[OPE-L:714] Re: LTV an assumption?

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Tue, 12 Dec 1995 10:50:51 -0800

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Gil wrote in [710]:

> Greetings to fellow list members after a long hiatus. I was waylaid
> by the flu virus from hell the very week that discussion on OPE-L
> exploded, .... <snip>
Welcome back, Gil! Instead of suggesting the metaphysical source of flu,
though, as "hell", one would be better advised to look to the material
and social world for an explanation. (somehow this relates to the subject of
this post). :-)
Gil reproduces, in part, the following from Fred (I am deleting some):
> > 1. Marx's analysis of the commodity is based on two methodological
> > presuppositions:
> > a. Capitalism should be analyzed in terms of its objective
> > characteristics.
> > b. The commodity is analyzed as a GENERAL EQUIVALENT to all other
> > commodities.
> > 2. Marx then argued that the general equivalence of commodities requires
> > which their equivalence is determined.
> > 3. Marx quoted Aristotle approvingly on these two points:
> > There can be no exchange without equality,
> > and no equality without commensurability. (C.I. 151)
> because there
> > is no way to reduce any of these useful qualities to a homogeneous unit of
> > measure; i.e. that there are not and cannot be meaningfully made to be
> > commensurable.

Then Gil responds:
> The problem here is that both Marx and Aristotle are wrong, having
> committed a fundamental logical error (or rather, Aristotle committed
> the error and Marx followed him). As Fred's own wording
> suggests, a system of exchange establishes a relationship of
> *equivalence*, not *equality*, the difference being precisely that
> one cannot infer from the former that elements of an equivalence set
> contain any other "common property" (much less "common, homogeneous
> property") other than that which placed them in the set--in this
> case, paraphrasing Marx, that x boot-polish, y silk, and z gold are
> all equivalent in being exchanged for a quarter of wheat.
> For example, Oslo, Norway, Avesta, Sweden, and Kronshtadt, Russia are
> equivalent in lying within a certain distance of the 60th parallel.
> But even if the parallel ran right through the middle of each of them, one
> could not conclude that these entities share some other "common
> element."
Firstly, I don't see how the Oslo/Avesta/Kronstadt analogy has *any*
merit for discussing this question -- unless one believes that
geographical location expressed in degrees of latitude and longitude is a
major factor for understanding these urban areas.

Secondly (and more important), you are treating Fred's two
"presuppositions" as entirely separate and distinct. Yet, surely 1b, 2, and
3 above *ALL* relate, in part, to *1a* ("Capitalism should be analyzed in
terms of its objective characteristics").

Thirdly, to emphasize the distinction between "equality" and
"equivalence" only suggests that there may be price-value deviations. So
what? Marx was well aware of the inequality between value and price and
approached an answer through successive further distinctions in his
analysis (e.g. prices of production, market value, international value,

Fourthly, at this level of analysis, Marx is attempting to specify the
*source* of value and is not primarily concerned with the quantitative
*measurement* of value.

Fifthly (partially in response to Steve K.), before Marx can go on to
discuss the relation of "living labor" and "dead labor" in terms of the
creation of value and surplus value, he must *first* identify the
*source* of value.
> Another example, closer to home. Assume for a moment that Marx does
> not simply assume his conclusion in the argument beginning Chapter 1
> of Volume I; that is, suppose he has not limited the discussion at
> the outset *by fiat* to exchangeables which are the product of labor.
> Nothing in the logical structure of Marx's argument from exchange
> rules out the following parallel conclusion: suppose a quarter of wheat
> exchanges for x boot-polish, y silk, or z unimproved land. Then by exactly
> parallel reasoning, and I quote, "[t]herefore x boot-polish, y silk,
> z [unimproved land]...must, as exchange values, be mutually
> replaceable {which by the way, also doesn't follow, except under
> very strict market conditions} or of identical magnitude."
> OK, so there must then be some "common element" that unimproved land
> shares with boot-polish and silk, by which this "identical magnitude"
> may be measured....but it can't be labor! Ooops.
Marx, at this level of analysis, is concerned with the *production* of
commodities under capitalism. Land is not *produced*, yet it has a market
price. This distinction, far from contradicting Marx's theory or being a
simple presupposition, is explained when Marx turns, much later, to the
question of absolute and differential ground rent.

Does the *fact* that some commodities are not produced contradict Marx's
theory of value? I think not. Suppose I were to walk along the
Connecticut shore and find ambergris or an oyster with a valuable pearl
inside. Surely, I could sell these objects for $ even though they were
not "produced" (except by whales and oysters). However, if we immerse
ourselves in such exceptions we concentrate on the realm of immediate
appearance and ignore the underlying *social* characteristics of
commodity production and value.

Marx wanted to analyze capitalism in terms of its objective -- material
and social -- characteristics. Fred's "1a" above is simply a logical
extension of Marx's materialist conception of history. For Marx, the
*source* of value can not be found in either the natural world or the
realm of individual freedom and choice. If labor is *not* the source of
value, then what non-natural, non-individual, non-subjective source can
there be? I would add here that Steve's question concerning the source
of surplus value *only* becomes a question after we have determined the
source of value itself.
> Since this first premise of Marx's argument falls, the rest of it is
> irrelevant. Thus there is no basis in Marx's argument of Chapter 1
> for the conclusion that the basis of exchange value is "congealed
> human labour."
Marx was more concerned about the way in which value expresses a social
relation under capitalism than the quantitative measurement of exchange
value -- an *entirely* secondary consideration.

Again, welcome back. Now that you are healthy, I'm sure that we will all
be hearing a lot more from you (which pleases me).

In OPE-L Solidarity,