[OPE-L:3379] RE: Two visions of Marx's "starting point"

From: Michael Williams (mike.williams@dmu.ac.uk)
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 17:06:09 EDT

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If I may intervene briefly once again in this dialogue between Gil and Fred:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> [mailto:owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu]On Behalf Of Gil Skillman
> Sent: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 6:43 PM
> To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> Subject: [OPE-L:3377] Re: Re: Two visions of Marx's "starting point"

Gil writes:
>... Marx keeps going for another three pages, and in his
> *actual* conclusion to the chapter, he does not refer to this result as an
> end in itself; rather he quite explicitly uses it as a *premise* in his
> chapter-concluding inference (part of his "double result") that surplus
> value "must" be explained on the basis that all commodities exchange at
> their respective values:
> "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 of price and value."
> [footnote, p. 269].

I'm afraid that Gil's interpretation just does not fit this passage. Far
from saying that equivalent exchange is *necessary* for an explanation of
surplus value, Marx says that the latter 'must be possible even though'
there is equivalent exchange. This is exactly what I earlier called 'even-if
logic'. The final phrase might look more hopeful for Gil, but on reflection
doesn't help his interpretation. It is all a matter of level of aggregation:
capital can be 'formed' at the level of an indivdual (for example monopoly)
firm on the basis of profit-upon-exchange; but not at the level of capital
in general, since exchange per se is a zero value-sum game.

> Oh, and by the way, Marx acknowledges that commodities don't typically
> exchange at their values at the end of the last footnote in Ch. 5.

Of course he does - and does not thereby contradict his 'even-if' argument.
Perhaps i can make myself clearer by indicating a neo-classical 'even-if'
argument, that is used to try to justify holding indivdual preferences
constant, namely that it is too easy, indeed vacuous, to explain anything
(for example a price chnage) on an individualistic basis by merely positing
a preference change.

> >Gil argues that Marx's exclusion of merchant capital and interest-bearing
> >capital is not logically valid. But we can see that this exclusion
> >follows directly from Marx's assumption of the "previously
> derived law" of
> >the exchange of equivalents.
> No, this is quite evidently *not* the case, and on Fred's own textual
> evidence. And I reiterate: unless Marx is read as assuming his
> concluding
> focus in Ch. 6 on the purchase and subsumption of labor power as a
> commodity, the cases of merchant capital and interest-bearing capital
> extended to small producers stand as logical counter-examples for the
> premises of Marx's invalid inference at the end of Ch. 5.
> Finally, Fred characterizes the role that merchant and usury capital play
> in Marx's overall theoretical scheme, arguing in particular that
> All three volumes of Capital, from beginning to end, are
> >about the capitalist mode of produciton. Marx's theory is a SYSTEMATIC
> capitalist mode
> >of production. The theory is not about other modes of production at
> >all. Other modes of production are considered only in a few passing, ad
> >hoc, non-systematic, remarks.
> First, this characterization is not literally true. Marx spends
> Ch. 20 and
> Chapter 36 in V. III talking solely about merchant and usury capital,
> respectively, in the forms they took *prior* to the capitalist mode of
> production. This discussion forms part of what I call his "historically
> contingent" or "historical-strategic" analysis of the class conditions of
> capitalist exploitation. And these chapter-long discussions are anything
> but "ad hoc" and "non-systematic"; indeed they are consistently
> echoed in a
> body of work that stretches back to the Grundrisse.
> But second, representing a theory as a "systematic" analysis of a
> "historically specific concrete totality" does not absolve the theory of
> the need to be logically coherent, and the portion of Marx's theory
> developed in Ch.s 5 and 6 fails this test--and Fred's arguments here, I
> conclude, cannot serve to alter this judgment.
> Gil

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