[OPE-L:5673] Response to Fred - 1

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Sun May 27 2001 - 01:27:08 EDT


thanx very much for your provocative questions, which given their
complexity, combined with the limitations of an email exchange, cannot be
adequately answered (although I will certainly make a valiant attempt, in 4
segments, with refs to the relevant literature).  My response concerns
abstraction in Marx's first chapter, in order to answer your request:

>>So would Nicky or Chris or someone please explain how this passage is
supposed to support the VF interpretation of Marx's theory?
To begin with, Marx is unclear as to the methodological status of his
abstractions, in relation to those of the classical labour theory of value.
 In his opening chapter, physiological and naturalistic elements - what I
will call here a labour-embodied value theory (LET) - coexist with
dialectical and historical elements of an original theory of social form -
what I will call a value-form theory (VFT).  Second, residual elements of
Ricardian (reductive) and Hegelian (systematic dialectical) approaches to
science seem to be related to the structure of Marx's argument which
proceeds in two movements: the first introducing and elucidating the double
character of commodities and labour, the second determining the double form
of commodities and labour.  The dialectical mode of argument of the second
movement has been remarked by many writers (notably, Arthur, 1979b; Murray,
1993; and Smith, 1998).  Nevertheless, Marx prefaces this with a
non-dialectical (reductive?) first movement from which he derives the dual
character of labour, claiming this as the pivot on which his political
economy turns.

Here, I agree with a previous post (Jerry), that the substantive disputes
over Marx's derivation of the dual character of labour (and commodities)
cannot be understood apart from these problems of method.  Much depends,
moreover, on interpretation of the Marxian dialectic in relation to Hegel's
(1817) logic, especially the role that dialectical thinking plays in Marx's
analysis of social form (therefore his critique of classical value theory).  

(1) Types of abstraction in Capital 

What, exactly, did Marx learn from Hegel?  As Arthur (1997) points out,
Hegel's work contains examples of both 'historical' and 'systematic'
dialectics; the former 'exhibiting the inner connection between stages of
development in a temporal process', the latter 'exhibiting the inner
[logical] articulation of a given whole' (p.10).  It appears from Arthur's
account that Engels conflates the two dialectics, although Marx makes it
clear in his (1857/1973) draft Introduction that his intellectual debt is
to Hegel's theory of logic rather than his theory of historical
development.  Arthur goes on to argue that Engels's 'misinterpretation' of
the Marxian dialectic as a logical-historical method has resulted in major
terminological confusions, such that the meaning of Marx's concepts and the
role that they play in his value theory have been widely misunderstood.

One pervasive effect of different understandings of Marx's method is that
different Marxian writers use the same terms and concepts to mean different
things: the different meanings attributed to abstract labour and value
being a salient case in point.  To some extent, the semantic confusions can
be overcome through a reclassification of Marxian value theories according
to whether abstract labour is viewed as a property of commodities (LET) or
a social relation between commodities (VFT).  This terminological decision
need not imply a judgement on Marx's own use of the term 'abstract labour'.
 Imho, any attempt to establish whether Marx, himself, held a social
(abstract-labour) theory of value or a physiological
(abstract-labour-embodied) theory of value founders on textual evidence for
both interpretations.  So, although the terminological difficulties
associated with the meaning of the concept of abstract-labour in
contemporary Marxian debates may be over-come by a simple expedient of
renaming the terms of debate, the question of the analytic status of the
concept in Marx's own work remains intractable. 

In my view, the only way around this conundrum is to explicate the
relationship between alternative interpretations of Marx's method implicit
in all contemporary developments of Marx's value theory, and make these
assumptions explicit.  One way to do this is to set out the assumptions
underpinning reductive (Ricardian/LET) interpretations and counterpose
these to systematic dialectical (Hegelian/VFT) interpretations.  I
suggested (previously) Murray's distinction as a useful first step in this
regard.  According to Murray, 'Ricardian' models, set out a dichotomy of
essence and appearance such that value (essence) is 'given' either as an
axiom at the start of a linear derivation (analytic models), or as
something 'real' that is embodied in commodities as the result of
productive activities (logical-historical models).  Money (appearance) is
then theorised as a phenomenal form, external to the essential character of
value. The importance of this 'classical dichotomy' is that, irrespective
of whether an axiomatic or a logical-historical method is applied, values
(immanently measured in duration and intensity of labour time) are embodied
in production, then conserved across analytic levels of abstraction to
manifest phenomenally in exchange (in prices).  Hence, despite considerable
differences in the way that this process is theorised, axiomatic and
logical-historical methodologies are alike in positing an independence of
'value' from its external expression in the 'value-form' (money/price) .
Both axiomatic and logical-historical methodologies are 'reductive' in that
the ontological determination of value is isolated and confined to a single
sphere of the circuit of capital, so constituting what Clarke (1980) has
aptly named a 'paradigm of production'. 

In contrast with 'Ricardian' models, 'Hegelian' models analyse the
capitalist mode of production as essentially dichotomous - such that value
and its monetary expression are mutually constituted by the essential
character of the capitalist method of producing commodities for exchange.
The essence of the capitalist mode of production is precisely that the
imperatives of valorisation (value production) dominate the imperatives of
social usefulness (use-value production), such that the 'circuit' of
capital through successive moments production, circulation and consumption
constitutes the motor force for accumulation.  Hence Arthur (1997) argues:
'the key aspect of the value-form of capital is its continual advance,
through its reflux to itself of its increment, and the spiral of
valorisation set in train therewith' (p.96).  In this conception of
value-form, causality is systemic (rather than linear) and the
interpenetration of production and exchange within the circuit of capital
is explicated through a 'conceptual' - rather than an ontological -
dialectic of internal relationships; what Arthur (1979b) calls the logic of
the concrete.  Meaning that without concrete determination (in prices)
value and abstract labour (as abstract universal concepts) can have no
actuality; or, conversely, that the most concrete moments (prices/wages)
contain within their concepts the antecedent moments
(value/abstract-labour).  In Arthur's Hegelian inquiry, there is no sense
in which price can be conceived of as either 'derived' from value or as
merely phenomenal form of value, autonomous of it's essence.  On the
contrary, totalisation implies the interpenetration of value and value-form
as internally interconnected and mutually determined by the social form of
the existent itself (i.e. by the capitalist mode of production for exchange).

Now returning to the passage (quoted by Chris and myself) that you are
currently disputing the meaning of...  As I see it our disagreement centres
on profound epistemological and methodological differences concerning both
the meaning and status of value concepts *and* the status of the logic of
the first chapter in relation to the whole of Marx's work (would you
agree?).  Are the abstractions (and mode of argument) of the first chapter
reductive abstractions (supporting an analytic methodology) or abstract
universal oppositions, a starting point as yet ungrounded (supporting a
systematic dialectical mode of argument)?  From a VFT perspective, the
question is whether the first chapter can be read as an attempt to ground
abstract universal dualities (the first movement, contained in sections
1-2) in the more concrete structures of commodity exchange (the second
movement, contained in sections 3-4)? I'll look at this now...  

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

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