[OPE-L:112] Re: the "law of value" (was: Marx's goals)

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Fri, 22 Sep 1995 07:58:49 -0700

[ show plain text ]

Let me try another tactic to suggest how my comments on the law of
value might play a small role in helping focus the discussion. Let
me offer an affirmative reading of Marx's story in light of the
considerations I've raised, which responds to Paul Z.'s concerns:

Suppose we would like to explain to students, or to workers, what
capitalist exploitation is all about, without making any reference to
Marx's law of value. We could say the following:

The "immense collection of commodities" constituting the net product
of a capitalist economy corresponds to an aggregate of labor,
measured in units of socially necessary labor time. If, via
exchange, owners of productive assets secure claims on this aggregate
which do not correspond to their own labor contribution, we call such
claims surplus value and call the process of acquiring surplus value

If students or workers ask what justifies the invocation of this
value-laden term, we provide a historical materialist account of
capital's pursuit which will more than support the term in its most
emotional application.

If students or workers ask what conditions enable owners of
productive assets to secure surplus value and thus exploit producers
of value, we say: Marx's answer in Capital, not the oversimplified
answer he jury-rigs in Parts 1 and 2 of Volume I, but the answer
provided by the whole of Capital, is as follows:

Conditions necessary and (up to a question of degree) sufficient for
capitalist exploitation (however historically derived) are
differential ownership of relatively scarce productive assets.

Marx's proof of this claim:

(1) Necessity of differential ownership: this is a corollary of his
point in Ch. 6 of Vol. I, to the effect that buying and selling of
labor power presupposes a class that is free in the double sense,
i..e., by and large doesn't own productive assets other than labor

(2) Necessity of relative scarcity: This is a corollary of Marx's
argument in Volume I, Ch. 25, in which he points out that the process
of capital accumulation, other things equal, tends to drive the
profit rate to zero.

(3) Sufficiency (up to a matter of degree) of differential ownership
of relatively scarce productive assets to guarantee surplus value and
thus the existence of exploitation:

Repeatedly affirmed in Marx's discussions in Volume III, the
Grundrisse, and the Resultate of historical circuits of capital which
preceded capitalist production, including usury capital, merchants
capital, and by extension, ground rent.

Voila. A complete story about exploitation, completely based on
Capital, with no reference to the law of value.

Gil Skillman