[OPE-L:100] Re: Marx's Goals

Paul Zarembka (ECOPAULZ@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu)
Thu, 21 Sep 1995 12:44:13 -0700

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On Thu, 21 Sep 1995, Gilbert Skillman wrote:

> 1) What I "see" has nothing to do with it;*Marx* sees the law of value
> as a claim that labor values regulate prices, and corroborates this
> vision repeatedly throughout Volume I and in places in the
> Grundrisse, the Contribution to the Critique, Volume III, etc).
> (Indeed, this vision is how Marx justifies making the abstraction
> in Vol. I that Paul refers to; more on that below.)

What the working class can learn from Capital Vol. 1, among other things,
has nothing to do with the relatively trivial question of whether the
labor time put into the computer I am now using reflects, relatively
speaking, its market price/price of production (or whatever), relative to
the labor time which went into the bagel and cream cheese I ate for lunch.
Frankly, I don't care and I don't find my students caring about it
either (except when they get thrown into a micro theory class and the
instructor wants them to care about market prices). What they can learn
has everything to do with the difference between their labor time and the
value of their labor power--and that latter value is not obvious because it
is covered up by the sphere of circulation (am I getting a "fair" wage?)

> 2) However, If the law of value doesn't say this, it's hard to see
> how it is anything other than a tautology, unless one were to confuse
> it with the theory of exploitation. That would be inappropriate,
> since

The above wasn't a tautology for me and certainly is not for my students.
I had to work at understanding the roots of profit in this system.

> 3) The law of value in Marx's sense is not required to prove that
> exploitation is the basis of capitalist profit. Furthermore, as
> mentioned in my previous post,

Are we back with Steedman and Roomer?

> 4) To the extent that Marx relies on a close interpretation of value theory
> (what Paul refers to as Marx's abstraction from departures of prices from values)
> to establish the argument, the argument is wrong, plainly wrong, demonstrably
> wrong. And by the way, Marx doesn't simply make this abstraction for
> convenience; at the end of (sorry) Chapter 5 he *insists* that one
> must be able to account for surplus value on the basis that commodity
> prices and values are proportional. That's invalid: price-value equivalence is
> neither necessary nor particularly relevant to a world in which profit (and
> therefore exploitation) exists.

The conclusion of Chapter 5 is that "the money-owner...must buy his
commodities at their value, sell them at their value, and yet at the end
of the process withdraw more value from circulation than he threw into it
at the beginning" (using the sexist English translation of the German
original). That is what drives the drama of Chapter 6, The Sale
and Purchase of Labor Power.

Well, anyway, that's my reaction.
Paul Zarembka, SUNY at Buffalo