Theory of the Value-Form & Theory of the Exchange Process, by Kuruma Samezō 1957


1. [Here and elsewhere Kuruma originally used the term “value-thing” (kachi-butsu; Wertding) rather than “value-body” (kachi-tai; Wertkörper); however, in his 1979 conversation with Teinosuke Otani, published as Part 1 of Kuruma’s book Kahei-ron (Theory of Money), he recognized that it “was an oversight” on his part to use the term “value-thing” in this case to refer to what should be called the “value-body” or “a thing that counts as a value-thing” (Kuruma, 1979, pp. 99-100). (That part of their conversation is not included in Part Two of this book.) In line with Kuruma’s comment, I have replaced “value-thing” with “value-body” when it is used inappropriately. – EMS]

2. In Contribution, those parts corresponding to Chapter 1 on the commodity and Chapter 2 on the exchange process in Capital are all included within Chapter 1, without any separating headings; but if we look at the actual content it is obvious which part in Contribution corresponds to the theory of the exchange process in Capital.

3. The passage just quoted does not appear in the subsequent editions of Capital; and later I will speculate as to why it was removed.

4. This is a point I make in the first article of Part 2 in relation to the question of abstracting from the want of the linen owner.

5. [I have used roman numerals (I, II, III and IV) to indicate the four forms of value in the first German edition of Capital and capital letters (A, B, C and D) to refer to the forms that appear in the second edition of Capital. – EMS]

6. After that passage, Marx goes on, in addressing the same fundamental point, to write:

“As one sees, the analysis of the commodity yields all essential determinations of the form of value. It yields the form of value itself, in its opposite moments, the general relative form of value, the general equivalent form, finally the never-ending series of simple relative value expressions, which first constitute a transitional phase in the development of the form of value, in order to eventually turn into the specific relative form of value of the general equivalent. However, the analysis of the commodity yielded these forms as forms of the commodity in general, which can therefore be taken on by every commodity – although in a polar manner, so that when commodity A finds itself in one form determination, then commodities B, C, etc. assume the other in relation to it.” (Marx, 1976b, pp. 33-34)

If it is the case that the discussion of form IV itself and issues related to it are a reflection on form III and that, in relation to the determination of the general equivalent posited there, the abstract character of the theory of the value-form is elucidated and the limitations of such cognition suggested, then I think it could be said that the passage above looks back on the entirety of the value-form developed up to that point and more generally clarifies its abstract character, while suggesting the limitations of that level of cognition.

7. Marx writes in the second edition of Capital:

“Every one knows, if he knows nothing else, that commodities have a value-form common to them all which presents a marked contrast to the varied bodily forms of the use-values – i.e., their money-form. Here, however, a task is set to us, which bourgeois economics never even tried to accomplish; namely, to trace the genesis of this money-form, i.e., to pursue the development of the expression of value contained in the value-relation of commodities, from its simplest, almost imperceptible shape, to the blinding money-form. When this is done, the riddle of money will also disappear at the same time.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 139)

As a matter of course, no description of this sort can be found in the first edition of Capital.

8. In the theory of the exchange process this issue is discussed in the following way:

“In the direct exchange of products, each commodity is a direct means of exchange to its owner, and an equivalent to those who do not possess it, although only in so far as it has use-value for them. At this stage, therefore, the articles exchanged do not acquire a value-form independent of their own use-value, or of the individual wants of the exchangers. The need for this form first develops with the increase in the number and variety of the commodities entering into the process of exchange. The problem and the means for its solution arise simultaneously. Commercial intercourse, in which the owners of commodities exchange and compare their own articles with various other articles, never takes place unless different kinds of commodities belonging to different owners are exchanged for, and equated as values with, one single further kind of commodity. This further commodity, by becoming the equivalent of various other commodities, directly acquires the form of a general or social equivalent, if only within narrow limits. The general equivalent form comes and goes with the momentary social contacts which call it into existence. It is transiently attached to this or that commodity in alternation. But with the development of exchange it fixes itself firmly and exclusively onto particular kinds of commodity, i.e., it crystallizes out into the money-form. The particular kind of commodity to which it sticks is at first a matter of accident. Nevertheless there are two circumstances which are by and large decisive. The money-form comes to be attached either to the most important articles of exchange from outside, which are in fact the primitive and spontaneous forms of manifestation of the exchange-value of local products, or to the object of utility which forms the chief element of indigenous alienable wealth, for example cattle. ... In the same proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds, and the value of commodities accordingly expands more and more into the material embodiment of human labor as such, in that proportion does the money-form become transferred to commodities which are by nature fitted to perform the social function of a general equivalent. Those commodities are the precious metals. The truth of the statement that ‘although gold and silver are not by nature money, money is by nature gold and silver,’ is shown by the congruence between the natural properties of gold and silver and the functions of money. ... Only a material whose every sample possesses the same uniform quality can be an adequate form of appearance of value, that is a material embodiment of abstract and therefore equal human labor. On the other hand, since the difference between the magnitudes of value is purely quantitative, the money commodity must be capable of purely quantitative differentiation, it must therefore be divisible at will, and it must also be possible to assemble it again from its component parts. Gold and silver possess these properties by nature.” (Marx, 1976a, pp. 182-184)

9. In carrying out his analysis, Marx notes:

“The specific kind of commodity with whose natural form the equivalent form is socially interwoven now becomes the money commodity, or serves as money. It becomes its specific social function, and consequently its social monopoly, to play the part of universal equivalent within the commodity world. Among the commodities which in form B figure as particular equivalents of the linen, and in form C express in common their relative values in linen, there is one in particular which has historically conquered this advantageous position: gold. If, then, in form C, we replace the linen with gold, we get ... “ (Marx, 1976a, p. 162)

At that point, Marx shows us form D (money-form), featuring an equation with an infinite number of commodities on the left-hand side and gold placed on the right, and then writes:

“Fundamental changes have taken place in the course of the transition from form A to form B, and from form B to form C. As against this, form D differs not at all from form C, except that gold instead of linen, gold has now assumed the general equivalent form. Gold is in form D what linen was in form C: the general equivalent. The advance consists only in that the form of direct and general exchangeability, in other words the general equivalent form, has now by social custom irrevocably become entwined with the specific bodily form of the commodity gold.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 162)

But the money-form does not stop at this alone. Immediately following the passage above, Marx adds:

“The simple relative expression of the value of some commodity, such as linen, in the commodity which already functions as the money commodity, such as gold, is the price form. The ‘price form’ of the linen is therefore: 20 yards of linen = 2 ounces of gold, or, if 2 ounces of gold when coined are £2, 20 yards of linen = £2.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 163)

Marx explains this point in greater detail in his discussion of the function of money as the measure of value in the Section 1 of Chapter 3:

“The expression of the value of a commodity in gold – x commodity A = y money commodity – is its money-form or its price. A single equation, such as 1 ton of iron = 2 ounces of gold, now suffices to express the value of the iron in a socially valid manner. There is no longer any need for this equation to line up together with all other equations that express the value of the other commodities, because the equivalent commodity, gold, already possesses the character of money. The commodities’ general relative value-form has thus the same shape as their original relative value-form: the simple or individual relative value.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 189)

In other words, although it can be said that the money-form is inherently the same shape as the general value-form, it certainly does not remain at this level. Rather, it is completed upon the general equivalent form adhering to gold, so that it is gold’s “specific social function, and consequently its social monopoly, to play the part of universal equivalent within the commodity world.” Thus, the list of commodities on the left side of the equation that characterizes the general relative form of value is dissolved to bring about the price-form, which has the same appearance as the initial simple value-form. This is also the form of commodity-value that presents itself to us in reality: the completed appearance of the value-form. The discussion of this form is therefore the natural task for the theory of the value-form. Not only is it possible, from a purely formal perspective, to discuss the money-form separately from the general value-form, it is in fact necessary to do so.

10. [The transcript was later published by Kawade Shobo in 1949 as a two-volume book entitled Shihon-ron kenkyu (Study of Das Kapital), and then issued in a single volume under the same title by Shiseido Shoten in 1958. – EMS]

11. Uno said that it is not possible to understand the value-form apart from the role played by the owner’s want, and in insisting on that position he provided those of us on the other side of the debate with material for reflection and a valuable opportunity to better formulate our ideas.

12. For the owner of the “different commodity,” the “use-value of a commodity” exists not only as such but also as the object he wants.

13. Marx, in a letter to Engels, derisively commented (parenthetically) on the following criticism made by the “critical genius of professorial political economy,” Karl Knies:

“Not even great perspicacity such as is at the command of Marx is able to solve the task of ‘reducing use values’ (the idiot forgets that the subject under discussion is ‘commodities’) i.e., vehicles for enjoyment, etc. to their opposite, to amounts of effort, to sacrifices etc. (The idiot believes that in the value-equation I wish to ‘reduce’ use-values to value.) That is to substitute a foreign element. The equation of disparate use values is only explicable by the reduction of the same to a common factor of use value. (Why not simply to – weight?).” (Marx, 1991, p. 252)

14. It is not only a single commodity (such as linen) that equates gold to itself, of course, but all of the other commodities that constitute the commodity world.

15. In this case, needless to say, we are dealing with “abstract human labor” in common solely between the labor that makes the linen and the labor that makes the coat.

16. Marx writes:

“Bailey’s reasoning is of the most superficial description. Its starting point is his concept of value. The value of the commodity is the expression of its value in a certain quantity of other values in use (the use-value of other commodities). ... [The real problem, how it is possible to express the value in exchange of A in the value in use of B does not even occur to him.]” (Marx, 1989a, p. 335)

17. “If we say that, as values, commodities are simply congealed quantities of human labor, our analysis reduces them to the abstraction ‘value,’ but does not give them a form of value distinct from their natural forms. It is otherwise in the value-relation of one commodity to another. The first commodity’s value character steps forward here through its own relationship with the second commodity.

“For example, through the coat qua value-thing being equated to the linen, the labor embedded in the coat is equated to the labor embedded in the linen. It is true that the tailoring which makes the coat is concrete labor of a different sort than the weaving which makes the linen. But by being equated to the weaving the tailoring is in fact reduced to what is actually equal between the two kinds of labor, which is the characteristic they have in common as human labor. Through this detour, weaving too, in so far as it weaves value, has nothing to distinguish it from tailoring, and, consequently, is abstract human labor. Only the different sorts of commodities as equivalents makes the specific character of value-creating labor apparent, by in fact reducing the different kinds of labor embedded in the different kinds of commodities to their general quality of being human labor in general. ...

“We see, then, that everything our analysis of the value of commodities previously told us is repeated by the linen itself, as soon as it interacts with another commodity, the coat. Only it reveals its thoughts in a language with which it alone is familiar, the language of commodities. In order to say that its own value has been created by labor in its abstract quality of being human labor, it says that the coat, in so far as it counts as its equal, i.e., in so far as it is value, consists of the same labor as it does itself. In order to say that the sublime objectivity which makes up its value differs from its starched body, it says that value has the appearance of a coat, and therefore that in so far as the linen itself is a value-thing, it and the coat are as alike as two peas.” (Marx, 1976a, pp. 142-144)

“If I say: The linen qua commodity is use-value and exchange-value, then this is the judgment concerning the nature of the commodity obtained through analysis. On the other hand, in the expression 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or 20 yards of linen is worth 1 coat, the linen itself says that it is (1) use-value (linen), (2) exchange-value differing from that use-value (a thing equal to a coat), and (3) a unity of both these differences, therefore a commodity.” (Marx, 1976b, p. 61)

18. We are not dealing with value-expression, in the strict sense of the term, without this condition of repeated exchange.

19. “The simple relative value-expression of a commodity in money – x commodity A = y money-commodity – is the price of this commodity. ... On the other hand, the developed relative expression of value, i.e., the endless row of relative value-expression, becomes the specific relative value-form of the money-commodity. But this row is now already given within the various commodity prices. If we read the price-list backwards, we can see the magnitude of the value of money indicated in every possible sort of commodity. This row also comes to have new significance. Since gold is money, already in its natural form, the general equivalent form, i.e., the form of general direct exchangeability, is rendered independent of these expressions of relative value. Therefore, the row of value expressions now at the same time, in addition to the magnitude of the value of gold, expresses the developed world of the material wealth, i.e., use-values, into which gold is directly convertible.” (Marx, 1983b, pp. 59-60)

“The commodity that figures as the general equivalent is ... excluded from the uniform and therefore from the general relative form of value of the commodity world. If the linen, or any commodity in the general equivalent form, were, at the same time, to share in the relative form of value, it would have to serve as its own equivalent. We should then have: 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen, a tautology in which neither value nor its magnitude is expressed. In order to express the relative value of the general equivalent, we must rather reverse form C. This equivalent has no relative form of value in common with other commodities; its value is, rather, expressed itself relatively in the infinite row of all other commodity-bodies. Thus, the expanded relative form of value, or form B, now appears as the specific relative form of value of the equivalent commodity.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 161)

“The expression of the value of a commodity in gold – x commodity A = y money commodity – is the money-form or price of the commodity. ... On the other hand, the expanded relative expression of value, the endless row of equations, has now become the specific relative form of value of the money commodity. This row, however, is now already socially given in the prices of the commodities. We only need to read the quotations of a price list backwards to find the magnitude of the value of money expressed in all possible commodities. A price, however, money does not have. This uniform relative form of value of the other commodities is not open to money, because money cannot be brought into relation with itself as its own equivalent.” (Marx, 1976a, p. 189)

Cf. Marx, 1976a, pp. 199 and 205.

20. In the case of C1 as well, as far as it is posited in the equivalent form for another commodity, a potentiality naturally taken into consideration by the producer of C1 from the outset, it comes to be the value-body for the other commodity and thus also has direct exchangeability vis-à-vis that commodity.

21. Cf. Marx, 1976a, pp. 144-146.

22. Uno seems to be confusing two things. As I noted above, it is a clear error to declare that the commodity in the equivalent form does not appear as an actual good; however, it is also a clear fact that the commodity in the equivalent form, within the value-relation in which it is posited as equivalent, i.e., as far as being the material for the value-expression of the commodity in the relative form of value, exists as something imagined in the mind. It can be thought that Uno links this fact to the observations he makes, but in so doing he is clearly mistaken. In fact, the opposite supposition should be made, as I note in the main text above.

23. “Let us consider transactions of exchange between linen-producer A and coat-producer B. Before the deal is struck, A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 2 coats (20 yards of linen = 2 coats), but B says: 1 coat is worth 22 yards of linen (1 coat = 22 yards of linen). Finally, after they have haggled for a long time, they come to agreement. A says: 20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat, and B says: 1 coat is worth 20 yards of linen. In this case, both linen and coat are situated at the same time in relative value-form and equivalent form. But (nota bene), the circumstance obtains for two different persons and in two different value-expressions, which appeared only at the same time. As far as A is concerned, his linen (because for him the initiative has its origin in his commodity) is situated in the relative value-form, and it is the commodity of the other person (the coat) on the other hand which is situated in equivalent form. It is the other way around from the standpoint of B. The same commodity thus never – not even in this case – possesses both forms at the same time in the same value-expression.” (Marx, 1976b, pp. 50-51)