[OPE-L:4731] Re: Re: Re: Re: SV and the F of D

From: Rakesh Narpat Bhandari (rakeshb@Stanford.EDU)
Date: Fri Dec 22 2000 - 03:44:19 EST

re 4729

>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.

Gil, Marx's theory that abstract labor creates value does not simply 
account for exploitation; it also explains the necessity (and 
fetishism) of money and the dynamics of capitalist accumulation. So 
it's about more than epicycles.

>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.

Gil, when rival interpretations present themselves, one can take 
account of the one which makes an argument coherent; if criticisms 
jump out at one, one can reserve judgement until the presentation is 
completed. I am not asking you to sacrifice reason but to be open 
minded in your interpretation.

>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.

You simply don't understand the point of Marx's critique of 
Condillac. He is trying to show how his theory of the nature of the 
substance of value implies that what is 'increased' by the 
circulation of commodities is their use values to their owners, not 
their aggregate exchange value. Marx also says that even if exchanges 
are not at value--as Andrew B has emphasized--the value in 
circulation cannot thereby be increased . One can scoff at this as 
tautology or accept it as a demonstration of the non obvious 
implications (at least to us slower ones) of Marx's basic concepts.

>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.

What is scarce? Capital? What do you mean by capital? How does 
scarcity explain surplus value?

>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.

Marx says that surplus value cannot be explained even if we assume 
that commodity prices are not 'meaningfully' determined by values.

>  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

So you want to separate a labor theory of exploitation from a labor 
theory of value? And you want to do this because the latter brings 
the baggage of a value theory of price, which then requires us to 
explain surplus value on the basis of the assumption of PVE. But Marx 
says that surplus value is not explained, as Andrew B said in his 
reply to me, even if we do not assume PVE, so Marx is not commiting 
himself here to a value theory of relative prices.

>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.

But Marx's explanation of surplus value does not depend on PVE 
either. Marx notes that the value of labor power is the value of the 
means of subsistence necessary for the maintainence of its owner. Of 
course the use value of labor power is the source of greater value 
than value of the means of subsistence. But we do not have to assume 
that the means of subsistence exchange at prices proportional to 
value, for the use value of labor power is the source of greater 
value than the price of production of those means of subsistence as 
well. The assumption that goods sell at prices proportional to their 
value is not intrinsic to Marx's explanation of surplus value, which 
hinges on the difference between the exchange value and use value of 
labor power.

>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.

That labor power is commodified is obviously  not explained by the 
peculiar nature of the difference between its use and exchange value 
once it has been commodified (or more precisely assumed the commodity 
form since labor power is not really a commodity).  But Marx does not 
investigate these historical preconditions here.

>   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.

Fine, you want to work out the exact mechanics by which independent 
commodity production or the hybrid circuit of mercantile industrial 
capital (see Breman) is usually done in. This could be interesting 
indeed, but this is not what Marx is trying to explain here.

>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).

I don't think (nominal) ownership is enough. The producers must also 
be freely associated.

>   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.

Marx's claim is stronger. There would have to be elimination of 
wealth in its bourgeois form.

Still confused, Rakesh

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