[OPE-L:3381] Re: RE: Two visions of Marx's "starting point"

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Tue May 30 2000 - 18:03:29 EDT

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

Intervene, and welcome, Michael.

>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

The passage I quote from the footnote is adduced by Marx to support the
argument, in the text, that "[t]he transformation of money into capital
*has to be developed* on the basis of..." etc. This is a "necessity"
statement. I agree with Michael that this is a particular interpretation
of "has to be", but it's surely more than *simply* an "even-if" argument,
as the remainder of Marx's comments in the footnote make clear. This point
harks back to our earlier exchange, Michael: the possibility of explaining
surplus value "even if" all commodities exchange at their respective values
is *utterly without theoretical interest or relevance* unless some cogent
reason is advanced for investigating this scenario. In Chapter 5, Marx
suggests two reasons for doing so, both of which are invalid, for reasons
discussed in my responses to Fred and elsewhere. Put it this way: if you
want, I'll gladly accept an emendation of my conclusion to the effect that,
contrary to Marx's explicit claim, there's no compelling reason to explain
surplus value on the basis of price-equivalence. The rest of the critique

>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.

I've dealt with this point already elsewhere, Michael (not that I'm
presuming you've kept up with the voluminous-and-ever-mounting
correspondence on this issue). The inability of price-value disparities to
account for surplus value has nothing to do with fallacies of aggregation,
and it's part of the logical problem with Marx's account in Ch. 5 that he
makes similarly irrelevant comments like "The capitalist class of a given
country, taken as a whole, cannot defraud itself." That's beside the
point; the issue is whether the capitalist class, taken as a whole, can
"defraud" (using that term loosely) *another* class, namely the working

That price-value disparities *taken alone* cannot account for surplus value
is an immediate consequence of Marx's *definition* of surplus value as
representing the "valorization" of value, rather than the mere
redistribution of value. If this *weren't* a matter of definition, Marx's
analysis of the redistribution of value between parties A and B (p. 265)
would be a non sequitur: if parties A from the capitalist class end up
with more value taken from parties B in the working class via price-value
disparities, no fallacy of aggregation has been committed, and this could
indeed be counted as surplus value unless simply ruled out by definition,
as Marx does.

But even this is beside the point of my critique. *Grant* that, on
whatever grounds, surplus value must be based on the creation of new value.
 Since by definition this can only occur in production, and exchange is not
production, it's obvious that price-value disparities are not a
*sufficient* basis for the existence of surplus value. But this leaves
*entirely open* the possibility that they are a *necessary* condition,
supporting the "value appropriation" (VA) aspect of Marx's definition of
surplus value (see my recent response to Paul Z.).

>> 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.

No, of course it doesn't contradict his "even-if" argument. It
contradicts, I think, *Fred's* reading of one *justification* for this
even-if argument, to the effect that price-value equivalence represents the
"pure" case of commodity exchange. Whatever that means, it doesn't mean
that it's the typical or representative scenario of a system yielding
surplus value.

>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.

This is not comparable in light of my argument that price-value equivalence
is not only irrelevant and unenlightening with respect to the explanation
of surplus value, stipulating also seriously misrepresents the logic of
capitalist exploitation, and the role of capitalist production in that logic.

With respect to the footnote passage in question, I note specifically that
price-value disparities in economies that yield surplus value do not simply
correspond to "oscillations" in prices around the average; thse disparities
would occur even in an equilibrium state. Reference to "average" prices
doesn't eliminate systematic price-value disparities; and there is no
meaningful sense in which labor values can be held to "regulate" commodity
prices, and lots of powerful reasons to think that the reverse is true.


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