[OPE-L:890] Re: Positive responses

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Wed, 31 Jan 1996 08:39:08 -0800

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On Wed, 31 Jan 1996, Alan Freeman wrote:

> ===========================================================
> "Marx does not take the case of price-value equivalence as an
> assumption in Volume I"
> ===========================================================
> It might be useful to see how wide this agreement is shared on
> OPE.

I, for one, disagree. At the very abstract level of Chapter 1, Marx
posits such equivalence as a precondition for the intelligibility of the
exchange relation. For example (refs. to the Penguin edition throughout):

"The equation 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 20 yards of linen are worth
1 coat, presupposes the presence in 1 coat of exactly as much of the
substance of value as there is in 20 yards of linen, implies therefore
that that the quantities in which the two commodities are present have
cost the same amount of labour or the same quantity of labour-time." (pp.
144-5, ch. 1)

Then, when he gets to money, we have the same sort of thing:

"The value, i.e. the quantity of human labour, which is contained in a
ton of iron is expressed by an imaginary quantity of the money commodity
which contains the same amount of labour as the iron." (p. 190, ch. 3)

Shortly thereafter this is qualified as follows:

"The possibility ... of a quantitative incongruity between price and
magnitude of value, i.e. the possibility that the price may diverge from
the magnitude of value, is inherent in the price-form itself. This is not
a defect, but, on the contrary, it makes this form the adequate one for a
mode of production whose laws can only assert themselves as blindly
operating averages between constant irregularities." (p. 196, ch. 3)

Here we have the concept of price-value equivalence as some sort of
"average", the precise nature of which is not spelled out. (It is,
however, worked out by Farjoun and Machover -- see their "Laws of
Chaos", Verso, 1983.) Note, however, that if this "averaging" is taken
to mean only that the aggregate price of all commodities equals the
aggregate value of same, the whole idea is evacuated of content.

In chapter 5 we find a somewhat different formulation: In simple
commodity circulation,

"The same value, i.e. the same quantity of objectified social labour,
remains throughout in the hands of the commodity-owner, first in the shape
of his own commodity, then in the shape of the money into which the
commodity has been transformed, and finally in the shape of the commodity
into which this money has been re-converted. ... Insofar, therefore, as
the circulation of commodities involves only a change in the form of their
values, it necessarily involves the exchange of equivalents, provided the
phenomenon occurs in its purity." (p. 260, ch. 5)

Or again:

"It is true that commodities may be sold at prices which diverge from
their values, but this divergence appears as an infringement of the laws
governing the exchange of commodities. In its pure form, the exchange of
commodities is an exchange of equivalents, and thus is not a method of
increasing value." (p. 261, ch. 5)

In place of the notion of price-value equivalence as an "average" we here
see it specified as the "pure" case. To Marx, it appears, these two
formulations were pretty much interchangeable, though they are not
necessarily so, depending on one's theoretical framework.

In later chapters, the "pure" case is assumed for the sake of argument
unless otherwise stated. For instance, take the discussion of the rate
of surplus value in the cotton industry on pp. 327-8 (ch. 9) -- Marx
moves from price magnitudes to labour-time magnitudes in a manner that is
legitimate only if price-value equivalence is assumed (at the level of a
particular spinning mill, note).

All of this is not necessarily to say Marx was right -- that is a
separate issue. But it does seem to me that those who claim Marx did not
assume price-value equivalence (as the "average" or "pure" case on a
micro and not just the macro level) have some explaining to do.

Allin Cottrell.