1. J. F. nowhere convinces me that a sovereign is not a commodity. He could settle the polemic at once by giving us the laws whereby we distinguish commodity wealth from capitalist wealth, and from wealth in general. You will see how important my point is when I say if we understand the laws we will be able to put all use-values in their different categories, and will be able to say, without further aid, whether a sovereign is, or is not, a commodity. I say laws deliberately; for to find the common factors that commodities possess, or obtain in their relation with other commodities, would only give us the law of commodities, but could not possibly give us the law whereby we distinguish the forms which wealth takes up under Capitalist production. How well Marx knew this is seen in “Capital,” where he takes 122 pages to explain commodity wealth. He only starts to explain Capitalist production on page 123. I again assert that it is J. F.’s duty, as teacher, to give us the law. I make no apologies for using the term as it is the correct one. I am fully aware that J.F. says he has already given a “definition,” but I point out that it is inadequate, and lacking, because we cannot classify by its aid.
2. I have not, and do not agree with J. F. when he says that I “failed to understand the difference between a sovereign and a mere piece of gold.” I will endeavour to make my position clear to him. Gold is the universal equivalent (U.E.) which, if it is to exist at all, take up some form, or forms it must, or if you will, the U.E. exists in and through its forms. The forms are different in different countries, and it takes up the form of bullion internationally. The forms of the U.E. can, and do, change, e.g., when we make sovereigns into bullion, or when a state strikes a new gold coin. Now, my point is, whatever forms the U.E. takes up, and however much they may change, their universal nature remains the same, i.e., they are still money. The Sovereign being a part of the U.E. functions as the general equivalent in Britain, and the dollar does the same in the United States, and bullion acts in the same capacity internationally. The difference between the U.E. and the general equivalent, is the difference between the general and the special. Seeing then, that the ”commodity par excellence” can only exist in and through its forms, then it is apodictically certain that a sovereign is a commodity, if Marx is correct. But that is merely taking Marx’s word for it, which is dangerous, for the reader has still a perfect right to ask, “What gives us our concept of a commodity?” That is where J. F. comes in, as teacher. If he, still disagrees that the U.E. takes up the form of the sovereign in Britain, will he tell us what form it does take up, for it is certain that no person in Britain tenders a “mere piece of gold” in exchange for commodities.
3. I assert then that the U.E. in each country takes up the form of gold coins, whose weight and quality is guaranteed by the different states. But that fact does not hinder Marx from illustrating in “D. The Money Form” that other commodities reflect their value, in certain definite ratios, in a specific quantity of gold. Further, it does not mean that a particle of weight enters into value. What it does mean is, that in a specific quantity of gold there is a certain amount of a common something which all other commodities possess, and because of that the gold is able to reflect their value. That clears up the first point that J. F. tries to make against me by the use of form D.
4. It is one thing to quote Marx, it is another thing to understand him. J. F. also gives form D. in order to try and convince the readers of The Socialist Standard that gold is “exchanged by weight.” A little investigation of the items therein will convince the readers, that have studied Marx, that it proves the opposite. For example, we note that 10lb. of tea, or 40lb. of coffee, or ½ ton of iron is equal to 2 ounces of gold. Now it is crystal clear that no two of the items are equal in weight ; ergo it cannot possibly be gravity that makes them exchange in definite ratios; and even the standard of weight, used to weigh gold, is different than the one used to weigh the ordinary commodities. And what about the poor coat and 20 yards of linen that are not exchanged by weight? Might I point out to J. F. that he has made a slight error by mistaking the “standard of price” for “the measure of value,” a thing that might happen to any beginner. I trust that J. F. will not try to hold such an untenable position, after the error has been pointed out to him, or the C.L.C. will have a new cult in political economy to contend with, namely, “The Gravity School,” with J. F. as its Pope.
5. I don’t deny that “capital has not invented surplus-labour.” What I do assert is, that it is the cause of surplus-value. A very different thing. The problem why the slave could not produce S.V. could not arise until S.V. existed. For its existence it had to wait the advent of the free labourer, as Marx says. It is a long story that could not be fully worked out here. J.F. is so little acquainted with the dialectic method that he cannot distinguish a thing’s nature from its forms; fails to distinguish between gravity and abstract labour; mistakes surplus-labour for surplus-value ; and up to now, cannot even put a sovereign in its correct category. There is certainly room for improvement.
Answer to W. W.
The above letter shows that “W. W.” had run through his little stock of clumsy phrases, shuffles and evasions, in his communication published in the November issue of the Socialist Standard.
So he begins all over again like a badly cracked and chipped gramophone record that has reached the end of its particular impressions and is set off again after the spring has been rewound.
The whole of the statements in the above letter have been dealt with in our previous replies. For ease of reference we have numbered “W. W.’s” paragraphs.
No. 1 completely demolished in S.S. for November, 1923.
No. 2 fully dealt, with in S.S. for May, 1923.
No. 3 “W. W.’s” confusion thoroughly exposed in S.S. for September, 1923.
No. 4 “W. W.’s” ignorance of Marx fully explained in S.S. for November, 1923.
No. 5, the ignorance of “W. W.” on simple history, fully exposed in S.S. for November, 1923.
The first run of the record was painful—very. The second is worse and in compassion for our readers we cannot allow any further repetitions of its harsh and côntradictory tones.