[OPE-L:5601] Re: Re: Re: explanatory power

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 16 2001 - 23:47:17 EDT

Howard, if you don't mind, I'll label your points and answer the second one

>I'd like to come back to your 5585.  Could you explain briefly, but more
>fully, the following point you make there:
>>What is at stake in VFT is precisely the status
>>of abstractions in Marx's and Marxian value theory, and the different
>>*meanings* of value that result from these conceptual alternatives
>What is a marxist abstraction and what is a VFT one?

The simple answer: VFT is a Marxist theory.  It is the development of a
line of thought present in embryonic form in Marx's Capital, and also in
the Grundrisse.  The difficulty is that Marx used forms of abstraction
similar to those employed by VFT theorists, but also used other forms of
abstraction, in ways that are not compatible (imho) despite many attempts
to make them so (eg. Banaji, 1979, and Patrick Murray's work).  So, I'd say
that to the extent that different positions advanced on this list derive
from interpretations both of Marx's method, and of his value theory, they
are *all* Marxist; I would also say there is no good reason to exclude
anyone from the club.  

[This is not a plug for Feyerabend btw, Andrew, but simply a recognition
that there is no *one* interpretation of either Marx's method or Marx's
value theory as would be obvious to anyone visiting this list for a first
time!.  Indeed, from the posts on this list, the first time visitor would
likely decide either: (a) that Marx's theory must be completely incoherent,
or (b) that Marx was a pathfinder - i.e. an original thinker who did not
himself have a *finished* view either of his method or of the theory of
value that would result from it.  Indeed Marx continually reworked his
ideas, to the end of his life.  So to emphasise - VFT is a development of a
line of thought at times implicit and at times explicit in Marx's own work].

Lack of agreement as to the particular meaning of the historical and/or
logical dialectic in Marx turns on the fundamental question of what,
exactly, Marx took from Hegel.  From this lack of agreement result
terminological difficulties associated with the *meaning* of concepts, and
their *analytic status* in Marx's value theory.  Murray (1993) does
something very useful in this regard: he distinguishes between 'Ricardian'
models in which a dichotomy of essence and appearance operates such that
value (essence) is 'given' - either axiomatically at the start of a linear
derivation *OR* as something 'real' that is supposedly  embodied in
commodities as the result of productive activity, then conserved in
exchange (most LET theories).  The paradigm of production that results from
either approach sees value as constituted in production, such that money is
a mere phenomenal 'form' (appearance) *external* to, or independent of, the
essential character of value [btw Marx himself criticised this
'physiocratic conception' in his theories of surplus value, and Clark
applied the criticism to the work of Fine and Harris in his 1980 C&C
article].  In contrast with 'Ricardian' approaches, systematic dialectical
(Hegelian) models this 'classical dichotomy' between real and monetary
spheres (between production and exchange) is overcome.  As Geert Reuten
succinctly put it in a previous post, VFT theorises capitalism as
inherently dichotomous!!  Value cannot not exist without concrete grounding
in exchange, in money, in prices; prices do not exist without value created
in the labour process.  Essence and ground coexist, are interdependent, are
identities constituted by 'difference in unity' such that value and its
monetary expression are the causally determined results thrown up by a
historically specific social form: there can be no 'law of value' prior to
capitalism, no independence of value from it's expression in the value-form.  

On the meaning of 'value' that results from different methodological
positions... Fundamentally, in VFT theory, value is not comprehensible as
an 'essence' behind the phenomenal 'appearance' of prices, as most LET
theories would have it.  Value cannot exist prior to exchange as a
physiological substance embodied in commodities.  On the contrary, the
concept of value first appears only as the abstract negation of an opposite
abstract universal, use-value.  The exchange relation then constitutes the
essential ground, or first condition for the existence of value, by showing
value that it cannot exist for itself but only as it appears in the form of
a universal equivalent, money.  Price as the most concrete determination of
money, cannot exist apart from value but necessarily contains within it the
antecedent abstract moment.  It is clear then that, for VFT theorists,
relative prices cannot be derived from so-called 'labour-values' as
propositions in an axiomatic analysis; nor can value be constituted as a
'real' substance or embodiment of physiological energy in the body of a
commodity, conserved at another level of abstraction (in circulation), and
measured (albeit immanently) in labour-time (duration/intensity).  

Of course, the more sophisticated LET theories (eg Bellofiore, 1999,
Rivista) fully recognise that only 'potential' value can be calculated in
time units before exchange, on the assumption that short-run expectations
of firms are fulfilled - so if labour is 'embodied' in commodities the
value created is at best 'potential value'.  Nevertheless, the VFT argument
for money as the sole measure of value is quite independent of whether an
'immanent measure' of abstract-labour-embodied (in time units) can be
defined theoretically in Bellofiore's sense.  What is at stake is not the
*possibility* of an empirical inquiry based on a 'monetary' version of LET,
but its *relevance* in an economy where the production and distribution of
commodities and labour is determined by the value-form (and here a new
meaning of value-form as the *essential mode of association* or essential
ground for capitalistically produced commodities comes into play; oppose
this to Marx's more ambiguous use of the concept in his first chapter to
support a theory of 'commodity money' derived from the exchange relation).
Although, incidentally, Mike W probably does not agree with me that Marx
held a commodity theory of money (see his 2000, RPE).


Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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