[OPE-L:914] Re: Reply to SImon

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Thu, 1 Feb 1996 09:24:02 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Re Simon (OPE 910 1/2/96):

Here are some more quotes:
Penguin ed. ch.9 p.328 'Here the assumption is always made that
the price of the product is the same as its value...'

The key question here is Marx's statement, which I already
cited in my reply to Allin, that the rent of the buildings used
by the spinner are to be included in constant capital. What is
your interpretation of this?


"Part 7 chs.23-25, p.710: '...we assume here that the
capitalist sells the commodities he has produced at their

But as I have discussed in the exchange with Gil around this
passage, it is at this point that Marx is dealing with
reproduction, where there is no dispute that he assumes
exchange at values.

The point is not whether Marx *ever* adopts the temporary
assumption that goods exchange at prices equal to values. The
question is, as Andrew says, whether his Chapter 1 derivation
of the category of value depends on this assumption.

The citations which are being unearthed are very useful because
they do allow us to scrutinise closely what Marx actually said.

In all so far, Marx's choice of words always indicates that as
an *exception* to the general rule in Volume I, in this
*specific* case we will assume exchange at values. Otherwise,
what is the word 'here' doing in the citation just given?

As Spinoza says, every determination is a negation. If Marx
says 'we adopt this assumption *here*', it is because he does
not adopt this assumption *elsewhere*.

For completeness and comparison it is worth studying the choice
of words in Volume II. Here we find on the very first page of
the work (p109 Penguin edition) the following:

"In Volume I, the first and third stages [the M-C and
P...C' stages of the circuit of capital -AF] were
discussed only in so far as this was necessary for the
understanding of the second stage, the capitalist
production process. Thus the different forms with which
capital clothes itself in its different stages,
alternately assuming them and casting them aside, remained
uninvestigated. These will now be the immediate object of
our enquiry.

"In order to grasp these forms in their pure state, we
must first of all abstract from all aspects that have
nothing to do with the change and constitution of the
forms as such. We shall therefore assume HERE, both that
commodities are sold at their values, and that the
circumstances in which this takes place do not change. We
shall also ignore any changes of value that may occur in
the course of the cyclical process" [my emphasis -AF]

This is a complete and categorical statement that throughout
Volume II this assumption will be adopted as the rule, so that
all else is the *exception*; likewise, the rule applies 'here',
that is in Volume II; because it doesn't apply elsewhere, that
is Volume I. It is a *new* and *local* assumption.

In Volume I we find exactly the opposite. Wherever Marx
introduces the assumption of exchange at values, it is the
exception; the *rule* is therefore the contrary of this
exception, that is, there is no such general assumption.
Otherwise, why keep telling the reader when the assumption is

If Marx had intended to introduce the assumption of exchange at
values in Volume I, I repeat that it is almost inconceivable he
would not have explained this at the earliest possible moment
and in the same forthright and categorical way as in Volume II.

Moreover the traditional interpretation of this statement in
Volume II is quite extraordinary. For it has wrenched the
reproduction tables of Volume II completely out of their
context and used them as the *epistemological basis* of both
value and price. This is the reason for the equation

v = vA + L (1)

which is no more or less than the matrix representation of the
reproduction schemes in value terms, and the companion 'dual'

p=p(A+wL)(1+r) (2)

which is no more nor less than the matrix representation of the
reproduction schemes in price terms.

Not surprisingly, therefore, one arrives at definitions of
value and price derived, not from the assumptions of Volume I
but from the assumptions of Volume II. On the basis of equation
(1), of course goods have to exchange at their values;
otherwise the equation could not be true. This is because, in
order to derive these equations (in Volume II) Marx assumed
exchange at values from the outset, clearly and explicitly as
we have seen.

The 'simplified model' used to explain Volume I is therefore
not at all an abstraction but a specialisation of Volume I for
the object of study of Volume II (or Volume I part 7, which is
the same thing). By using this assumption to explain the
*whole* of Volume I, the traditional interpretation voids
Volume I of everything incompatible with Volume II.

One has only to count from I to III in the right order
(presentation!) to see the problem. If Marx had intended, in
Volume I, to assert as the ground rules that goods exchange at
value, why on earth state it again in Volume II? For in this
case it would merely be a restatement of an already given

In my view the key to the relation between these two volumes is
the phrase at the beginning of Volume II just cited:

"In Volume I, the first and third stages were discussed only in
so far as this was necessary for the understanding of the
second stage".

Or, as Marx later says, Volume I assumes that the means of
production required by each capital are available on the market
without examining how they came to be available.

But if Marx assumes these means are available on the market,
without further enquiry, then he cannot possibly distinguish
between their value and their price. The *only* way their value
can communicate itself to the capitalist is through the value
of the money s/he pays for them, which is one of the reasons that
in reckoning up the *costs* of production Marx is so cavalier with
the use of raw empirical data. This is not, I am convinced, a
casual slip. It *doesn't matter* for him, in Volume I, how much
labour is directly embodied in the goods which the capitalist
purchase, because the value of capital is directly represented
by the value of the money which the capitalist pays.

Only at a later stage of concreteness (Volume III) can he enquire
into the possible disparities between the labour embodied in
*purchases* (as opposed to sales). Therefore the Volume III
controversy has completely got the question the wrong way round.
For Marx, 'inputs' are already transformed in Volume I. The
only remaining issue is therefore not to transform inputs which
are already transformed, but to trace back, through the previous
phase which preceded M-C, and see whether there are any
additional value transfers from previous phases of the circuit
which remain to be accounted for *as a result of* the transformation
of inputs already achieved in Volume I.

Thus, what you find in Volume I is:

the general assumption that goods exchange at arbitrary prices

specialisations of this to illustrate specific points and make
specific deductions: the 'pure forms' of exchange. These
relate, however, only to the *sale* of goods and not to their
purchase: that is, they refer at most to the C'-M stage (at the
end) and not to the M-C stage (at the beginning).

the M-C stage is not the subject of enquiry at this point and
constant capital is represented directly by the value of the
money paid for it, in whatever form it may be found including

for variable capital see below:

Ch.10, p.340 'We began with the assumption that labour-power is
bought and sold at its value.'

This is an important citation which I think should be looked
into. It has to be established whether it is contingent ('pure'
form and hence a specialisation) or necessary (general

However, even should it be found necessary, I think it counts
most strongly against the view which I think you have
expressed, that the Value of Labour Power (VLP) counts in the
labour process as the value of the money paid for it. In this
citation, Marx appears to be saying that the commodity labour-
power is indeed bought and sold at its value.

The question is, however, what is this value? It is, as Marx
says, the labour-time necessary to reproduce the commodity

But what is this labour-time? As we have seen in the case of
constant capital, in a money economy all commodities represent
in exchange a definite portion of the total past labour-time of
society, which is not necessarily equal to the past labour-time
which produced them. In a market economy the labour-time which
workers must expend, in order to feed and clothe themselves, is
equal to the value of the money which purchases their food and
clothing. Just like the capitalists, there is no mechanism by
which the value of the commodities themselves can directly
communicate itself to them. Neither they, nor the capitalists,
can bypass the invisible hand of the market, as is evident from
the fact that if the price of wage-goods rises, they must pro
tanto either work longer or eat less.

It is a matter of indifference to them, whether wage-goods
have gone up because their value has risen, or because their
price has departed from their value. They cannot tell the

Indeed, in the case of the workers the mechanism is even more
transparent than in the case of the capitalists. Only if the
workers could bypass the market and produce directly for
themselves, could they reduce the labour-time needed to
reproduce themselves to the labour-time necessary to
produce the wage-bundle.

This statement of Marx therefore does not conflict with the
assertion that the value of variable capital is given by the
value of the money paid for the wage. Thus the value of labour
power is still given by the price of the goods in the wage-
bundle, not by their value. This also squares with Marx's
Volume III amplification of this statement, where he says that
the *worker* has to work a larger or smaller number of hours to
obtain goods sold at their price of production.

If Marx considered that the value of labour power itself was
different from the labour-time 'embodied in it', but that the
labour-time needed to reproduce labour-power was in fact
equal to the labour time required to produce the wage-bundle,
then he would have had to modify this statement; he would have
had to say that the worker can appropriate a portion of surplus
value without working any harder or longer. For, if the worker
pays L10 to reproduce her or himself, but the capitalist pays
the worker L11, then the extra pound would be an excess over
the value required to reproduce the worker, and would be a
portion of the surplus value of society.

But, as Simon himself has noted, the worker cannot do this,
because the commodity labour-power is the only commodity which
does not enter into the equalisation of the rate of profit.

This may shed light on the question of the rewards to training;
I have always felt, especially given the grotesque wages that
us computerniks can appropriate, that there must be some
surplus-value in it, Hilferding notwithstanding. Perhaps in the
case of a skilled worker with a monopoly of the skill
concerned, the price of labour-power *does* differ from its
value and the workers concerned *do* appropriate part of the
surplus-value produced by other workers.

This last is a speculative heresy, not a hard-and-fast position.
Don't quote me on it.