At the level of ‘Being’ the aim was to say what a commodity is, but if commodities are to subsist in an orderly universe then we must presuppose that, underlying them, there is something common to them, an immanent exchangeability. Exchangeability is a quality that necessarily has a quantitative determinacy. However, thus far it is here taken without considering how it achieves a definite magnitude in its own terms, but only in contingent exchange-values. The immanence of exchangeability takes the set of exchange-values as distinct specifications of it. (With the move to essence we have in effect a doubling of reality, ultimately to be registered in the doubling of the commodity into commodities and money.) This requires the reflection of exchange-value into itself so as to ground it in an underlying ‘value’. But, if ‘essence’ must appear in a law-like fashion if it is to validate itself, then the ‘forms of appearance’ of value must succeed in positing value itself. The actuality of value is finally posited only in the money form of value. I show that, not only is money its measure, but that money constitutes value as grounded on itself in an ideal social substance. This chapter has the following structure: §21 Value as Immanent Exchangeability; §22 Value as Appearance; §23 Value as Actuality.
§21 Value as Immanent Exchangeability
Immanent exchangeability I term ‘value’ now we have made the transition to the category of ‘essence’, so that we can speak of value as the essence of the commodity. I now develop value as of the essence of the commodity and consider the forms in which it is made manifest. At the level of Essence the immediacies of Being themselves pass over to a sphere of relation and reflection; here Value-as-Essence defines itself in opposition to the immediacy of exchange-value, reducing the latter to mere existence as defined in opposition to essence.
Let us review how we determine value as ‘essence’. I take the ‘abstract equivalence’ of the measures to result in ‘indifferentness’ to all categories of Being. Behind Being lies Essence. Thus it might be that value as such lies behind the set of exchange-values. If it were presupposed that value is the essence lurking within the shell of the commodity then it would appear in exchange-value. But such an assumption has to be vindicated in the further development of the presentation. Exchange-value is the immediately given presupposition of value in the first place. Whence this value? The worry here is that ‘value’ is my abstraction; so the movement of commodities themselves must show that value determines itself to be of the essence of commodity relations. I show that value results from the reflection of exchange-value into the commodity.
This is achieved in the following triad:
§21.1 Exchange-Value reflected into the commodity,
§21.2 Reflex-Determinations of Value (Identity, Difference, Contradiction),
§21.3 Value grounded on the value form.
§21.1 Exchange-Value Reflected into the Commodity
If exchange-value is reflected into the commodity to posit it as in essence value, equally such value must show that it is present. However, there is an inherent ambiguity of the term ‘show’. On the one hand it has a positive sense in such phrases as ‘showing forth’. Yet it has a negative sense in ‘make a show’ of something. Both these are relevant, when immanent exchangeability both shows itself, and at the same time opposes itself to what is a mere semblance of the truth that resides ‘behind the scenes’ of the show, so to speak.
If it is presupposed that the commodity has something essential about it, then it has value in itself distinct from the relativity of exchange-value. But, when I presuppose that the commodity has an essence, initially the distance between essence and appearance appears unbridgeable because we took unity of measure to be indifferent to the contingent specifying measures. Although they are analytically presupposed, value is to be taken apart from them. Hence there seems no true unity of the two sides of the relation. So it seems that value is to be deemed essential and exchange-value thus inessential, a mere semblance of value, subject to extraneous influences, whereas value as such is the truth abiding within the shell of the commodity. Value posits itself against exchange-value, as it were. But for value to be counterposed to its presuppositions in this way neglects the fact that, at the same time, it has its real being precisely in them, that the sides reflect each other.
The development of the category of reflection is as follows:
§21.11 positing reflection; §21.12 external reflection; §21.13 determining reflection.
In ‘positing reflection’ essence and appearance presuppose each other; in ‘external reflection’ the value essence is taken as given, but it lacks immanent determination; in ‘determining reflection’ the supposed immanence of value makes itself explicit through its own movement.
§21.11 Positing Reflection
Essence posits itself immediately against what is inessential and in this way posits itself. Positing reflection is self-relating negativity in that essence is defined against the inessential semblance as not that immediacy. But, if essence is to be real, it must make itself manifest in existence. It requires the mediation of that immediacy from which it is reflected. Thus value, and exchange-value, simultaneously constitute one another as their opposing term, and undermine themselves insofar as each term has to presuppose the other’s truth without good reason for doing so. Neither side can make itself the ground of the relation.
Let us consider the argument in more detail. When Being is reflected into itself to constitute an essence for itself, and Essence in turn shows itself in Being, this movement amounts to a new ‘Becoming’. This absolute negativity is the constitutive moment. It is a positing movement wherewith one side of the commodity posits the other as its truth; something has founded itself on something else; both, though, belong to the same thing; there is here self-relation in this reflective movement.
The immanence of value implies an opposite, a surface being, against which value determines itself as essential, at first therefore as contrasted with what is inessential to it (contingent exchange-values). But something is essential only if it is self-mediated and thus contains its other within it. Yet what is distinct from essence, as other than it, has its own identity and immediacy. Hence the sphere of essence is – here and throughout – a still imperfect connection of immediacy and mediation.
The dialectic of such reflection is a hall of mirrors in which value itself is never fixed. If it is presupposed that exchange-values are valid then they express value-in-itself. But if exchange-value is nothing without value-as-essence, and yet value-as-essence is nothing but what appears as exchange-value, there results an oscillation from nothing to nothing. Each reflects the other but, from a logical point of view, it is the reflective movement of nothingness to nothingness, and back. The relation falls to the ground unless value-as-essence is itself posited distinctly from value-as-appearance.
In one sense the oscillation is conformable with our presentation of value as pure form developing itself from an empty presence. Given the wavering between the essential and the inessential, it is never clear which side of the value relation may legitimately be presupposed without waiting to be posited by what it itself presupposes. So the question arises as to whether we can find a form in which the mutual presupposing of value and exchange-value may be posited by fixing value as essence, i.e. making real a form of immanent exchangeability.
§21.12 External Reflection
If we suppose that there is such a value essence then it is unproblematic to say that it exists only if it reflects itself through exchange-value. However, if this positing arises simply from an external reflection on the set of exchange-values, which yields value in abstraction from it, this reduction means value-as-essence has not yet, in its movement, posited itself as of the essence. What is required, then, is that value itself posits exchange-value as its presupposition and, therewith, posits itself. We require a ‘determining reflection’.
§21.13 Determining Reflection
Initially it seems that exchange-value is presupposed as a valid form, and value is taken as what must underlie it, if it is to be more than semblance, thus posited as the exchange-value manifesting the commodity’s intrinsic value. The unity of positing and external reflection is determining reflection in which something gives itself reality through its own activity of positing its presupposition as immediacy, thus ensuring it is mediated within their very relation. Determining reflection combines two opposed moments. In one the essential does not go outside itself because what is posited only refers back to essence; the posited is the inessential against which essence defines itself negatively; in the other moment, what is posited is reflected within itself, defined by, but not reduced to, its origin, for it must be distinct to be real.
Below, exchange-value is shown to be a moment of value. As such, it is not the mere semblance of value, but the immediate reality facing exchangers. To be sure, they may consider that the prevailing rate of exchange is all that value amounts to; they do not see exchange-value as the appearance of an underlying value. But equally wrong is to view exchange-value as an insubstantial veil of the underlying value; for essence must appear. This is true, even though the appearance of appearance necessarily has the form of immediate reality.
§21.2 Reflex-Determinations of Value
If value-in-itself underpins the superficial ratios of exchange such that the exchange-value measures are posited, this presupposition requires the commodity to reflect its exchange-values into itself. At the most abstract level, that of pure positing reflection, this is a movement of absolute negativity, from nothing to nothing and back again. The commodity defines its value, only through positing that its value is not what it is not (exchange-value), an essence that is purely empty. If, however, it had some determinate value relation, such that what it is not is some determinate other commodity, then we may take its essence to be posited through such a determining reflection in which the commodity itself determines that which is to count as its appropriate expression. 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 therefore the contradiction that value is, and is not, found in the commodity. The value form in which one commodity expresses its value in another commodity gives the contradiction an ideal ground allowing co-existence of the moments, we shall show.
§21.3 The Value Form
In the form of value, the value that cannot be identified with the use-value of the commodity is presented in what is not the commodity, namely the ‘opposite’ commodity, excluded by the first commodity, albeit formally similar to it. The other commodity now counts as the bearer of the value of the first commodity. This is the ground-form of value as essence. Next to be developed are its determinations.
Remark Here I analyse the way the value of one commodity appears as the body of another. The possibility of such reflection of one in another requires the relation of two commodities. The very existence of such commodities is taken as given at the start. But this is a condition that is secured when capital produces these commodities. In general, our exposition of the capital system tries to determine how far capital can reproduce its material conditions of existence.
The commodity cannot relate to itself as a value but only as use-value; if the value gains its being in something else, not the commodity, then this other seems after all to be what is essentially value. In the logic, such a contradiction may subsist as such if it has a ground supporting it. A ground allows the thing to have both an affirmative and negative nature and exist as their unity. For us, the ground which allows the commodity to be determined as value in both affirmative and negative senses is thus the value form. The claim of a commodity to be value-in-itself is secured only in what it is not, namely another commodity standing over against it as its exchange-value. Because its identity with itself is wholly mediated in this contradictory manner this is a long way from value existing for itself. The value that the commodity cannot contain in itself it yet can affirm once it is reflected in another commodity, therewith there is posited the presupposition that the first is value-in-itself. So value exists here only in the value form, namely in the relation of value to itself allowed by it.
Remark We digress to remark on the peculiar character of the dialectic of capital, which, it must be remembered, does not exist in identitarian thought but in objective relations. As we have expounded it, the difference of a commodity from itself is given by reference to another commodity which is determined as the bearer of the value of the first commodity. In itself the original commodity remains a material body supporting its use-value character. However, use-value considerations proper appear later in our presentation.
In its very constitution value is opposed to the bodily shape sustaining use-value. However, in the value form, we find the value not found in the body of A is borne by that of B. Analytically the ideality of the commodity, and its materiality, are abstract opposites that fall apart. But, within the value form, which exists in the relation of commodity to commodity, instead of falling apart, the opposing determinations of the commodity are reflected against one another.
In the simple opposition of value to use-value, in which it is understood that, when considering the commodity as value, it is not considered as use-value, there is missed the subtlety characterising my own approach, in which value is constituted as the not-use-value. Given that this opposition is constitutive in character, it underpins the otherwise arbitrary claim that the second commodity, as not identical with the body of the first, is hence a body in which value is to be affirmed, whereas in the body of A the value exists only negatively, as what the body of the commodity is not.
For us value is from the start logically opposed to use-value while yet related to it, just because it is constituted in this infinitely negative relation to the material properties of the commodity. Thus value is only present in A as absence and it thus achieves positive presence in what it is related to as not-A, namely B. Value is affirmed in commodity B just because it is negated in A. The value form as a whole sublates the contradiction that the commodity is, and is not, value.
If the value of commodity A is B this determinacy allows value to be both not-A (i.e. its determinate negation) and yet appear as B. Commodity B is materially not A, yet, affirmed as the value of A, it is thereby formally posited as ‘not-A’. But commodity A determined as not-B reflects ‘not-A’ into itself. There cannot obtain an immediate contradiction within commodity A, but in its relation to commodity B this richer form allows the contradiction to subsist; it gives it space to unfold. For now the value of commodity A, as not-not-A, is posited through this negation of the negation.
Although commodity B must be a specific commodity it is also true that no particular one is required. For all that is required here is a purely numerical difference from A, so any relevant commodity serves if it stands opposite commodity A in the value form. The actual commodity B is specific as a use-value but here this use-value has no bearing on the manifestation of the value of A, its specificity being purely notional.
Remark Although a being may be grounded on its essential nature, it may yet have other conditions of existence not part of that essence. If, however, such conditions of existence are brought within the totality that it is, then, while every element may be conditioned by every other, the whole is unconditioned. In effect this is true only of what is actual. However, when all such conditions obtain the thing has immediate existence. For us, at this level, the only condition of existence required is that there be two commodities in relation. We do not yet know what other conditions of existence value may require, nor even the origin of the said commodities.
§22 Value as Appearance
I showed that value-in-itself appears as value-for-itself, when the contradiction that value is and is not ‘in’ the commodity is sublated by allowing the value of a commodity to appear in another, as value ‘for-itself’, as well as ‘in-itself’. Value, grounded in the value form, is present as a relatedness. In developing the dialectic of the value form I pass first to Value as Existent (§22.1). Following the completion of the triad of ‘existence’ with ‘law of appearance’, I thematise the ‘world in itself’ and the ‘world of appearance’, under which find their place the logic of the so-called ‘forms of value’, namely the expression of value in simple, expanded, and general, forms (§22.2). Finally we consider the correlation of these two worlds made manifest in the unity of the value form (§22.3).
§22.1 Value as Existent
In its ground-form, value subsists as a relatedness of one commodity to another. This immediacy is now reflected into itself, such that it is underpinned by the presupposition that it obtains because – just as immediately – value is existent.
The forms of existence of value are: §22.11 value as a relational property of a ‘thing’; §22.12 form and content; §22.13 value as law-like.
§22.11 Value as (Relational) Property of a ‘Thing’
Up to now we have been considering value as arising in the relation of two commodities. This is more securely grounded if the relation springs from something that exists as value such that the relation springs from a relational property of the existent, here nominated as generally as possible as ‘thing’. This remains an immanent determinant, even if at the outset this is no more than a placeholder for a determinate existence of what has the property. However, we now presuppose that the form of value springs from a relational property (that is only apparent in its relations, of course). We thus posit value as what a ‘thing’ has (just as a coat keeps us warm because it is ‘a warm coat’). But a property of what? – Not exactly of a commodity because its material properties are relevant only to use-value. Thus in our logic of pure form there is nothing to which such a property attaches other than value-in-itself.
The question addressed here is: what is it for value to exist? If we say there is an entity that has value, this leaves such a thing as a formless substrate. In truth, the latter is in effect non-existent; all that exists is the movement from value-in-itself to its appearance and back again. The thing that ‘has’ value is no-thing, simply value as a relation metonymically substantiated into its bearer; albeit the material commodity bears this designation. Value is its own substrate and this movement from value-in-itself to value-for-itself just is the structure that determines value as existent. There is an identity between the putative ‘thing’ and its putative ‘property’ in this reflection.
But how does form relate to what has this form? For value to relate to itself as such requires its double-sidedness as a form. It cannot exist as essentially value with no determinate relation to how it appears phenomenally. If the commodity is supposed to contain value-in-itself this cannot be posited as such if it has no determinate relation to how the thing-in-itself appears to other things.
If the relatedness of the value form is considered all-important then it might seem that to form belongs everything determinate, in contrast to the relative indeterminacy of that which is formed. The latter is so indeterminate it has no reality except that of putative bearer of its property. So if form is taken as the determining principle then this is what makes the commodity a value. What is left over from form is simply a ‘thing-in-itself’ posited by form itself but in effect nugatory.
Moreover, since any determinacy of the form comes from the context of the commodity’s interactions with others in apparently contingent ways, it seems there can be no law intrinsic to the commodity expressed in such relations. On the other hand form cannot be simply a contingent addition to the thing; it requires the form so that what is essentially value reflects itself therein, such that it appears to other commodities and for itself. Both moments are essential to the value form. We now explore further the developing relation of these sides to show how value gains determinate existence.
§22.12 Form and Content
If we take seriously the idea that the form of value has something of which it is the appropriate form then we might construe this element to be value as the matter of the form. But this gives form to matter in a purely external way (a verbal ‘fix’, so to speak). Matter is the passive side over against form as the active side. The form gives shape to something material but which is essentially alien to it. If a blackmailer sells his negatives we have one relationship – of power – taking shape as another – the commodity form. (Later we shall argue that such cases are significant economically when labour power and land take commodity form, without their being genuine commodities.)
If the activity of form translates itself to its matter, such that we have a unity in which what is formed is just as much determining as is the form, then the form becomes determining through its other, now become a content. The value content is such because it has implicitly its form as its essential complement.
The value form is explicitly active in determining the commodity as exchangeable against another commodity, but the value content is implicitly determining of what the commodity is in itself. But it is perfectly possible, because of the very character of form as the external shape of value, that the form be empty. Indeed there may be no value content at all. Thus, on the one hand, if the form is inwardly reflected, it is the content; on the other hand, as not reflected inwardly, it is an external existence that is indifferent to the content.
Another consequence of this uncertainty is that the mere commodity form of an object does not guarantee that the value contained is adequately expressed. Its expression may vary from value because of other determinations affecting its appearance. When form internalises itself as content adequate to it, and content perfectly appears as form then both sides are in effect formed as value, but as different moments of the law which expresses their correspondence.
Remark This presupposition of the identity of form and content is not yet posited. This is accomplished only at the level of ‘absolute relationship’ (see §23.32/3).
Note here that we are not dealing with the original separation between the ideality of the value form and the material content bearing it, and regulated by it, but with establishing the complementarity of value-as-form with value-as-content. This doublet, as such, still allows for the possibility of inessential form (e.g. a gingerbread man). In such a case the phenomenon is not determined as an essential existence, rooted in a law intrinsic to the thing, but is ‘determined by another’ (for example supply and demand).
§22.13 Value as Law-like
Law makes the existent essential existent instead of a mere combinatory of essence and existence. If value is to take the shape of a content adequate to its form, and content appear in the form proper to it, then this must be posited. Then both sides are formed as value but as different moments of it, wherewith the inner value is expressed in its proper form of appearance.
If law acts as a force, there is not just a contingent fit of form and content, but a necessary correspondence. Both sides are forms of value because they are fully unified in a law of their relation which informs them despite their distinction. Each, as it were, contains its other. An adequate relation of form and content allows value to appear in law-like fashion. But if there is no content, there is no such law, and value relations are subject to contingency; but the possibility of a mismatch, between form and what is formed, should not be generalised such that the value form is necessarily fathomless.
Remark Note that reference to ‘law’ here does not mean any determinate principle is yet provided, merely that for the first time in the logical development of categories we speak of value as characterised by some sort of law-governed exhibition of itself without at present knowing what exactly governs this. What is at issue at this point of our presentation is simply the development of the form of law, as a requirement of the actuality of value, that the relation of content and form is law-like, but as yet without any determinacy – certainly without any knowledge of magnitudes. The point is simply that for value to be essential to the commodity there must be determinacy in the relation of content and form.
§22.2 The Forms of Appearance of Value
I showed earlier that value presented itself in the relatedness of a commodity to another. Thence I treated the determinate existence of value as a unity of content and form. More specifically I argued that for value to appear properly required a law-like relation obtains between them. So this is presupposed here. However, thus far, value-as-essence is not yet disentangled from the mutual positing of the two sides. It does not yet achieve self-groundedness. It is not present for-itself in a shape distinct from a ‘property’ attributed to every commodity when related to others. We shall next see that the actuality of value may be dialectically developed precisely from the form of value itself.
I now turn then to the forms of appearance of value. In the ordinary way there is nothing wrong with thinking of a unitary essence expressing itself in different appearances. The problem here is that no unitary essence is yet posited, although there needs to be if value is to be present in the manifold commodity relations.
Remark 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 of form, because all forms are adequate expressions of value, and all that is required is to show how the money commodity emerges as a numeraire.
What is needed here is to identify value as the essence of commodities precisely in order for it to be posited as present in a context in which we appear to have pure relatedness of externally given commodities which share no inner essence. The lack of a given inner essence is here to be made good by the positing of value as essence in the dialectic of this relatedness itself. Since ‘essence must appear’ in order to exist at all, the development of the category of ‘appearance’ is not a consequence of essence but its constitution along with essence itself, as two worlds of value correlated with each other. We now develop the forms of appearance of value. We shall employ the dialectic of ‘force and expression’ in this.1
§22.21 The Simple Form of Value
At first sight it seems the simplest expression of value implicit in commodity-relations exhibits value adequately.2
Form I The Simple Form 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). The commodity in relative form is the ‘active’ pole of the expression, because that is the commodity whose value is to manifest itself, and the commodity in equivalent form is the ‘passive’ pole, because it serves merely as the material shape of the value of A. It is important to notice that the commodity in equivalent form appears there not as a value (because its value is not being expressed) but simply in its bodily shape.
Because the first commodity plays an active role, and the second a passive one, it is impossible for the same commodity to play both roles at the same time. These forms rather exclude each other as polar opposites. This means that the alternative expression, ‘The value of yB is zA’, is materially opposed to ‘The value of zA is yB’, because in that case B is the active force that makes manifest its value. Both opposed expressions are abstractly possible; but once one commodity has taken the active role it cannot coherently be put as passive equivalent at the same time, because value needs a simple unitary way of expressing itself throughout the whole value space; in effect A and B would then be unstable disruptive forces in this field until one is fixed in relative and one in equivalent form.
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 commodity 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 the body of 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 B. The ‘peculiarity’ of the commodity in equivalent form is that its sensuous 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 (of A); it is a supersensuous realm; but in its appearance it is a sensuous reality, the body of B.
The reason for the peculiarity of the equivalent form is that the body of B, as not that of A, acts as value because the value of A is defined as not-use-value-A. The value of A cannot be found in its own body. Turn and twist it as we may, value is not found in its sensuous body; if it has value at all it must be a supersensuous determination. But the supersensuous world of value absent in the body of A is made present in the sensuous body of the equivalent commodity. (However, the identity posited in this relation requires further grounding.)
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 universality of its expression implied by the presupposition 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 commodity B that would grant it a rôle as a privileged interlocutor of A. One could have taken A’s relation to C, or to D, under review, because A might just as well express its value in any other available commodity. B lacks the requisite comprehensiveness to present the world of value in autonomous form to A. There is equally possible the form: ‘The value of x of A is expressed in z of C’. Similar expressions of the value of ‘x of A’ hold for all existent commodities.
§22.22 The Expanded Form of Value
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 remains 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 problem 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 the value of A. 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 deficiency could be interpreted only as a lack of common measure. But such a common essence is not yet constituted.
§22.23 The General Form of Value
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.
‘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 commodity A’s equivalents is reversed such that A is the common point of reference.
Another meaning of ‘reversal’ takes it that what is reversed is the original expression 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. I take the activity of the commodity in relative form as expressing its value through exerting a force on its opposite. This dialectic of ‘force and expression’ 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; however, 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 necessary 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 two moments of a whole relation and share a common content.
Just so, if commodity A expresses its value in a definite amount of commodity B, at the same time it is enabled by B to reflect on its nature as value. B solicits A to recognise it as the means whereby value may be realised. It follows that commodity A, just insofar as it posits commodity B as its own equivalent, conversely 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 equivalent 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 determining commodity B, C, D, etc. as the expression of value, because it cannot be found in the body of A, to commodity A determining itself as containing the value essence, 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 Value
y of commodity B
express their value in z of commodity A
and x of commodity C
and w of commodity D
and so on and so forth
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 considered an original one-sided relation of B, C and D, to A. It preserves its active 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.
Remark For the sake of continuity with Marx’s discussion I use the term ‘universal equivalent’. This may appear out of place because I follow a strictly logical development of categories in which value as universal is to be discussed when I reach value as Concept. Strictly speaking, before that I should use the expression ‘common’. However, the locution ‘universal’ may be justified here if we bear in mind that the term is used at the level of the doctrine of essence to mean no more than what a class of items have in common as opposed to their singularity, a way of speaking that is congruent with the level at which we are currently working.
As its reversal the general form is a more complex form than the expanded form, implicitly preserving it, more precisely dialectically sublating it. The defects formerly noticed (that the simple form is not general and the expanded form lacks unity) are overcome here because A is the unitary form of value of all commodities, their 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 reciprocity of forces.
It is not a question of different owners offering competing determinations of value such that ‘the value of A is B’ is countered by ‘the value of B is A’. These different, indeed contrary, locations of the appearance of value cannot coexist within a consistently framed universe of value. The solution is that commodity A determines itself to the position of universal equivalent by a process of negation of negation (which differs from a flat contradiction). First value is located not in A but in B (i.e. not-A), then seen not in B but in not-B (i.e. in not not-A) i.e. A. Likewise this dialectical understanding of the form of value shows that the simple form and the expanded form are not false starts to be discarded once the general form is found; they are moments in the fully-developed form, sublated in it.
Originally the activity of the commodity A in relative form seems to generate the resulting peculiarity of the equivalent form; after the reversal of the expanded form, the general form allows commodity A now to be active as the universal equivalent form, and to posit itself as two worlds of value, reflecting value back to the generality of commodities just because it is itself value in a peculiarly immediate form.
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 relative 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 counts as 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.
The singularity of the universal equivalent makes commodities socially commensurate in a homogeneous value space for the first time. By this form, commodities are, for the first time, really brought into relation with each other as valuable.
The dialectic of the value form has now generated an important result. In the simple form the notion of the peculiar role played by the equivalent is already implicit, but it is still difficult to keep hold of the polarity of the expression. But now we see the expanded form and the general form are massively different in their practical implications. To reverse the expression alters its whole character. Before, it was A that endeavoured to express its value in alternative equivalent commodities: now the other commodities all express their value in a unitary form, namely in A. Other commodities are validated as value by it.
The peculiarity of the equivalent form is raised to a higher power in the universal equivalent form because it seems to posit itself as immediately value, as value-for-itself, a locus of intrinsic value. This gives it a ‘fetish-character’. The fetish-character of the commodity is distinguished from ‘the fetishism’ of commodities, in the following way: a thing acquires a fetish-character when it has socially imputed to it a power it (really) has only as a consequence of its objective positing as such, but where the social determinations are hidden in the objectivity of the form; fetishism occurs when that power is taken in social consciousness as natural to it.3
The fetish-character of the commodity has ‘objective validity’. The gold fetish is a very clear example. But what is decisive here is the ideality of the form not the particular material that is posited as the bearer of the form by the relations within which it is inscribed. Yet the role of gold as value in autonomous form is objectively posited and therewith effectively functions as such because it bears this form-determination. This fetish-character becomes outright fetishism when gold is taken to be by nature uniquely valuable.
In origin, developed from the simple form, the universal equivalent is a mediated immediacy; but the mediations giving rise to it vanish. Taken equally immediately by social consciousness, gold, just as it is, seems immediately given as inherently valuable. Such a naturalisation of a socially constituted objectivity is full blown fetishism. Notice the other commodities are not so fetishised in consciousness because everyone knows commodities need to prove themselves valuable by their ability to draw money in exchange. But, insofar as this occurs, and they bask in its reflected glory, they may also be taken to have been valuable before this social acceptance. (See §23.32/23.)
§22.3 Correlation of Immediate and Reflected Totalities
The general form of value is a unity of form. To begin with we have this contrast 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). If the relations of B, C, D, etc. to A are in accord with their law of appearance then this ‘supersensuous realm’ is a ‘first intelligible world’ of value. (‘Intelligible’ here can be understood in Kantian terms as what gives sense to the manifold of value-bodies by granting them this essential meaning.) There is now given a split between the level of the sensuously accessible surface of things and a kingdom of laws at the level of the supersensuous.
Remark This law-like connection is not the mere conjunction of variables in the nomological conception of law characteristic of empiricist ideology, but their essential relation.
So the first world of value comprises the law-like expression of value in the body of A. 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 was originally posited behind B, C, and so on.
The presence of the second world follows from the realisation that if value is now A, then this equivalent itself is not just the effect of 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 reality 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 opposed to the bodily appearance of commodities, whereas in the second one value is identified with a specific body, that of 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 realm of value doubles into reflected and immediate totalities. In the universal equivalent, value, originally defined in opposition to the body of A (hence a supersensuous reality), is now A (a sensuous reality). This is outright identity of opposites (whereas, in the simple form, value, defined as not A, is given in 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 (that in universal equivalent form) contains both worlds. They are essentially related. Value is a sensuous supersensuous ‘thing’, in which one pole – value as the hidden essence – is made manifest in law-like fashion in the other pole as a sensuous reality, but equally the latter itself makes present the immediacy of value.
In sum it is the very same world of value that is divided into the reflected totality and the immediate totality, they are essentially related, or correlative. However, these moments are unified in form not only because the universal equivalent contains them both, but each contains the other; for each is senseless unless incorporating reference to its other.
This insight is verified by considering what happens if each of these shapes of value is taken without its other. If it is said that value is exhausted only in the full range of partial equivalents, then it is obvious enough that this chaotic manifold lacks the synthesising unity established through reversal whereby they are given a universal equivalent without which they are not formed as values. What is less obvious is that the converse also holds. If the universal equivalent claims to be value over against the other commodities as mere use-values, it too collapses to formlessness. It cannot be value for itself unless there is something posited as value in itself to which it gives form. Each side is the opposite of its opposite and includes it, rather than bounded by it, so there is here an infinite identity of value.
It may seem as if the original combination of use-value and value in the commodity were here externalised through a doubling of the commodity into commodities embodying use-value and the universal equivalent commodity embodying value. But value is a form which relates the two. Nonetheless there is a doubling of value here, with the reflected totality of value and the immediate totality coexistent. In sum, each totality on its own being mere formlessness, value exists only in their unity.
But how is this unity of form really held together? That is what we next show. This section has developed the opposition of essence and appearance to the point at which we now see there is nothing in essence that is not in appearance, and nothing in appearance that is not in essence. With the general form the diverse commodities are posited through the universal equivalent as a unity in essence, just as much as the universal equivalent is itself posited as the essence of the value presupposed in them. The unity of essence and appearance is ‘actuality’.
§23 Value as Actuality: Money
The general form of value supersedes shapeless essence (value-in-itself) and unstable appearance (the indefinitely large set of particular equivalents in which value may or may not find expression for itself). But it will be shown in this section that value in-and-for-itself is actual only when money incarnates the universal expression of value. This is the way value itself appears in actuality as the law-like phenomenal existence of the value of commodities. The triad of Value as Actuality is as follows:
§23.1 The modalities of the equivalent form (covering possibility, contingency, and necessity), including Form IV total form of value; §23.2 Money as the absolute form of value, Forms V & VI; §23.3 Value as absolute relation, Form VII.
§23.1 Modalities of the Equivalent Form
Form III above is merely ‘a’ general form of value, because it is not yet determined which commodity is the universal equivalent. For ‘commodity B’ could follow the same route as ‘A’ did above, such that it ends up as the focus of a ‘general form’. Hence the universal equivalent posited in the intermediation of commodities 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. Value must appear in a unique universal equivalent to be actual.
In developing the category of Value-as-Actuality I turn first to consider the modal categories: formal possibility, contingency, necessity. (Then I move to value as unique equivalent in an absolute relation, finally as ‘substance’.)
Actuality makes manifest essence in such a way that essence consists simply in being that which manifests itself. So value not only must appear if it is to be actual, it must appear as what it is, exchangeableness as such, namely that which is made manifest through the value form, the universal equivalent. However, because the difference between the commodity in universal equivalent form and the others is no difference, it seems arbitrary that one commodity rather than any other occupies this position. While the relation of identity and difference between those in relative form, and the universal equivalent, is perfectly intelligible as an abstract form, it requires a ground in a real differentiation between the commodities concerned.
If there is nothing to distinguish one commodity from another as value, the unfolding of the form of value generates two empty abstractions in the general form, namely the indeterminate identity supposed to be secured in value-for-itself and the manifold values-in-themselves. These empty abstractions require grounding to be effectively determining of their unity rather than merely formally correlative. The two worlds need to be one; but oneness is actual only if it is centred on a unique universal equivalent.
Notice that the putative universal equivalent posited in the intermediation of commodities has not yet established its own ground to stand upon. It is a mediated immediacy which contains in sublated form the process of its own production, in the dialectic of the forms of value, immanently. It functions as universal equivalent only if it successfully solicits the other commodities to recognise it as the only appropriate expression of their value. Indeed, the general form of value breaks down into a set of simple forms if the universal equivalent is not capable of carrying within itself its logical genesis through the reversal of the expanded form, such that it counts as the commodity actively projecting its value.
The supersession of this difference must not be a semblance of unity but a determinate actuality. To say the identity must be determinate is to say the universal equivalent must be a unique universal equivalent. Only then is value a manifest reality in which the ‘utterance’ of value is value itself. If we have merely the aforementioned empty abstractions their reflection into each other is the movement from nothing to nothing and back again.
Correlation is a still imperfect interpenetration of opposites because they do not reach identity. As I shall show shortly, they actually become one only if organised as a centred totality by money. Without it, the universal equivalent is not a true synthesis of essence and existence. The reflected and immediate totalities of value remain stuck in this movement from nothing to nothing unless there is something different about commodity A that allows it both to establish its negativity itself (rather than through an external reflection upon the relation), and moreover to exclude other commodities from running through this reflective movement to establish value-for-itself in their body. Beside the world in which A is of the essence, there are other worlds in which this same commodity A is only one of those in relative form, showing its value essence in some other universal equivalent.
Let us lay out formally the problem (using abbreviated expressions):
Form IV The Total Form of Expression of Value
The total expanded form
The value of zA is yB or xC or wD etc.
The value of yB is zA or xC or wD etc.
The value of xC is zA or yB or wD etc.
The total general form
The value of yB and xC and wD etc. is zA
The value of zA and xC and wD etc. is yB
The value of zA and yB and wD etc. is xC
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 alternative 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.
A commodity cannot possibly be in both forms at once if value is to achieve its essential unity. To speak proleptically, commodities cannot form prices of each other. This would be absurd. For value to be actual requires there is not merely the logical possibility that a commodity be the unique equivalent but that this uniqueness is effectively grounded. Only thus is value a reality. In these sets of potential value-expressions, many alternative worlds of value presented, but, although these many universes of value are all possible, they are not compossible. Yet I have not given adequate grounds for granting one of them actuality.
Determining reflection is not achieved in the dialectic of essence and appearance because as late as its final category of Correlation all we have is pure positing reflection, albeit the universal equivalent is supposed to be sufficient to make a value system self-referring.
The Total Form exhibits the systemic relationality of commodities; but there is no ground making determinate any one of its moments. This principle of uncertainty pervades this form, until one moment gains necessity, and by reaction upon them determines the actuality or otherwise of the rest.
Consider the transition from this impasse to money. 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 make just one possibility actual. Logically there is nothing to distinguish commodities. But the problem was solved historically by social custom. Gold was chosen to be the universal equivalent 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 (leaving other potential spaces unactual).
So the first section of Value as Actual determines the conditions of existence of the unique universal equivalent, namely money. However, the logical transition to it is not at all an easy one. The steps in the argument follow the modalities of value: namely possibility; contingency; and necessity.
it is possible formally that any commodity can serve as the unique universal equivalent;
since any commodity could have served thus, whichever it is, its status as unique seems merely contingent (on having been excluded for this purpose by the other commodities arbitrarily, or chosen by external fiat), not essential.
Thus to actualise value, the one that is selected must make itself necessary to the system.
The existence of money depends on the existence of other commodities as its correlates, but if it acts as exchangeableness-in-immediacy then this mediation vanishes. While these commodities are its analytical presuppositions, as value-for-itself money posits itself as not posited. 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 to it. 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. Without money products do not confront each other as commodities, but as use-values only, not as values.)
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, if it is gold how does it achieve its unique position here as the universal equivalent? By its own act! Money is always already the attractor of commodities because it is the only way of presenting their value.
This point needs more discussion. It is of no moment to enter into a historical 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 when it is present. In the systematic presentation of its rôle even the mediations logically presupposed 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.
Remark But whether an object takes one form or the other is indeterminate logically. Those familiar with recent physics may consider the potentials by analogy with uncollapsed quantum states, such that when gold ‘collapses’ to money the others must immediately ‘collapse’ to saleable commodities.
The derivation of money flows from the requirement that value appear in autonomous form. It is of course true that logic alone does not designate the commodity that is to be the unique universal equivalent, since there are no formal properties distinguishing one commodity from others, once the material specificity of use-value is disregarded. All can aspire to the role of universal equivalent. What is crucial is that the many possible ‘universes’ of value, starting from every commodity that may end up excluded from others so as to serve as universal equivalent, evaporate when gold is excluded by the other commodities in practice to condense the value sphere around its singularity. The upshot is not that a particular commodity becomes money because all other commodities express their values in it, but, on the contrary, that all other commodities universally express their values in a particular commodity because it is money. The virtual movement through which this process has been mediated vanishes in its own result.
This brings me to the logic of exclusion. It seems that commodities exclude one of their number to serve as their unique universal equivalent. But if the money commodity is excluded by the others the ‘fact’ that it is money only obtains through their activity. Thus gold does not yet exist as money on its own account; it remains, in effect, contingent on that condition 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. The actualisation of value consists in how value acts, and gold is money because it acts as such, attracting other commodities to exchange for it because it is value in immediate shape as the unique universal equivalent. At this point in the presentation, gold effectively occupies the place assigned this form, namely the form that is necessary to make a reality of value. 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 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 equivalent 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’ stipulation, 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, in truth a self-determination whereby a commodity posits the presupposition that it is money just by acting as money. 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.
So, instead of depending on conditions external to it, namely that the commodities have excluded it from their number, money maintains its exclusivity through positing these commodities as its own presuppositions, that is, positing that it always already is virtually excluded from them. That gold is money is so because it is, having sublated its virtual conditions through its own activity. As a fact, money appears as unconditioned, having always already sublated its condition, which now appears as what is conditioned when money gives commodities their validation as values. The activity of money as a fact means the vanishing of the virtual mediation of its existence by commodities. It is taken at ‘face value’.
The nature of money itself posits the other commodities as opposed to it. Having sublated its virtual origin in the dialectic of the forms of value, it is not a passive measure of commodity value, but it stands opposed to the mundane existence of commodities as their absolute other, as the judge of their worth; they exist as recognised commodities only by its grace. As such it is the God of 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: if money is gold, and how gold became so, is not a logical point. But the demonstration of what money is, in relation to commodities, 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 people originally act so as to fix a commodity as money. Money is necessary to the systemic constitution of value. But, if absent, it requires some contingent process to bring it out, because it cannot bring itself about before it exists; but once it does exist it becomes necessary to the system it supports. The logical derivation of money is a retrogressive grounding movement of value.
Yet if one thinks about an immediate relation of commodities to each other as mere barter there is a problem, for it is hard to see anything contradictory about the persistence of barter relations. Barter is a well attested phenomenon historically and anthropologically. It has no necessity to develop into a money system. However, my presentation rejects a quasi-causal story about commodity exchangers having as a result of the structure of their situation a tendency to invent money.
Remark The systematic-dialectical method of understanding the logical necessity of money contrasts with that of a myth of origin, which traces the development of money from an imaginary primitive shape of exchange in accordance with a quasi-causal narrative wherewith each stage produces its successor. A thought experiment purports to show how traders would, in the absence of money, be led over time by the nature of their situation to evolve it. The method takes as its starting point owners of commodities making offers for ‘sale’, and seeks to demonstrate that there would be a tendency for such traders to accept as an intermediate asset the more exchangeable commodities, one of which eventually becomes generally accepted as the sole bearer of purchasing power. This function of money having been established, the other functions follow. A difficulty with these fables is that a wrenching of gears has to take place from the obvious reading of ‘more exchangeable’ as ‘more generally required’ to the nomination of gold, which is merely a luxury. This slippage papers over a radical traverse, namely that a money economy is not continuous with barter economy, but is characterised by a radical opposition between commodities sold for consumption and money, which is never sold but only buys. That is its peculiar ‘use’; moreover to retain this use requires that in being used it be not ‘used up’; it must be imperishable. Because of this last point, if I were to indulge in a myth of origin I would derive money from its function as store of value. A family would not trade away their means of subsistence but only their luxury items, one of which, namely gold ornaments, is by nature imperishable. It is thus a perfect asset for ‘saving for a rainy day’ to then facilitate the acquisition of badly needed means of subsistence. Those in the fortunate position of having surplus means of subsistence could trade such perishables for such permanent ‘wealth’ as gold. It is a small step from permanent wealth to the money function of store of value. However, I do not press this fable because I have argued here that a systematic derivation of the necessity of money requires analysis of its present position.4
Thus the derivation of money is not based primarily on a ‘forwards’ argument but rather a ‘backwards’ dialectic, in which it is assumed that value is to be socially validated, and then money is shown to be (at this stage) the most adequate actualisation of value. Once the category of ‘money’ is granted then value is better grounded than it is in simple commodity relations. If at the start one imputes value to a single commodity (through an analytical abstraction from the world of exchange relations) one immediately creates a contradiction between use-value and value because value has a purely social reality. Since in isolation commodities lack a form of value distinct from their bodily forms, such a commodity can appear only as a particular use-value, yet at the same time is required to realise the universal negation of use-value, for that is how value is socially constituted. If value cannot appear in an isolated commodity, then one can say a ‘demand’ has arisen for this contradiction to be superseded through the said commodity finding a way of distinguishing itself as a value from itself as a use-value, to express this value as other than itself therefore. This it does in calling on another commodity to be its equivalent as value. In this simple relation we see the germ of money which as a special commodity excluded from all others is ‘value-for-itself’ and reflects back on them an adequate value form in their price.
If the unique universal equivalent is in its very notion a determinate unitary form the presupposition of it must be similarly determinate, rather than a commodity that theory chooses arbitrarily as an example. Without such determinacy value as a unitary essence has signally failed to stabilise itself. How is this uniqueness achieved? By means of the becoming necessary of gold, as always already the attractor of commodities because it realises their value. ‘Necessity’ means value is actual if the universal equivalent necessarily exists, that is, produces itself as that object. In a systematic presentation, the form of necessity may well contain alongside it that of contingency. For the actual bearer of the universal equivalent may be contingent on the suitability of available commodities such as gold and the specific history of its adoption. If for some reason gold failed, another commodity could be used in this role and become necessary to the system.
It is important to notice that the whole argument is driven conceptually: for the concept of value to be meaningful, money is required. If the validating of the value inherent in commodities is only accomplished in the dialectical movement to a higher category, to money, it is also true that the commodity as such retains its contradictory character. The resolution of contradictions does not abolish them, nor discard them, but grounds them. Furthermore, money as a commodity itself turns out to embody a contradictory unity of use-value and exchange-value at a higher level.
Value having left behind its determination in the relatedness of commodities I speak hyperbolically of value now taking the form of absolute value, in the next section.
§23.2 Money as Absolute Form of Value
Money, as the unique universal equivalent, is necessary to the actuality of value. In this section I show how in its own activity money makes itself necessary by taking on the position of ‘absolute value’ over against commodities.
Remark Strictly speaking at this stage I am not speaking of value as absolute in the sense of unconditioned. I simply go beyond the notion of value as an external relation to that of something substantively presented as independent of exchange-value, and in this sense ‘absolute value’. A key move in value theory is to get beyond the notion of value as an immediate external relation (possibly conjunctural), that is, as exchange-value merely, to that of ‘value as substance’ which relates simply to itself.
To recapitulate, Essence is a first cut at a less abstract sphere than Being; it is a sphere of polarity, of relatedness, to begin with the relation of essence and appearance which is to be finally unified in absolute relation. The basic contradiction of a logic of essence is that a thing is supposed to be identical with itself yet in appearance always different from itself. Something really essential must show itself as what it is. All the oppositions are shown to be capable of being refigured as internally related mutually complementary moments of a unitary whole.
The dialectic of force and expression is the logic characteristic of the forms of appearance of value we saw, and it results in the relationship of the universal equivalent to the other commodities, soliciting them to solicit it as the expression of their value. However, for value to be actual requires that the universal equivalent be unique. But Form III does not ground this requirement of unity in essence of commodities insofar as it is a case of pure positing reflection. If it is hard to see the simple form of value as more than barter, it is equally hard to accept any commodity can be money if the dialectic of force and expression results in a merely relational totality in which all commodities form ‘exchange-values’ of each other. This last is absurd because value must be a unitary essence of commodities. It must be actualised only in a unique equivalent, namely money. It seems possible for any commodity to emerge as the unique universal equivalent, and hence the actual universal equivalent is so only contingent on its conditions of emergence whatever they are; these seem to be externally determining conditions, not part of what money is.
I then argued that the virtual exclusion by commodities of one of their own to serve as money is now reversed when we grasp money in its own action excludes itself from commodities. This means that money presents the moment of their essential unity as values to commodities when acting as their unique universal equivalent. Money, through its own activity, secures its hegemony over the commodities that seem to be its conditions of existence.
Now I resume the systematic presentation, and I explore how money posits itself as ‘absolute value’, used in the sense that it is without qualification, that is to say, not considered as the value of something. This movement is no longer the reflection of value in otherness, but as money it is simple self-reflection held within itself. What we now show is that this relatedness becomes ‘Absolute’ in the sense that these two totalities of value pass into one another so as to posits value as their identity. Money is value in absolute form because it exists in seeming autonomy from the commodity relations originally supposed to be characterised by value. Determined as ‘absolute’, it simply exhibits itself as what it is.
Immediately the Absolute is already determined with a form, absolute form to be sure. But this has two constitutive moments, namely absolute identity and absolute totality. The identity exists here in the determination of its identity. But the absolute identity of form is complemented by the exposition of the absolute totality. This form is determined in two senses then; taken negatively, the inwardising movement, when the absolute folds in upon itself to actualise its self-identity; and, taken positively, the ‘exposition of the Absolute’ whereby, as totality, it lays itself out, or unfolds itself, into its difference within itself. If the former is its intension, the latter is its extension.
This means that, on the one hand, money is the self-identity of value, and ‘swallows up’ so to speak all commodities, as they depend on it for recognition as value; on the other, the exposition of value is accomplished when money is laid out on commodities. The categories of ‘identity’ and ‘exposition’ are termed ‘form-determinations’ of value here.
The form-determination of value as essential identity, in the above sense, requires complementing with another form-determination that also contains the whole of value, namely that to which the form extends itself, the commodity manifold. Thus we see now that the commodity manifold counts as a determination of that form itself. So in virtue of the interchange of these determinations, commodities themselves have value form. Thus the moment of difference presented in the ‘laying out’ of money on commodities is not nugatory, but an essential complementary form-determination of value. These two complementary form-determinations of money are exchangeability-in-immediacy, and immediate exchangeability.
Remark This category of ‘form-determination’ is distinct from a category I use later, namely ‘formal determination’. The hyphenated term, form-determination, indicates a determination of form, whereas formal determination is the process whereby something is determined with the relevant form. In the first case commodities and money are form-determinations of value. In the second case, something is given a value form in addition to its bodily form. At an abstract logical level such a process of formal determination (‘valuation’ and ‘subsumption’ are central cases I treat later) simply inscribes reality within the form; but in a stronger sense the material inscribed in the form is transformed in its very materiality, a central case being the real subsumption of the production process under capital, we shall see.
The triad of Absolute Form is:
Absolute Identity: money as exchangeability-in-immediacy; Form V the Money Form of value (§23.21);
Exposition of the Absolute: money as immediate exchangeability; Form VI the Laying out of money (§23.22);
Reciprocity of these form-determinations of money (§23.23).
§23.21 Exchangeability-in-Immediacy; the Money Form
Form V The Money Form of Value: exchangeability in immediacy
20 yard of linen
express their value in an ounce of gold
40 lbs. of coffee
10 lbs. of tea
Half a ton of iron
Note Here are given examples of commodities, rather than variables A, B, C, etc. because it is important to the money form that a specific commodity is the universal equivalent, and in being so excluded itself excludes all other specific commodities from its place.
At first, absolute value has the form-determination of absolute identity. If we recall the two totalities of value, the immediate, and the reflected, are implicitly one unity of form, this means value has self-identity in their relation. In effect it is a relation of reflexivity. Money does not require the expression of value different from it. It actually is value.
So I now turn to analyse this Money Form of Value, where value achieves its self-identity as exchangeability-in-immediacy.
Remark Recall that ‘Exchangeability-in-immediacy’ is not the same notion as ‘Immediate exchangeability’. I reserve the latter below for the use-value of money as purchasing power. Here with ‘exchangeability-in-immediacy’ I have in mind the role of money as the sole vehicle of the realisation of value.
In analysing this absolute form of value it is illuminating to tie the discussion back to the original emergence of value as a being-for-self and its dialectic of one-many-totality, in which commodities are held together through attraction but repelled so as to be numerically different from each other. However, the totality may itself become one, a sort of ‘one One’. Thus a definitive resolution of this opposition between repulsion and attraction is not a static equilibrium but implicitly a positing of this notion of the ‘one One’, a unitary principle in relation to which the many ones are its mere ‘extension’; it is thus their ‘realised ideality’. This universal attractor, money, does not absorb all the many ones because it remains rooted in the primal repulsion; it stands in a relation of exclusion to the ones it yet represents. Money as the ‘one One’ brings all attraction and repulsion into a unitary focus. There cannot be two monies because value as the identical essence of commodities can only be actualised in a self-identity which is what the money form of value is.
It is a concretisation of the relative totality established when commodities are systematically interconnected as values. With money the relational totality is refigured as a centred totality with money playing the organising role as the universal attractor. Money, figured as this One, holds together the many commodities as its ‘filling’ or ‘extension’. Thus we can see commodities as simply the extension of the category of ‘exchangeable’. The imputed value dimensionality of commodities is concretely actual in their relation to the universal equivalent excluded from them, namely money. However, money has this dialectic within itself: just insofar as it is excluded from commodities as their posited value, it attracts them to realise themselves as commodities in exchanging against it. Equally the ‘universal attractor’, money, contains the mediation of ‘repulsion’; without any commodities opposed to money there could be no determinate value form.
Remark I noted earlier that Hegel avoided introducing the category of ‘Totality’ as a third to ‘one’ and ‘many’ (§11.3). I speculate that this was because he thought of Totality as properly centred, as making possible ‘totalisation’. At the level of ‘Essence’, as superior to ‘Being’, the notions of attraction and repulsion may be concretised as the intension and extension of the value form with money and commodities assigned these places. Such a centring could not be established at the earlier stage of ‘being-for-self’ because it requires the complexity characteristic of Actuality.
Money does not represent the given value of commodities; rather it presents it to them. It is not a re-presentation of something given in commodities, but it is the only way in which value is made present concretely (rather than as some unreal abstraction). Once value is thus presented explicitly ‘for itself’ (rather than as a mere immanence) in money, it posits the commodities as values ‘in themselves’. Although gold seems a ‘representative’ commodity, it becomes through its form-determination antithetical to commodities, excluded from them so as to present in objective shape what they must exclude from themselves, namely their supposed value, which they cannot bring to light in their own ‘stuff’ but only in the material that stands over against them, money.
In money value becomes One, identical with itself, yet full of itself through its ability to lay itself out on commodities.
§23.22 Immediate Exchangeability: The Laying Out of Money
Form VI: The Form of Immediate Exchangeability or The Laying-Out of Money
an ounce of gold is immediately exchangeable for
20 yards of linen
and 1 coat
and 40 lbs of coffee
and half a ton of iron
and so on
Remark About ‘and’ in the Table: I am not yet talking of real exchanges for which a large number of bits of money may be required.
The exposition of the Absolute Content for us is the second form-determination of value as absolute. We saw that in the money form of value money distinguishes itself from commodities as exchangeableness-in-immediacy. However, there is an asymmetry here because money is exchangeableness in immediate form, whereas the commodities require the mediation of money to realise their value. But equally money goes beyond its own immediacy when it is active in valuing commodities, bringing them under its hegemony. Now we turn to the movement whereby money lays itself out on commodities; it therewith proves itself to be immediately exchangeable (as is shown in the reverse of the Money Form V, namely Form VI above). In Form VI we see that money, being immediately exchangeable with any commodity, lays itself out on commodities. If money-in-itself is exchangeableness-in-immediacy then money-for-itself is ‘immediate exchangeability’.
Whereas Form V showed money as the centre of attraction for commodities, Form VI shows how money actively determines itself to commodity form. Yet, in being laid out, money remains at home with itself as value when it becomes determinate in commodity form. These are posited as themselves shapes of value. Money as value in autonomous form does not just hold itself aloof from commodities in this negative relation to all determinacy, as if money were an indeterminate and empty form. It fulfils itself, gives itself a filling, when it demonstrates its immediacy as value is made actual in them as complementary forms of value that it is immediately exchangeable with.
Remark Form VI is very different from Form II, the expanded form. In the latter, as I had occasion to stress, the commodities on the right were alternatives to each other, signified by the use of the connector ‘or’. As a result the commodity on the left could not express its value adequately because it got lost in this endlessness. Here, however, money comprehends this infinity under its own form-determination as the value universal that may be laid out on all commodities alike; thus it takes the connector ‘and’.
Money demonstrates that it is value incarnate by its purchasing power. It shows that as immediate exchangeability money may be turned into any kind of commodity. While commodities gain validity only if sanctified by money, money does not have any special commodity opposed to it; whatever it is laid out on is accidental one might say.
That money has no material use-value of its own (ignoring gold ornaments) is paradoxically the very condition of its being a permanent possibility of all use-value! As a use-value it is an individual commodity, but at the same time it is posited as universal. Gold is the universal commodity, not just an instance of the type. It has absolute singularity. This may seem a dizzying exercise in metaphysics; but the practical proof that this dialectic of presupposition and posit has generated a new objectivity is that the universal equivalent commodity now has an entirely new, objectively perceptible, social use-value. As immediately exchangeable in a way other commodities are not, money is the singularity of general material wealth. It is the universal commodity that potentially has the use-value of any desired commodity.
Remark Implicit in the money form is price – which I come to later – but, since price is given in money, money has no price itself, it is price. But has money value? This claim overlooks three very interesting circumstances. First of all, the whole point of the value form is to allow a commodity to express its value in another because it cannot express its value in its own body. But money does express value in its own body because money fixes the peculiarity of the equivalent form which we discussed earlier, namely that its body counts as value. It has no need to express its value in some other commodity, because as value-for-itself it does not need an expression of value-in-itself as do the other commodities. Secondly, reading a price-list backwards does not return to the indeterminacy of the expanded form but to money, as immediate exchangeability, having universal power of exchange (as other commodities do not). To ignore this is to go back behind money to the bare commodity status of gold, losing the peculiar status it has as money. (See Form VI.) Thirdly, that leaves only the vulgar notion of ‘the value of money’ rooted in worries about the contingency of money’s purchasing power, given inflation. But this relation has nothing to do with a measure of value, but of power of purchase. It remains the case that money is the measure of value, so therefore cannot have a measure. This point is indirectly supported by the great difficulty of finding an absolute measure of purchasing power. Any basket of commodities, selected as a standard, is arbitrary from a logical point of view. This is hardly surprising, if we remark that in this purchasing power relation we consider the use-value of money not its value. (Note that in the expanded relative form we did not consider a basket but a list of alternative expressions of value.)
§23.23 Reciprocity of the Form-Determinations of Money
Exchangeability-in-immediacy and immediate exchangeability are logically complementary determinations of the activity of money; as the former it attracts commodities to express their value in it; as the latter it lays itself out freely on commodities. Form VI is then simply the complementary form-determination to Form V, the money-form. The two moments are required to constitute value as a unitary form. The one is indeed a condition of the other. They are reciprocally determining. Money has immediate exchangeability just because it is exchangeability-in-immediacy; conversely something that is immediately exchangeable is perfect to serve as universal equivalent.
Money is active in two directions; negatively as excluding itself from commodities to be their universal attractor, positively as immediate exchangeability with them. But despite these complementary roles what is really effective is their unity, exchange as a whole.
Taking Form V and VI together in this unity of value as actual, we see at the same time the activity of sublating the immediacy of value into mediated shape (i.e. in Form V money as exchangeableness-in-immediacy becomes in Form VI mediated in its exposition of itself) and also the sublating of this mediation (Form VI) back into immediacy (Form V).
I term money the absolute form of value because whether the money is placed to the right of the value expression (as it is when functioning as exchangeability-in-immediacy), or to the left (as when it is exhibited as immediately exchangeable with the commodities on which it is ‘laid out’), these are to be understood as simply pure form-determinations descending from the same unitary actuality. The very same money divides itself between these roles. Their ‘overturning’ one into the other is shown when we see in one single transaction that it may be read in both directions, from money or to money. The mutuality of these two reduces them to aspects of the same relation. Absolute Form achieves its unity once the centripetal and centrifugal movements, to money and from money, are taken as one unity.
These two roles being mutually conditioning, in a whole of intermediation, we may conclude that it is the very same substance that appears in these complementary form-determinations. The absolute form of value is absolute because it is the form of itself not of some other stuff. This pure determination is borne by money. ‘Content’ is produced by form out of itself. Value-as-content taken in unity with value-as-form is value-as-substance. Under the determination of finitude it posits itself as content in the value of commodities. While itself substance, it exists in what is formed as value by money, namely commodities, as their ideal substance, lurking within the material shell. (But later I shall argue that the material determinations flowing from the production of commodities does really determine the magnitude of value.) The unity of the form-determinations of money is thus explicitly posited in the category of ‘Value as Substance’. (Thus I take money to be value as substance as opposed to searching for the substance of value.)
A form that exists on its own account is substance, here value as substance.
§23.3 Value as Substance
Value is one substance, but it holds within it the relation of money and commodities. So this value substance divides into:
§23.31 Substance-in-immediacy; this is the infinite homogenous substance embodied in money; substance related to itself yields money as measure proper;
§23.32 Value substance as absolute relation of the money form and the commodity form of value: here substance is in finitude with money as the real measure of commodities; indeed money constitutes commodities as values in the very process of giving their magnitude of value;
§23.33 The substantial form of value gives rise to the infinite unity of all values.
I first discuss value as substance-in-itself as it is incarnate in money; most important here is that money gives value measure proper, makes value measurable. Value takes its own measure in its peculiar monetary medium; then as equivalent to itself it serves as the real measure of the value of commodities. Along with this, money imputes to these commodities a peculiar form: that of being values. Thus the one homogenous substance-in-itself here descends to the finite realm. Although identical in substance with others, every value in commodity form is posited as a shape of the value substance, value as a ‘thing’. Finally, the moments of the substantial form of value exist in infinite unity.
The presentation of money as ‘the value substance’ is a very different use of the term ‘substance’ from that view which considers labour as ‘the substance of value’. The latter use of the term equates with ‘stuff’ or ‘material’, with what value is ‘made of’, so to speak. Here, in the development of the value form, the dialectic generates forms of value itself that become more concrete and complex. So, as commodity, value seems to ‘inhere’ in it, so to speak, as a quasi-property. But, as money, the inverse is true: value is itself a substance, of which the particular body bearing it (e.g. gold) is merely a transubstantiated outer shell. So I never speak about ‘the substance of value’ at all, because I consider value as itself a substance, and there cannot be a substance of a substance.
When I treat value as ‘substance’ this is a technical sense of ‘substance’. It is not to align it with common or garden substances such as matter or mind. For here we are constructing a scaffolding of pure categories. Thus ‘substance’ here exists simply as pure form within this dialectical development of the value form. It retains the basic definition of substance as that which exists on its own account; but it is not further specified as a kind of substance whether physical or spiritual. It is here simply the logical form brought to life by the peculiar constitutive role of money. If it were to be objected that the category is a metaphysical importation from philosophy unsuited to a science, I would reply that it is just such a metaphysic that the value form initiates, and supports, in practice.
In the development of the value form from relational property to substance there is an inversion. At the level of the commodity, as exchangeable, we have to say its social form attributes value to it. It is a thing of value. So the commodity qua social form may change its value. But once the inversion is posited it is value that prevails and changes its shell from one commodity to another. (But it is also the case that the more elementary forms are preserved as potential ways of expressing value if required.)
The difficult thing is that our context remains the bifurcation between material and ideal realms. Within the ideal realm value exists on its own account. Yet it cannot exist at all without the material realm that underpins it, for example commodities and money. Both realms are present and interpenetrate. Taken ideally, the material commodity is presupposed as the ‘shell’ of value, because practice posits this when it is now taken ideally as ontologically secondary to value itself.
Remark Substance here is an ideal social substance, thus immaterial. The qualification is not generally repeated but must be borne in mind. It is also important to mark carefully the distinction between the ‘value substance’ and the material substance, if any, of the bearers of value.
§23.31 Value as Substance in Immediacy
The substantiality of value exists in money. The unity of the two form-determinations, namely exchangeability-in-immediacy (Form V) and immediate exchangeability (Form VI), is grounded when money is understood to constitute value as a unitary social substance. The ontology of a substance is clearly more concrete than that of a relation, even though we shall see this ideal social substance contains internal relations, e.g. between its Oneness and its finite modes of existence.
Substance is unconditionally present in actuality. In itself value is one infinite homogenous substance. Yet it does not simply absorb commodities as if they are merely its accidental shapes. Rather, value achieves actual substantiality only through the articulated determinacy of the two poles of the value form, money and commodities. Especially important in their relation is money’s function as measure of value I shall show. Before money relates to commodities as their measure, I first analyse further what it is for value to be in itself an ideal substance.
Substance in itself has as its primary attribute the qualitative one of self-identity. It is One. But, in its complementary attribute, extension, it is intrinsically quantitative and hence this means that value as substance is implicitly therefore notionally divisible into different amounts of itself. Such amounts taken in their self-identity – as ‘bodies’ of value – are realised in the finite modes of substance.
The triad of Substance-in-itself is thus divided as follows: §23.31/1 Substance-in-itself; its Oneness (its self-identity); §23.31/2 Substance-for-itself as a dimensionally extended body of value; §23.31/3 Sums of money as finite mode of value.
§23.31/1 Value as One Substance
Value as one substance is incarnate in money, and it is important that a perfected value system requires one, and only one, money, and that money is One. I shall argue that sums of money are potentially swallowed up again, that is, summed! This is because the defining characteristic of value considered as substance is that it is one.
Money as absolute substance is identical to itself; it has a reflexive relation to itself. More precisely, it is not merely self-identical, as in the identity of absolute form, but posits itself when considered as self-reflexive. The identity of form is merely the void into which all determinate value is absorbed; but the present, more articulated, notion of identity allows for its determinacy equally to manifest itself.
Moreover, the oneness of substance is not merely the reflex-determination of identity, which is posited as such only in its difference from difference; here such identity has become reflected into itself. Exchangeability-in-immediacy is identity only as negatively determined against commodities, hence not really reflexive. Value as Substance is taken to be self-identical and supports the relations of commodities and money. Value is a substance, incarnated in money, and we shall argue that it is the substance of commodities.
§23.31/2 Substance-for-Itself as a Dimensionally Extended Body of Value
The extended body of value is quantitatively of an indefinite extent, notionally divisible into ideal ‘bodies’ with determinate magnitudes. This quantitative dimensionality of value is a moment of difference compared with the immediate oneness of value as substance. But here difference is always internal, so even if value is attributed notionally to an extended realm of bodies, such value bodies are held within the one value substance, or identical as value. The value substance attributes identity and difference to itself, implicitly. Where notional difference is to be marked it is thus a matter of indifference where it is so. But, given in finite modes of existence, as sums of money, it gains ‘measure’ proper.
§23.31/3 Sums of Money as the Finite Mode of Value
I make a transition to the finite modes of existence of value, in the first place to sums of money, by the consideration that money is divisible into quantitative ‘bits’ of value. If we combine the oneness of substance-in-itself with this attribution of dimension, there results the category of finite amounts of value. Taken in their self-identity the finite modes of the existence of value are discrete sums of money.
Determined to finitude the sole infinite value substance takes the shape of an extended realm of finite value ‘bodies’, which may be incarnated phenomenally in coins and notes. These are formally determined as each the substantive presence of value. Since the only quality of value-as-substance is that it has a quantitative dimension, these value bodies appear in finite mode as unit and number, as ‘bits’ of money. Value exists as a sum of money in these finite determinations.
Notional differences between such bodies are secured by an extended realm inhabited by pieces of gold, and so forth. Value is real as the ideal substance of such bodies. The finite mode of value, found as discrete value ‘bodies’, has actuality in measure. So the positing of money as the value measure also falls within the finite mode of substance. A value body has a magnitude which at the same time is self-identical as a definite sum of money; this is distinct from other existent sums despite their unity in the one value substance; there are separable notional value bodies, e.g. existent in separate accounts. A sum of money is an extended magnitude, e.g. a number of coins, which yet counts as one. Although one sum, this value has a definite magnitude.
Value bodies exist on their own account, grounded on themselves, despite virtually ‘falling into the abyss’ of indeterminate unity. But at this level value lacks true singularity, despite the self-diremption of the value substance into determinate ‘bits’ of money whose destruction is without question a destruction of value. The necessity of value to inhabit a use-value shell pins the fate of value to that incarnation; money ‘down the drain’ is a loss of value. However, as the bearers of money the gold pieces secure materially the notional apartness of value bodies; the ‘cost’ being that value vanishes with its bearer.
When I say that a moment of substance is oneness, I take the latter as its essential determination. But the moment of difference also exists in that the determination of oneness lies in its quantification, that money comes in finite amounts of itself, hence there exist masses of value, which require a proper measure. In sum money makes value measurable.
Value as measurable comprehends these moments: §23.31/31 value as an immanent magnitude; §23.31/32 the monetary medium of the magnitude of value; §23.31/33 the value measure proper; extended ‘bits’ of value become actual only as discrete sums of money; the most immediate function of money as a sum is to serve as measure proper; value itself takes form as measurable.
§23.31/31 Immanent Magnitude
The value substance is one substance, now taken as finitely divided into bits, each of them ‘one’ distinct from other such ones, and all incarnating value as immanent to them. Because value has a quantitative character we have then the category of value as an immanent magnitude.
I shall show that, although it is insubstantial in the ordinary sense, the positing of value as equal to itself gives it a further determination, namely immanent magnitude, which itself is insubstantial unless complemented by a medium through which it is enabled to take its own measure, and that of others. If magnitude is the only determinate ‘quality’ of value, other than its basic definition as exchangeability, then it has to have a notional pseudo-quality, which provides an extended body for it to appear in, its medium of presence, and this in turn then makes possible value as measure. With one, and only one, money, a single dimension of magnitude is given with which to compare commodities.
Remark I take ‘immanent magnitude’ to be a category of Essence. In ‘Being’ I use only thin ‘surface’ categories of quantity, number, ratio, rule and specifying measure. These simple categories are developed in the context of immediate commodity relations. Here magnitude, by contrast, is present as a magnitude of something immanent, which has ‘depth’ in a ‘value-in-itself’ indifferent to its exchange-values, and which varies in its own self, as a substance that comes in amounts of itself.
Although it seems that measure presupposes a dimension within which things gain their metric, in this 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 measure introjects the form of magnitude onto this immanence. Substance in its immediacy has no metric, hence takes the measure of itself merely notionally.
§23.31/32 Monetary Medium
Value notionally has immanent magnitude, but this is formless unless there is a medium of value that crystallises it and gives it phenomenal measure.5 So for value to obtain finite mode a monetary medium is required. This must model value as magnitude, namely it must be both homogenous and yet be materially divisible into amounts of itself in order to give the value dimension a metric.
One thing which distinguishes the money form from the purely general form is the requirement that the commodity excluded from the rest has to embody adequately the conceptual character of value. It is to be ‘a value-body’, to give body to the logic of value. So the purely formal requirement there be selected a universal equivalent has to be supplemented on the material side by suitable physical characteristics of the money commodity. To model the ideal immanence of value as an extended magnitude, the monetary medium, and its own measure, must provide for homogeneity, additivity, divisibility, imperishability, transportability, and so forth. The use of gold is merely a stepping-stone toward perfecting this.
Moreover, it must be a suitable vehicle for the functions of money such as measure, medium of circulation, and store of value. Although money is to be used, it is important to its functioning as value incarnate that its use should not entail its being ‘used up’! It requires an immortal body. (Gold is nearly perfect; its defect is its susceptibility to abrasion.) To begin with, my presentation abstracted from the specificity of use-value; but the logic of the form of value results in specific use-value requirements for money! Thus the money commodity is the actuality of value.
I am making a great deal of the term ‘monetary medium’, but the monetary medium is required only because of the significant difference, to which I have adverted often before, between Hegel’s logic of pure thoughts and the generation through the practice of exchange of pure forms of value. These forms require at all points material bearers, such as commodities, and their practically achieved connection with one another. This is why the value essence is not given immediately within commodities but presented to them from the outside, so to speak, in the money commodity (or its replacement). In the same way, for value to be present as a magnitude requires that a suitable medium for its measure be given. However, there remains a more concrete problem. A commodity is valuable in virtue of its relation to money; yet to ask the question ‘how valuable?’ requires further determination of the value substance. All along the quantitative character of value is presupposed hence value always has a putative magnitude; yet as an ideal substance it lacks any empirically graspable unit of magnitude. This is the problem solved when there is a monetary medium appropriate to the task. If it is a commodity, such as gold, it must model appropriately the metaphysical qualities of value; above all in this context, it has to have its inherent measure of amount, for example weight, to act as a proxy for a magnitude of value. Thus when I characterise money as the measure of value, we suppose value is an ideal substance present in amounts of itself, but whose measure requires the presence of a real medium of the ideality of value.
Value requires complementary determinations, the ideal magnitude without which the monetary medium would not be measuring anything substantial, and the material medium without which the ideal potential for value to be measurable cannot be real.
§23.31/33 Money as Measure Proper Given in Units of Money
Now that I have posited value as a social substance, it comes in amounts of itself, not merely amounts relative to some arbitrary relations. Value I now say has an immanent magnitude expressed in a sum of money, which is the unique mode in which a real measure of the value of commodities is properly given, I shall argue. Money posits the presupposition of a unitary measure that was unfulfilled at the level of mere exchange-values of commodities, which failed to unify the commodities in a single order. I may now speak of money as the value measure proper and, if it takes shape in a medium with an index of amount, it has a workable metric. Money as measure proper grounds the imputation that value exists as a magnitude immanent to commodities. The monetary medium is not a suitable measuring-rod for pre-existing magnitudes; rather it gives a space for value to constitute itself as a magnitude.
While ‘specifying measure’ refers to the various exchange-values one commodity has, given in amounts of others, ‘measure proper’ (measure-for-itself) must specify its measure in itself, just as a foot rule is the material embodiment of the length of a foot. Once there is given a proper measure in money this then measures the value of commodities. Now the commodity is no longer bogged down in its specification in numberless ‘measures’; money alone has the function of measure of value, and in this manner ordering commodities in the same conceptual universe of value.
In sum: value with a finite metric granted by monetary units now exists as measure proper, as an immanent unity of identity and magnitude, not the merely contingent exchange-values of commodities. Value gains a measure of itself in sums of money. There is here a non-logical premise, namely that gold has been specifically selected for this role of proper measure of value. However, my ‘logical’ argument demonstrates what money is and how it acquires its functions.
Value, as one homogenous social substance, is a continuous magnitude in its notion, but when it appears in finite mode it gains measurability in money units which give it a discrete magnitude. Under certain circumstances the value may be assessed to many decimal places. However, for practical purposes, especially when coin is the means of payment, ‘rounding’ is required. So, as coin, money takes the finite mode of a countable unit.
When elucidating the notion of a measure of value it is important to set aside all examples of physical measure, such as the ruler. In these cases, the measure is applied to something already inhabiting the relevant dimension; there are lengthy things prior to the application of the ruler to measure their length. Even in the case of a measure which seems discrepant such as the length of mercury in a tube there is yet a functional relationship between that and the heat measured, which exists independently.
In the case of value, however, there is no question of finding a measure congruent with the value dimension, because there is no value dimension prior to the existence of measure. Value is a mere immanence with no metric, unless and until money creates in practice the requisite dimensional status of magnitude. The money measure unifies the immanent magnitude and the monetary medium so as to posit the value presupposed to it.
Since value has not an atom of matter to it, it is a purely social substance. It follows that value in autonomous form, namely money, has not an atom of matter, and it is itself a purely social substance. Confusion arises if this socially imputed substance is conflated with its contingent bearer, especially if the latter is gold, a commodity. However, it is necessary that money inhabit a material medium, whether the latter is gold, paper, or simply money of account. This is because value as an immanent magnitude requires phenomenal expression in numerical shape to gain a metric. Gold is a material substance, but as money it seems transubstantiated, posited as merely the golden shell of an ideal substance. However, in truth, there is consubstantiation here, because the material reality of gold still subsists; abrasion, and so forth, may sabotage its money functions.
Of all the functions of money, that of measure is most essential because it is categorially connected to the positing of value as substance. This ‘measure proper’ is the ontological foundation of the act of measuring in that it refers to the thing being measurable in a certain dimension. It is only in this sense of ‘measure’ that ‘everything has its measure’. The basic function of such money is to act as the real measure of the value attributable to a commodity. In the next section, treating the act of measuring, I characterise money as being the real measure of value (of commodities). (This presupposition that value has magnitude is as yet purely formal so there is nothing said here about the determination of its magnitude, merely that it is taken as a determination with magnitude.)
§23.32 Value Substance Actualised in a Realm of Finitude: Commodities
To begin with in this section, substance was treated as absolute, the one homogenous value subtending all quantitative variations in magnitudes of value. This value substance is incarnate in money. Now, however, with the treatment of finitude, we show that each and every commodity is valuable. Here value as a social substance takes shape in two different ways. Clearly money attributes value to commodities when it declares them all ‘of value’. Less obviously, money ‘attributes’ value to itself when it takes shape in finite mode as sums of money. Even though it is value in form, now the form determines its proper content as reflected within the form itself as its various amounts. Money attributes determinacy to itself just so as to equate commodity values to it.
When the form of measure was first raised, within the discussion of the simple ‘Being of exchange’, there was ‘nothing’ to measure. Measure was merely the ratio in which one commodity stood to another. In other words, we dealt with ‘exchange-value’ not ‘value’. But now value is posited as essence, it is considered an ideal social substance with a ‘mass’ that is notionally ‘a measurable’; but it is only given a metric in the reflection into itself of money magnitudes. Money is the form of ‘measure proper’ insofar as it gives the value substance a measure in sums of money. Now the form of money as measure of itself is won, we move to its use as the ‘real measure’ of commodity value.
The triad of value as a substance in finitude is as follows: §23.32/1 Money as the real measure of commodity value; §23.32/2 The commodities as values; §23.32/3 Value as absolute relation of form and content.
§23.32/1 The Money Form of Value: Real Measure
The finite mode in which the attributes of value appear phenomenally is that of finite amounts. The finite mode of value is made possible because the monetary medium allows money to appear as a finite amount, in a sum of money, really distinct from others albeit identical in substance to them. The presence of money in such finite shapes allows the application of the measure of value to be determinate. A sum of money is not merely self-identical, but is self-equivalent; it is equal in value to itself. When money attributes value to itself it is making a difference within itself which is no difference but simply the absolute attribute of identity as quantitative measure, namely self-equivalence. It must take its own measure when placed in the realm of finitude prior to equating itself with that of the commodity. It is only because of this that it serves as the real measure of value.
Moreover, because the money magnitude is equal to itself, it does not need a relation to something other than itself to secure this status as value. To speak of the value of money as if it were measured in something else is absurd. A commodity is immediately identical with itself as a material body, and does not need a relation to posit this, but as value it does, namely its relation to money. In contrast, value in money form is reflexively equal to itself, whereas the commodity as value is not, because the latter requires an equivalent form outside itself.
It may be objected that in saying money is self-equivalent as value is to offend against the principle that money has no price. However, this self-equivalence is not a price form just because it is not a value expressed in something other than itself. It is necessary to find a path between two mistakes. Money is not equivalent to itself in value because like all commodities it is always already a value, differing from them merely as the numeraire. That is one mistake. Conversely I reject the view that all value is relative, hence the notion of inherent value is to be avoided. Another mistake. The peculiar social form of money is that it is taken as if value were peculiarly present in it, as value in the form of its own equivalent.
Before we can say ‘how valuable’ a commodity is, it is first necessary that there be the form of ‘real measure’ of value that is practically operational. This requires that the magnitude of value present itself phenomenally in a material medium. But the term ‘material’ here is misleading if it is taken to imply the necessity of a commodity money such as gold. The latter can itself be ‘idealised’, from a real weight of gold to a number in an account. It is simply an amount of itself as a finite measure. Such a presentation of value as magnitude is all that is required, if this measure has universal application. In their finitude, commodities are a genuine plurality of things of value, not merely the notional plurality of sums of money. Yet to serve as real measure, such notional sums must be posited in finite mode, whether as coins or as simply a number in an account. But commodity monies are imperfect bodies both materially (e.g. they may be indivisible), and because of their ‘honorary’ status, which may be swept away by revolutions in their conditions of production.
Space as such cannot have a length, it simply ‘makes space’ for things within it to have a definite length. So here the value space contains commodities with definite value. Money constitutes the commodity manifold as a space of commensuration by valuing them in practice, insofar as it takes finite form ‘within its own space’ so to speak, as a measuring-rod. But what happens in practice is the inversion of the normal order. While a measure of value presupposes the value dimension, in effect by valuing commodities as if there were such a homogenous dimension of value, we bring into existence the very condition of such measurement ideally. The presupposition is posited in our practice.
Money, as equal to itself, is its own measure, because it is measure proper. However, with money as the real measure of value there is possible its application to finite empirical measures of commodity values posited as also participating in the value substance but in a different way. There is: (i) immanent measure posited in an amount of money given in its own units; and (ii) applied measure, when taking the measure of a commodity by reference to its monetary equivalent. In the latter case no longer is there merely a ratio, as when we first treated exchange-value, but a real measure presupposing a substantive community of commodities and money as value. In this unity commodities may be said to have the same value in abstraction from their relatedness.
Money, as the real measure of value, has a dual character. Ideally, it constitutes the dimension of magnitude of value such that a ratio of exchange can be said to express a law, whether descriptive (the ‘going rate’) or normative (a ‘fair’ exchange), rooted in a common value space. But, to fulfil this function, it must on the material side incarnate the relevant substantiality of value. Without the medium, magnitude would not be articulated in a determinate dimension, while unless value took determinate shape as a quantity then the rule would be barter, even if gold were to be set aside as an intermediate good. If the value substance takes shape in a medium with an index of amount, there is a workable system of measurement.
Money has the form of a measuring-rod of value because of its self-equivalence (just as a ruler is identical in length to itself). As such it is real measure; and this allows the many commodities to be commensurated in it. Having established the capacity of money to be the value measure, I now consider the act of measurement through which money attributes value to commodities. These exist in an extended manifold, and insofar as they are posited as things of value by money they become real value bodies, I shall argue. Here it is important to distinguish the merely notional finite moment of the value substance in itself, from the development of these moments in exteriority, in which a ‘body of value’ is really present in distinct commodities, an extended realm of finite ‘values’ in the plural.
Remark It is as if space exists because a ruler unfolded itself from some infinitesimal singularity and brought into being the dimension it measures. Here the money commodity as a singularity of value unfolds from itself the dimension (infinite in reach) within which commodities find their place as finite beings of value.
In the previous section it was shown that value as a substance is itself determined as an extended realm of value ‘bodies’, so to speak, when a sum of money is present alongside other such sums. However, value as a unitary substance continually recalls such sums to their identity as value; their distinctness is merely notional; they easily fall back into the abyss of absolute substance.
Now in this section I consider the application of the money measure to the finite realm of commodities. What happens when money measures the value of commodities is that it attributes value to them just in the very act of subjecting them to measurement, I argue.
Remark If the measure function of money simply provides the form of commensuration, how the actual magnitudes are determined is another question; the real magnitudes may be contingently determined for all we know, such that there is nothing to measure really. (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. (Here we are concerned with the ontological basis of measure relations, rather than articulating the logic of a judgement of worth; that we reach in value as the concept.)
Ontologically the practice of measurement is important as the immediate vehicle of the forming of commodities as values, I argue. This constitutive role of money means that logically its function as measure has to be thematised prior to its other functions. Of course, the prevalence of gold money, throughout the pre-capitalist era, makes it seem continuous with other commodities, for example in having a use-value. But notice that the use-value of gold, qua metal, is quite different from its use-value, qua money, in fulfilling monetary functions.
§23.32/2 Commodities as Values
This theme is discussed in three sections as follows: §23.32/21 Value as the substance of commodities; §23.32/22 The transubstantiation of the commodity; §23.32/23 The commodity posited as ‘a value’.
I shall first discuss the positing of the presupposition that value is the ideal social substance of commodities. But it is substance posited as existent on its own account, subsisting on its own ground. Thus, secondly, this leaves the matter of the commodity as merely the transubstantiated shell of the value substance. Finally, we conclude that the commodity is ‘a value’; ideally the bodily shape of the commodity is merely the bearer of value.
§23.32/21 Value as the Substance of Commodities
Because money in finite mode is equal to itself, it is able to function as measure of value. However, money not only gives value its measure but through its application it enables commodities 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 given measure of its weight. But value is not a substance with a given dimensionality, requiring only a numeraire to set up a system of measure. In this case practice imposes the pure form of measure on commodities. Value gains an immanent magnitude only when the form of measure is practically applied and grounds the required dimension.
So value appears immediately as sums of money, and through the mediation of money a specific value is attributed to a commodity. The commodities in the plural are posited as all embodying ‘value’, while the oneness of the value substance is affirmed in the homogeneity of money, and the notional character of its presence as a finite sum, as explained later. Insofar as money is the encompassing moment, value is posited as the ideal social substance of commodities, a substance radically other than their bodily substance, being an ideal imputation.
Value as the ideal substance of commodities is not the content of the material commodity. But the set of commodity values are a content with respect to money as their common form.
§23.32/22 The Transubstantiation of the Commodity
The measure relation of commodities and money secures the genuine finitude of value-as-substance in that commodities are posited as ‘of value’. Value is incarnate in the material shell of the commodity, therewith acquiring a bodily shape.
By contrast, if a sum of money is also a body of value, this is so merely notionally insofar as money is present merely as a number in a ledger (a debit card in notional dollars adequately replaces coins and bills): this number is a number ‘of’ nothing. Money embodies the actuality of value itself, and it posits the commodities as value magnitudes in the very act of ‘measuring’ them ‘as if’ they were always already given as having a definite value. The order of dependence works retroactively; at some point the ‘as if’ passes to ‘as is’ when all the conditions of existence are present for value to actualise itself.
It is necessary to distinguish the value attribute of extension (sums of money) from commodities as bodies of value, with reference to the irreducibility of the real extended realm of commodities to oneness. But ideally they are of one substance, namely value. Separate sums of money are merely notionally existent in extended fashion in that all such sums collapse to one sum if brought back to unity. While substance, as one substance, attracts all sums of money into its all-embracing identity, the moment of distinctness is here vindicated when every commodity is posited as having its own value.
Commodities and money, as finite things, are shapes of the same infinite value substance, abstracted from any material shell, as in money of account. With the descent of value to finitude each separable commodity contains value. Sums of money in accounts merely are ideally counted as finite modes of value, but a heap of commodities are real values in finite mode materially presented. Now there is a genuine plurality of values, not merely a set of items defined in relation to each other and to money.
Marx often uses religious metaphors; advisedly so. Especially germane is the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist. On one view the communion wafer retains merely its appearance as a natural body but is substantially the body of Christ. This is a case of transubstantiation. On the rival view the body of Christ is indeed really present, but it does not displace the material body of the bread which persists throughout the sacrament. The two substances exist at the same place and time. This is consubstantiation.
In capitalism value as an ideal substance posits the transubstantiation of gold, which appears as if the golden shell merely veils the presence of the ideal substance, just as in the case of the doctrine of transubstantiation. In the case of commodities proper there is consubstantiation because the material bodies also are relevant to their exchangeability, as it is necessary to give sense to consumption. The formal determination of commodities as value requires value to become earthly if it is to redeem their souls, so value appears to them as gold, which has the special use of immediate exchangeability with commodities; baptised as ‘values’ commodities are yet consubstantial since they retain their ordinary use-value as well. The commodity, then, has an earthly and a heavenly nature, but the latter is redeemable only through the grace of the Jesus figure, money, value incarnate, having acquired a bodily shape capable of intercourse with such finite souls.
All commodities, including gold, have a body and soul, so to speak. But as money gold is transubstantiated if the bodily shell is treated as inconsequential because its material use-value is never realised. In contrast, ordinary commodities are entangled in a contradiction; for their nature is internally polarised between use-value and value. (This creates problems for their joint realisation, as I show below: see §42.)
In the following sections I leave aside the issue of material substance for now and simply consider commodities as of ideal substance.
§23.32/23 The Commodity Posited as ‘a Value’
Only in finite mode does the ideal substance take on determinate shape as a set of independent existents. But commodities as material beings have themselves separate material existence. They are suitable bearers of the requirement that value is determined as a realm of values in exteriority. Each commodity is posited as ‘a value’, truly existent as a discrete item. Such values are plural even though they have a common substance. But money is never properly plural because its finite mode, a sum of money, allows one to speak of sums of money (but not a sum of monies) only as notional divisions of the one unitary value substance. That has the attribute of extension, meaning here a dimension of magnitude, which is the only determinate quality value has that is distinct from its infinite self-sameness. (I have less money, not fewer money.)
In commodities value is posited as existing phenomenally as the shaped value substance such that each individual commodity is posited as such an individual existent ‘value’, and together are hence a realm of ‘values’. So commodities have true separateness as shells of value to balance off the commonality of value substance.
But its value substance, arising from transubstantiation, is wholly distinct from the material body of the commodity. Although appearing as a thing of value the commodity counts as ‘a value’. This is a case of objective metonymy. To call a commodity ‘a value’ is not just a figure of speech. (Compare ‘a use-value’, which is.) This is because the commodity has a ‘fetish-character’, which has objective validity; within the value form the commodity is posited as a value among values. Earlier (§22.23 The General Form of Value) I showed that a peculiarity of the universal equivalent form is that it has a fetish-character. However, we see now that ordinary commodities are also socially posited fetishistically as things capable of initiating relations with each other.
Value is imputed to commodities, as their (ideal) substance, when they are posited as values through their monetary mediation. One consequence is that we have superseded now the view of commodities merely related in the value form; they are now imputed with the ability to act as values on their own account. Moreover, it is characteristic of the value form that human relations appear as relations between the commodities they produce and exchange, these things become posited as effective in their own right.
Remark Later I shall treat the alienation of labour, in which the powers of labour are objectively displaced to these ‘values’, relations of labours appearing as relations of things. As the commodity acquires a life of its own, so living labour is reified in such thing-like form.
§23.32/3 Value as Absolute Relation of Form and Content
Money as absolute form of value seems to reduce commodities to vanishing moments. But, as form determined to finitude, value must posit itself in a subsistent ‘content’. When money attributes to commodities the value substance, it is posited in them as the content complementing the money form. In every commodity, value becomes a self-sufficient unity of substance, being formed as value by money, and through that posited as in itself ideally value. It is ‘a value’. The material body of the commodity serves as the shell of the value that is its true substance as a commodity. The absolute relation of money and commodities instantiates fully the logic of form and content touched on above much earlier. Now money as absolute form produces a content from within itself in the shape of commodity values. However, value as pure form posits itself as a content lacking in material determinacy. (Only later shall I discuss how capital as subject takes possession of its material basis, and how the magnitude of value is therewith determined.)
Remark In order to keep the categories straight, notice that two uses of the term ‘form’ are here employed. In its broadest sense ‘form’ comprehends the entire sequence of categories deployed through this discussion of the value form (which last contrasts with the bodily form of the commodity), and which comprehends all the logical categories predicated of value in the exposition, including value-as-form and value-as-content. But in a narrower sense, that in which, within this discussion, I oppose form and content, then money is the form of value and the value attributed to commodities is the content. Moreover, this notion of the determinacy of form is different from the imposition of a social form on material given to it, which we reach later with the notion of the ‘formal determination’ of the material inscribed within it. (See Glossary)
The absolute relation of form and content is posited when money attributes value to commodities as the adequate content of the value form, although as yet this determination is purely notional.
Remark I distinguish this category of ‘absolute relation’ from the earlier ‘essential relation’, i.e. ‘correlation’, which is the culminating category of the dialectic of appearance. A relation is essential if it makes its poles what they are (e.g. relative and equivalent forms of value). A relation is absolute if the poles turn out to be an internal opposition within an overarching identity; they descend from the same source so to speak. In a sense, absolute relation is no relation because both sides are sublated moments of the whole.
In the absolute relation form is not detachable from a supposed content, nor can there be a content indifferent to its form. Form passes over into content, and the content express itself in the form. The highest point of absolute relation of form and content shows the activity of the form determines itself only to shapes of itself. The supposed content is simply the self-presentation of the absolute so always already actual (rather than lying behind a superficial form). Here we see the passing over of form to content and content to form; yet as both are movements within the absolute relation its self-determination arrives only at forms of itself. Thus there is an ‘absolute’ character to the content. The ‘content’ is commodities that are formed as values through the activity of the money form; and they become themselves a form-determination of value just as money is. Posited as values they take money as what always already formed them as such.
When we first introduced ‘form’ this stood opposed to that of which it was supposed to be the form in that the latter was an abstract thing-in-itself, a mere bearer of the ‘property’ value (technically ‘existent’ but not ‘substantial’). ‘A value’ amongst values is a category of actuality. It is more concrete than the earlier existent thing with properties. This latter is simply based on value as a relational property of the commodity, which might lead thought to jump metonymically to the notion the commodity is ‘a value’, just as it is ‘a use-value’. But there is no ground for this in the given body of the commodity, nor yet was value itself a ‘body of value’.
Earlier we also saw the doubling of form allows form to be inwardly reflected so as to be a content, but form also, as mere immediacy, may be allowed an external existence indifferent to content, hence the form of value may be empty when non-products take commodity form or the law of value is distorted. Here, with money as the absolute form of value, the reciprocity of content and form presuppose a ‘fit’. But this requires further grounding.
So the relation of the money form of value to the commodity form of value is nothing other than form posited as its own content in commodities. The bodily shell of the commodity ‘contains’ a value body shaped as such by the money form. If, in the commodity, value is content, this does not mean the commodity is the form of that content for the form is money. What we have in the bodily shape of the commodity is not merely the shape of its material stuff but also the bodily shape of the value substance as posited by the commodity status of the material object. Commodities are now self-identical values (just as much as self-identical use-values).
Remark The sense of ‘content’ in this paragraph, in which it flows from form, is different from that sense in which the development of capitalism depends upon its material ‘content’ (which I reach later). In the latter context, social capital, in the entirety of its form-determinations, is the driver of the system, but it is enabled by the productive forces, and the magnitude of value is a function of the socially necessary labour time as it reduces.
§23.33 The Infinite Unity of the Value Substance
At first (§13) the value of a commodity existed only in terms of another, which served as its specific measure. Then, through the dialectic of the forms of value, I reach money as the real measure of the value of commodities because money is posited as value in autonomous form, as absolute form, as the value substance capable of sustaining its own proper measure (§23.31).
When applied to commodities money not only measures value but as absolute form in effect shapes commodity value into its content. As an absolute relation of form and content the two turn into one another, being in effect two determinations of the same substance. Commodities count as ‘values’, as all embodiments of value. Now we bring together the notion that value is yet one substance, with its existence in finitude in such ‘values’. Once the value measure is related to the commodity manifold in this function it brings coherence and order to it. The commodities have genuine discrete existence as ‘values’ in the plural.
Now, under the category of ‘the infinite unity’ of value-as-substance, I address the three dimensions of this underlying unity of value, namely: §23.33/1 The value of commodities is one substance, hence lacks true individuation; its modes are fully subsumed in it; nonetheless value must appear in finitude as numerically different bits; §23.33/2 The function of money in making possible the comparability of commodity values; §23.33/3 The merging of values in a mass of value measured as one sum, i.e. the additivity of sums of money.
I refer in this discussion to Form VII: the substantial form of value.
Form VII: The Substantial Form of Value
a units of A
z of money
b units of B
y of money
c units of C
x of money
d units of D
w of money
A & B & C & D … together
the sum of z + y + x + w …
NB Thus, A & B & C & D together are worth n, a single sum of money, where n is the sum of z + y + x + w …
§23.33/1 Identity of Commodities as Values
As values, all commodities are identical in substance (a qualitative moment). Commodities are, as it were, ‘shapes’ of the one substance. The form-determinations of value as substance, namely money and commodities, are complementary. If money as a sum of money is a finite mode of the value substance in immediate shape, once valued by such a sum a commodity is also posited as a finite mode of value, ‘a value’, so to speak. What is of the essence at this point is that the interchangeability of commodities follows from this unity in substance. ‘Difference’ here is no difference; for commodities of equal value are notionally substitutable. (Thus we may anticipate that the exchange of commodities, whether with money or other commodities, appears as value exchanging with itself.)
§23.33/2 Comparability of Commodities as Values
If value is embodied in commodities of definite worth, one commodity may be compared with another in magnitude (a quantitative moment). Values differing merely quantitatively are implicitly different only within their common substance.
Now, as shown in Form VII, money enables commodities to be compared in value terms even if they are not in use-value terms. Money situates all commodities in a homogenous value space, infinite in extent, showing how one commodity may be worth twice as much as another, for example. Money makes commodities comparable in value. The value of a commodity appears as less than, equal to, or more than, the value of another, as they are systematically co-determined as a system of values in a unitary value space.
§23.33/3 Merging of Values
The identity in substance of what is comparable in magnitude is not merely notional when we see that the value of commodities may be merged, and that their amounts are summable as shown in Form VII. This in principle is infinite additivity and shows there is something above and beyond existent finity. This we shall argue is the very concept of value, of which all possible finite values are determinations.
Value, although taking finite mode in sums of money or as embodied in commodities, 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 they 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 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. Most importantly, a set of commodities, each valued by a sum of money separately, may be treated as one. A basket of different commodities, which are heterogeneous in use-value, is capable of being taken as a unity with itself as a single value because the separate values are additive. All values merge to form one value by simply summing the separate magnitudes. 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.
Thus in Form VII, the commodities in the left column may be aggregated in terms of the values on the right. The oneness of money, explained in §23.31, trumps the differences presupposed in §23.32. Quantitative difference, being subsumed in this identity, is sublated in the infinite additivity of sums of money. Values merge into one mass of value. All that is necessary to make a transition to value as Concept is that the infinite unity of the value substance become explicitly posited by value itself. (This opens the way to the emergence of subject out of substance.)
Since we are totalling, the question arises implicitly as to the sense of valuing the total economic output including gold (if only gold is money). This is possible because gold can appear on the ‘left’ side of the measure relation with the other commodities, i.e. really present like them, and, on the right, figures notionally as the measure of all, including itself. With respect to the current status we have ascribed to commodities, as a pole of the absolute relation of value, they are certainly self-identical (a qualitative moment) as values, but only the money commodity is also self-equal (a moment of magnitude) because the measure function is the prerogative of money; commodities cannot ‘stand outside themselves’ so to speak, in order to take their own measure, the money commodity must supply their measure, just in virtue of being self-equivalent, as we argued earlier. The substantive form of value establishes that gold is valuable in itself if it is money; as such it measures itself; and the entire sum of commodities, including gold, may be given a measure in the standard unit of gold. The infinite unity of the value substance underpins such practical totalisation.
Remark This practical fact that all ‘values’ may merge into one sum of money confirms that 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 we can properly speak later of its ‘metamorphoses’ (how a substance, here value, changes shape in finite mode). Moreover, money as capital allows value to appear as a substance that can be accumulated.
Although unity in substance is a presupposition of the extended realm of value bodies in-formed by it, it is not a question of its explicit self-determination as it will be with value as subject. The implicit unity of substance discussed above has to become the explicit unity of the all-embracing concept if we are to grasp the logical form of capital.
More precisely, ‘the Concept’ is ontologically required for our presentation to advance from the consideration of a self-subsistent substance to that of a self-determining subject.
Logically money incarnates the homogenous value substance; yet commodities are the shell of differentiated values, each substantively value. A unified concept of value requires this difference to be a self-difference.
The transition to the Doctrine of the Concept employed here is similar to that used to vindicate the transition to the Doctrine of Essence. There, the infinite unity of the measure series suggested the presence of an underlying essence. Now the infinite unity in substance of all commodities as it is constituted by their proper measure, money, suggests that the indefinite set of values may be treated as potential instances of a universal. We shall show this formal possibility becomes actual in their real movement, for example the metamorphoses of commodities.
Here the additivity of value means that the total amount of value present may be limitlessly large yet never ceases to be the incarnation of value as one homogenous mass. Notwithstanding the existence of sums of money as distinct, they are all notionally brought together insofar as they are of one substance. All sums may themselves by summed. Taken to the limit such magnitudes transcend themselves, not in the meaninglessness of an infinite sum, but in the unitary concept of value distinct from any and all instances. Thus value as such is distinct from any such quantity.
I next move to consider how such a presupposed Concept posits itself. ‘To determine is to negate’. Thus if a commodity is worth say four pounds, it is not worth, e.g. five pounds. But as concept of value, money negates all these negations and is grasped as their negative unity. To actualise the oneness of value means to go beyond specific sums, even an infinite sum, to register the negative unity of all these possible sums in a higher form, the unitary value-concept capable of determination in infinite ways. This supplants the occult notion of the abyss of one substance by an explicit positing of the universal and its determinations.
In substance values are present only in a passive unity. But to think them in their identity is to presuppose a pure concept. From this I shall reach capital. Value is a self-sustaining substance that becomes subject as self-activating capital.
Addendum on Commodity Money
This chapter may appear odd to some, because it commits itself to commodity money, namely gold. The reason for this is related to the method employed in the presentation, which must proceed one step at a time in a perspicuous order. (The prevalence of gold money historically is entirely irrelevant to it.) 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 at this level I proceed to a money commodity when seeking to actualise the universal equivalent form. Why is this? The methodological reason for it is that each stage of a systematic 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 occasional flight to gold).
At this level of commodity relations it suffices 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.
The monetary medium allows money really to confront commodities; this is what makes commodity money seem the obvious bearer of such reality. Although in the medium of gold the function of measure is effected materially, this is not essential. The key requirement is merely that the medium has a metric, that it makes present in finite form value as an amount of itself; it is clear this may be done formally with inconvertible bank notes. The reason for this is that the medium provided by it simply has to make money visible so to speak.
Nevertheless, for value to make itself present requires some medium or other, even when commodity money is abandoned. But at this level of the presentation we consider only commodity money since that is the resource available. Gold money is not a necessary condition for capital but money of some kind is. In order to give the measure its operational actuality some believe it must be a product of labour, because it must be of the same nature as what is measured, just as weight may be measured in a balance by standard ‘weights’. But this is unnecessary. Here we are considering measure as pure form corresponding to our presentation of value as pure immanence. It is certainly not the case that a measure of value must itself be something of value.6 (For a start, how would this value itself be measured?) To give value in a monetary medium requires simply that its essential character as quantitative be made phenomenally present in the forms of unit, amount, proportion, etc.; what the bearer of these forms is does not matter as long as practice designates them as socially acceptable tender.7 The pure form of measure requires simply a linear metric such that four dollars are worth twice two dollars. Indeed, the perfect money bearer should approximate as closely as possible to an immaterial being.
Gold is no longer money; however, even in Marx’s day gold did not circulate but was simply represented in accounts. Today we have various forms of credit money, centrally non-convertible bank notes. In circulation inconvertible paper may function as money; this it does, not by being a representative commodity, nor by being a representation of value, but by serving as the presence of value. How is such money to be understood? There two possible alternatives to gold: bank money created ex nihilo and state-issued paper.
It is not possible for the presentation to give an account of bank money at this point for the simple reason that banks are capitalist institutions, and we have not as yet developed such an institutional framework, nor even the very concept of capital itself. The systematic development cannot have credit money (properly capitalist money) come in straight away, when it is only later in the argument that it may be developed after earlier in the presentation commodity money functions ‘virtually’.
If it is said that something with a socially objective status outside the body of the commodity whose value is expressed is required, but that it may be left indeterminate on this level whether that is commodity money or credit money, would that be adequate to the purpose of positing money? However, such a move leaves money as ‘our abstraction’, as externally generated. The form of ‘external reflection’ lacks immanent determination.
So the determining reflection immanent to the movement of commodities themselves is needed. We require a minimum sufficient condition. Indeterminacy is certainly minimal but not a sufficient ground to support the objectivity of value, whereas a commodity is already there and merely has to be reassigned to generate the dimensionality of value. It does not mend matters if one were to suppose that some external agency imposes a ‘money’, for example, a ‘legal tender’ consisting of state-issued paper. This is logically consistent with the confines of simple circulation. However, such a supposition disrupts the immanent development of the money form of value, which I have undertaken.8
Finally, let us note an important defect in commodity money. Now, initially, a certain commodity, gold, is presented as the bearer of money. Although a commodity, it is posited as counting as money. However, this means barter is still not transcended. In a perfected system of generalised commodity exchange all commodities enter circulation by sale. But gold enters as a produced commodity with a potential value, which remains unexpressed in price. In order for money to oppose itself to commodities as money, not as any sort of commodity, this defect has to be overcome.
Later such defects of gold may be addressed when the means to remedy them have been developed. We first must develop the concept of capital, and then the specific form of banking capital. On this basis I develop properly capitalist money, namely ex nihilo credit money (see §91 in Chapter 15).
This chapter begins by promising to show how is posited the presupposition that value lies immanent in commodity relations. The centrepiece of this argument is the development of the money form of value. We show that if value-as-essence is to be grounded it must find an appropriate form of expression in its world of appearance. This world is unified in ‘Form III the general form of value’ in which the unique universal equivalent instantiates value in autonomous shape. This necessity is secured by the social acceptance of a suitable money commodity (at this stage of the presentation). Money as the absolute form of value unites two form-determinations of money: ‘exchangeabilty-in-immediacy’, and ‘immediate exchangeabilty’, in value as an ideal social substance. This substance is presupposed as an immanent mass of value, but its magnitude is grounded only in the money measure, which provides a suitable monetary medium for this purpose. As measure proper, money is the real measure of value of commodities. But this grounds the imputation that commodities are themselves now posited as ‘values’. Despite the fetish-character of such a form it has objective validity, it is argued. The merging of such values in a single sum of value is the highest point of the form ‘value-as-substance’. The implicit infinite unity of substance is sublated in ‘value-as-concept’, explicitly put, in the next chapter, on the capital form.
See the Commentary on Hegel in Appendices for its source.
It is unfortunate that Marx uses as an abbreviation the formula ‘x of commodity A = y of commodity B’. The problem here is that a relation of equality is reflexive and symmetrical. But the expression of value is neither reflexive nor symmetrical. And Marx knows this! In his discussion he explicitly denies the expression of value is reflexive and symmetrical. (For a thorough discussion of the logic of relations here see Arthur 2004.) Only much later in my exposition do I show that prices are reflexive, symmetrical, and transitive.
Cf. Bellofiore 2014, p. 177.
For the real history of the emergence of money see Seaford 2004.
I follow Reuten 2019, pp. 43–5, in bringing to the fore the form of ‘medium of value’.
Campbell 2017 shows Marx’s Capital allows for the possibility that a fully functioning money need not have intrinsic value. She says the fact that money does not have to have intrinsic value, to function as measure, is an important step towards credit money.
Reuten 2019, pp. 103–5, pp. 108–9, argues that ‘bank account money’ as ‘socially acceptable tender’ is derivable prior to the state and ‘legal tender’.
My position – that money and banks should not be brought into the exposition early – contrasts with Reuten 2019, which gives a systematic argument for the necessity of money and banks, by saying that money is a necessary condition of existence of ‘one-dimensional value’ (p. 43), and that this in turn presupposes the actual creation of money ex nihilo by banks (p. 103). (One advantage of this position is that the exposition avoids a stage of gold money, which is not a necessary condition of capital.)