[OPE-L:7737] Re: Postscript: M,C, V and S are abstractions, too

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Wed Oct 02 2002 - 06:09:36 EDT

If I may intervene...
>Hi Fred, As usual, a related point came to me on my drive home.
>You wrote
>> I think this interpretation is in keeping with Marx's general
>> philosophical method of what Ilyenkov calls "materialist dialectics" ,
>> according to which Marx's theory is based on "real" or
>> "concrete" abstractions, rather than purely logical or mental
>> abstractions.  The concepts in Marx's theory, including the key concepts
>> of capital and the circulation of capital, are abstracted from the real
>> capitalist economy, and therefore refer to actual phenomena in the real
>> capitalist economy.  They are not purely theoretical concepts that have
>> been invented out of our heads.
>Let's grant that one's theory of capitalism should be grounded as
>concretely as possible in "actual phenomena in the real capitalist economy."
>As Marx recognizes in K.I Ch. I, that would mean starting with the
>"immense collection of commodities" that constitutes capitalist wealth,
>along with their respective prices.
>The *aggregate" concepts denoted by M, C, and V, on the other hand, are
>"purely...mental abstractions" that therefore "have been invented out of our
>heads"--you can't see them or touch them, and they don't immediately bear on
>the details of any commodity transaction, but if you think you have a good
>theoretical reason for doing so, you could perform the purely mental
>operation of calculating these aggregates by constructing them from their
>concrete foundations in capitalist reality--that is, from sums of money
>given by purchases of commodities at their respective prices. Indeed, if
>we are to uphold Ilyenkov's methodological precepts, we must *necessarily*
>proceed in this way.  So rather than merely positing C and V as pure
>abstractions, it would seem more in keeping with materialist dialectics
>to construct them explicitly from prices and quantities--since this must be
>done in practice in any case if one is to actually calculate these magnitudes
>for a real capitalist economy.

(While I do not agree with Fred as to what Vol 1 is "about") I support the
concept of reality of the aggregate. At first glance Gil seems to have made
a good point that only individual processes are real and aggregates are
mental, which some capitalist or some government calculates. The question
of the reality of the aggregate comes up if it is necessary to show that
this aggregate is determined by system-wide processes, or acts as a
systemic determinant of other processes.
I think it flows from Marx's whole approach that total surplus value is
determined (not calculated as such) by the general conditions of class
struggle and that the individual case varies  from the 'typical case'
derived from the aggregate as  each capitalist is more or less successful
at squeezing out that bit extra. Conceptually therefore the idea of a  real
total SV makes sense, even if in the accounts it is derived by aggregating.
I think this follows from the general line of Marx's argument in V 3, as I
have shown in my chapter 'Capital, Many capitals, and competition' in *The
Culmination of Capital* eds Campbell and Reuten.
In Gil's 7730 he seems to be reaching for the idea that discussion of
aggregates involves a fallacy of composition in that total EV makes no
sense as an equivalent of anything since there is nothing for it to equate
with. But this fallacy does not apply to the aggregate *relations* of
capitals and workers.
It follows from this first point that the total SV thus determined by class
struggle is better conceptualised as "distributed" according the the
uniform rate of profit rather than "redistributed" from individual sites.
Chris Arthur

17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

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