[OPE-L:4314] Steve on the worthlessness of labor as the source of surplus value

From: Alejandro Ramos (aramos@btl.net)
Date: Thu Oct 26 2000 - 23:21:03 EDT

Re Steve 4289:

>I take the point that you're more developing your ideas than engaging in
>debate. And I agree that Marx was a historical thinker. But I argue he was
>also a thinker who tried to put his historical thinking into a logical

I don't see why you write "but" here. Having a historical subject of
inquire doesn't imply at all that you don't use "logic"! Marx was not an
"illogical" or "a-logical" writer, say a Surrealist poet. I have never read
a passage by him as, for example: "Since commodity is the elementary form
of wealth in capitalism, credit system reached its classical form in Rome
at the epoch of Nero; world market, on the contrary, was developed only by
Maya traders in VI century AD."

Being an Aristotelian (the way I like to see him right now), Marx does *use
logic*, but his logic is, as Aristotle's, literally a *tool* serving
research, i.e. a "servant of Science", it's not an autonomous development
of the mind, as it seems, has turned out in Economics today.

It might happen that his relation with Hegel was precisely this: he was
attemping to get logic back to his function of "mere" *tool* which perhaps
had being lost in Hegel's hands. (Chris Arthur... Andrew Kliman, help...

--rather than doing the reverse, which you rightly observe is the
>way Walras et al behave.

Glad you agree with this.

>So, given those points of agreement and one qualification, how would you
>interpret the following statements by Marx?:
>"On the other hand, the obscurantist has overlooked that my analysis of the
>commodity does not stop at the dual mode in which the commodity is
>presented, [but] presses forward [so] that in the dual nature of the
>commodity there is presented the twofold *character* of *labour*, whose
>product it is: *useful* labour, i.e., the concrete modes of labour, which
>create use values, and abstract *labour, labour as the expenditure of
>labour-power*,... that *surplus value* itself is derived from a `specific'
>*use-value of labour-power* which belongs to it exclusively etc etc., that
>hence with me use value plays an important role completely different than
>[it did]] in previous [political] economy" (comment on Wagner)
>Does not the statement "that *surplus value* itself is derived from a
>`specific' *use-value of labour-power*" imply that Marx was using a form of
>logic--as well as a historical argument--to assert that labour is the
>source of surplus value?

All depends on how do you interpret "derive from" here. You take it from
the quotation and put in your question. The original reads [only the part
after the ...]:

"... daB der Mehrwert selbst abgeleitet wird aus einen 'spezifischen' und
ihr exklusiv zukommenden *Gebruschwert der Arbeitskraft* etc. etc.,..."

The verb in question is then "ableiten (aus)". According to my
German-English dictionary this word is used in two fields relevant here:
Mathematics and Philology. In principle, it may be rendered as "derived
from" or "deduced from". Note, however, that "Ableitung" is the word for
"Etymology"; in Mathematics it's "derivation":, "differential",
"deduction". So, one may read this as saying either

a) "surplus value is *deduced from* a use value which is specific and
belongs exclusively to labor power" -- meaning this a mathematical or
logical deduction as e.g. 

"From the fact that a = x/y and a+b = c it's *deduced* that c = (x+by)/y" 


b) "surplus value *has its origin* in a use value which is specific and
belongs exclusively to labor power" -- so, "derived from" has here the
meaning "originate from" as for example the Spanish word "viril" *has its
origin* in the Latin word "vir" (man). This is the "etymological" meaning.

Translation a) refers to a formal logical deduction and I think it's the
meaning you favor. The other translation refers to the description of a
real process in which one thing is originated from another over a period of
time --a process.

I, of course, favor the second meaning because Marx is writing about this
kind of "derivation", i.e. referring, as always, to a real, palpable,
sensuous, process. Here, the specific meaning is that the real process of
consumption of that use value belongin only to labor power *originates*
surplus value; surplus value has its origin in the consumption of the
labor-power's use value. I haven't checked it out but it seems to me that
this is in line with Marx's presentation in Vol. I.

Had the translator be aware of the use (I shoud say *abuse*) or the word
"derivation" by economists who feel themselves mathematicians, s/he would
have given a look to the part of Vol. I where Marx explains this process of
"derivation" of surplus value and certainly had discovered that Marx is not
"demonstrating more geometrico", but referring to a real process.

What is the translation you're citing? I think there are 2 English
translations of "Notes". I'd wish to check the Spanish translation but all
this stuff is still evacuated for the hurricane season.

BTW, the "obscurantist" at the beginning of your quotations is "vir
obscurus" in Latin which probably means simply "dark man".

>Then there are also his commentaries on Ricardo's inability to explain why
>the price of labour should be such that capitalists can make a profit out
>of it:
>“Ricardo, by contrast, avoids this fallacy, but how? ‘The value of labour,
>and the quantity of commodities which a specific quantity of labour can
>buy, are not identical.’ Why not? ‘Because the worker’s product … is not =
>to the worker’s pay.’ I.e. the identify does not exist, because a
>difference exists… Value of labour is not identical with wages of labour.
>Because they are different. Therefore they are not identical. This is a
>strange logic. There is basically no reason for this other than it is not
>so in practice.”
>By accusing Ricardo of "strange logic", is he not asserting that he has a
>logical basis for his proof?

Again, Marx is not an "a-logical writer". This doesn't mean that he
"proofs" arguments as today economists believe they proof theirs. (BTW,
this explain Marx's comments in the famous letter to Kugelmann regarding
the "proof" of value.)

It's not odd for an Aristotelian to look for "logic errors" or "strange
logic". Aristotle was also the first describing this.

He then provides it:
>“Labour capacity is not = to the living labour which it can do, = to the
>quantity of labour which it can get done - this is its use-value. It is
>equal to the quantity of labour by means of which it must itself be
>produced. The product is thus in fact exchanged not for living labour, but
>for objectified labour, labour objectified in labour capacity. Living
>labour itself is a use-value possessed by the exchange value [,labour
>capacity,] which the possessor of the product [,the capitalist,] has
>acquired in trade”.
>And there again we see the concepts of use-value and exchange-value in
>conjunction with the solution to the mystery of the origin of
>surplus-value. I see logic and historical analysis together, not a
>preference for the latter over the former--and certainly not the former
>being conducted at the level of a Walras.

I also see "logic" and historical analysis. The matter is what "logic"?
It's not a *derivation from concepts* as your wording may suggest ("we see
the *concepts* of use-value and exchange-value in conjunction...") It's
rather the logical understanding of a real, observed, temporally determined
process, imo.

Thanks for your post.

Alejandro Ramos

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