A letter to Frédéric Lordon
                                                                       Takesi  Sakai, translated by Masaaki Sugimura    Revised August 2020
  
Dear Frédéric,
  I heard about you and your new book from Professor Masaaki Sugimura, who was then translating it, with whom I had edited “Break Down the Established Concepts!” published by Libraire Koyo. Now that the Japanese translation of your new book is published, we will hold a meeting to which he will be invited, a meeting regularly led by the division of the Kansai district of our research circle, named Research Institute for the Renaissance of communism and revolution, for arguing within its members, and for commenting on it. As I have felt compelled, while reading it to prepare myself for the meeting, to let you know what I’ve conceived of it, I venture on this occasion to write a letter to you.
   I have no intention whatsoever to raise any objection against your attempt itself, to overcome the sterile status-quo of social sciences, in which you owe your arguments, so I understand, to Spinoza’s theory of sentiment. What disappoints me, however, is that, while focusing on the wage system, you have not yet gone so far as to analyze commodities and money themselves. It disappoints me because I’ve been trying to analyze human beings in relation to the commodity-money system, as well as the wage system, with reference to Spinoza’s prominent view quoted in your book that ‘Man is a mode, that is to say, «that which is in another through which it is also conceived»’. “Why are we ready to become slaves of capitalism?” — this is the title of the Japanese edition of your former book, translated by Professor Sugimura, which is just what I have been seeking the answer of and of which I have now established my own idea. I would like to tell you, then, how I have solved this question by investigating the formation of money from commodities.
 
   My focus has been on deciphering the chapters of Marx’s “Capital” on commodities and on money from an alternative point of view. In Japan, the book had been a platform on which Marxian college professors argued with each other. In fact, they argued in minute detail particularly over the chapters on commodities and money of the volume 1 and the chapter on the credit system, with the result that even an activist outside its learned society like me was provided with an opportunity to study it, although I am not familiar with the history of arguments about it in France because most of them have not been translated into Japanese, except for “Reading Capital” edited by Luis Althusser. I have written my own articles in the form of  critique of other theories, bringing out an explanation on my own of the formation of money from commodities. I am going to show it to you, a theorist who ought to have nothing to do with the controversies peculiar to Japanese Marxists, expecting, at the same time, to improve my own theory.

 

   I would like to let you know beforehand about the outline of my conclusion, just to avoid confusion. It seems indispensable to investigate the theory of value forms developed in the first version of “Capital” because the principle with which money forms themselves from commodities can not be read and confirmed through reading the same theory formulated in the 4th edition of it now in current use. The formation of money from commodities proves, based on that developed in its first version, to be rooted in the unconscious cooperation which the commodity-owners perform instinctively. In other words, the notion of the commodity can only be formed by the infusion of their intention into commodities. And in addition they have their own intention controlled by these commodities. It is this control of their intention, in my opinion, which Marx calls Versachlichung. It is important here that Marx distinguishes between ‘Ding’ and ‘Sache’, and between ‘Verdinglichung’ and ‘Versachlichung’, but nevertheless in some Japanese editions of “Capital” issued by certain publishers controlled by Japan’s communist party the equivalent words of both sets of these terms were the same, which led to rather meaningless disputes over these terms. Where Georg Lukac_s, for example, were dealing with ‘Verdinglichung’, it was mistranslated into the same Japanese equivalent word for ‘Versachlichung’, thereby leading to a deadlock the Japanese researchers devoid of the basis for argument, who confused the meaning of the former with that of the latter and therefore were unable to understand the notion of the latter.
 
   The simple form of value
   Let me show you here my understanding of the form of value, based on the first version of “Capital”. For Marx, the form of value means the relation between two commodities. In his analysis of the simple form of value, Marx has developed the logic of comprehending the relation itself, whereas it is left undeveloped even in Hegel’s Logic. The most difficult problem of this analysis of his lies in the argument that the form of appearance of value transcends sensuousness. It is only the fantastic form of a relation between things which it brings to human senses that can be grasped through human senses, while, on the other hand, it cannot be grasped through them. As a result, the fantastic form conceals that which the form of appearance actually is.
  People find the seeming truth in the simple form of value — the equation: x commodity A = y commodity B or: x commodity A is worth y commodity B, but the form of appearance of value lies far beyond this commonplace finding. How is the equation between two commodities that have different use value formed? This question can never be solved through any commonplace understanding. What is crucial here is to unravel the manner in which another different use-value represents what is equivalent, that is, value. For x commodity A to be equivalent to y commodity B, the relation must be created in which the use-value itself  of commodity B represents the value of commodity A. Only after it is created is the use-value itself of B seen, in this relation, as no other than value itself for commodity A. This would seem to be far beyond the human way of understanding: x commodity A = y commodity B. Thus, at the same time, commodity A would represent something equivalent to that use value of commodity B which is nothing but value, or, namely, value.
   It is by this sort of a roundabout way that both the value of commodity A and that of commodity B appear as the same value. In this form of appearance, different kinds of labor are reduced to abstract human labor, with use-value disregarded. It is through a certain kind of abstraction, in fact, that this reduction can be performed. Whereas we can only analyze things with logical thinking to take out of them what is abstract, two commodities induce an abstraction through the interaction between them. This sort of abstraction, which is called ‘real abstraction’, is different from logical abstraction through human thinking and, therefore, lies beyond logical understanding. We can not help accepting it as such, but what seems to be required here is to acknowledge the way commodity-values are, which are thought to be subjects, different from human beings.
   We face a certain metaphysical and theological event in the process of thus interpreting the manner in which value appears in the value-relation between two commodities; we see an incarnation of value in the use -value of commodity B. This Marx named the form-definition. In a relation between two things, a thing at one pole is given, through being worked on from the other pole, a social quality that is different from its natural form; and in the value-relation the natural form of a commodity, that is, use-value, is rendered an incarnation of value, of something social. This is a secret of the value form that Marx has revealed. It constitutes, in my opinion, the principle of reification. Human senses, however, never grasp what is social, although they may grasp the natural form. Thus occurs the fantastic form in which it looks as if something natural bore originally an attribute of the incarnation of value. This is the principle of fetishism.
 
 The development of the value-form
   First, I will show the four forms of the theory of value forms in the text of the first version of 〝Capital″, then I will show Form III and Form IV in the 4th edition of it  and see the difference between them.

  (1)The first form (elementary form )of value in the first edition is

 20 yards of linen = 1 coat.

 

  (2)The second form (total or expanded form ) of value in the first edition is

 20 yards of linen = 1 coat

          = u of coffee

                                 = v of tea

                                 = x of iron

                                 = y of corn

                                 = ・・・・・.

 

  (3)The third form (the general form) of value in the first edition is

   1 coat           =

   u of coffee  =

   v of tea        =        

   x of iron       =      

   y of corn      =

  ・・・・・

image001.png

20 yards of linen.

(4)The fourth form(the last form) of value in the first edition is

   20 yards of linen    = 1 coat

                                   = u of coffee

                                   = v of tea

                                   = x of iron

                                   = y of corn

                                   = etc.

   

   1 coat                       = 20 yards of linen

                                   = u of coffee

                                   = v of tea

                                   = x of iron

                                   = y of corn

                                   = etc.

 

    u of coffee or         = 20 yards of linen

                                   = 1 coat

                                   = v of tea

                                   = x of iron

                                   = y of corn

                                   = etc.

 

    v of tea                   =・・・・・・

   (5) The third form (the general form) of value in the fourth edition is

   1 coat                      =

   10 lb. of tea             =    40 lb. of coffee       =      ・・・・・             =    

image003.png

20 yards of linen.

  (6)The fourth form (the money form) of value in the fourth edition is

  1 coat                    =

    10 lb. of tea           =        40 lb. of coffee     =  

   ・・・・・             =

image003.png
2ounces of gold.
  The theory of value forms in the fourth edition of “Capital” has been substantially rewritten from the first edition, even in the area of the development of value forms.  In particular, the fourth form is completely different. In the fourth edition, the fourth form is a money form, but in the first edition, it is assumed to be the one from which it is impossible for the money form to develop, as shown in (4).
  In the fourth edition, the equivalent commodity in (5) can be any commodity, but then the form is described as Form IV (6), the money form , in which the equivalent commodity is fixed to a specific commodity gold.
 The first edition does not derive the money form in the theory of value form, but rather the form, that is impossible for the money form to develop , is the fourth form (4). Then , in the next chapter, the process of exchange, the problem of the money-formation is to be resolved.
 
 The formation of money in the process of commodity-exchange
  In the 4th edition of “Capital” now in current use, the formation of money is argued both in the development of the value-form and in the chapter of the process of exchange, and, therefore, there were controversies in Japan about how these different descriptions should be interpreted. Those controversies should have been done according to the first edition, because most of the description of the process of exchange is not altered from the first edition, if we had attached importance to the consistency of argument. No researcher referred, nevertheless, to the first edition in those disputes. Had it been referred to and investigated, the formation of money of Marx’s own, which had been long forgotten, would have been restored.
   In the value-form developed in the first edition, assumed to be subjects, commodities were investigated from a viewpoint of how they acquire certain forms that are socially valid. Marx came to the conclusion, in the fourth form of value in the first edition, that it was impossible, depending merely upon commodities themselves, for their socially valid form to develop, even though positing its conception (the third form of value). And he established, in the chapter of the process of exchange, where the possessors of commodities appear, his own explanation of the formation of money in which those possessors realize the concept of the commodity through making their wills reside in those objects that they possess, thereby forming money. It is through the unconscious, instinctive cooperation of the possessors of commodities, it could thus be interpreted, that the formation of money from commodities takes place. What I mean by the word ‘instinctive’ is not a certain quality that belongs naturally to humans; but people fallaciously see their social acts of exchanging, which are determined by the commodity, as if instinctive operations residing, by nature, in themselves.
   We will come to the conclusion, as the formation of money is grasped in this fashion, that what the reification actually means is the control of the will of the persons by objectified things, i.e. commodities, because the money form accomplishes such control by commodities — as I have pointed out above, the secret of the value form is the principle of reification.
   Then are raised two questions: how can the wills of the possessors of commodities reside in commodities, on the one hand; and why do they regard this kind of residence in commodities as free, on the other?
   The key to the first question is that the commodity itself is as much a conceptual being as human thinking is, and, therefore, humans can leave their wills to those objects they possess; commodities, which are themselves the products of human labor and have social character, under private property and division of labor, only through being exchanged —which character is value, and the value-form is for human beings a sort of hieroglyphics that shows a certain judgement through abstracting a common element, or social labor, from the things produced by different kinds of labor — deduce the amount of y of commodity B, judging how much value x commodity A has in comparison to a commodity B , in much the same way human thinking abstracts words from judging objects, though commodities do it in ‘real abstraction’, different from the way human thinking does. Human beings do not understand the way of thinking peculiar to commodities, but the judgments deduced by way of their own hieroglyphics; the possessors of commodities cannot read it, but can take the results.
   Let’s move on to the second question. As use-values, commodities are natural things, while as values they have a social characteristics. The commodity as use-value can be grasped, because it is a natural thing, while the form of value cannot because it transcends sensuousness. This is the reason why the law of value appears to people as a law of natural objects which can be comprehended. Whereas people perceive the sense of freedom and subjection in the mutual relations between themselves, they conceive as free of the use of that law of natural objects which they can explain, or of the adaptation to the law. Because people can understand the social power of objectified things only as a natural force, they believe themselves to be free when exchanging the commodities they possess, as if they adapted to the law of nature, despite the fact that their wills are controlled by commodities, thereby conceiving of their will residing in those objects as constituting an initiative on their own.
   The possessors of commodities that appear on the commodity market simply believe that they have set certain prices onto their commodities on their own will, but, through these activities, in fact, they just participate in the cooperation among those who possess the commodities, with gold regarded as money. Behind their seemingly willful activities of setting the prices lies the formation of money through their cooperation, but this process they cannot notice, a process through which money takes on its own form, its collaborators left unconsciously instinctive while working on commodity-exchange to form it.
 
   Concerning the wage system
   I would like to add, concerning your argument on the wage system, that you seem to have understood it is necessary, under Fordism, to confirm the liberating aspect of labour, whereas Marx did not emphasize it, however much he did the alienation of labour. It would be better, however, to view that Fordism is to be discussed in relation to the  conditions of developing countries; due to the international transfer of wages, the whole working class had become quasi-noble. And, now, the international standardization of wages under the rise of neoliberalism, the transfer of factories to developing countries, and globalism, have, it may be argued, caused the stagnation of the economic development in the developed nations and the gap-widing between the rich and the poor. Even if the leaders of neoliberalism have attempted to define laborers as a possessor of asset, i.e, of labor force and therefore as a man-capital, it belongs to a demagoguery that depends on a fantastic form resulting from the wage system. The prevalence of this sort of demagoguery may seem to have resulted, in turn, from the condition under which the persons’ wills are in control of the commodities and money.

 

   Self-introduction
   I was born in 1941. Beginning to take part in the movement in 1960 against Security Treaty between the United States and Japan, I became a left-wing activist, organizing a militarized struggle. Reviewing this, I was engaged in the movement of a cooperative as an alternative social movement from the late 1980s, and, later, in such activities as a NPO, or promotions of social economy or social enterprise. Paralleled with the mass movement being restored after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident of the atomic power plants of March 11th in 2011, I was involved toward the end of 2010 in the foundation of Research Institute for Renaissance, which attempted to restore the movement of communism in Japan, where, mainly, I have been pursuing research activities, as I belong to a cooperative society and have nothing to do with any such established research institute as a college. For that matter, because I think it impossible to reestablish any communist party and because I hold a certain idea of mine of how communist movements should be in the present situation, I have been publishing my opinions and ideas for these twenty-four years in the form of personal new letters (“Alternative Systems Study Bulletin” published in every two months). My most recent book is “The problems of Marx’s Capital” (Libraire Situations, 2014).