[OPE-L:4651] Re: Re: Re: Re: Questions

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Fri Dec 08 2000 - 18:18:37 EST

In response to this passage from me,

>>Rakesh, I'd certainly accept the notion that "surplus value" is an
>>aggregate category.  A corollary of this understanding is that, whatever it
>>is, surplus value has to be attainable by the capitalist class as a whole,
>>and not just a subset of the class.  But again, what *is* surplus value,
>>according to Marx?

Rakesh writes:

>Surplus value *is* M' minus M. Are you asking me about the source of 
>surplus value? These aren't the same questions.

I agree that surplus value corresponds to the difference between M and M'
in the circuit of capital.  I also agree that asking about the *definition*
of surplus value isn't necessarily the same thing as asking about the
*source* of surplus value.  What I'm trying to get at here is whether you
think Marx includes anything else to his *definition* of surplus value
other than that it represents the difference between M and M' in the
circuit of capital.  But I infer from your following answer that you don't
think Marx adds anything else to the definition, explicitly or otherwise.
[Please tell me if this inference is inaccurate.] 

In response to my question,

>>  And in particular, is his Ch. 5 rejection of the
>>possibility that surplus value results from the redistribution of existing
>>value definitional, or an inference based on a previous definition?

you write

>In the case of redistribution M' is simply the same as M at the 
>aggregate level.
>For example in Marx's transformation tables, if we assume that M' is 
>the sum of the prices of production in the modified table and M is 
>the sum of prices in the original table, we see that M' - M = 0. No 
>surplus value has been created by the redistribution of value in 

May I infer, then, that in your reading, Marx's Ch. 5 rejection of the
possibility that surplus value results from the redistribution of existing
value constitutes an intended *inference* from his definition of surplus
value as the positive difference between M' and M, rather than as an
illustration of an aspect of the *definition* of surplus value?

Next, where I write

>>As for caution, I'm not trying to lay a trap by asking these questions.
>>It's evident that I have done a poor job up to now of conveying the problem
>>with Marx's argument in Vol. I, part 2 of Capital, and moreover I accept
>>the possibility that given your or other OPE-L'rs theoretical concerns,
>>there really isn't a problem in the first place.

you respond

>Is it that your understanding of science leads you to embrace a 
>formulation of a basic theory of exploitation which holds under any 
>variety of institutional arrangements? 


> Korsch argued however that 
>the principle of historical specificity is the key to Marxian theory 
>of scientific knowledge.

I would agree with Korsch's characterization.

>>  [But if there is a
>>problem, I believe it's a significant one, which is to say I don't think
>>I'm wasting your time on logical minutiae.] In order to figure that out, I
>>think it would be useful to pinpoint possible differences as to what
>>exactly Marx has established here.

>Marx was a logic chopper; to use my father's  English, perhaps he 
>will be hoist by his own sword and impaled by his own petard.

Well, that's what we're trying to find out.  You already know that I think
Marx has indeed been hoist and impaled by his own petard, at least with
respect to his argument in Vol I, Part 2 of Capital.  And I already know
that you, and many others on OPE-L, haven't found my arguments on this
score at all compelling.  So I'm trying to find out the source of the

Next, when I say

>>I agree that the commodity called "labor power" is itself embodied in
>>living people.  But doesn't one's labor power, understood as a commodity,
>>embody the labor necessary to reproduce that labor power up to the point of
>>exchange? Isn't that necessarily the case in order for this commodity to
>>have a value in the same sense that a manufactured commodity has?  But
>>aside from that, can we infer from Marx's analysis in Chapter 6 that
>>capitalists as a class must purchase labor power as a commodity in order to
>>appropriate surplus value?

you write

>I was trying to get at the distinction between the exchange of live 
>and dead labor. The tenability of that distinction is of course 
>crucial to fend off Steven K's critique.

Would it be reasonable to say that while labor power, i.e.the ability to
create "live" labor,  is necessarily embodied in living persons, the labor
that is the substance of the *value* of labor power understood as a
commodity is dead labor, just as the labor embodied in a manufactured
commodity is dead labor?  

And again: can we infer from Marx's analysis in Chapter 6 that capitalists
as a class must purchase labor power as a commodity in order to appropriate
surplus value?  


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