[OPE-L:863] A positive response to Gil

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Mon, 29 Jan 1996 01:02:12 -0800

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I've delayed longer than is justifiable in responding to Gil's
thorough reply (OPE 815:20/1/96) to my earlier (OPE 791:
16/1/96) post in which I asked:

(i) Where does Marx say that goods exchange for their value in
Volume I?

(ii)Why, since the assumption that goods exchange for their
value is not made in Volume I, do marxists almost universally
assume that this assumption is in fact made?

This is mainly because I wanted to study it more carefully;
however I think the advances made in this exchange (no pun
intended) warrant an initial *positive* reaction.

Gil replies:

In the introduction to Part 7 of Volume I (which is a bit late
in the game), Marx writes "...we assume that the capitalist
sells the commodities he has produced at their value." [p. 710
Penguin ed.]

The inference that Marx focuses throughout Volume I on the case
in which commodities exchange at their value might be drawn
from passages such as the following:

"The fact that the corn and the clothes are equivalents
[in the circuit C-M-C] does not deprive the process of all
sense and meaning, as it does in M-C-M. The equivalence of
their values is rather *a necessary condition of its
normal course.*" [p. 252 Penguin, emphasis added.]

Well, I may be calling game before time, but I think these
citations prove my point.

Part 7 of Volume I Marx is dedicated to reproduction. But
throughout the debate, my point has always been that it is
only in discussing reproduction that Marx makes exchange
at values his basic assumption. The error of the traditional
interpretation of Marx is that it takes this as the starting
point of his definition of value. It imputes to Marx a
Reproduction Theory of Value.

But Marx doesn't have a Reproduction Theory of Value. He has
a Value Theory of Reproduction.

So it's no surprise that in this particular section he makes the
cited assumption perfectly clear, as throughout Volume II. But
this is exactly the point: this is a Volume II assumption, not
a Volume I assumption. And when he fully intends to make this
assumption, he states it. Bold, up front, and at the beginning.

Yes, it is 'late on'. *Why* is it late on? Because it isn't
made *early* on. The conclusion leaps out of the cyberpage
of Gil's response.

If Marx really intended to make this the ground assumption of
Volume I,the most carefully-constructed, edited, re-edited,
scrutinised and rescrutinised part of his whole life's work,
why on earth doesn't he say so?

What is at issue is: does Marx utilise the assumption of
exchange at values as the *basis of his derivation of the
category of value*? Is this how his value categories are
deduced? Do these categories therefore depend on this

As for the second citation, Gil has been obliged to
omit the immediately-preceding sentences which read: 'Of course,
it is also possible that in C-M-C the two extremes C and C, say
corn and clothes, may represent quantitatively different
magnitudes of value. The peasant may sell his corn above its
value, or may buy the clothes at less than their value'.

So from a purely textual point of view, this citation does
not to say the least furnish strong evidence for the
interpretation that the basis of Volume I is exchange at values.

But the real point is the context. This is in the section where
Marx discusses surplus value, where as I indicated in my
original post, Marx does indeed abstract from exchange at
values other than prices. But *why*? Not because he either
believes, claims, or derives his categories from the assumption
of exchange at values.

No, in this section Marx's purpose is altogether different: it
is to indicate that one cannot *explain* surplus value on the
basis of exchange at prices other than values. Even though it
is perfectly true that people can sell goods above, below or at
values, and frequently do, *nevertheless* the capitalist class
as a whole cannot, by so doing, make a profit: 'the capitalist
class as a whole cannot defraud itself'. He abstracts from
exchange at prices other than values, only after having shown
that surplus value cannot arise therefrom.

If Marx's assumption was the same as Ricardo's, that value
really is *defined to be* what goods would sell at without
disturbance, what on earth is the purpose of this discussion?

If goods by definition exchange at their value, there would be
no need for the very long discussion, most of this chapter in
fact, of the consequences of exchange at prices *other* than
values. If the *assumption* is exchange at values, why waste
any breath at all discussing exceptions to this assumption?

So, it seems to me that Gil's citations rather strongly confirm
what I said in my first post on this subject.

Gil then proceeds in a vein which confirms for me how important
it is to get out of this stuck-gramophone debate which
traditional marxism has with the rest of the world. He writes

Marx nowhere establishes the sense in which price-value
equivalence represents the "normal" or "pure" form of exchange.

John Roemer, employing assumptions not ruled out in Marx's
value-theoretic analysis, shows this usage to be highly
problematic: given differential ownership of relatively scarce
productive assets, prices will not in general be equal to
values, even in a subsistence exchange economy (i.e., one
without markets for labor power or interest capital). Thus,
given consistent effective wealth disparities, price-value
*non*equivalence is the "normal" case.

Marx 'nowhere establishes the sense in which price-value
equivalence represents normal exchange' because he doesn't
believe it.

This is the entire point.

It can hardly be considered a fault in a writer, that he does
not establish what he insistently denies.

This single sentence does more to confirm our contention than
the whole of this posting of Gil's. Can you really seriously
maintain that if Marx *did* believe price-value equivalence
constituted normal exchange, he would not have proved it in
words of fire before moving a step further forward?

Now we come to the most important point which is to look at the
progress which could be made from this exchange.

If, your point is to say 'John Roemer has shown that we can get
a great deal further by *not* assuming that goods exchange at
their values', then my reaction is, John Roemer is absolutely
right. If, your point is to say 'John Roemer has shown that
prices will not in general be equal to values, even in a
subsistence economy', then my reaction is, three cheers for
John Roemer. If he has shown *non*-equivalence is the normal
case, then we are (on this matter) in total, one hundred per
cent agreement.

*My* point is, that Marx makes the *same* point. If this is all
Roemer says, and to the extent that this is what he says,
Roemer is not disproving Marx: he is proving Marx.

What he is disproving is not Marx, but the marxists.

If moreover Roemer does this employing assumptions not ruled
out in Marx's value theoretic analysis, I simply don't
understand what the debate is about. Why go to such enormous
lengths to prove that they are ruled out by Marx's value-
theoretic analysis, if the things which you consider so
important, can be proved with assumptions *not* ruled out by
Marx's analysis?

It may well be that, in jointly claiming the above, we will
find ourselves in an argument with the *marxists*. That is
another matter; my argument all along has always been, let Marx
speak for Marx and let the marxists speak for the marxists;
indeed let us all speak for ourselves; everyone will be the
better for it. Moi, je ne suis pas marxiste. Je suis partisan
de Marx.

If what you are saying, is that Marx in your view does not
provide adequate proof of what Marx says, and that better
proofs are to hand, then I may or may not agree with you - I
have to assess the proofs and I have to assess the arguments
that Marx does not prove his own case. But the first thing is
to establish as much agreement as possible, on what it was that
Marx was trying to prove. I for one would be disinclined to
reject out of hand any body of work which seeks to provide
*additional* proofs and *additional* support, for what Marx
was saying.

I would ask one simple question: what other conclusions
flow from Roemer's proof of the 'normality' of exchange at
non-value prices? In particular, on the basis of Roemer's
assumptions, is it possible for the capitalist class to make
a profit from pure exchange without employing labourers?

If not, then I think we have a contribution which does not
contradict, but re-enforces Marx. If so, then what we
ought to do is study the circumstances in which profits
can arise without workers, since they suggest some rather
unexpected directions in which capitalism might evolve.

There are many other points in this very interesting post, but
I want to concentrate on this one because, it seems to me, on
the face of it, that there is abundant space for genuine
progress, which would be a real achievement for the OPE