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Can one find the concept of content of value in this sense in Marx’s work ? We can answer this question affirmatively. We remember, for example, in Marx’s words, that « exchange-value is a definite social manner of expressing the amount of labor bestowed upon an object » (C., I, p. 82). It is obvious that labor is here treated as the abstract content which can take this or that social form. When Marx, in the well-known letter to Kugelmann of July 11, 1868, says that the social division of labor is manifested in the commodity economy in the form of value, he again treats socially allocated labor as the content which can take this or that social form. In the second paragraph of the section on Commodity Fetishism, Marx says directly that « the content of the determination of value » can be found not only in the commodity economy but also in the patriarchal family or on the feudal estate. Here, too, as we can see, labor is treated as the content which can take various social forms.

However, in Marx’s work one can also find arguments in favor of the opposite viewpoint, according to which we must consider abstract labor as the content of value. First of all, we find in Marx’s work some statements which directly say this, for example the following : « They (commodities) are related to abstract human labor as to their general social substance » (Kapital, 1, 1867, p. 28. Italics by I. R.). This statement seems to leave no doubt about the fact that abstract labor is not only the creator of value, but also the substance and content of value. We reach this same conclusion on the basis of methodological considerations. Socially equalized labor acquires the form of abstract labor in the commodity economy, and only from this abstract labor follows the necessity of value as the social form of the product of labor. From this it follows that the concept of abstract labor in our schema directly precedes the concept of value. One might say that this concept of abstract labor must be taken as the basis, as the content and substance of value. One cannot forget that, on the question of the relation between content and form, Marx took the standpoint of Hegel, and not of Kant. Kant treated form as something external in relation to the content, and as something which adheres to the content from the outside. From the standpoint of Hegel’s philosophy, the content is not in itself something to which form adheres from the outside. Rather, through its development, the content itself gives birth to the form which was already latent in the content. Form necessarily grows out of the content itself. This is a basic premise of Hegel’s and Marx’s methodology, a premise which is opposed to Kant’s methodology. From this point of view, the form of value necessarily grows out of the substance of value. Therefore, we must take abstract labor in all the variety of its social properties characteristic for a commodity economy, as the substance of value. And, finally, if we take abstract labor as the content of value, we achieve a significant simplification of Marx’s entire schema. In this case, labor as the content of value does not differ from labor which creates value.

« Content and form of value »
Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value [1928]
trad. Milos Samardfija Fredy Perlman
Black Rose Books 1973
p. 117–118