[OPE-L:4243] Fwd: Re: Steve on the worthlessness of labor at the source of surplus value

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Mon Oct 23 2000 - 16:14:19 EDT

Oops, I accidentally posted a version of the following prematurely.  Please
replace OPE-L 4242 with this.  Thanks---

>In response to this comment by Steve K., 
>>> ... leads me to reject the premise that labor is the only source of 
>surplus value, the
>>> whole transformation problem debate--from T-B on to TSS--is an 
>irrelevance for me.
>Paul Z. writes:
>>Steve, may I ask why you bother with this list, which has Marx's theory of
>>the capitalist mode of production as its foundation?  If you don't see
>>labor as the source of value, I think you are really talking to another
>>crowd (social class?).
>I'd like to take a swing at this.  It may not be Steve's answer--and I don't 
>assume it is--but it does suggest one logically coherent way of looking at 
>Paul's question.  Let's proceed via a series of hypotheticals.
>1)  Suppose you had a "theory of the capitalist mode of production"  that 
>defines a social condition of "exploitation," as Marx does, in labor flow 
>magnitudes, but entirely sidesteps the question of whether there were any 
>systematic connection between commodity labor values (however defined) and 
>commodity prices, and thus entirely avoids issues dealing with the 
>"transformation" of values into prices or vice versa; with the possibility 
>that aggregate commodity prices equal aggregate commodity values or not; 
>with the definition of values in "simultaneist," "temporalist," "classical," 
>"new,"  or other terms; with the question of whether price-value 
>proportionality constitutes the "pure" case of commodity exchange or not; 
>and the like.
>Suppose further that given the real historical class conditions posited by 
>Marx in Volume I of Capital, this hypothetical theory yields the implication 
>that the working class is exploited if the capitalist class accrued positive 
>profits through (but perhaps not solely due to) relationships of exchange, 
>in the sense posited by Marx near the end of Ch. 5 of Volume I.  
>Would you say that embracing this hypothetical theory is tantamount to 
>rejecting "Marx's theory of the capitalist mode of production"?  If so, why? 
> If the theory affirms Marx's central claim that capitalist profit is based 
>on systematic exploitation of the working class (including the dynamic 
>aspects of Marx's argument, let's say) without needing to introduce an 
>additional theoretical entity--commodity labor values--and analyze its 
>possible connection to another entity--commodity prices---couldn't this be 
>viewed as an advance in, rather than a rejection of, Marx's theoretical 
>project, in something like the same way that Copernican cosmology 
>represented an advance over its predecessor, in part because it dispensed 
>with the cumbersome apparatus of Ptolemaic epicycles?   
>2)  Now let's tweak the scenario in (1) a little.  Suppose our hypothetical 
>alternative theory yields predictions about the connection between
capitalist profit and exploitation under the real class conditions
explicitly posited by Marx in Volume I of Capital, but yields contrary
predictions under cases of class predictions that are not dealt with
explicitly by Marx and are empirically unlikely, although logically
possible.  Would you insist that these contrary, albeit not empirically
significant, predictions imply that embracing this theory is tantamount to
rejecting "Marx's theory of the capitalist mode of production"?  If so,
why?  Couldn't it rather be the case that this more elaborated theoretical
structure makes it possible to further refine Marx's analysis of capitalism
as an exploitative system, either by further refining his definition of
exploitation or further refining the theoretical connection between
capitalist profit and exploitation?

3)  Now let's take the thought experiment one step further.  Suppose that
our hypothetical theory established that the condition of class
exploitation, defined as Marx does in terms of labor flow magnitudes, is
implied by another, more basic condition of class relations.  Given this
supposition, one could logically dispense with Marx's notion of
exploitation defined in terms of labor magnitudes without in any way losing
the real substance of his criticism of capitalist class relations.  At this
point, our hypothetical theory makes the same critique of capitalism that
Marx does in Volume I of Capital (subject perhaps to the minor caveats
mentioned in Step 2), but does so without any reference to labor flow
magnitudes at all, either in terms of the connection between commodity
values and prices or in measuring the rate of exploitation.  Would you
insist that embracing this theory is tantamount to rejecting "Marx's theory
of the capitalist mode of production"?  If so, why?  Couldn't it rather be
said that Marx's theory of the capitalist mode of production has thus been
refined and simplified?  Wouldn't it be fetishistic to insist on the
necessity of labor magnitudes to Marxian theoretical discourse under the
conditions specified in steps (1) - (3)?

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