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Extended break there was. Had to travel to Loerrach, Germany, to help my partner’s parents prepare to move house. It appears the discussion was broken off last post at the begining of the exploration into the relative form of value and its content. In order to make this exploration Marx approaches the concept independent of its quantitative aspect. This can be done because

“nothing is seen in the value-relation but the proportion in which definite quantities of two sorts of commodity count as equal to each other” (140). How many pencils for how many computers, or whatever. Again, it cannot be stressed more that these different commodities are comparable quantitatively because they are reduced to a common denominator, and therefore imply that these magnitudes of value are expressions of the same unit. Also let it be reinforced that the relative value stands opposed to its equivalent in the isolated expression of value; each commodity simultaneously plays both roles.

In our example the computer, as the equivalent form of value,  occupies the role of the objectification (material embodiment) of value. Because the labor created value is objectified in the computer can it be exchanged with so many pencils or whatever else. Or to put it another way, the existence of pencils as value can only be if there are the computers to stand opposed as value equivalents. 

The values of commodities emerge through their relation to each other as quantities of socially necessary labor, which is in fact the relation of any number of people in any number of fields. In the same way that this is an expression of equivalencies of different commodities, it is an expression of equivalencies of the types of labor that went into making the computer and the pencils. Here labor is factored commonly through its value creating characteristic.

It is important not to abbreviate this. Labor /is/ not value. Labor creates value. Labor can only become value if it obtains an objective form, a body.  

Here we can interpolate this into the working definition of commodity: “a thing in which value is mainfested, or which represents value in its tangible natural form” (143). As a use-value a computer is a computer, in the exchange relation with pencils the computer is a body of value.

‘The computer cannot represent value towards the pencils unless value, for the latter, simultaneously assumes the form of a computer.’ In the value relation two different use-values count only as value toward each other. As use-values the computer and pencils are tangibly different. As values the pencils and computer are identical. Here, in the isolated exchange relation, use-value ≠ use-value but value = value.

The physical body of commodity B becomes a mirror for the value of commodity A. (Body of computer becomes mirror of the value borne by the 100,000 pencils). The value of one commodity expressed in the use-value of another.

In the exchange relation the form of value does not only express value in general, but a magnitude of value quantitatively determined by a definite quantity of human labor. Of course, we already know that this quantity is socially determined as socially necessary labor time, and as a variable changes with every change in a society’s level of productivity. Changes in the productivity of a society influences changes in the expression of value and value’s relative form.

Suppose the value of pencils fluctuates while the value of computers remains the same. If the socially necessary labor time for pencils doubles so will the value. 100,000 pencils would then have an equivalent value in 2 computers. If the socially necessary labor time for pencils halves, so will their value. One would then need 200,000 pencils to exchange for 1 computer.

Suppose the value of pencils remains constant while the value of computers fluctuates. If the socially necessary labor time for computers doubles it is the same as if the labor time socially necessary for pencils was halved, i.e. now it takes 200,000 pencils to relate to 1 computer. If the socially necessary labor time for computers halves, it is the same as if the labor time necessary for pencils was doubled, i.e. 100,000 pencils has an equivalent value in 2 computers.

A change in the magnitude of value in the relative form can be caused by a fluctuation in value of either the commodity in the relative or equivalent form.

Suppose the value for pencils and the value for computer fluctuates simultaneously in the same direction and in the same proportion. The changes in value are then invisible unless compared to a third commodity whose value has remained constant.

If the value of all commodities rose or fell at the same time and in the exact same proportions, the relative values would remain unchanged. While an exchange relation of 1 to 10 is less than one of 10 to 100 in absolute terms, the two rates of exchange are identical relative to each other -as ratios. One could work out all the permutations possible by all the different directions and proportions of fluctuations, but it is not really necessary for grasping the concept.

Once again it is time for some caveats and essentials lest we become too mechanistic or conflate value with value in its relative form.

1. The relative value of a commodity may vary even though its real value remains constant.

2. The relative value may remain constant even though its real value varies.

3. Simultaneous variations in the real and relative values do not have to correspond.

Next time we will move on to probe the equivalent form.


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