[OPE-L:5617] Re: Marx's theory as a quantitative theory

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Fri May 18 2001 - 04:24:39 EDT

Hi Fred

>1.  The main question of Marx's theory is to explain how a given quantity
>of money (M) is converted into a greater quantity of money (M'), i.e. to
>explain how an increment of money (dM) is produced.  The whole of Volume 1
>is structured around this central question. The general analytical
>framework of all three volumes is M - C - M'.

To begin with, I disagree that the 'main question' of Marx's theory is
quantitative.  On setting out the definitive object of his 'critique' Marx
explicitly states that the great merit of classical political economy was
to have discovered the content of value in labour; it's great defect was
never to have discovered the determination of value and labour by social
form.  He writes (1976 penguin edn, pp173-174):

"Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however
incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms.
But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that
particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why
the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of
the value of the product" 

So what is the 'main question' of Marx's theory, as you put it?  Is it a
clarification and extension of the classical labour-embodied theory of
value (an attempt to cover more completely the analysis of value and its
magnitude)?  Or is it a rejection of the classical question in favour of
the qualitative question: the "why" question?  Why is value the *form* that
labour content assumes, why does the value of the product come to express a
measurement of labour in labour-time?  The why question has to do with the
*essential character* of a historically specific social form dominated by
the valorisation process.  I see this qualitative question as the 'main
question' of Marx's value theory.  This puts the focus for the further
development of Marx's theory on the corollary of how well he answers the
"why" question that he poses: does he succeed in establishing the
interconnectedness of elements that make capitalism what it *essentially*
is?  If one decides that Marx did not succeed in this objective, then
reading Capital will be motivated by a heuristic intention to reconstruct
Marx's concepts so as to better express his intentions - i.e. the
intentions of a theory of 'social' value.

This is *not* to say that your alternative emphasis on the quantitative
problem is an incorrect interpretation.  Marx himself is nowhere (to my
knowledge) explicit as to the character and extent of his break with
classical concerns.  However, if one is interested in the essential
interpenetration of production and circulation that typifies capitalism as
a social form of production, then the problem - as you set it out below -
makes no sense since labour is not the causal element: rather causality is
attributed to the systemic essence of capitalism:

>The labor-time quantities on the RHS of equation (1) are
>the independent variables which exist independently of money, and the
>magnitude of surplus-value on the LHS is the dependent variable, which is
>determined by the independent variables on the RHS.

Given systemic determination - dissociation of lbour, production and
consumption, and private ownership of the means of production: (1) the
value to labour relationship must be continuously reconstituted as the
system reproduces itself and (2) this necessitates the value-form as the
'mode of association' constituting labour and value as 'abstract' in
exchange - i.e. there is no sense in which abstract labour is independent
of its expression in money.  The more concrete grounding of abstract labour
and value in price, the interdependence of essence and ground and the
systemic determination of elements implies that the independence
requirements of formal logic are not captured in Marx's equations, and
should not be.  To this extent, I disagree with the interpretation and/or
meaning you give to Marx's equations.   

>4.  Geert and Nicky (and others), do you think that the above is a correct
>interpretation of Marx's theory of the magnitude of surplus-value, as
>presented in Chapter 7?  If not, then please explain why not.

I think you present one possible interpretation, based on the assumption
that principles of formal logic are helpful in understanding Marx.  Others
(Chris A, Tony Smith, etc) have done a great job in making the alternative
case that Marx's logic is fundamentally similar to the systematic dialectic
of Hegel's (1917) Encyclopedia.  If Marx did employ a systematic dialectic,
then one cannot read into his equations the stipulation of causal links
from abstract-labour-embodied to value and price.  I have already argued
that this 'analytic' reading misses the role of the market (price system)
in allocating labour to different technical-material processes, as it
misses the co-constitution of value and price that makes a form determined
economy what it *essentially* is.   

>On the other hand, if you agree that the above is at least a plausible
>interpretation of Marx's theory of the magnitude of surplus-value, do you
>think there is also another plausible interpretation of Marx's theory of
>the magnitude of surplus-value as presented in Chapter 7, or
>elsewhere?  Is so, please explain this alternative interpretation.  
>I myself do not see any other possible interpretation. 

I think that your interpretation is plausible.  One alternative
interpretation is the systematic dialectical interpretation.  

>Finally, if you agree that the above interpretation is the correct
>interpretation of Marx, then how do you incorporate this quantitative
>dimension into the VFI of Marx's theory?  As I understand it, the VFI
>rejects the labor-time quantities on the RHS of equation (1) as
>independent variables which exist independently of money and which
>determine money magnitudes.  Therefore, the VFI appears to reject Marx's
>theory of the magnitude of surplus-value.  Please correct me if I am
>wrong.  I would love to be wrong.  

VFT rejects an axiomatic or 'analytic' interpretation of value theory, for
reasons above.  

>Nicky, when you suggest in (5585) that there is more than one way to
>determine the magnitude of surplus-value, do you mean that there is more
>than one possible interpretation of Marx's theory, or that VF theory
>provides a different theory of the magnitude of surplus-value than Marx's
>theory.  In either case, would you please explain either the alternative
>interpretation of Marx's theory or the alternative VF theory of the
>magnitude of surplus-value.

I mean that there is more than one possible interpretation of Marx's
theory, as argued above.  It is not the intention of VFT theory to
establish a relationship between independent and dependent variables, but
to say something fundamental about capitalism: what is fundamental is that
money, value and abstract labour are inextricably interconnected and that
their unity makes capitalism what it is essentially.  In capitalism, value
and price are mutually constituted by a social act (exchange) the only
process whereby dissociated labours and products are constituted as
socially useful, as aggregate value-added. So there is no sense in which
surplus value is independent of the monetary expression of abstract labour
and the wage rate.  

Comradely greetings

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

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