Re: [OPE-L] What is most important in Marx's theory?

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Mar 11 2007 - 01:06:23 EST

> "Proves" does not seem to me the appropriate
> term here. The real point is to show that any
> new value produced comes ONLY from the
> objectualisation of *living* labor in monetary
> form: from the exploitation as the USE of labor
> power. This requires an argument, which is this:
> the capitalists have all the money, and the
> commodities (means of production, means of
> subsistence); without putting the workers (as
> 'free' individuals compelled to sell their
> labour power) to work, *no* value produced,
> hence no surplus value, and even no transfer of
> value from constant capital. And this is not
> granted ex ante, before the actual production
> process, because of the *specific* nature of
> labour power, a commodity whose use value is
> inseparable from the seller: according to the
> "right" of commoditry production, that use value
> pertains to who has bought that labour power; at
> the same time it is clear that the workers have
> any reason to be interested in what is done of
> the use value which can be extracted from the
> commodity they have sold, because it is THEIR
> body and minds that capitalist have to *use*
> when they extract living labour. This, btw, has
> NOTHING to do with the ahistoric feature that
> labour is active, and nature or means of
> production etc passive (that's why I cannpot
> agree with the train of thought of Diego, and of
> all those who in my view are regressing to
> Smith). It has to do with the specific social
> relation of capital.

I don't follow your claim here that what you are saying has NOTHING to do
with the putatively ahistoric way in which labor may be uniquely active.
Of course capitalists have to extract labor from labor power for otherwise
the otherwise inactive factors of production would not even be, properly
speaking, factors of production at all. Perhaps you could elaborate the

Once you have in mind this
> argument, you do NOT have to *prove*
> exploitation in your sense, as the fact that
> surplus value refers to some notion of *surplus*
> labor. Because at this point this is true as a
> consequence of the founding argument relating
> the new 'value added' to living labor. If all
> the new value is living labour "objectualised"
> in the period, of course any surplus of the
> money receipt over the capital advanced CANNOT
> BUT BE surplus labor.

Yes but I don't see how that does the trick. Sure, labor may supply
surplus labor but the wage may represent the fair price for that labor,
properly discounted. In that sense the provision of surplus labor is not
proof of exploitation in itself. So I don't see what you have proven.

>>>>I am not saying that other questions are not important.  I am just
>>>>saying that the production is the most important feature of capitalism,
>>>>and therefore the most important question in Marx's theory of
>>> I  strongly disagree with this formulation as well.
>>> Sorry, I misspoke.  What I meant to say is that “the production OF
>> SURPLUS-VALUE is the most important feature of capitalism” (consistent
>> with my preceding paragraphs), not just production per se.
> The production of surplus value is by definition
> also production of value, and value does *not*
> exist if the commodity is not sold. Probably you
> mean the production of surplus value as a
> *latent* magnitude.
>> I also emphasize that circulation is a necessary and important part of
>>capitalism.  Marx’s analytical framework is the circulation of money
>>capital, which begins in the sphere of circulation, with the advance of
>>money capital (M) to purchase means of production and labor-power.
>>This is one of the reasons that I argue that this initial money capital
>>in the sphere of circulation is taken as given in Marx’s theory.
> Yes, as a quantitative conceptual
> determinatiion, but not as the *specific*
> amount, because it depends on ruling exchange
> ratios, and  exchange ratios has yet to be fixed
> theoretically. So nothing is said about a fixity
> of the SAME magnitudes across volumes.

What then would you make of Shaikh's or Gouverneur's argument that the
fixing of exchanging ratios entails only nominal changes in the magnitude
of surplus value?

> Btw:
> - since, as you know, in vol. I clearly Marx
> very often refers to necessary labor as the
> labor required to produce means of subsistence
> (labour contained in those commodities), which
> is the same as the labour bought (commanded) by
> the money wage if exchange ratios are simple
> prices but *not* if exchange ratios diverge
> from those simple prices (e.g., prices of
> production)
> - and since vol III was written before vol I
> - and since Marx was again and again obsessively
> rewriting his economic work (even on fundamental
> categories)
> - and since the vol. III we have is constructed
> by Engels from the drafts by Marx
> it is clear (at least to me!) that:
> - there IS a logical problem to be dealt with(I
> am not saying it cannot be dealt within the
> Marxian labor theory of value)
> - it cannot be resolved using the authority of vol. III to re-read vol. I.
> I think we should start recognize that there
> does not exist, because it CANNOT exist, THE
> right interpretation about Marx, meaning the
> definitive and final.
> We are forced to go on in an uncertain terrain,
> assuming our responsibility, in developing *our*
> prolongation of an unfinished business.
> otherwise, we will look more and more similar to
> the true believers who make battles of quotes
> about the Bible, or the Koran, or Keynes'
> General Theory, or Mises' Human Action.
> riccardo
> PS: if I am wrong, why Marx in the several
> editions of Vol. I didn't put a very simple
> footnote saying the following: the exchange
> ratios of the elements of constant capital and
> variable capital are not
> supposed to be transformed? Instead, he wrote in
> the footnotes, more or less: the exchange ratios
> assumed here are simple prices, i. e. not
> immediately capitalist prices; this creates a
> problem, to determine prices of production,
> which I'll do in vol. III.

I don't think is fair to Fred as he has said many times that Marx allows
the reader to work under the assumption that the cost prices are
determined on the assumption of  simple prices only to show later on that
they had to have been determined by market prices or prices of production
which deviate from simple prices.  I too don't agree with Fred but there
seems no reason not to understand what he is saying while suggesting that
he is a fundamentalist and ideologue in pejorative terms.

As for this transformation problem stuff, it is clear to many Marxists
that the criticism is trivial, phony, invoked first and foremost by
Sraffians who want to send socialism back to JS Mill by showing that the
surplus does not rightfully belong to capital or workers alone so that the
left Keynesian technocrats can get their hands on it and play the most
minor redistributional games (at least I agree with Michael Lebowitz about
something; indeed his anti Sraffa article is to me more important than his
theory of the needs of wage labor).

The transformation problem is an anti scientific attack dressed up as a
scientific attack; the labor theory of value runs against some common
appearances, and is politically dangerous. These are not scientific
grounds for rejecting it, so a scientistic criticism had to be invented.
That's the intellectual sociology of the transformation problem, plain and
simple. That's this is what bourgeois economics has banked on is risible.

Marx towers above these putatively most excellent findings of 20th century
economic science.

And for goodness sake what unfinished business is accomplished by Sraffa's
exercise in counting equations and unknowns, treatment of the wage as if
it were a part of this year's net product (this any Marxist should know is
simply wrong), inherently static and money-less formalism which can have
nothing to teach us about tendencies, profits or anything in the actual
capitalist world?

If you could lay out for Fred and the rest of us, what new developments in
modern economics we should all be so impressed by, that would be great.

Keynes, game theory, Sraffa, Schumpeter--does Marx really have something
to learn from economists? I think not. Of course the story is different
once we consider anthropology, history (especially of Asia and black
slavery), sociological studies of institutions, and feminism.

I understand that you think Marxists need Keynes' and Schumpeter's
theories of credit money, so perhaps we should focus on that rather than
these very tired criticisms of Marx's theory of value.


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