[OPE-L:3363] Re: Re: Two visions of Marx's "starting point"

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Fri May 26 2000 - 18:08:18 EDT

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This is a short response to Fred's post OPE-L 3261, in which he suggests
that I've misunderstood Marx's argument in chapter 5. A detailed response
follows shortly, but I thought those interested in the thread but perhaps
not the gory details would appreciate a precis of the argument.

1) Both Fred and I agree that Marx concludes Ch. 5 with the inference that
surplus value has to be developed on the basis that all commodities
exchange at their respective values; indeed, we quote the same passage to
this effect. Therefore the only issue is the basis Marx advances for this
conclusion, and the validity thereof.

2) Marx draws the inference just referred to only in Chapter 5, and not in
Chapter 1; therefore, since I'm criticizing this inference as invalid (no
matter where the initial premises were first advanced), it is appropriate
to target Marx's ch. 5 argument in this critique, contrary to Fred's claim.

3) As anyone can verify by checking my earlier posts detailing my critique
(see in particular my two-part response to Allin) (or for that matter my
Science & Society articles, if you've erased the earlier posts), I identify
and separately (and in detail) criticize *two* possible grounds advanced by
Marx for the claim that surplus value must be explained on the basis that
all commodities exchange at their respective values. One is the claim that
price-value equivalence constitutes the "pure" case of commodity exchange
(equivalently, that this is the expression of "the immanent laws of the
exchange of commodities"). **Fred entirely ignores my argument on this
point, despite the fact that it responds directly to his criticism.**
There is no way to assess the validity of my argument on the basis of a
response that ignores at least half of that argument, and the most directly
relevant half at that. I think I can with at least equal justification
reverse Fred's charge of "NO FAIR!"

I would only add to that argument (which I won't rehearse here), that in no
sense relevant to Ch. 5 does Marx ever *prove* that price-value equivalence
follows from any "law of the exchange of commodities", and we now know to
the contrary that even if we impose substantially stronger conditions than
those invoked by Marx in Ch. 1 (e.g., the law of one price, perfectly
competitive equilibrium, classical "natural prices", etc), it does not
follow that commodities will exchange at their values. *At most* Marx's
chapter 1 argument can be taken to establish that labor values are in some
sense the necessary basis of commodity exchange, not that commodities must
exchange at their labor values.
But I think even this claim is highly problematic.

4) Fred asserts that the point discussed above (the point for which he
entirely ignores my argument) is the *only* basis for Marx's inference at
the end of Ch. 5. But this is manifestly *not* the case; Marx tells us as
much in the footnote for the passage we both quote:

"The reader will see from the foregoing discussion that the meaning of this
statement is only as follows: the formation of capital must be possible
even though the price and the value of a commodity be the same, for it
cannot be explained by referring to any divergence between price and
value." (P. 269)

This is, of course, the *second* basis I identify for Marx's concluding
inference, which I also criticize in detail. Since Fred does not
acknowledge this connection, he also ignores my argument on this point.

5) {Not to get picky, but if you read closely, you'll see that contrary to
Fred's representation Marx never actually advances the argument that
surplus value has to be explained on the basis of price-value equivalence
BECAUSE the latter expresses "the immanent laws of the exchange of
commodities"; he says rather that surplus value has to be explained on the
basis of price-value equivalence, which by the way (says Marx) is an
expression of the immanent laws of commodity exchange, *because*
price-value disparities alone cannot account for the existence of surplus
value. The parenthetical comment is sort of an argument of validity by

6) Fred asserts that Marx's "main point" in Ch. 5 is to show that surplus
value cannot arise from price-value disparities alone. Well, first, this
is necessarily just Fred's interpretation. *Marx* never says it's his
"main point" in the chapter. To the contrary, when Marx specifies his
"double result" of the chapter's argument, he indicates in the footnote
that this observation is a premise for a deeper inference, not an end of
his argument in itself. But second, this isn't much of a point in any
case, and not worth a whole chapter of argument, since it follows
immediately from Marx's definition of surplus value as involving the
"valorization of value". If this were *not* the case, Marx's conclusion
from the hypothetical case of exchange between parties "A and B" on p. 265
is necessarily a non sequitur. [Try making sense of that passage without
*first* assuming that surplus value must be based on the creation of new
value, not mere redistribution of value.]

So I don't think that Fred's reply has even fully confronted, let alone
successfully dislodged, my critique. A detailed response to his comments
will follow shortly. Surprisingly, though, I think we'll find more scope
for agreement in his second post (labelled "Gil's criticisms"), which
details with the *implications* of my Ch. 5 critique. I've thought for
some time that that's where the argument was going to end up anyway.


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