[OPE-L:7740] Re: Re: Postscript: M,C, V and S are abstractions, too

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Date: Thu Oct 03 2002 - 16:10:52 EDT

Hi Chris--
>If I may intervene...

Well, you can certainly *join*, and welcome.

> >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.
> >
> >Gil
>(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.

Yes.  And far be it from me to say that there aren't systemic forces at 
work in capitalist economies.  Of course I think there are.  But the exact 
nature of these forces, and the precise effects that they have, are not 
directly visible to us mortals.  We can theorize about what they are and 
how they work (and thus define terms that are not directly visible), and it 
may be that our theories turn out to correct; but whether that were the 
case, or we were just lucky guessers, we can never know for sure.

>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.

And I would agree.  My problem with Fred's account is not in the suggestion 
that the notion of aggregate SV "makes sense," even if it's not directly 
visible; my problem is with his suggestion that his aggregate terms don't 
have to be demonstrably consistent with certain necessarily related 
non-aggregate relations asserted by Marx in V.I, in particular: (1) his 
postulate that all commodities exchange at their respective values, and (2) 
his specification that value magnitudes are determined by socially 
necessary labor time.

Thus, for example, if C is as Marx defines it, then it is necessarily equal 
to the vector product of constant capital commodities used up in production 
and their respective prices, and if V is as Marx defines it, then it's 
equal to hours or labor expended times the wage rate (or the vector product 
of different types of labor and their respective wage rates, more 
generally). Marx adds the stipulation that these prices are taken as equal 
to corresponding labor values.  My point is that, given how labor values 
are determined, these conditions have necessary implications for the 
determination of C and V, so that one cannot take just any combinations of 
C and V such that C+V=M, and presume this is consistent with Marx's 
argument in K.I.  In general it won't be.

>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

No.  I'm not making a suggestion that a fallacy of composition is being 
committed here.  I'm saying that the assumption of "exchange of 
equivalents" operates primarily at the disaggregated level, although of 
course it bears implications for aggregate magnitudes.

>  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.

Yeah, that's something I would want to insist on, too:  there is no 
"original" determination of SV that is then "redistributed" given the 
existence of a uniform rate of profit.  This will turn out to have 
implications for the claim that the rate of profit is determined 
"analytically prior" to prices, in particular prices of production.


>Chris Arthur
>17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

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