[OPE-L:738] Re: LTV an assumption?

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Thu, 14 Dec 1995 13:14:08 -0800

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Andrew here, commenting on Steve Cullenberg's (ope-l: 730) and Gil Skillman's
recent points about Marx's argument at the start of Ch. 1 of Vol. I of

First, Steve. He writes that "If what Marx and Aristotle meant was that in
order for two commodities to exchange,that there must be some homogeneous
element common to both, then they are both wrong."

I agree. But I'm convinced that Marx, at least did not mean (or write) that.
In Ch. 2, he indeed notes that commodities historically first become
exchangeable through the mutual desires of their owners to alienate them--
precisely the other "possible condition for exchange" that Steve proposes.
Thus, contrary to what Steve implies, there is nothing specifically
neoclassical about this idea; it is Marxist as well. What I think Marx
WAS saying at the start of Ch. 1 is that an *analysis* of exchange relations
reveals that commodities have something in common, a "third thing," and that
they exchange AS containers of this third thing. The point was not to try
to answer why commodities exchange, the conditions needed for them to
exchange, or to account for the proportions in which they exchange.

I also do not think Marx had any general theory of exchange--any explanation
of what grounds exchange "as such." This is because exchange for him was not
a transhistorical phenomenon. Thus, again in Ch. 2, he discusses how the
relation X commodity A = Y commodity B differs from X use-value A = Y
use-value B. The key point is that in the latter there is no common
element which the *objects themselves* possess; the ground of exchange is
simply mutual desire to get the other's object.

On to Gil, responding in ope-l: 731 to my reply to his original post (ope-l:
710). At first the reply didn't make much sense to me, so I studied it
carefully along with his original post. I've concluded that we've been
talking past each other, partly because I missed some subtleties in the
original post. So let me return to it. Gil writes (ope-l: 710):

"one cannot infer from the former [an equivalence relation] that the 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."

I do not consider the paraphrase of Marx to be accurate. After noting that
the exchange of 2 commodities appears to be an accidental relationship,
and thus exchange-value something that's "purely relative," Marx immediate
examines the relation 1 quarter wheat = x boot-polish or y silk or z gold,
etc. He does not at all assert that these are equivalents by virtue of
being exchanged (which is what I suspect Gil's phrase "in being exchanged"
means). Likewise Marx does not assert that "relationships of exchange
... 'establish something equal'," as Gil seems to imply in ope-l: 731. But
not only does he not assert it, he does not think it is correct, as I have
just noted in my comments on Steve C's post. Instead, what Marx is saying is
that a commonality to these commodities is disclosed by examining this
particular form of an "exchange relationship." The particular form is
that which Marx will label the "total or expanded form" in section 3. As
he there notes in more depth, this form indeed shows that the commonality
to the commodities is not established in exchange (this is something that
the "simple or accidental" form, the relation of just 2 commodities, does
not reveal).

Note that the quarter of wheat cannot, at one and the same time, exchange
for the boot-polish, and the silk, and the gold, etc. Nonetheless, they
are equivalents. This is what shows that the equivalence (or commonality)
is not established in the act of exchange, but precedes it. Now, does
Marx *establish* that there is an equivalence between these things.
Definitely not. He treats it as a fact. As he mentions in his Notes
on Wagner, every price-list is an artifact of this equivalence (and note
that a price-list is no act of exchange). One could of course deny that
this is a fact, but that's an empirical argument and not a "logical"

Thus, by means of his examination of the "total form," Marx shows that there
is a common element to each of the commodities, which is revealed in their
mutual exchangeability, but that this common element is not any of the
commodities themselves. Once this is recognized, then it can likewise be
seen to be true in the "accidental form," the relation of just 2 commodities.

Thus, pace Gil, Marx is not trying to argue for the existence of "any other
'common property' ... other than that which placed them [the commodities]
in the [equivalence] set." Rather, he is arguing for the existence of
some common property to them, that specific property that has "placed them"
in the set. Some common property as against no common property. And some
common property (i.e. value) as against the appaearance of exchange-value as
just a relation between commodities, not inherent in *each* commodity.

Having established that the equivalence of commodities implies that they
all contain some "third thing," Marx then, and only then, asks what is
that third thing. Now, commodity, as he uses the term, is (a) a use-value
and (b) a product of labor. Marx notes that use-values are different and
thus that there is not physical commonality to the commodities. What's
left as the third thing is that they are all products of labor.

As I understand Gil, he acknowledges that the derivation outlined in my
last paragraph is legitimate, given that the existence of a third thing
has been established (which he seems to deny; or perhaps he asserts that
exchange is the third thing that makes the commodities equivalent. [But if
so, then how do you explain a price-list?]). But Gil considers it an act
of "fiat" by Marx to define "commodity" so narrowly. Actually, that
delimitation was well established (though not universal) in political
economy by Marx's time--see the beginning of Ricardo's _Principles_, for
instance (p. 12 of Sraffa ed.). Indeed Ricardo restricts the meaning of
"commodity" even more than Marx does (non-reproducibles are excluded,
only goods exchanged in free competition are included, in addition to
things that aren't products of labor being excluded). So the procedure
is hardly the contrived one that Bohn-Bawerk said it was.

Still and all, had Marx been trying to argue that a necessary condition for
exchange is that the goods exchaged contain this third thing, or that they
exchange because they contain this third thing, or that exchange-ratios
are proportional to the quantities of this third thing they contain--had
Marx been trying to argue any of this, he would have been wrong. As we
all know, things exchange that aren't products of labor, etc. etc. But
Marx was simply NOT trying to explain exchange in Ch. 1 (Ch. 1 is "The
Commodity"; Ch. 2 is "The Process of Exchange"--think about it) but to
investigate the nature of each and every commodity.

(Of course, the whole wealth of societies dominated by the capitalist mode
of production "APPEARS" as an immense accumulation of commodities--even
non-commodities take on the form of commodities, are treated as commodities,
bought/sold as commodities, priced, etc. So Marx's investigation is not
limited to products of labor when and insofar as he's dealing with questions
of *form* common to both commodities in the strict sense and non-commodities
that take on the same form.)

Andrew Kliman