[OPE-L:926] Pure and Normal

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Fri, 2 Feb 1996 07:13:31 -0800

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Re: OPE 876: Normal and Pure in Marx

Hi Gil

(this is an exploration of 'Point 1' in 'Agreements and

In OPE 876, in reply to my assertion that Marx 'nowhere
establishes the sense in which price-value equivalence
represents normal exchange because he doesn't agree with it'
you supply one citation in which he uses the word 'normal' and
four citations in which he uses a different word, namely

This is not a point-scoring issue; it had not previously
occurred to me that Marx did use these terms distinctly but,
looking at the evidence, I now think he probably did and that
the distinction is an important one.

So, I think it may be important to get more precision on what
Marx means by these two terms, and whether they in fact have
the same meaning for him.

The one citation you supply where he speaks of the 'normal
course' of events comes from p252 where the reference is to
'this particular form of circulation' which turns out on
examination to be C-M-C, that is, noncapitalist circulation.

So as far as I can see we don't have any evidence that Marx
states exchange at values to be 'normal' for capitalism. It may
be that there are other places that he uses this word in the
context of capitalist circuits, but I haven't noticed them.

I'm going to come back to this in another post because I think,
in your critique of Marx, you have overlooked the fact that
throughout Chapter 5 Marx is speaking of C-M-C or 'Simple
Commodity Circulation'.

However, to continue: for me decisive are the several places
where Marx specifically denies that exchange at values happens
in reality, as in Ch5:

"but in reality processes do not take place in their pure form.
Let us therefore assume an exchange of non-equivalents" (p262)

Note the antithetical phrasing: 'in reality...pure'. That is,
for Marx, the 'pure form' is *not* what actually happens.

Now, the question then arises: what meaning attaches to the
word 'normal'? If you can show me that he uses the word
'normal' as a substitute for 'pure' then we'll have to re-
examine a few questions though I think it will leave our
agreement intact; but as far as I can see 'normal' for Marx has
one of two possible meanings.

The first is its modern everyday meaning of 'what happens most
of the time'.

The second is 'what happens as a rule' (i.e. as a Norm) or to
be more precise 'what happens in the absence of external
disturbances'. I think this is closer to his usage and I'll
amplify that in a bit. But in either case, it *doesn't* mean at
all the same as 'pure'.

'Pure' has a different meaning, though it is a distinction I am
not sure you accept as valid. You seem to impute to Marx the
idea that 'pure' means "a special case in which we pretend that
it really happens, even though it doesn't". I think that by
'pure' he means "in abstraction from price-value deviations"
(as deseasonalised data abstracts from seasonal variations). I
shall amplify this shortly.

But for the present, the point is that even given what I take
to be your reading, pure does not mean the same as normal. So
the citations you provide, do not relate to the point I was
making, which is that Marx does not treat exchange at values as
normal for capitalist production either in Volume I or,
actually, anywhere.

Turning therefore to the one among your five citations where
the word 'normal' is used. The full(er) citation reads:

"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. He may, on the other hand, be cheated by the clothes
merchant. Yet, for this particular form of circulation, such
differences in value are purely accidental. The fact that the
corn and the clothes are equivalents 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' (p252 Penguin my emphasis)

The key words here are 'for this particular form of
circulation'. That is, when money is merely an intermediary and
there is hence (a) no production (b) the purpose of exchange is
not to augment value but to acquire a distinct use-value. This
is contrasted to M-C-M, in which there is still no production,
but the purpose of the exchange is to augment a sum of money
(otherwise it is pointless just to keep exchanging money for
goods for money).

[This may be relevant to your enquiry into the place which Marx
assigns to antediluvian circuits of capital, since people who
make profits out of M-C-M are going to be people like

I think what Marx is saying is that, if the only purpose of
exchange is to obtain a different use-value, then since there
is no special requirement to augment value, price-value
deviations are accidental and exogenous. In everyday parlance
'what usually happens' is that goods exchange at their value.

In the M-C-M case there is an endogenous, immanent reason for
price to deviate from value. This is because the people who do
M-C-M (the merchants) do so in order to augment their value. In
the C-M-C case there is no such reason.

I think we will find as the enquiry proceeds, that Marx
specifically denies the C-M-C case holds for *capitalist*
production, C-P...C'-M'. This will form part of our discussion
around Chapter 5. For capitalist production, he *neither* holds
that goods exchange at values 'most of the time' *nor* does he
maintain that the only circumstances which could cause them to
deviate are purely external or accidental.

Thus, price-value equivalence is not 'normal' for full
capitalist production. It is neither what happens most of the
time, nor is its breakdown the result of merely external
interference or accidental fluctuations. It is an immanent
feature of capitalist production.

However, I haven't yet reread Volume I carefully enough in the
light of this discussion, to make that categorical claim.

What I can say is that in the 'Poverty of Philosophy', whose
polemic with Proudhon is the foundation for much of what later
emerges as his theory of surplus value in Volume I, Marx
disputes extremely energetically the idea that exchange at
values is normal. Thus (p54 Moscow edn)

"It is not the sale of a given product at the price of its
cost of production that constitutes the "proportional
relation" of supply to demand, or the proportional quota of
this product relatively to the sum total of production, it
is the variations in supply and demand that show the
producer what amount of a given commodity he must produce
in order to receive in exchange at least the cost of
production. And as these variations are continually
occurring, there is also a continual movement of withdrawal
and application of capital in the different branches of
industry...if M. Proudhon admits that the value of products
is determined by labour time, he should equally admit that
it is the fluctuating movement alone that makes labour the
measure of value."

I.e. the deviation of prices from values is, far from an
exception to the rule that value is determined by labour time,
a *precondition* for this rule. And, moreover, it is generated
by capitalism itself. It is endogenous, immanent in capitalist
production. Therefore it could not be 'normal'.

The dispute with the Time-Chitters in the Grundrisse follows a
similar line of argument.

I suspect that if we find Marx actually uses the word 'normal'
in respect of specifically capitalist production in Volume I,
that he uses it with a different meaning. But so far, I see no
evidence that he does use it.

In this as in all else it is important that we read what Marx
actually wrote, and not simply raid him for quotations which
support our positions. Otherwise, we will only see what we are
looking for.