[OPE-L:4250] 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 - 21:45:22 EDT

Responding to the following specific comments excerpted from a longer post
from me,

>>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?   
>>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)?

Alejandro writes:

>All your "series of hypotheticals" is based on the hidden assumption that
>"labor magnitudes" are merely "theoretical entities", in the worst sense of
>the word, i.e. imaginary things as the epicycles are. For sure, you're here
>a kind of disciple of Sombart and Bernstein for whom "labor-values" were
>merely "mental constructions".

Your charge is demonstrably invalid, Alejandro.  I made no such "hidden
assumption," but rather explicitly stated a series of theoretical
conditions that, arguably, would render reference to labor values
superfluous even though Marx's substantive claims about the exploitative
nature of capitalist profits are affirmed.  That was the whole point of the
thought experiment, to ask whether rejecting the relevance of labor value
magnitudes is *necessarily* tantamount to rejecting "Marx's theory of the
capitalist mode of production," as Paul Z.'s post suggests.  And you would
look in vain through the entire writings of Sombart
and Bernstein to find the set of theoretical conditions that I explicitly
invoke in steps (1) -(3).  So whatever it is I'm doing, I'm not not
affirming their particular arguments, or acting as any "kind" of their
disciple, although our conclusions might look the same.  

>"Labor magnitudes" however are not "theoretical entities" but real,
>observable, expenditures of human labor power. It's a matter of fact that,
>right now, people work and this could be *observed* and accounted for. 

I agree that expenditures of human labor power are both real and
observable, but this statement is irrelevant to the point I'm making.  With
respect to my step (1), you don't need to calculate or invoke embodied
labor values of commodities to state that there are "real, observable
expenditures of human labor power."  For example, this statement can, and
routinely is, expressed in neoclassical theory, which of course makes no
use of Marxian labor values.  And under the conditions of my step (3), you
don't need to calculate the traditional Marxian rate of exploitation in
order to establish a result that is logically equivalent to exploitation in
Marx's sense of the term.

>is as real as the expenditure of electricity, oil, flour or mustard that is
>taking place. In this sense, "labor magnitudes" are not something from
>which one simply decide to "dispense with", as you suggest. They are not
>the epycicles but the planets themselves that we are observing, i.e. they
>are data of the theory, not a "theoretical" (in the sense of imaginary)

First, note that I likened *commodity labor values*, not expenditures of
human labor power, to Ptolemaic epicycles, and your comments here do not
address invoke commodity labor values one way or the other.  So your
comments *necessarily* don't engage my specific point you excerpted above.

Furthermore, you clearly don't need to calculate commodity labor values to
make your comment, per my step (1), and given the conditions stipulated in
my step (3), the connection between expenditures of *surplus* labor and
capitalist profit is *implied by* a more basic condition.  So by
construction there is no need to determine these magnitudes in order to
make a point logically tantamount to Marx's critique of capitalism.  And on
this point, I note the simple fact that workers labor is insufficient of
itself to establish the existence of capitalist profit or exploitation; you
need something else.  But if this "something else" *implies* the existence
of surplus labor translated into surplus value, then you could in principle
refer to this "something else" without needing to invoke or calculate the
labor-denominated magnitudes.  

>Whether or not you include "labor magnitudes" in your "series of
>hypotheticals", it remains a coarse fact of this society that people spend
>their labor power in order to reproduce themselves. 

Indeed so.  But again, you don't need to calculate labor values to make
this point, and you don't need (under the conditions of step (3), subject
to the minor caveats in step (2)) to calculate a rate of exploitation as
Marx defines it to make the same critique as Marx makes when he states that
capitalist profit is based on exploitation of workers free in the double sense.

If you're saying that reference to labor magnitudes is important for
heuristic or rhetorical reasons, well, I won't necessarily disagree, but
that's beside the point of my post, which deals solely with the *logical*
status of labor-denominated magnitudes in Marx's theory of the capitalist
mode of production.

>The intepretation you
>follow is a result of the idealist revision of Marx's theory of value done
>by neo-Kantians at the end of XIX century.

Again, your charge is demonstrably invalid.  First, I am not suggesting or
invoking any "revision", idealist or otherwise, in Marx's theory of
*value*, I'm suggesting that his critical theory of the capitalist mode of
production does not depend substantively on his theory of (labor) value.
Second, I'm not "interpreting" anything; I'm explicitly stating theoretical
conditions that arguably render reference to labor-denominated magnitudes,
particularly commodity labor values and the value rate of exploitation,
superfluous.  Third, my construction is clearly not "idealist", since it
invokes *exactly the same* real, historically given class conditions
posited by Marx in Volume I of Capital, so it can't be any more "idealist"
than Marx's.  Finally, I did not derive the thought experiment from the
theoretical postulates of any Kantians, neo- or otherwise, so it cannot be
"result" of something you think that neo-Kantians did at the end of the
19th century.

Finally, name-calling is not the same thing as logically engaging an
argument, so calling me someone's "kind of disciple", or calling my thought
experiment "a result of the idealist revision of...[etc] by neo-Kantians"
is necessarily irrelevant in addition to being demonstrably invalid.  For
example, if I returned the favor by saying that your comments were "for
sure an evocation of the obscurantist strain of postbellum romantic Marxism
espoused by Bombstart and Sternbean," would you think that I've engaged
your argument? If not, then considerations of efficiency, if nothing else,
might suggest the future avoidance of argument ad hominem.


>Alejandro Ramos

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