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- Jan 2020
the phenomenal form
In Fowkes, the 'form of appearance' or the Erscheinungsform.
Exchange value is the 'form of appearance' of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it--this 'third thing' will turn out to be 'socially necessary labor time'.
Book Two of Hegel's Science of Logic, the Doctrine of Essence, begins with a chapter on 'Der Schein,' which appears in A.V. Miller's translation as "Illusory Being" (Hegel, Science of Logic, trans. by A.V. Miller, pp. 393-408).
Here, Hegel describes "schein" as "reflected immediacy, that is immediacy which is only by means of its negation and which when contrasted with its mediation is nothing but the empty determination of the immediacy of negated determinate being," (p. 396).
Hegel goes on to remark that "Schein" is "the phenomenon [Phänomen] of skepticism, and the Appearance [Erscheinung] of idealism," (p. 396).
In describing exchange value as the 'Erscheinungsform' of 'something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it'--which will be labor--Marx is clearly flirting with the terminology surrounding "Illusory Being" in the Science of Logic, which suggests labor as the 'thing-in-itself' of the exchange value. Exchange-value is the reflected immediacy that conceals the congealed labor that it is its essence.
The passage as a whole is suggestive of how exchange value will wend its way through Marx's demonstration, unfolding from itself determinations of itself.
Before presenting a long, difficult quotation from Hegel, I think the most straightforward way to present this reference to Hegel is to say present the argument as follows:
In Kantian idealism, we find that the 'thing-in-itself' cannot become an object of knowledge; consciousness only ever has immediate access to the form of appearance, the 'sensible form' of a 'thing-in-itself' which never presents itself to consciousness. In referring to the value form as the 'form of appearance' of something else which does not appear, Marx is saying that just as idealism subordinates the objectivity of the world to its appearance for consciousness, exchange-value represents immediately an essence that it suppresses, and implicitly, denies the possibility of knowledge of this essence.
Hegel writes, "Skepticism did not permit itself to say 'It is'; modern idealism did not permit itself to regard knowledge as a knowing of the thing-in-itself; the illusory being of skepticism was supposed to lack any foundation of being, and in idealism the thing-in-itself was not supposed to enter into knowledge. But at the same time, skepticism admitted a multitude of determinations of its illusory being, or rather its illusory being had for content the entire manifold wealth of the world. In idealism, too, Appearance [Erscheinung] embraces within itself the range of these manifold determinateness. This illusory being and this Appearance are immediately thus manifoldly determined. This content, therefore, may well have no being, no thing or thing-in-itself at its base; it remains on its own account as it is; the content has only been transferred from being into an illusory being, so that the latter has within itself those manifold determinateness, which are immediate, simply affirmative, and mutually related as others. Illusory being is, therefore, itself immediately determinate. It can have this or that content; whatever content it has, illusory being does not posit this itself but has it immediately. The various forms of idealism, Leibnizian, Kantian, Fichtean, and others, have not advanced beyond being as determinateness, have not advanced beyond this immediacy, any more than skepticism did. Skepticism permits the content of its illusory being to be given to it; whatever content it is supposed to have, for skepticism it is immediate. The monad of Leibniz evolves its ideas and representations out of itself; but it is not the power that generates and binds them together, rather do they arise in the monad like bubbles; they are indifferent and immediate over against one another and the same in relation to the monad itself. Similarly, the Kantian Appearance [Erscheinung] is a given content of perception; it presupposes affections, determinations of the subject, which are immediately relatively to themselves and to the subject. It may well be that the infinite obstacle of Fichte's idealism has no underlying thing-in-itself, so that it becomes purely a determinateness in the ego; but for the ego, this determinateness which it appropriates and whose externality it sublates is at the same time immediate, a limitation of the ego, which it can transcend but which has in it an element of indifference, so that although the limitation is in the ego, it contains an immediate non-being of the ego." (p. 396-397).
In Lenin's notebooks on Hegel's Science of Logic, these sections provoke a considerable degree of excitement. Lenin's 'Conspectus of Hegel's Science of Logic' can be accessed via Marxists.org here:
The nature of the wants that commodities satisfy makes no difference. This is perhaps somewhat surprising to readers, given the extent to which everyday critiques of capitalist society often center around the role that consumerism plays and the subjective effects that this produces, namely, the way that consumer society creates all sorts of desires (as well as the obverse--many will defend capitalism on the grounds that it is able to satisfy our inordinate appetite for novelty by producing an enormous proliferation of desirable commodities). Yet, for Marx, the nature of these desires "makes no difference."
It is worth pointing out that the critique of the appetites that consumer society spawns is by no means new (a rather early moment in the history of consumer society). We find it already on display in Book II of Plato's Republic. In looking to shift the terrain of the analysis of justice from the individualistic, social contractualist theory of justice elaborated by Glaucon, Socrates founds a 'city' based on the idea that no one is self-sufficient, that human beings have much need of one another, and that the various crafts--farming, weaving cloth, etc.--fare best when each person specializes in that craft to which they are most suited by nature. After sketching out a kind of idyllic, pastoral community based on the principle of working together to satisfy our natural appetites, Socrates aristocratic companion Glaucon objects, describing this city as a 'city fit for pigs'. At this point, Socrates conjures what he calls the 'luxurious city', at which point a whole host of social ills are unleashed in order to satisfy Glaucon's desire for the luxuries to which he is accustomed. Currency and trade are introduced, along with a more complex division of labor (and wage labor!), and quite quickly, war. On the basis of the principle of 'one person, one craft', Socrates argues that making war is itself a craft that requires specialization (and thus a professional army).
For Plato, this represents the beginning of class society, as the profession military becomes a class distinct from the class of producers and merchants.
Plato thus anticipates a version of a view that becomes one of the key theses of the Marxist theory of the state, namely, the idea that the state exists only in societies that have become "entangled in an insoluble contradiction within itself" and which are "cleft into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel," (Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State). The state emerges as "a power apparently standing above society...whose purpose is to moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'" Engels writes, "this power arising out of society, but placing itself above it, and increasingly separating itself from it, is the state." Lenin cites this passage in the first pages of State and Revolution in order to critique the 'bourgeois' view that the state exists in order to reconcile class interests. In Lenin's reading of Marx, the state exists as "an organ of classs domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another," a view articulated in The Communist Manifesto, (cf. V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution in V.I.Lenin: Collected Works, Vol. 25, pp. 385-497).
Marx cites this same passage from Republic in a long footnote to his discussion of the Division of Labor and Manufacture on pp. 487-488, which also happens to be the sole place in Capital where Marx cites Plato.
The fact that Marx here expresses indifference to the particular appetites that commodities satisfy is thus intriguing and ambiguous. Given that this question both clearly animates Plato's discussion of the origin of class society in Republic and, additionally serves as an alternative to the social contractarian view of justice that descends from Glaucon through Hobbes and the 18th century 'Robinsonades', this seemingly technical point also touches upon questions concerning Marx's engagement with both classical and modern political theory.
If for Plato, the unruly appetites represent the seed of which class-divided society is the fruit, Marx's dismissal of the question of the nature of the appetites that are satisfied by commodities points to exchange-value and the social forms that it unleashes as being key dimensions of the particular form that class-antagonism takes in capitalist society.
In the original German, 'prevails' is rendered "herrscht." Herrscht shares a common root with the ordinary German word Herr (Mister, or, more evocatively, Master). 'Lordship' (as, in the chapter of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, on 'Lordship and Bondage' is rendered Herrschaft.)
My own reading of Capital tends to center upon the question of domination in capitalist societies, and throughout chapter 1 (in particular, in The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof) Marx is especially attuned to the distinguishing how the forms of domination that are prevalent in capitalist societies are distinct from the relations of "personal dependence" that characterize pre-capitalist modes of production.
It seems prudent, therefore, to take note of the way that the seemingly innocuous notion of 'prevalence' is, for Marx, in his original formulation, already evocative of the language of mastery, domination, perhaps even something like 'hegemony'.
Furthermore, the capitalist mode of production prevails--it predominates. Yet, as Louis Althusser observes in his discussion of the concept of the 'mode of production' in On the Reproduction of Capitalism, every concrete social formation can be classified according to the mode of production that is dominant (that prevails--herrscht). In order to dominate, something must implicitly be dominated, or subordinate. "In every social formation," Althusser writes, "there exists more than one mode of production: at least two and often many more." Althusser cites Lenin, who in his analysis of the late 19th c. Russian social formation, observes that four modes of production can be distinguished (Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism, Verso 2014, p. 19.)
In our analysis of social formations, the concrete specificity of each can be articulated by carefully examining the multiplicity of modes of production that coincide within it, and examine the way in which capitalism tends to dominate a multiplicity of subordinate modes of production that, on the one hand, survive from past modes of production but which may also, on the other, be emerging in the present (i.e. communism). Thus even if capitalism tends towards the formation of a contiguous world-system dominated by its particular imperatives, this does not mean that this process is homogenous or unfolds in the same way in each instance.
For some commentators, capitalism is defined by the prevalence of wage labor and the specific dynamics that obtain therefrom. Yet this has often led to confusion over, whether, in analyzing the North American social formation prior to 1865, in which slavery coexists with wage-labor, the mode of production based on slave-labor is pre-capitalist. Yet as we find here in ch. 1, what determines the commodity as a commodity is not that it is the product of wage labor, rather that it is produced for exchange. As Marx writes on p. 131, "He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labor admittedly creates use-values, but not commodities. Insofar as the slave-system in North America produced commodities (cotton, tobacco, etc.) for exchange on the world market, the fact that these commodities were produced under direct conditions of domination does not have any bearing on whether or not we identify this system of production as 'capitalist'. Wage-labor is therefore not likely the determinative factor; the determinative factor is the production of commodities for exchange. It is only insofar as commodities confront one another as exchange-values that the various modes of useful labor appear as expressions of a homogenous common substance, labor in the abstract
It is in this sense that we can observe one of the ways that the capitalist mode of production prevails over other modes of production, as it subordinates these modes of production to production for exchange, and thus the law of value, regardless of whether wage-labor represents the dominant form of this relation. Moreover, it provides a clue to how we can examine, for example, the persistence of unwaged work within the family, which has important consequences for Social Reproduction Theory.
Nonetheless, we can say that insofar as commodities confront each other on the market in a scene of exchange that they implicitly contain some 'third thing' which enables us to compare them as bearers of a magnitude of value. This 'third thing', as Marx's demonstration shows, is 'socially necessary labour time', which anticipates the way that wage-labor will become a dominant feature of capitalist society.
- Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks
- Wage Labor
- Class Society
- Louis Althusser
- On the Reproduction of Capitalism
- Phenomenology of Spirit
- Science of Logic
- State and Revolution
- State Theory
- Class struggle
- Social Reproduction Theory
- Origin of the Family