[OPE-L:4729] Re: Re: Re: SV and the F of D

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Fri Dec 22 2000 - 00:51:12 EST

Rakesh writes, among other things,

>At any rate, I find no clear point to Gil's argument.  Gil seems to 
>me a very ungenerous reader of Marx out to hoist him by his own 
>petard or impale him on his own sword. He seems to have haughily 
>dismissed anyone who has been convinced by Marx's theory of value as 
>Ptolemian--it seems that you do not find this as insulting as I do. 
>Again, if you do look over the exchange, I did not call Gil an anti 
>semite. I MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT THINK THIS.  Gil responded that it 
>was implied in my criticism that if one criticizes Marx on logical 
>grounds, he becomes an apologist for the Holocaust. I said that 
>Marx's theory provides the most solid foundations for the criticism 
>of common sense notions of the roots of exploitation which has 
>animated modern anti semitism. I do think this this is true of 
>Marxian theory.
>I remain not clear at all as to what the ultimate point of Gil's 
>critique is.

1.  I certainly never read Rakesh as labelling me an anti-semite.  For my
part, it was never my intention to compare value theorists to Ptolemaic
epicyclists; the point of the comparison was only to suggest that the
possibility of accounting for Marx's theory of exploitation without having
to resort to value theory might be counted as a theoretical advance,
however necessary value theory might once have been for Marx to achieve his
lastingly valid insights.

2.  Whether I'm being "ungenerous" to Marx seems to me beside the point,
although for what it's worth I go out of my way to accomodate Marx's
*historical* argument in the second half of my critique (as yet mostly
un-aired on OPE-L, but indicated in print).  If an argument or set of
arguments of Marx's is logically invalid, it should be recognized as such,
whatever one thinks of the other good or important things he's accomplished.

3.  Rakesh says my "ultimate point" is not clear, so let me cut to the
chase and indicate the ultimate point(s), without attempting to
re-establish the basis for these conclusions.  The critique has, I think,
significant implications for Marxian analytical methods, substantive
theoretical claims, and praxis.

A)  None of Marx's justifications for invoking the case of price-value
equivalence (PVE) as the basis for explaining surplus value is valid. The
invocation is superfluous given the understanding that surplus value
requires by definition the creation of new value rather than the mere
redistribution of existing value, and none of Marx's other justifications
for invoking this condition is logically or descriptively sound.

B)  If anything, invoking this condition obscures what is the necessary
basis for surplus value, by Marx's own account.  This is because surplus
value requires capital scarcity, and generically scarcity in any of its
guises implies a price-value disparity for the scarce commodity.  Thus, PVE
essentially misses the point about the capitalist conditions that make
surplus value possible.

Point (A) indicates that value theory--the notion that there might be a
meaningfully systematic relationship between commodity values and
prices--is not useful in accounting for the existence of surplus value, and
thus capitalist profit.  Point (B) suggests that it is moreover worse than
useless, since it directs attention away from the true basis of surplus
value.  Note this point does not of itself indict a labor theory of

C)  The fact that capitalists typically buy labor power as a commodity and
then extract its use value in capitalist-run labor processes has nothing
whatsoever to do with the connection between commodity values and prices.
It has very much to do with the fundamental change in strategic (for want
of a better word) class conditions that accompanied the expropriation of
workers: e.g., capitalists could require collateral for production loans to
workers who owned some property, but not once workers became "free" in the
second of Marx's Ch. 6 senses.  This dichotomy helps to explain how it is
that Marx repeatedly affirms historical instances of capitalist
exploitation via circuits of usury and merchant's capital extended to value
producers ( e.g., loans to Indian ryots in the first case, the putting out
system in the latter), and yet insists categorically that capitalists can
no longer use these means to exploit workers once the historical conditions
of the capitalist mode of production are in place.

D)  As noted before, the key systemic basis for surplus value is capital
scarcity.  Marx puts this point even more strongly in Ch. 33 of Volume I:
if workers own their own means of production, then the capitalist mode of
production is impossible (see pages 933 and 940).  This has a number of
powerful implications, but note just one: the contrapositive of Marx's
claim is that capitalist exploitation can be eliminated simply through
sufficient wealth redistribution.


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