise it as the only appropriate expression of their value. The universal equivalent must be a unique universal equivalent.

Let us lay out formally the problem (using abbreviated expressions):

13 ‘ein sinnlich übersinnliches Ding’: Marx 1976a [1867], pp. 163, 165 (translations corrected).


Form IV The Total Form of Value14

1) The total expanded form
The value of zA is yB or xC or wD etc.
or The value of yB is zA or xC or wD etc.
or The value of xC is zA or yB or wD etc.
or etc.
2) The total general form
The value of yB and xC and wD etc. is zA

or The value of zA and xC and wD etc. is yB

or The value of zA and yB and wD etc. is xC

or etc.

In this ‘total form’ there are two complementary moments: the total expanded form yields through its reversal the total general form. Implicit then in exchange-relations are a manifold of potential value-expressions. There are many potential points of origin such that we have multiple expanded forms. Since in each of these the expression ‘The value of A is B’ is matched by an expression ‘The value of B is A’ in another, they are exclusive of one another. A commodity in one instance is in relative position and in the rest is a partial equivalent. Likewise the multiple ‘general’ forms involve putting a commodity in equivalent-form once but relative form in all others. All these general forms are potential ways to actualise value. But, once again, these forms exclude one another.

In these sets of potential value-expressions we find many alternative worlds of value presented, but these cannot co-exist. Although these many universes of value are all possible, they are not compossible, yet we have not given ade- quate grounds for granting one of them actuality.

Let us now consider the transition from this impasse to money. As Marx says, the defect of the general form is that the universal-equivalent form can be assumed by any commodity. Yet there cannot be more than one universal equivalent if value is to be a unitary sphere, therefore some principle of selection must exclude all possibilities but one. Logically there is nothing to distinguish them. But the problem was solved when social custom excluded all commodities but one, suggests Marx. Historically gold was chosen although something else could have been. At all events the singularity of gold brings value-relations to a focus and creates a homogeneous value-space.

14 Compare Marx 1976b [1867], p. 33. This form of value appears only in the first edition of Capital (1867) and is thereafter suppressed.

Form V The Money-Form of Value

20 yardsof linen, 1 coat, 40 lbs. of coffee, 10 lbs. of tea, Half a ton of iron, etc.

 all express their value in an ounce of gold. 10 lbs.of tea

However, the transition to money is not at all an easy one. The steps in the argument are as follows:15

1)  It is possible formally that any commodity can serve as universal equivalent.

2)  Since any commodity could have served thus, that it is gold appears contingent.

3)  The one that is actually selected must make itself necessary to the system. (How the money-commodity achieves this is discussed below).

The existence of money depends on the existence of other commodities as its correlates, but if it acts as exchangeableness-in-immediacy then this media- tion vanishes. While these commodities are its analytical presuppositions, as value-for-itself money posits itself as not posited. It is to be taken at ‘face-value’. Gold as value-for-itself presupposes that there are commodities to be valued by it, but only with money are commodities posited as values in themselves. The upshot is that it is not commodities that are immediately values, and hence posit money as their mediated reflection; rather it is money that is determined as value in immediate shape, and thus reflects value into such commodities as prove themselves saleable. Value, as a unitary essence, is posited once money constitutes this unity of form in practice. Moreover only if the form of value is practically constituted does any material content become socially recognised, and commensurated, in it. Marx rightly says the key thing about money is that without it products ‘do not confront each other as commodities, but as use-values only’, not values.16

15  For these modal categories see Hegel 1991 [1817], §§143–7.

16  Marx 1976a [1867], p. 180.

This means that money presents the moment of their essential unity as values to them when acting as their unique universal equivalent. Value as one-and-many is posited more concretely when commodities both exclude the money-commodity from themselves and yet at the same time achieve an adequate expression of value only in so far as it is their common centre of attraction. Money as the ‘one One’ is the moment at which all attraction and repulsion is brought into a unitary focus.

However, for value to be actual requires not merely that there is the logical possibility that a money-commodity be the unique value-equivalent but that this uniqueness is effectively grounded. But is not the presence of money simply presupposed at this point? More especially, how does gold achieve its unique position here as the universal equivalent? By its own act! Money is always already the attractor of commodities because it has immediate exchangeabil- ity. This point needs more discussion. It is of no moment to enter into a histori- cal treatment of gold’s emergence as the money-commodity. The key issue for a systematic-dialectical presentation of this ‘fact’ is why gold is money now. In the systematic presentation of its rôle even the mediations logically presup- posed in its development vanish. The money-form of value links back to the simple form, having been developed from it by a series of metamorphoses that it must run through in order to win its finished shape. However, the presence of gold-money retroactively denies any other commodity the opportunity to ‘run through’ the dialectic of form to become money.

This brings us to the logic of exclusion. Initially, it seems that commodities must exclude one of their number to serve as the unique universal equivalent. Therefore if the money-commodity is excluded by the others the ‘fact’ that it is money only obtains through their activity. Thus we do not yet have gold exist- ing as money on its own account; it remains, in effect, contingent on that con- dition of its existence. But if we bear in mind that the dialectic of force and expression ends with the universal equivalent actively asserting itself as value- for-itself, then it seems better to ask how the activity of the money-commodity excludes itself from the other commodities, even if expositionally it appears otherwise.17

The answer is that money maintains itself as value in autonomous form against the other commodities; as their centre of attraction it prevents any other commodity taking its position just because it already acts as value in immediate form in virtue of fulfilling the money-functions, accordingly attracting other commodities to find a value-equivalent in it. It seems as if the

17 For Hegel on presupposed ‘condition’, ‘fact’ [Sache], and the grounding ‘activity’ that mediates them, see Hegel 1991 [1817], §§148–9.

other commodities excluded gold ‘in the first place’ but the boot is on the other foot once it becomes active on its own account. The alleged ‘effect’, namely the exclusion of the money-commodity by the other commodities, becomes the cause of itself when money posits the presupposition that it alone ‘was’ excluded virtually, by actually excluding any other claimant to its throne.

The reflection of commodities and money into each other is not merely a ‘positing reflection’ of value as in a mere correlation of relative and equiva- lent poles of value, for this lacks sufficient determinacy in that the position of the commodities could be reversed. Nor is it adequate to its existence that a certain commodity is given a privileged rôle through some ‘external’ stipula- tion, for example a state-issue of a ‘legal tender’. What is required to give value its self-subsistence is a ‘determining reflection’ in the required sense; once in actuality gold is exchangeableness in immediate shape, it posits itself as its own presupposition, instead of being posited by its presupposition, namely the commodity-manifold. Having sublated its virtual origin in the dialectic of the forms of value, it is not a passive measure of commodity-value, but has the sovereign power of immediate exchangeability with other commodities.

The point is not to show how a process of exclusion occurred, but to show that the logic of money is itself exclusionary. So, although it could be silver, not gold, in the imagination, in actuality the money-commodity is what it is. This seems a mouse of an argument, but this is a point where dialectic must acknowledge its limits: that money is gold, and how gold became so, is not a logical point. But the demonstration of what money is, in relation to commodi- ties, is a logical investigation. (Certainly dialectic cannot retroject its systemic logic into a historical force, wherewith the necessity of money to the present system makes itself into a speculative requirement that, originally, people act so as to fix a commodity as money).

It is necessary that there be money, but surely it is not necessary that money be a commodity. Yet in presenting the development of the value-form I pro- ceed to a money-commodity when seeking to actualise the universal-equivalent form. Why is this? The methodological reason is that each stage of a system- atic dialectic supersedes the previous one with a minimum of new material. In stabilising the previous determinations the new form requires only the minimum sufficient conditions for this, not necessary conditions. Thus I do not seek to show that gold is necessary to a capitalist economy (notwithstanding the present flight to gold). The point is that the systematic development can- not have credit-money come in straight away, when it is only later in the expo- sition that it may be developed on the basis that commodity-money already exists. At this level of commodity-relations it is sufficient to solve the present problem by positing a money-commodity. The logical development of the

necessity of money and its functions is required, and is carried forward, even if gold is here its contingent shell. Later the defects of gold may be addressed when the means to remedy them have been developed.

The Proper Measure of Value

Let us now explore the form-determinations that underpin the proper mea- sure of value.

When value appears in finitude its actuality is that of amount. Value as amount is existent as a sum of money, really distinct from other such sums, albeit identical with them as value, and is embodied in commodities of defi- nite worth. Such a sum of money is reflected into itself so that money presents value to us not in an equivalent (for which it has no need) but as equivalent to itself. In its self-identity value in money-form is ‘equal to itself ’; it has a reflexive relation to itself. Through its mediation commodities worth the same sum of money may, by abstraction from that, be said to be of equal worth. (Note that to derive the notion of ‘equal worth’ here may be to hypostatise an abstraction; still required is a substantive theory of what makes them of equal worth). But it would be quite wrong to say commodities are already of equal worth before money made possible such an equivalence-relation. In money value is equiva- lent to itself, whereas the commodity as value is not, because it requires an equivalent-form outside it.

The presence of money in such finite shapes allows a determinate measure of value to be applied. The category of real measure18 of value comprehends a triad of moments: a) immanent magnitude; b) monetary medium; and c) stan- dard of value.

Money has the form of a measuring-rod of value because of its self-equiv- alence (just as a ruler is identical in length to itself ). Although it seems that measure presupposes a dimension within which things are measured, in our case the grounding movement is the reverse. It is the practice of measure that constitutes the dimensionality of value. Without it, the magnitude of value is mere immanence, implicitly quantitative but without any metric of its own. Money as real measure introjects the form of magnitude onto this immanence.

However, for value as an ‘immanent magnitude’ to gain an index of amount requires a suitable monetary medium, in which a real measure of the value

18 Hegel treats ‘real measure’ in the Doctrine of Being of his Logic, but we argued earlier it is better placed in the Doctrine of Essence, the level at which we are now.

of commodities is properly given. Value notionally has immanent magnitude, but this is formless unless there is a monetary medium that crystallises it and gives it phenomenal measure. To model the ideal immanence of value as an extended magnitude, the monetary medium, and its own measure, must pro- vide for homogeneity, additivity, divisibility, imperishability, transportability, and so forth. The use of gold is merely a stepping-stone toward perfecting this. Although in the medium of gold this function of measure is effected materi- ally, the key requirement is merely that the medium allows for measure, that it makes present in finite form value as an amount of itself; it is clear this may be done formally in paper-denominations, even if the metric is merely notional as in dollar-bills.

Money not only gives the measure but through this it enables commodi- ties to gain the quality of being measurable. In the ordinary way this is not an issue; a thing has weight prior to its relation to the proper measure of its weight. But in our case practice imposes the abstract form of measure on com- modities. Value is not a substance with a given dimensionality, requiring only a numeraire to set up a system of measure. Value gains an immanent magnitude only when the form of measure is practically applied and grounds the required quantitative dimension. In order to give the measure its operational actuality many Marxists believe it must be a product of labour, because it must be of the same nature as what is measured, just as weight is measured in a balance by standard ‘weights’ (but note the use of a spring-balance). However, here we are considering measure as pure form corresponding to our presentation of value as pure immanence. The pure form of measure requires simply a linear metric such that four dollars are worth twice two dollars.

Money as measure of value grounds the imputation that value exists as a magnitude immanent to commodities. The monetary medium is not so much a suitable measuring-rod for a pre-existing magnitude; it gives a space for value to constitute itself as a magnitude.19 However, the measure-function of money simply provides the form of commensuration. How the actual magnitudes are determined is another question. (In my view the magnitude of value remains indeterminate until conceptualised as the result of capitalist competition). But if there is some determination of magnitude it is nugatory unless the money- form provides the dimension of magnitude in the first place.

19 I follow Reuten 2010 in bringing to the fore the category of ‘monetary medium’. He speaks of money as a ‘hypostatic union’ of measure and medium. This is similar to the present discussion, but I prefer to say it is money as measure that unites magnitude, medium and standard.

It is also necessary to distinguish the medium of value required for magni- tude to become a monetary measure from that of the standard of value. Thus if the monetary measure is gold, this still leaves the standard pound of gold to be determined. The index of magnitude of the standard then models the posited dimensionality of the immanent magnitude.

This concretises the presupposition of a single measure that was unfulfilled at the level of mere exchange-values of commodities, which failed to unify the commodities in a single order. We may now speak of money as the value- measure proper and, if it takes shape in a medium with an index of amount, we have a workable system of measurement.

This means the value of a commodity appears as less than, equal to or more than the value of another. Money makes commodities comparable in value. However, there is more to money than this measure-function. Value, although taking finite mode in sums of money or as embodied in commodi- ties, is not fully individuated. Sums of money must be numerically different one from another, but notice that this difference is purely notional. For this numerical difference in sums of money is equally sublated in a combined sum of money when the different amounts merge into one amount. ‘Bits’ of money are ideally attracted into one, but are notionally distinguished by a notional repulsion materially effected by the bearers of value. Two different accounts, each containing 10 dollars, achieves the necessary separation of amounts of value by purely formal means. But notice that if I have 10 dollars in an account, and I enter a further 10, I do not have two ‘10s’, as if the account were a cash- box; I have a single sum of 20 dollars, so here the moment of pure magnitude takes precedence over that of numerical difference; even so I can re-divide the amount by withdrawing, say, 12 dollars.

Commodities come, of course, in incommensurable physical amounts. But their money-values are not merely commensurable, such that the relative worth of commodities may be compared; they are additive. A heterogeneous basket of commodities cannot be (bodily) merged, but their ideality as value allows money to do so. As a homogeneous amount of value what they are worth together may be stated as one sum of money. Nor is the summing achieved by abstraction as when one cat and one dog make two animals. Values are not distinguishable from one another except in magnitude, hence there is no need to abstract from qualitative difference in order to sum them; conversely pure magnitude is not sufficient to separate them, for ideally they merge to form one magnitude. But as embodied, for example, in coin, value is peculiar in that the magnitudes are both ideally one yet materially many numerically.

This practical fact that all ‘values’ may merge into one sum of money shows value is one substance, not a class of independently existing substances. Value is a substance, incarnated in money, and is the (social) substance of commodities. Since value is a substance Marx can properly speak of the ‘metamorphoses’ of commodities (how a substance, here value, changes shape in finite mode), and also can characterise capital as a ‘self-moving substance’.20 Moreover money as capital allows value to appear as a substance that can be accumulated.

To conclude: I underline that the systematic presentation of the value-form moves from simple abstract categories to ones less so. To begin with we iden- tified value with the elementary quality of exchangeableness; we ended by showing that value is a unitary substance incarnated in money.

20 Marx 1976a [1867], p. 256.


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